This article was originally printed in The New Hampshire but due to complaints, it was removed from the website.
On a typical Saturday night, Ashley* is up on stage, her tan skin completely revealed under the lights as men sit back and let their money fall around her. Her hair flows down her bare back as she dances around in her high heels, which happen to be the only thing she’s wearing. She radiates confidence as she smiles down at a sea full of strangers who soak her up, seeming to forget about their wives and girlfriends waiting for them back home.
On a Sunday afternoon in mid-April, Ashley sits in The Works Bakery Cafe, a location she’s been frequenting since it was The Bagelry. Her hair is pulled up and she’s wearing simple makeup as she sports the same black yoga pants as many other girls around campus. Her life is similar to many other students as she describes her influential professors, her favorite classes and days spent on T-Hall lawn. She seems like a normal college student, and then she explains how she pays for college.
“I feel that when a person finds out about my work, their perception of me changes,” said Ashley, who is now a senior. “When people hear the word sex worker, they have a stereotype or stigma. Almost like you’re a bad person.”
Ashley is both of these people: the girl up on stage on the weekends and the girl who is seen walking around campus every day. These are not different people, because as the cost of college goes up, they are increasingly becoming the same person.
Working two minimum wage jobs and having no car, all while sleeping on a friend’s couch, was a reality for Ashley two years ago. A sophomore at the time, she was looking for a way to earn more money and ease the burden of college expenses. Opportunity struck when a coworker of hers at UNO’s mentioned that she danced on the side. While she was nervous, Ashley decided to give it a try.
It was a private party and she was in a room full of strange men who were trying to touch her. At only 19, Ashley was still very young and wasn’t sure what to do. She felt scared, anxious and overwhelmed. It was emotionally hard on her and she wanted out. She wanted something more public and less secretive. Something that felt safer.
Ashley went for an interview at The Gold Club in Bedford and was told to start the following Saturday night. She showed up with nothing but overwhelming fear. Using borrowed clothes and shoes, Ashley went up shyly onto the stage of the topless club. Feeling exposed and unsure of herself, she began to dance. She left the club that night not only with a good chunk of cash, but with a new confidence that she never expected.
“I’ve never felt so in control in such a vulnerable state around guys,” Ashley said as she described the experience while sitting in The Works. Her hot pink hair is tucked up under a hat and her bagel is still sitting untouched on the wooden table in front of her. Being so engrossed in her story, she seems to forget that it’s sitting there. Her wide eyes look across the table as she continues.
With a steady cash flow, Ashley then found it easy to pay for school and she eventually saved up enough for a car. Deciding it was time to have a bigger audience and make more money, she began to commute to Boston to work at a different club, Centerfold’s Boston. The experience at a club in the city was different though. With bigger cities come different types of men; wealthier men who are used to getting what they want – men who expect more. More than Ashley was used to and more than she was comfortable with.
“The expectations were so much higher,” Ashley said as she described how the men would try to touch her, despite the rules against it. She quickly got herself out of the situation and began working at a smaller club.
Twenty-one-year-old Ashley now spends two nights a week on stage at Ten’s Show Club in Salisbury, Mass. Despite making $500 a night at the fully nude club, Ashley began branching out in order to make more cash. After sleeping with numerous married men, though, she quickly discovered that prostitution wasn’t for her. Feeling the guilt of what she was doing, as well as the stigma surrounding the job, Ashley decided to stick with stripping and dancing only.
She says that the lifestyle is very different from what people expect.
“It’s not like what you see in the movies,” Ashley said.
She says that she’s a regular person, just like anyone else that goes to UNH. With her on the stage are other young, college-aged girls, but there are also a lot of single moms and educated women. Everyone is just looking for the same thing as Ashley: money.
“It’s expensive to live today,” she said. “The pressures of everyday life are getting harder and harder.”
With graduation nearing for Ashley, however, it’s become time to put together a résumé and look for a new job. Unfortunately, most places of employment frown upon her current line of work, meaning that Jordan will have to make it look as if she hasn’t worked at all for the past two years.
“I would like to be able to put this on my résumé and have it be a good thing, rather than a negative,” Ashley said.
On a typical Saturday night Kira* is up on stage, bare skin completely exposed under the lights as men stare and throw their money. Her long hair extensions are flowing down her spray-tanned back as she dances around in her high heels, and nothing else. She confidently smiles down at a room full of random strangers until she sees a familiar face staring back at her in horror. She stops short as she realizes that the man with whom she’s locked eyes is her uncle. Mortified, she runs backstage and quickly puts on clothes so that she can go back out to beg him to keep quiet. It was too late. He had already informed their entire side of the family.
Although this experience hasn’t stopped Kira, a 2012 UNH graduate, from continuing with this line of work, she’s been trying to break into real estate. It’s difficult, however, especially after she spent the past two years working at Ten’s Show Club. When she was 20 years old, she was working two retail jobs and only making $300 a week. One day, she decided to do a simple Google search. Upon finding out how much she could make as a stripper and dancer, Kira began working at bachelor parties.
“I was bored and I was broke and I was sick of partying at UNH,” she said as she described her motives behind the decision. Working at parties full of strange men at her young age was definitely an interesting experience for Kira. Feeling sketched out by the situation, she began to wonder if it’s what she wanted to do.
“It’s funny to think I couldn’t legally get a drink, but I could do that,” she said as she described how she quickly moved on from bachelor’s parties to Ten’s. Nervous and unsure of what to expect, she soon got over her fears and reservations.
“I don’t feel bad about it. I’m getting paid to party naked,” Kira said. But one of the downsides to the job, she said, is the judgment from men. As Kira is up on stage dancing and doing her job, men criticize her size four body and consider her to be thick. Sitting at The Works, however, is a petite girl who would most likely be considered average by most people.
Kira looks like most girls on the UNH campus, with her tan skin and blonde hair. The only thing that may be slightly above average are her surgically enhanced breasts, which she said she would have had done regardless of her job. Appearance is part of the line of work though.
“People say it’s degrading or it’s bad for self esteem, but I feel it’s no different from any other business,” Kira said. “You’re selling a product.”
That product doesn’t come cheap either, with Kira making up to $1000 per night on busier weekends. Although this helps to pay for basic living as well as major expenses, Kira said she would never do something for money if it made her uncomfortable.
“Money comes and goes but once you lose your dignity, you can’t get it back,” she said.
As more college-aged girls turn to this line of work, however, Kira is seeing less money coming her way. Young girls are sharing the stage with her and the money is being split more and more ways.
“It’s becoming more normal and there are more girls than ever,” Kira said. “It’s good for public perspective, but not for the money.”
It’s all about perspective
Public perspective is something that both Kira and Ashley struggle with, especially with their families. Kira’s family only recently found out about her work after the horrific experience with her uncle.
“My parents were so shocked,” she said. “I tried to explain to them that it’s a nice place.”
Ashley, on the other hand, says that while her family has to come to accept it, they’re not very open about it. She said that the main problem her parents have had with the whole situation is her drug use, which she started through influences at work. After spending this past spring break in rehab, Ashley is working on getting better and is trying to focus on the things that her parents do accept.
“They appreciate my independence, but they still stereotype it,” she said.
Stereotypes are something that both girls have had to deal with over the past couple of years.
“I think it’s something that’s misunderstood,” Kira said. “They don’t realize that we’re normal people.”
A major difference between these girls and others is their fearlessness. Up on stage, Kira and Ashley transform into more confident versions of themselves.
“Something about it is so empowering,” Ashley explained.
Kira agreed. “It’s hard to be afraid of anything else after doing that.”
As with most occupations, however, sex work isn’t a permanent job and eventually everyone has to move on.
As Kira, who was a community and environmental planning major, looks to become a real estate agent she finds it to be a struggle.
“I’m a 23-year-old platinum blonde,” she said. “Who’s gonna trust me to sell them a house?”
She believes that she’s gained many marketable skills through her current job, but unfortunately she can’t tell future employers how she acquired them.
“I wish you could put this on a résumé,” Kira said. “You learn so many job skills – negotiating, sale skills, dealing with people.”
Ashley, a women’s studies major, hasn’t starting the job search yet but is hoping to find a career that involves working with kids or helping people in some way.
“Whether it’s social work, activism, or volunteering, I want to change the world somehow,” Ashley said.
Although both girls say that they love what they do as sex workers, they both realize that they want to do more.
“I love where I work. I make a ton of money,” Kira said. “But you can’t do it forever.”
*Not real name