For me, there’s always been something deeply personal – and challenging – about pricing my sex work sessions.
When I struck out on my own as an independent escort, I’d already worked in brothels across Melbourne for a year. I’d accepted the set rates at each establishment. I even followed their guidelines for extras and deluxe services. When I started working alone, that guidance was gone. I suddenly had to put a price tag on my sexual skills, my appearance, and – it seemed to me at the time – my sense of self-worth.
Setting up as an independent sex worker is a lot like getting started in any other sort of small business. Unlike other types of work, there’s nobody else to share the effort, responsibility, and rollercoaster of feelings that inevitably happens through standard business growth, successes and challenges. Agonies of indecision over websites, photos, branding, and prices can be a real headache, especially if you’re new to the biz. As someone who’d never done this sort of work before, I didn’t feel qualified to make the big decisions – how would I know if I was getting it right?
Sex work takes that feeling of vulnerability to a whole new level. It’s so tied up in our appearance and self-worth, how other people think of us, our confidence and how experienced we feel at sex (and life in general). It’s hard to separate business choices from personal self-assessment, when the product is your social skills and sexual skills. How do we put a price on that, when it’s almost impossible to be objective?
Our hang-ups about money get in the way too. When I started as an escort, I’d already been working in a small business for years as a designer and photographer. But I already struggled to ask for money, whether it was a raise at my day job or sending an overdue notice to a freelance client. Suddenly, the question ‘How much is my labour worth?’ became a lot more personal. And I felt very much on my own.
Unfortunately (or fortunately!) the thing about sex work is that how you do it is up to you. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuck into some of the stuff I found helpful, when working out how much to charge.
Before I start talking about this, I just want to acknowledge that not everyone gets to set their price however they like. Often, our rates reflect our circumstances ad what we need to do to survive; when the rent is due, we can’t always demand payment for extras. Others might not be able to afford the upkeep required for the ‘high-end’ look at the top of the price scale. Ultimately, you’re the person who knows best. This is simply my own experience.
Forget the whorearchy: your rate does not determine your worth.
Capitalism is a nasty system - it tricks us into thinking that high-earning jobs are more worthy than minimum wage. Whereas often, the people who work hardest or perform the most important tasks are paid less. For example, someone who collects garbage for a living is needed more than someone who designs luxury handbags, even though the latter is more lucrative.
I’m ashamed to admit that when I first started working as an escort, I assumed I was on the bottom of the pile. I was low-priced compared to some, so I figured I must be less conventionally attractive, less skilled, and doing less work.
But as I started to get to know my peers, I saw diversity at every level. High-priced escorts come in all ages, shapes, and personalities. Affordable services can involve just as much work as ‘luxury’ sessions (sometimes more!) Most importantly, price isn’t an indicator of how good I am at my job. It’s just another marketing technique.
I learned that a high hourly rate doesn’t make anyone more legitimate. Whether we charge $800 per hour or $20 for a blow-n-go, we’re all providing an important service.
…but also, use market perception to your advantage.
Did you know that the price of goods and services affects the buyer’s enjoyment? In one study, researchers found that people who blind-tasted wines were unable to tell the difference between cheap and expensive varieties. Purchasing something pricey results in a rush of endorphins, causing buyers to treat the situation with more importance…even though what they’re getting might not be that different.
This happens with sex work too. Clients often view high-priced escorts differently. And it pays to consider these psychological effects when setting your rates. Maybe you prefer down-to-earth clients who can see you often without emptying their wallets. Or perhaps you’d like to aim for the ‘luxury’ market and make your month’s rent in one session, so you can get back to looking after your kids.
I’m not afraid to use psychology to get what I want. But I try to remember that it’s make-believe, the same way blowing $500 on a bottle of Grange feels better than paying $50 for something off the shelf at Liquorland.
Research what other people are charging…then work out what makes you different.
Coming from a sales and marketing background, I’m a fan of doing market research. Basically, this means learning about the people who buy from you – what they like and dislike, and how much they’re willing to pay.
You can get a feel for the market by researching other escorts who offer similar services. I like to follow folks who’ve been in the biz for a while, because more often than not they’re doing well in business. How much are they charging? How do they structure their service fees? What other people do isn’t always right for us, but it’s a good starting point.
Once I’ve found a few workers in my ballpark, I’ll ask myself, ‘How am I different?’ Working out what makes you unique (known as ‘unique selling point’ in marketing lingo) is essential for standing out from the crowd. It also means you can adjust your rates to suit your needs. Everyone has different services, skills, and personalities. We need flexibility…and freedom to break the rules, if it feels right.
Using pricing strategies to get what you want.
Like the wine experiment I mentioned earlier, salespeople use a variety of pricing tricks to encourage customers to buy. Our rates can help clients make purchasing decisions that work better for us. Here are a few examples I’ve picked up over the years:
• Dropping my hourly rate for longer bookings, to encourage people to book more substantial sessions.
• Setting my hourly rate so that it appears as the lowest in a price range. For example, if escorts similar to me charge $450-$600 per hour, asking for $450 will make me seem the most affordable in the specific market.
• Offering a discount for services I enjoy. I charge the same rate for couples as singles because I enjoy threesomes so much. It’s helped me get lots of work with first-time couples on a budget.
Our own boundaries are what really matters.
How much do you need to earn to feel your job is worthwhile? At the end of the day, pricing our services and skills is a personal affair. For years I struggled with my self-worth. I started in the industry with a low rate, convinced I didn’t fit the ‘typical’ look of a successful escort. I had trouble asking for money. I worried that if I wasn’t earning enough, I was failing at business.
What I’ve since learned is that making money only happens when I give myself permission to ask for it. I’m important to my clients and deserve to be paid accordingly.
I know escorts who charge a $200 ‘inconvenience fee’ to services they don’t enjoy, just so that they feel they’re being properly compensated. And then, of course, there’s the ‘asshole tax’ – adding 10-20% on top of a regular job, if I suspect the client is going to be difficult. Sometimes a client asks for something that I simply won’t offer, for any rate, and I feel fine with saying ‘no.’ I stay enthusiastic about my job by staying within my boundaries.
There are many ways to set your rates in the sex industry. No matter how you do it, a bit of trial-end-error is inevitable. We gradually find our clients. We discover what works best. By starting with some research and adjusting things over time, I’ve found a fee structure that works for me.
Going my own way was a big part of that, and I hope you feel empowered to do the same.