Exploring experiences of leaving sex work: a meta-ethnography of qualitative evidence; and, OnlyFans and me: navigating self-concept and identity through online sex work
Harrison, Katharine F.
Sex work can present multiple risks and challenges, potentially significantly impacting wellbeing of individuals working in this industry. Sex work includes indoor (e.g., brothels, escort, online work) and street work. Different types of working are associated with different degrees of exposure to risk and different types of risk. In addition, sex work is heavily stigmatised and different types of sex work can be more stigmatised depending on level of client interaction and other marginalised identities of workers. As a result, sex workers are often excluded from professional services. Much past research has focused on street sex work, particularly research exploring risks and tailoring appropriate support. Qualitative research has suggested among women street sex workers, desire to exit is high. However, indoor workers have reported greater job enjoyment relative to outdoor workers, and have less exposure to police and violence. Leaving sex work has been argued to be a complex process with multiple factors that can make it challenging to exit. Previous research exploring leaving sex work has often been qualitative to capture lived experiences of individuals; this is recommended in sex work research. Drawing upon qualitative literature, a meta-ethnography was used to explore how individuals who either are working or have worked across any sector of sex work experience the leaving process, and whether certain factors helped or hindered this journey. Four themes were identified: Envisaging a different future, developing an exit plan, and identity transformation were apparent stages of the leaving process, each with different facilitators and barriers within them, with feeling othered as a significant barrier to leaving throughout the journey. Non-judgemental multi-disciplinary professional support across the leaving process is recommended. Most included studies explored street-based sex work. It was highlighted further research exploring experiences of individuals in indoor work would be beneficial to further understand unique challenges for different sectors and demographics of sex work and inform tailoring of more individualised support. There has been significant growth in the online sex work sector. This sector creates potential new opportunities and challenges for amateur and experienced workers. Despite its relative ubiquity, there has been little robust research into experiences of individuals creating online adult content, particularly impact on their wellbeing. Therefore, an explorative study drew upon methodological principles of grounded theory to explore experiences of identity and self-concept navigation when selling adult content on OnlyFans, investigating impacts on wellbeing. Fifteen UK-based women content creators were interviewed, and a theoretical model was developed. The wide array of different experiences, positives, negatives, and challenges which impacted their overall self-concept was highlighted. This study emphasises importance of recognising complex, dynamic, and diverse processes individuals go through in managing multiple demands of this relatively new sector and attempting to navigate selfconcept and establish an identity; it presents unique benefits and challenges when compared to other sectors of sex work. It is important mental health professionals are aware of distinct benefits and challenges on self-esteem and wellbeing that OnlyFans presents when supporting individuals, and are amenable to the heterogeneity of this population, attempting to promote alternative narratives to individuals working in this rapidly-evolving sector.