Selling nudes online - should be easy money, right? As Metro columnist Madeleine Holden found out when she talked to Aucklanders doing just that, it's not as lucrative as you might think.
A 23-year-old sex worker in Auckland, with a day job in the tech industry, is explaining to me the ins and outs of selling nudes online. “I’m a hooker — I’ve been a sugar baby since 15 and a full-service worker all my adult life,” Jyoti, who uses they/them pronouns, says. “I often sell nudes to people who see my full-service Twitter or escort ads, or to people who have seen me and pay a little extra for an extended ‘Girlfriend Experience’ where they get to sext with me, or get custom polaroids of me, or whatever.”
Over the past few years, there has been increasing interest in the phenomenon of people, usually women, selling nudes online. Articles have tended to sensationalise the practice with headlines like “How to Make $10,000-A-Week Selling Nudes” and “A Complete Stranger Sent Me 10k”, suggesting that there is big money to be made for little effort. The reality, however, is more humble. “Selling nudes is not super lucrative since Backpage shut down,” Jyoti says, referring to the classifieds website that was one of the most popular sites for selling sex before it was controversially shut down in April last year, the company pleading guilty to human-trafficking charges in the US. “It was a lot easier then to sell feet pics or whatever without having to deal with hustling and getting repeatedly banned from Fetlife or Tinder. Now it’s easier just to sell your ass.”
Grace, another 23-year-old Aucklander who works as a stripper to support her “vanilla” job, sells nudes through social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, as well as by word of mouth and on monthly subscription sites. She says the online sex-work market is over-saturated. “More people these days are wanting to get into the online market because it’s readily accessible, and if society’s pressuring us to be hot, why not profit off it?” she says. “However, this does mess with the other people in the market, because of different factors like the prices others have that you have to compete with, and customers are stretched a little thinner.” She says that to be a high earner it’s a full-time job of constantly updating and networking.
So what’s caused the over-saturation? “I’d more put it down to social media,” Grace continues. “It shows people the possibilities of what they can do, and how the lifestyle allows some people to live.”
Melissa, a 30-year-old lawyer in Auckland, cites social media — Twitter, specifically — as the reason for her brief stint selling nudes online about five years ago. “I was new to the platform, and I was following a few women who talked about making money this way,” she explains. “I tweeted saying that men could DM [direct message] me for nudes, and I immediately got some interest.” She says she sold about 10 or 20 nudes before she threw in the towel to focus on her law career. “I was never very committed to it,” she adds, “and in hindsight I think I was undercharging.”
While Melissa is no longer in the game, both Jyoti and Grace tell me that selling nudes, while not without its difficulties in a crowded market, offers some real advantages. “I have chronic pain issues,” Grace tells me, “so I wanted to be able to sell things that didn’t require plenty of physical work on bad days.”
Jyoti cites the money and flexibility as perks. “I was a survival sex worker for many years — I’m disabled, queer and estranged from a very Christian family,” they say. “Sex work allowed me to eat gluten-free, which I need for my gut condition. It allowed me to see specialists and to afford textbooks and the fiendish cost of studying in Auckland on a student loan.”
Jyoti says time-wasters can be a real headache, however. “Increasingly, especially with the use of WhatsApp or Snapchat for this purpose, people want to engage with you; they want it to be a two-way street,” they say. “The instant you’re not just a content creator but a manic pixie dream girl, mommy, girlfriend, wife and/or therapist, that gets real messy.” Jyoti says setting boundaries is crucial, but it can result in lost work. “If you say, ‘Hey, you paid for clothed nudes from me and casual chat about your day; you absolutely cannot send me pictures where you’ve written my work name in lipstick across your girlfriend’s panties and are wearing them — what the fuck’, you lose a dumbass idiot who is also lucrative because they’re a dumbass idiot.”
Plenty of time can be wasted at the outset of the transaction, by would-be clients who don’t commit.
“There are guys who are always like, ‘Send photos so I know you’re real’, and if you reply, ‘Sure, that’s $40’, they lose their minds,” Jyoti says. “They don’t expect that to be something you have also worked out how to monetise. So many people think they should be entitled to these pictures for free.”
This piece originally appeared in the July-August 2019 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline "Nude Awakening".