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“People don’t call it ‘prostitution’ anymore,” says Caitlin, 20, a college student in Montreal. Some girls get very rigid about it, like ‘This is a woman’s choice.’ ”“Is Prostitution Just Another Job?

” asked magazine in March; it seemed to be a rhetorical question, with accounts of young women who found their self-esteem “soaring” through sex work and whose “stresses seem not too different from any young person freelancing or starting a small business.” “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?

“They want the perfect girlfriend—in their eyes,” says Miranda, the young woman at our table.* “She’s well groomed, cultured, classy, able to converse about anything—but not bringing into it any of her real-world problems or feelings.”Miranda is 22 and has the wavy bobbed hair and clipped mid-Atlantic accent of a 1930s movie star; she grew up in a Texas suburb. He gave me money to help out with my living expenses.”It ended when she went on a school year abroad and started meeting men on Seeking Arrangement, the Web site and app which match “sugar daddies” with “sugar babies,” whose company the daddies pay for with “allowances.” Now, she says, she has a rotation of three regular “clients”—”a top Austin lawyer, a top architect, and another tech guy,” all of them married. “I signed up for Seeking Arrangement when I couldn’t pay my rent.

“I’ve learned how to look like this, talk like this,” she says. She adds, “Their relationships are not my business.”She confesses she isn’t physically attracted to any of these men, but “what I’m looking for in this transaction is not sexual satisfaction. But I was held back because of the stigma if anyone finds out.”“What right does anyone have to judge you for anything you do with your body? The most surprising thing about Miranda’s story is how unsurprising it is to many of her peers.

A string of feminist-sex-worker narratives have been weaving through pop culture over the last few years, as typified by (2007–11), the British ITV2 series based on the memoir by the pseudonymous Belle de Jour. ” snaps the main character, Christine, played by Riley Keough, when her disapproving sister asks why she’s working as an escort.

Belle, played by the bubbly Billie Piper, is a savvy college grad who hates working at boring, low-paying office jobs, so she becomes a self-described “whore,” a lifestyle choice which always finds her in fashionable clothes. “I’ve read every feminist book since Simone de Beauvoir and I still do what I do.” And then there is (2016–), the dramatic series on Starz, a darker take on a similarly glossy world of high-priced hotels and high-end shopping trips financed by wealthy johns. Christine likes sex work so much she leaves law school to do it full-time.

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“Out here, as long as you’re wearing Saint Laurent and the newest items, that’s all people care about, so my friends and I were obsessed with fashion.“Now people just go on Rent Men,” says Christopher.As the debate over whether the United States should decriminalize sex work intensifies, prostitution has quietly gone mainstream among many young people, seen as a viable option in an impossible economy and legitimized by a wave of feminism that interprets sexualization as empowering.On Tumblr, babies exchange tips on the best sugaring sites and how much to charge.They post triumphant pictures of wads of cash, designer shoes, and bags.She’s talking about how she started sugaring when she was 18.“People kept telling me and my friends, ‘There are rich daddies who will take care of you.’ ”She had profiles on Seeking Millionaire and Date Billionaire when she landed a whale on Seeking Arrangement.The college student at our table recommends the ribs—she’s been here before, on “dates” with her “daddies.” “There are a lot of tech guys,” she says. I reject it when people say I’m oppressed by the patriarchy.“They want the girlfriend experience, without having to deal with an actual girlfriend.”“The girlfriend experience” is the term women in the sex trade use for a service involving more than just sex. People who make seven dollars an hour are oppressed by the patriarchy.”“She’s in control of the male gaze,” says another woman at the table, Erin, 22.“I thought about doing it,” says Kristen, 21, tentatively.A growing number of young people are selling their bodies online to pay student loans, make the rent, or afford designer labels.Is it just an unorthodox way to make ends meet or a new kind of exploitation? The waiter with the handlebar mustache encourages us to “participate in the small-plate culture.” Geraldine’s, the swank spot in Austin’s Hotel Van Zandt, is brimming with tech guys, some loudly talking about money. “I’m networking,” Miranda maintains, “learning things from older men who give me insights into the business world. I’ve learned so many soft skills that will help me in my career.“While in college,” she goes on, “I’ve had the ability to focus on developing myself because I’m not slaving away at a minimum-wage job.

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