Is the Sex Industry in Recession?
According to mobster Tony Soprano, the two industries purported to be recession-proof are adult entertainment and…"their thing."
Unfortunately, Tony was wrong. As record inflation highs taper into global economic contraction, many people are trimming unnecessary luxuries. These cuts include their adult content subscriptions. Certain aspects of the sex industry, such as in-person sex work and webcamming, are more insulated from change. But nevertheless, the recession is still hitting hard.
The sex industry is a complex, multifaceted business. The term "sex work" encompasses everything from explicit webcamming and subscription-based content such as OnlyFans to in-person services like stripping, escorting and sex for pay.
Sex workers fall on a wide spectrum of economic circumstances and brand success. A high-end escort earning $800 an hour in Manhattan has a very different life than a "happy ending" masseuse at a local massage parlor. A mostly unknown OnlyFans newbie makes a tiny fraction of what famous porn stars and brand influencers command.
Subscriptions are slow
According to some sex workers, online subscriptions are down across the board. This may come as no surprise since many other subscription-based platforms—even online giants like Netflix—face limited growth and struggle to retain subscribers.
"Sex workers are direct-to-consumer service providers who represent a historically marginalized and stigmatized group, and we are painfully aware that as our customers' budgets get tighter, we could be the first expense to be cut," said veteran sex worker, adult entertainer and educator Trip Richards.
"Paradoxically, as the cost of most goods and services rises, I am noticing that many models are running sales and offering discounts on their content," he added. "Of course, this can reduce our own revenues/profits, but the general consensus I hear is that it's better for us to keep more fans at a lower rate than risk losing our existing fans by keeping prices the same, let alone raising them."
'We are painfully aware that as our customers' budgets get tighter, we could be the first expense to be cut.'
Fellow veteran sex worker and OnlyFans model Perle (a professional pseudonym), who's based on the West Coast of the United States, has been in and out of sex work since the 2011 recession. She agreed with Richards' assessment. Perle has a day job and supplements her income with explicit modeling and other online services. She typically earns anywhere from $400 to $800 a month from OnlyFans, which is her main platform.
She's been forced to lower prices and run promotions to stay afloat in the past six months. Her subscriber count has gone down by less than 15 percent. She credits her retention rate to non-sex factors such as her solid social media following.
"People on Twitter think I'm funny and I post funny photos of my cats," Perle said. "They feel that's worth paying $5 a month for, which is what I charge for my OnlyFans."
Where she really feels the pinch is in her weekly explicit sets. These are more revealing than the R-rated material available on her OnlyFans site and are sold separately.
"On average, before the recession hit, I sold maybe three or four sets a week," she said. "In the last two to three months, I am lucky if I sell one set a week."
A saturated market
Sex workers fared better during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some professionals credit this fact to the historic $794 billion in unemployment benefits issued from July 2021 to March 2021.
"People were lonely and isolated and they were getting another $500 a week," said Luna Lapine, an adult content creator based in Colorado and the founder of Moon Rabbit Studios. "A lot of us benefited from that during the pandemic."
Now, less disposable income combined with rapid inflation means there's less money to spend on adult content subscriptions. Competition has increased as more people join the sex industry looking for their own additional source of income. Lapine doesn't mind the competition but offered a few words of warning for newbies joining an oversaturated market.
"People think we make bank, but in reality, I make grocery money," she added. "It scares me because so many people jump into this thinking it's going to get them through the crisis.
"I welcome everyone into this industry who wants to do it, but right now is the worst possible time to be getting into it because people can't afford their subscriptions," she continued.
Sex work always survives
The sex industry has survived—and often thrived—through countless wars and depressions. While subscription-based sex work may struggle in our current economy, in-person sex work doesn't appear to be as impacted.
Adult performer, content creator and professional dom King Noire, from Tampa, Florida, has been working in the adult entertainment industry for more than a decade. Noire films studio porn productions along with creating content for his own site. He also offers in-person and virtual BDSM training sessions, mostly with couples. Noire said bookings for his in-person classes haven't changed substantially, though more people book online versus in person.
"People are still looking for connection," Noire explained. "There have been more requests for in-depth sessions."
Fellow adult entertainer Richards currently provides only online services, but he has seen a small increase in the number of people requesting in-person sessions. Like Noire, he credits the ongoing steady demand for sex work to the human yearning for escapism during times of stress.
"I would argue that during times of economic uncertainty and isolation, people have even more incentive to seek escapism, pleasure and connection," Richards said. "I'm not quite saying that sex work is inflation-proof or recession-proof, but there's a reason that adult work has persisted throughout history and throughout many economic crises."