The Shallows

Selling sex through prostitution is pretty much as old as time, but there’s so much money to be made in commoditising sex that, particularly over the past 20 years, the sex industry has increasingly capitalised on (and indeed driven the development of) new online, image-based and social media technologies to become more powerful and influential than ever.

“I sort of play that I could be a boyfriend kind of guy but then they start wanting me to care more… and I just don’t.”

Tinder User1N. Sales, Vanity Fair (06.08. 2015) Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”

Like any other global system, the global sex industry  has had a massive impact on culture and the shaping of norms, trends, attitudes and behaviours.

Examples of this include:  

  • Sexual objectification, particularly of women and girls, which equates human worth with sex appeal
  • Self-sexual objectification (the rise of the selfie)
  • Voyeurism (normalised through online porn)
  • The commodification of human bodies as tools for sexual arousal and gratification
  • ‘Hook-up culture’, based on mainstream social acceptance of transactional sex 

This frontier edge, or ‘fringe’ by its nature also tends to be its broadest, shallowest part; it’s the bit that touches the mainstream and allows ‘ordinary’ women to enter in, whilst keeping one foot firmly on the dry land of social respectability. The sex industry’s shallow end includes strip clubs, lap dancing, OnlyFans, web camming and ‘sugar daddy’ dating.

Such things generally seem much tamer, safer and less seedy than prostitution. Often they involve ‘no touching’ rules, there are no obvious ‘pimps’, or third-party involvement is limited. Most women are already familiar with the notion that their sex appeal is a form of social currency, so it’s relatively easy for the sex industry to sell them the opportunity to exploit it for financial gain. And it all seems low risk; in many online contexts, women seem to have a high degree of control and autonomy over what they do. They’re able to set their own boundaries, be their own boss and (most importantly) keep all the cash.

But many women who start to paddle in the shallow end of the sex industry soon start to realise that the undercurrent is strong. There’s a force that would pull them in deeper, further in than they want to go.

The ‘work’ often makes it difficult for a woman to hold on to her authenticity, integrity and boundaries. Competition is fierce, profit margins are squeezed and invariably someone else benefits. There’s always the pressure to do more and give more, and success is measured by how far a person is able to become a compilation of other people’s sexual fantasies.