Second in a Sex Work Series:  The 13% rule

Is it about money? Or is it about  Economic Opportunity?  It’s about 13%   

Lets talk about the money.  The one big, undeniable reason why people are sex workers is MONEY! Money is important!  If you have already joined that extreme school of thought that all sex work is forced and the sex worker gets very little money, then you are wrong!  I will try to save you with common sense elsewhere.

Sex work isn’t just about money.  But trafficking is often about moving across borders to where more money is available.
For example, according to a recent news story, highly skilled tech workers are moving from Israel to Berlin for more money, and also for a better quality of life.  Auto industry workers have moved from Detroit, usually by internal migration, as good auto industry jobs in Detroit have dried up.  People all over the world are part of a massive churn of people trying to go somewhere not just for money, but also for economic opportunity and for a better quality of life.  Sex workers are no different and are part of this massive churn of people.

First world people can usually go wherever they wish.  But people from developing countries have to fight for chances to go anywhere.  And sometimes third world people resort to help from people who are demonized with the name “trafficker”.

So, what about the cash! 

I have seen articles comparing the price of a MacDonald’s hamburger in several countries.  So let’s come up with a similar benchmark for sex work.  Thanks to the internet it is easy to learn what we need for this discussion.  I went to and I found that the national average wage of a college educated high school teacher in America is $44,524.  That would be $3,700 a month.  This gives us a benchmark wage for a respected American profession requiring a college education.

But I am an international person.  I live in Thailand.  So, just as I picked one profession to be my American benchmark, I have picked one country to compare that same benchmark, Thailand.  There was a recent newspaper article, Bangkok Post “Vocational teachers fight for equal pay, July 5, 2014), that included the information that a Thai high school teacher with 15 years experience receives 15,000 baht a month, about $500.

So, with those two benchmarks, let’s compare them to something.

A sex worker in Bangkok is often paid 2,000 baht (about $60) for a sex act lasting less than an hour, although she may wait several hours for a customer.  Some may settle for 1,000 baht on the street and some expect a lot more than 2,000 baht, but 2,000 baht is common.  I’ll use 2,000 baht as my standard rate of pay for one sex act in Thailand.

Now it gets very Interesting! 

Let’s do some simple math (15,000 / 2,000 = .1333 or 13 1/3 %)  So, if a sex worker has one sex act lasting less than an hour she earns the equivalent of 13 1/3 % of the teacher’s monthly salary.  Let’s round down to an even 13% for our convenience.

So, now we have one benchmark for how much a college educated teacher is paid in America, and another for how much a college educated teacher is paid in Thailand.  And, third, we know how much a sex worker is paid in Thailand.  We discover that in Thailand the income from one sex act is equal to about 13% of the Thai high school teacher’s monthly salary.

Now lets go a step further and apply that percentage to the American teacher’s salary:

Monthly salary $3,700 X  13.3 %  =  $ 500 for one hour of sex

Therefore, in theory the American sex worker can earn $492 (round to $500) for an hour’s sex work based on this 13% standard.

Again we have some facts to validate this.  The popular 2009 book “Super Freak-onomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner  provides us a 40 page review of economic studies of sex work in Chicago.  Several pages are dedicated to one of an estimated 1,000 call girls in Chicago.   Her name is Allie.  She began to charge $300, but quickly raised her price to $400, and again to $450, and finally to $500.  She did not lose older clients when she raised her price.  And her annual income came to about $200,000 with a tightly controlled half day work load.  So, Alle meets the 13% run perfectly with one change.  Alle was a smart business woman and a hard worker.  She makes a lot more than a college grad school teach.  But, per hour, Alle meets the 13% rule.

With these two sets of facts the benchmark for a college educated high school teacher remains valid.  A typical sex worker can expect to earn 13% of a high school teacher’s monthly wage in one hour.  That appears to be true in Bangkok and also in Chicago.

I call this my 13% rule and I will be interested to follow up with similar analysis in other countries, if that becomes possible.

I spent two months in Madagascar last year doing research on your behalf.  The price for most sex work in Madagascar is 40,000 ariary (about $18) and this is often for overnight service. I am curious now to know if, in this dreadfully poor country, a high school teacher might be paid about $125 a month based on our new experience with both Thailand and the USA.  That would further validate my 13% rule.

But wait!  There is a very important point for you to take into consideration.   Don’t forget the Thai sex worker is almost always a woman who came to Bangkok or a Thai tourist area from the countryside; who often had a baby or two at a young age; had very little educational opportunity; and almost no other job skills or opportunities.  She faces discrimination, or at least thinks she does, due to her country-accented Thai language and the likelihood of a darker skin tone where fair skin is important.  The American sex worker may not have any of these handicaps.

As a Thai sex worker this woman, with all these handicaps, can earn as much as a college educated, experienced school teacher if she has approximately 7 or 8 sex acts over the course of a month, in other words two paid sex acts a week, two hours a week and her cash income equals or exceeds that of a the professional college educated worker.

Our typical Thai sex worker isn’t an innocent virgin.  She may, in fact, enjoy sex – and why not?  She has lots of examples to guide her maybe in her own family or community and a new sense of community among other Thai sex workers.

If a sex worker in Madagascar could find her way to Thailand, in other words find a trafficker, she can make more than 3 times as much per sex act as she makes at home.

And I will ask for your use of common sense now.  What possible reason would any trafficker have to abuse, coerce, or force a woman to do this.  If Madagascar sex workers had the chance to be trafficked, meaning get help from someone, to travel toThailand to be a sex worker for $60 instead of $18 per sex act, there would be a line around the block of Madagascar sex workers with money in their hand begging for that economic opportunity.

The key word is opportunity.  The goal is money in exchange for the sex work.  Trafficking is all about opportunity.  The man marooned in a refuge camp with this family sees opportunity if a trafficker can get him a crappy, dangerous job on a fishing boat that will get him out of the camp.  Legality be damned!

The Madagascar sex worker who is paid $18 for a sex act sees opportunity if a trafficker can get her to Thailand where she can do the same thing, but for $60.  The Thai sex workers see opportunity if she can go to an Middle Eastern country or European country and possibly make several hundred dollars for a sex act.

Does any of this help you understand trafficking of sex workers?  It is easy to understand why the widely toted concept of women forced to be a sex workers is highly exaggerated.  Do you see how, in fact, willing sex workers are excited for a chance to get the help they want to go somewhere for that opportunity do exactly what they are doing any way but for a lot more money somewhere else.

This is the true face of international trafficking.  The United States and its rescue industry of NGOs are zealously rescuing people who don’t want to be rescued.  They force America’s understanding of sex related issues onto people who do not agree with American culture regarding sex.

This issue is reaching the point where it is becoming impossible to believe anything you see bloggers say about trafficking.

Trafficking is about opportunity – – and much more

Sex work is not just about money and it is not just about opportunity.

Part three in this series about sex work will offer several more reasons why sex work and sex tourism in the developing world is misunderstood by the anti-trafficking industry.


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