Image Source: Mirror UK
Imagine having a secret life; a life you feel like you could never talk about with your friends and family.
It’s something we see in movies all the time, but no one ever really considers what it would be like to actually live through the secrecy, the fear of discovery, and the stress of a second life.
This was, at least for a few months, the life Olivia* lived.
Her foray into the world of sex work and online financial domination (findom) was something that changed her perspective on life.
By her definition, findom is a fetish where the ‘submissive’ gets off on having their finances controlled, but the lines between paying simply to see the money leaving the account and paying to be dominated are often blurred.
It was a double life that made her think differently about money, sex, relationships, and even the value of other people, but it was also something she hid while maintaining her mask as an ordinary university student.
Sex work is brought up a lot in conversation around universities.
Students, for the most part, tend to jokingly talk about dropping out and becoming a sex worker because anything is better than putting up with one more lecture or assignment, or even simply because getting a job can sometimes feel impossible.
“I think all women at this age consider going into some form of sex work, whether that be stripping or looking for a sugar daddy or anything like that. It’s something that you genuinely consider. You might joke about it with your friends, but there is a small kernel of truth in it,” Olivia said.
“It’s seen as easy work, which I found that it definitely isn’t. The way it’s presented through a lot of media and the societal narratives that we have around sex work is that it’s like making money while lying on your back―obviously, that wasn’t what I was doing―but to that effect.
“It’s a lot more work than that, and it is very draining, but it was one of the first times in my life I felt like I had total autonomy over something.”
The main reason for her stresses didn’t come from the work itself, but rather from what she called “society’s moralised views of sex”.
Since many aspects of sex—especially the fetish and kink side—are still frowned upon by much of society, Olivia felt like she had no choice but to hide her work from everyone she knew.
“It became my private life, in a way. I’d spend a lot of my down time where I wasn’t studying or engaging with my friends and family just researching what others in the findom industry were doing or engaging with clients that contacted me,” she said.
“At the time I was in a very intensive part of my course, and honestly every time I had a break I would be checking through my inboxes seeing if I’d gotten any messages or if I’d been approached by anyone.
“I started viewing my life very differently. Not only was I having to keep all this a secret, but I genuinely started looking at life in terms of money. Like, how much I was spending and if I could make it back.”
Money was the defining factor in why she started the work, but it was also one of the main reasons for her departure from findom.
A decrease in clients seemed, to her, to almost demand a change in how she worked.
“I felt like what I was doing wasn’t good enough, or it wasn’t enough to get people interested and that I needed to do more. That was the only moment I started compromising myself,” she said.
“I liked having money, I liked being able to buy things, which is so against a lot of my personal politics. I would argue I’m very left-leaning both socially and economically, but that world is an industry, it is a business. It runs on money, and the bottom line becomes more important than you. I was scared I was at the risk of losing myself in the interest of the bottom line.”
Adelaide is a small city, so when a client offered thousands of dollars for in-person work, she seriously weighed the risks of her first time meeting a client, the dangers of meeting a complete stranger from the internet, and how much her work was actually worth.
Luckily, she said, the decision was made for her when the client got cold feet and ran away.
Despite all the negatives associated with the sex work industry, Olivia was able to find some positives through findom.
She spoke of how sex work was presented as empowering, and is for some workers, but also how it helped her safely explore her sexuality by “practising” domination online with people she didn’t care about.
“It was a safe way of exploring my kinks. It was a practice run and seeing how I felt about them without testing them on a partner. Things can go very wrong with domination, so it was safer to practice this way without risking anything,”
“I’m in no way trying to minimise the work that a lot of findoms or other sex workers who operate exclusively through the internet do, but it’s like ordering food through the anxiety machine at McDonald’s rather than going up to the counter.”
Yet, even with this empowering self-exploration, there was also the dehumanising factors of trying to make money by catering to the unusual desires of men online.
“You are a business person, you’re just marketing yourself as the product. As much as some people might disagree with that view, it is very much my understanding of it from my experience with it,”
“You learn how to angle yourself specifically when taking photos to make your body look good. As much as there’s this feeling of ‘that looks so good’, it’s through that lens of what we’ve been taught to think is sexually attractive in women.
“And then, when I thought about it, I felt kind of gross and really dehumanised because I felt like a piece of meat holding a whip pretending to be a person.”
Olivia quit the industry after around three months of work.
In that time she felt empowered and dehumanised; she felt in control and she felt as though she would lose herself in the work; she explored her interests, and she felt like she would start seeing people only as what they could offer.
Although she has no regrets about findom, Olivia has said she will not be returning to that online world, and is instead focussing on graduating and finding more conventional work.
*Names of people and companies have been changed or omitted for privacy reasons.