Students joke about dropping out of school to be a stripper, but for some, it's not really a joke. University of Oregon graduate Corrie Hart didn’t drop out of school, but one day, she made the conscious decision to take her finances into her own hands, even if that choice was controversial.
“My parents were pretty well off, I was pretty middle-class, but my parents didn't help me at all,” Hart said. “They were pretty mad I went to a four-year [university]. So, I was more struggling kinda paycheck to paycheck. I was scraping by.”
Just days before her 21st birthday and the winter break of her junior year, Hart turned to sex work.
She started stripping at The Mancave in Springfield and eventually moved over to The Nile in Eugene. She said she got into sex work from her interest in seeing strippers on Twitter with big bags of money; she wanted to have that as well. Hart was attempting to support herself financially, and when it came to food, she realized she wasn’t eating any protein in her meals and was basically living off of Top Ramen.
“I felt like none of my friends related to that. They all had money from their parents or something,” Hart said. “I knew money was my number one stress before school work or relationships. Money was always on my mind, so I was tired of that. It didn't feel fair.”
Due to having full-time class schedules and for some, a full-time job, collegiate sex workers use the opportunity strip clubs and websites provide to financially support themselves and pay their expenses. But as they come to identify with the occupation, they face barriers of stigma surrounding their jobs when coming out to their families and in society.
The Emerald spoke with several women at UO who have gone down this path — making their own decisions and taking their livelihoods into their own hands — while defying more conservative views centered around the profession.
Once Hart started dancing, she went at her own pace of talking about her job. She said she never felt ashamed of dancing, but she was lying to the people around her about where she would go or what she was doing. For a long time, she didn’t tell her family about her job.
When Hart finally told them, her parents did not accept her choice. Hart describes her family as seeing stripping as a gateway to prostitution and drug use.
“They were so mad. They said some really awful things,” Hart said.
Like Hart, that sense of hiding something from your parents and essentially living a double life is one of the struggles sex workers in college face.
Sophie, who wishes to only disclose her first name, is a 2018 UO graduate who describes herself as someone who loves to dance in all settings, even having the courage to often jump and dance on tables and bars. Sophie started stripping at The Nile club during her sophomore year and found it to be convenient for her schedule.
When Sophie finally told her mom about her job, she did not approve and, to this day, is not the most supportive.
“She was like, ‘This is degrading. You're disrespecting yourself. How could a woman with respect do this?’” Sophie said.
The reaction was so bad Sophie even started to write an open book to her mother examining the harm.
“I started writing a book to her [because of] how my mother degraded me more than the men that came to visit me at the strip club,” Sophie said. Today, the two try to avoid discussing the topic.
Sophie and Hart lived a double life, hidden from their parents for a while — but eventually admitted. For others, this is a life they would like to remain concealed.
Erin, who also asked to only go by her first name, is in a position that she plans to keep for a while. Erin is a senior student at a college just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She does cam work through one-on-one Skype sessions.
“The standard session is like mutual masturbation, which can include toys, various small kink stuff if they’re just paying the normal fees, like spanking, wax play kinda thing, and you know people can amp it up, request something specific if they want,” Erin said.
This position allows Erin to make money through camming wherever there is a strong internet connection. Erin said she can make anywhere from $300 to $700 a week.
Erin’s experiences are different from other student workers because of the nature of her work, but she is still performing a service and, like Hart and Sophie, lives a double life. Her family is still not aware of her work, and she wants it to remain that way.
“I think it probably wouldn't be the end of the world for me if they found out, but that would be a hard conversation that I would like to avoid having if I can,” Erin said.
Though having to live a discreet life is one of the consequences that comes with pursuing this profession, these women feel doing sex work in college has been beneficial.
A UO senior who performs under her dancer name, “Gemini,” says sex work has changed her life in a variety of ways compared to other jobs.
“It’s been an interesting journey, like, learning who I am and not being attached to the societal roles of what society views a stripper as and what society views a student in college as,” Gemini said.
Gemini says the experiences within the clubs she has worked at have taught her how to set boundaries for herself and find confidence in her own voice. One event, in particular, helped Gemini realize how restraining one’s voice could impact her safety: In Gemini’s third month dancing, she was engaging with a customer who preferred to spank her. She recalls being okay with it at first, but soon it became too aggressive, and it didn’t stop. Her butt eventually ended up bleeding because he hit her so many times.
“I didn’t know in that moment how to communicate like, ‘Hey, you need to stop. This is uncomfortable.’” Gemini said. “There’s definitely some learning experiences where I was forced to really sit with myself and figure out what it is I’m okay with.”
Gemini shares this as a learning experience that has helped her verbally communicate to others in ways that she is still respected and her voice is heard.
For some people in the U.S., sex work is one of the more immoral things a person can do. Whether it is engaging in prostitution, stripping on a pole or selling an image of oneself on the internet for a profit, some do not see it as a real job. The argument includes the idea that this is something that takes little talent or experience to do and, for the most part, should be considered the last option. A survey conducted in 2015 on YouGov.com shows 46 percent of Americans believe prostitution should be illegal. Prostitution is currently illegal in the United States with the exception of a few brothels in certain counties in Nevada.
The controversial views surrounding the entire concept of sex work not only influence these women to feel they have to live a double life, but also prepares them for life once they have stepped away from the profession.
Sophie is currently working a daytime job in Los Angeles but is considering coming back to Portland to dance, where she also worked. With a Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science with honors, Latin American studies and romance languages, she also has plans to run for congress in 2022 and the senate in 2028. Sophie says she will not let her past employment hinder that. She is looking ahead at a future potential campaign for the presidency in 2032.
“I totally plan on running for president one day, and I decided that when all this shit comes up about my past, I'm absolutely gonna own it,” Sophie said.
Though Hart is taking some time to travel soon, she is ready to face what future employers have to say about her resume of work. She believes it is about time people get past sex workers having another career interest.
“But at this point, I'm pretty ready for future employers to be able to pull this up,” Hart said. “And for me to be able to be like, ‘if you really can't accept me and know that I'm going to do a good job then, I don't want to work for you because I do think we need to come around.’ I think we're slowly starting to."