The Talisman may collect a share of the sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Take advantage of being a student: Use this link to sign up for Amazon Prime Student and get the first six months free. You'll receive products faster with free shipping and access to streaming services and more exclusive deals and discounts.

This story was originally published in early December in “Movement,” the fifth issue of Talisman magazine.

Note: Sex work remains a highly dangerous and stigmatized profession. As such, all names in this story have been changed. All claims regarding involvement with sex work have been fact-checked with payment records and in one case, an exotic dancer’s place of employment.


Almost every Thursday after she gets out of class, Bowling Green freshman Sara Isakovic (not her real name) drives to Louisville for work. When she gets into the city, she grabs a bite to eat around 6 p.m. and heads to Blue Diamond Gentleman’s Club where she’s worked for just under a month as an exotic dancer. She does her makeup, gets dressed into a slinky one-piece and straps up her black, six-inch stilettos — the ones with grips on the bottom “so you don’t fall on your ass,” she says. She exits the dressing room for the club’s multi-level lounge filled with electric blue lights, spinning polls and pulsating music.

“Just being on stage makes me feel really good,” Isakovic said. “I just feel like all eyes are on me.”

Isakovic is the daughter of Bosnian immigrants. Though her parents are Muslim, she said they didn’t raise her to be religious so much as to work hard and get an education. She hopes to use her business-focused majors to open up her own gentlemen’s club someday.

She started dancing at Bowling Green’s Top Hat Cabaret Gentlemen’s Club in February 2017 to pay off a $2,000 school bill. Within a month, she’d paid off the bill but decided to keep dancing because she liked the financial security it offered. However, a few months into the gig, a friend of the family recognized her while she was working and told her parents.

“They just told me, ‘It’s not what nice girls do,’” she said.

Unable and unwilling to dance in Bowling Green clubs for fear of being betrayed to her parents again, Isakovic joined the website My Girl Fund in the winter of 2017 to make extra money as a webcam model.

With the advent of the digital age, sex work is easier, safer and more accessible than ever. Traditional sex work most commonly refers to prostitution but can also refer to porn modeling and acting and exotic dancing. This work is often associated with dangers such as harassment, physical and sexual assault, disease transmission, stalking and murder, according to a 2001 article in the British Medical Journal written by the U.K. coordinator of the European Network for HIV/STD Prevention in Prostitution.

The internet age, however, has created an ever-growing list of ways to make money from sex services without ever leaving your house. And though there are still risks associated with digital sex work such as stalking, harassment having personal information revealed, online sex work minimizes dangers associated with traditional sex work, according to a 2016 essay by Angela Jones, a sociology professor at Farmingdale State College. This digital sex work includes amateur or self-produced pornography, live webcam shows, Snapchat subscriptions and the selling of panties and other intimate items.

Bowling Green native Sara Isakovic (not her real name) gets ready at Blue Diamond Gentlemen’s Club before her shift. It was a chore to do her hair and makeup when she first started, but she said she’s grown to enjoy getting ready. “I just like making myself look good and feel good,” Isakovic said. (Photo by Lily Thompson.)

According to PornHub’s annual website analysis, 810,000 amateur videos were uploaded in 2017.

Digital sex work seems to be particularly appealing to college-aged women. College students aged 18 to 22 normally comprise 25 percent of MyGirlFund’s sellers, with 500 additional college-aged women joining the site at the start of summer 2013, according to a July 2013 press release.

“The young women joining our site appreciate the total autonomy we grant them,” Stefan Patrick, MyGirlFund’s director of business development, said in the press release. “They are free to set their own prices for the content and interaction they chose (sic) to provide. They work when they want to from the privacy of their own homes.”

Isakovic said she doesn’t think this movement toward pornography is affecting the exotic dancing industry because the two are so different.

“I think it’ll still be around, just because people still want the physicalness of it,” Isakovic said. “It’s still face-to-face. You can’t touch on someone or have someone dance on you on a computer screen.”

Isakovic said though she often encounters harassment, like men who get aggressive with her during lap dances or others who call her a “whore,” she never feels unsafe. At Blue Diamond, dancers wear walkie talkies when they give lap dances, and patrons get ejected if they act out. Ultimately, she said she always stands up for herself if patrons mistreat her.

“You can call me whatever you want, but at the end of the day, you’re still paying me,” she said.

And though she still performs cam shows on occasion, Isakovic said she prefers dancing because it’s more efficient, and she doesn’t have to spend so much time promoting herself. Ultimately, though, she doesn’t need to perform cam shows, because she makes plenty of money dancing at Blue Diamond.

“I never felt like I had a strong online presence,” Isakovic said, “I just feel like that’s a lot of work to try
to promote yourself.”

Isakovic also said she values the relationships she’s made with other dancers. Though they’re in competition with one another to convince patrons to buy private lap dances, ultimately, she said, the dancers support each other.

“I think I like just being around empowered girls who have control over what they’re doing,” she said.


Bowling Green senior Kelly Moore (not her real name) said she was drawn to digital sex work because she knew there was a market for photos and videos of girls with her body type — BBW or “Big Beautiful Woman,” a niche kink for people who are attracted specifically to plus-size women.

“Fat’s not a bad word by the way” she said.

Her and her boyfriend, Wade (not his real name), decided to open a Tumblr account in July, and a few months later they began selling photo sets to the clients they found on the site.

“I’m a plus-sized person, so there is a market for that — let me just tell y’all, there is a market, for, that,” she said, snapping her fingers with each of the last three words.

The stigma around sex work, even in the digital age, makes Bowling Green senior Kelly Moore (not her real name) frightened for her future. Moore has a full-time job and is a full-time student. “If somebody were to recognize me in my future job from what I am doing now, that would not be a good thing” Moore said. (Photo by Lily Thompson)

Moore is active in her church and loves to play Dungeons and Dragons with her boyfriend, whose photography equipment helped her get started posting photos online. She wants to get her master’s degree in social work so she can work to protect at-risk children and see their lives change.

Moore said she’s always been interested in online sex work as a means of both self-expression and supplemental income for her full-time job. She said she was surprised that people are so willing to pay for her nude photos even though the internet is already saturated with free porn.

“There’s so much stuff on the internet that’s free, but I guess there’s some aspect of being able to talk to the person and being like ‘Oh send me pictures of your butthole’ that’s really personal,” she said, laughing.

Moore said she was also struck by how much work it takes to excel in online sex work.

“It’s not easy,” Moore said. “It’s very emotionally taxing and physically taxing depending on the type of sex work you are putting yourself in.”

Most of this extra work, Moore said, is interacting with male clients who expect her to flirt with them for free, send her unsolicited nude photos or even ask her to provide emotional support. A regular client once asked her to assure him that he isn’t a bad person for buying porn.

“Some men just expect interactions for free, and that’s just not what I’m here to do,” Moore said. “I’m not here to flirt with you. Don’t send me pictures of your penis unless you’re going to Venmo me first, then that’s fine. It’s just men not understanding boundaries, 100 percent.”

Despite these unwanted interactions, Moore said the work is worth it to her so far, and it’s definitely safer than performing sex work in person.

“Sending a guy a picture of my nipples is so much better and safer to me than meeting a random guy,” Moore said.

And though the internet is drawing more people to sex work, Moore said she doesn’t think the stigma of performing sexual acts for money will ever truly go away.

“To me, it’s always going to be seen as a negative thing because society loves to tell women what to do with their bodies and their sexuality,” Moore said. “Female sexuality will probably always be a controlled thing.”


For five months in the late summer and fall of 2017, a typical morning for Sierra Cooper (not her real name) involved waking up to breastfeed her infant son in bed. As the sun rose outside and her son watched cartoons, Sierra sat at her kitchen table with a bowl of oats and scrolled through her phone looking for buyers to purchase her underwear.

After putting her son down for his first nap, she’d close the door to her bedroom, prop up her iPad and take off her clothes to masturbate on camera for strangers.

On July 15, 2017, Sierra, who was 23 at the time, sold her first pair of underwear to a buyer she met on the website Pantydeal, joining the nearly 500,000 other active sellers on the site.

Sierra said she puts a lot of thought, time and often research into her decisions. She married at 20 because she knows she hates change. In their premarital counseling, she and her husband Andrew (not his real name) decided that the only conditions under which they’d divorce would be if one cheated on the other or if either abandoned Christianity. They wed during fall break at the community college in the small town they’d shared all their lives.

Their wedding was on a Sunday because it was cheaper than Saturday, and they paid for the ceremony with financial aid refunds. When Sierra talked about how Andrew led her back to the Christian faith, her eyes welled up with tears.

“Ultimately, I feel like our love story is — as cheesy as it sounds — it really was just a work of God,” Sierra said.

When Sierra began online sex work, her son was just over a year old, and she had been struggling with intense postpartum depression and anxiety since his birth. Though Andrew had a well-paying job, their insurance didn’t allow her to seek therapy.

“That’s a luxury poor, middle class people don’t have,” Sierra said. “You can’t afford to take care of your mental health, so you have to find other outlets for it.”

Sex work wasn’t on her radar when she joined a private Facebook group for moms to discuss their sexuality. She was merely looking for ways to find herself again in the disorienting throes of depression and new motherhood and wanted to speak to other moms who felt the same.

“You do kind of lose your identity as a mom,” she said. “It’s like that’s all you’re looked at anymore. Moms are sexual beings too.”

Through the group, she made fast friends with Georgia Anderson (not her real name), a 31-year-old military wife from Clarksville, Tennessee, who came to share her success selling underwear online. Sierra was intrigued by the opportunity for extra income and to lead an exciting double life.

Andrew was hesitant at first. He was nervous that their identities and reputations would be compromised. Also as a devoted Christian, he wasn’t sure if God would punish them.

“I know we’ll be forgiven for this, but we’re going to have to account for it,” Andrew said he remembers thinking. “We’ve got to pay the bills.”

With Georgia’s inside expertise and the insight of Andrew’s intense research, Sierra created her online alter ego, complete with a burner email, private Paypal account and stage name. Though she assumed she would just be able to sell used underwear, she soon found out there was more to the industry.

“You put a lot of grunt into it,” Sierra said. “People don’t realize if you actually want to make it in that industry, it’s a lot of money and time.”

Most of the items she sold were pieces of lace underwear and one-piece lingerie sets she got as gifts at her bridal shower. Sometimes sellers would ask her to wear the panties for several days or while she worked out. These sold for $10-30 a piece depending on the request.

Some items were by request, like the nursing bra she sold to a man with a breastfeeding fetish. She made the same customer a video of her squeezing milk out of her breasts while she masturbated and said his name. Custom videos are sold for $4-10 per minute.

Sometimes her husband, Andrew, would help her film videos at night after they put their son to bed. He’d hold the camera while the two had sex, altering angles and positions based on clients’ requests.

“I was the male talent,” he said, laughing.

Once, a client paid Sierra to insult him, but she didn’t know what to say. Andrew told her to give him the phone and the two sat together laughing while Andrew typed lewd and disparaging messages to the stranger on the other end of the phone.

The work was difficult, but it supplemented the family’s income. It even allowed Sierra to join her first gym and begin a series of outdoor sports — activities she and Andrew continue today, often with her son in tow.

Soon, however, the work became too demanding and affected the couple’s relationship. Customers required flirting before they’d commit to a sale, and Sierra was often too exhausted from her digital sex work to be intimate with Andrew. When they did, it was difficult to separate pleasure from profit.

“It’s hard to take a picture and be physically able to have sex,” Andrew said. “Your arousal is done because you’re focusing.”

Sierra also had trouble keeping up with the demands of keeping customers interested. Sometimes, she was too tired to have sex with her husband.

“It wasn’t just something we did because we were married and we loved each other,” Sierra said. “It was almost a chore. And I was like, this is not what God wants for marriage. He wants you to actually love each other. This is a gift from him.”

In December, the couple made the decision to stop sex work altogether. Andrew said though he wouldn’t do it again, he wouldn’t take it back.

“I’m not one to dwell on the past,” Andrew said. “I’m not ashamed of it because it changed our view on things. It humanized that industry for me, and it was kind of an eye-opening experience.”

Though Sierra was always supportive of sex work, her experience made her realize how common online sex work is.

“I think a lot more people do it than we realize,” Sierra said. “It’s average, everyday people you’re going to pass in the grocery store.”

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to the same woman with two different pseudonyms, Georgia Anderson and Jess. The Talisman regrets the error.

Sharing is Caring