The Truth About Crypto and Sex Work

Sex workers are skeptical that crypto can answer all their financial problems. This piece is part of CoinDesk's Sin Week.

AccessTimeIconSep 19, 2023 at 2:35 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 19, 2023 at 4:03 p.m. UTC
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It’s tempting to imagine sex workers finding it easy to get rich online, with flashy headlines highlighting rare cases where a bitcoin-savvy adult performer made $1.3 million in a single year, for example.

The reality is that the average adult performer might earn just a few hundred dollars a month.

Accepting bitcoin (BTC) doesn’t guarantee anything. Content creators are still hustling to attract paying clients.

This piece is part of CoinDesk's Sin Week.

The coronavirus pandemic ushered in a new era of remote sex work, with a captive audience of consumers willing to try paying independent content creators, sometimes for the first time. And yet, as lockdowns end, sex workers who accept payments directly from customers generally report there isn’t “wider adoption” of crypto payments today than there was before the last crypto bull run.

In fact, a performer who goes by Bitcoinstripper told CoinDesk that bitcoin usage is “significantly less common” among clients than it was back in 2017, before the pandemic reshaped the industry landscape. It’s hard to convince clients to use bitcoin when gift cards and cash options have become easier to send, she said, especially when bitcoin’s reputation fluctuates. It may actually be getting harder over time, not easier, for sex workers to use cryptocurrency.

“I had to groom 99% of the clients who have [used bitcoin] with me,” she said.

Bear market blues

Likewise, adult performer Maya Kendrick, a vivacious redhead with a penchant for artistic lingerie photo shoots, told CoinDesk that many of her clients switched to paying in dollar-denominated stablecoins, like USDC. Then, when this year’s bear market reduced the price of BTC and ether (ETH), the clients reduced their patronage altogether.

“They're booking shorter dates than they were before May. I've been getting less requests from crypto clients in general and more from other professions like surgeons,” Kendrick said. “Clients new to crypto have been hesitant to pay with it now because they see it as more volatile.”

Performer Etherealzoey, a plus-size intellectual with ebony skin, has noticed the same reluctance among her clients and peers who were previously crypto-curious.

“Clients tend to be more hesitant when it comes to crypto as well as performers,” Etherealzoey told CoinDesk, noting how the industry changes during a bear market.

However, it’s important to note this shift is specific to crypto, not overall demand for sex workers’ services, which Etherealzoey calls “recession-proof.” Her content projects focused on “Black and brown, queer, fat and disabled performers” continue attracting new fans, regardless of broader market conditions.

“It's the oldest profession and one of the most consistent when it comes to supply and demand,” she added, clarifying the recession has changed, although not reduced, demand for direct interactions with performers.

During a bear market, it may be harder for performers to convince clients to pay directly, using cryptocurrency. However, consistently earning bitcoin from loyal customers continues to be a profitable strategy for some sex workers. And a bear market means that when the dollar-denominated price is low, performers can earn more bitcoin per session.

“I still get paid in bitcoin at least once a week,” said bitcoin-savvy dominatrix Mistress Nicci, a bold and assertive blonde in Colorado who runs her own BDSM dungeon. “I have been surprised to notice that business has not been affected for me. This goes for online and in person, as I am still having the same volume of bookings and video sales.”

(Mistress Nicci/Twitter)
(Mistress Nicci/Twitter)

Privacy hazards

On the other hand, Bitcoinstripper said there’s been an increase in surveillance and bans against sex workers, as exchanges and crypto companies fall in line with credit card compliance norms. She’s been using cryptocurrency since 2017 and believes that off-ramps are getting harder for sex workers to use.

“Each [market] cycle brings greater, faster, cheaper chain analysis,” Bitcoinstripper said. “More exchanges and banks refuse to do business with people who’s income comes from sex work, due either to ever encroaching regulations or company policies responding to political pressures.”

“Each cycle we need to be more careful of protecting our personal data from clients. In bear markets, in times and places of low liquidity, it becomes even harder to hide certain transactions,” she added.

Likewise, performer Allie Awesome, whose cheeky and relatable content exudes girl-next-door vibes, said that sometimes waiting to cash out until prices and volumes perk back up may not be an option for sex workers from marginalized communities.

“If you thought getting people to pay for their porn with crypto during a bull market was tough, boy howdy, that was nothing,” Allie said. “I’d love to know what all of the people who said bitcoin is the solution to sex workers’ banking problems are doing to support our community during the bear market.”

Low liquidity in the few exchange platforms and tools that don’t require know-your-customer banking information creates a privacy conundrum. It’s easier for sex workers to find anonymity when there’s a crowd users. Sex workers must strike a balance between experimenting with new tools and avoiding scams.

“If I were to make any recommendation regarding usability in a bear market, it would be to follow those who are building solutions to improve usability, not only in the beauty of a fast seamless two-click [user experience], but also in preserving privacy and accessibility for undocumented, marginalized or underserved populations. Because if they can make it work for those populations, it will work for most people,” Bitcoinstripper said. “We need crypto to be reliably usable in every part of the market cycle, if it is to work for us.”

UPDATE (Nov. 3 2022 – 16:00 UTC): Replaced link with primary data source.


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