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This interdisciplinary participatory action research project is a collaborative study of the business strategies and practices of women who work as independent online escorts, courtesans, or companions in the expansive realm of internet-based intimacy and e-commerce in the United States. The aim of the Erotic Entrepreneurs Project is to explore the specific market niche of escorting within the U.S.'s larger erotic economy to highlight ways in which independent escorts’ labor resembles other forms of entrepreneurship. Instead of traditional paradigms that study sex work through the lens of crime, deviance, victimization, and exploitation, this study focuses on understanding the strategic labor and entrepreneurial business practices of women who work as independent online escorts. In our gig economy, these women represent a growing group of laborers who capitalize on the vast opportunities of cyberspace to build their own businesses, including women doing so as top-end, independent escorts.

This study documents this world of intimate exchange, and the women at the helm of this online, adult commercial space. Using an original dataset collected from over 1700 escorting websites in the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and Las Vegas, an in-depth textual and graphic content analysis of escort websites, survey data on over 100 independent escorts, and ongoing in-depth interviews with women currently or recently engaged in work as independent escorts, we are documenting a historically unique and growing niche in sexual commerce.

Our findings include documentation of the relationship between escorts' advertising content and the rates they post on their websites; an exploration of how escorts’ earnings vary by their business practices and demographic characteristics; an analysis of the ways independent escorts navigate the liminally legal spaces in which they operate in the United States; a paper on the ways that erotic entrepreneurs market both rationalization and decadence; a Bourdieuian analysis of the role that social, cultural and sexual capital plays in online escorting; a study of safety strategies and power as reflected in escort screening practices; and the role of erotic entrepreneurship in the gig economy. We are also currently investigating the impact of FOSTA-SESTA and other means of social control impact independent escorts and their businesses in the United States.





If you are an independent, online escort, courtesan, or companion, over the age of 18, and you have your own website, you are invited to participate in this project; use the links below to take our online survey and to volunteer for an anonymous phone interview.







The research team is led by Dr. Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Dean of the UNLV Graduate College and faculty member in the Department of Sociology. Having spent more than 20-years studying sexual commerce, including research on the Nevada brothels, she has turned her attention to documenting the business strategies and practices of women working as independent, online escorts in the entrepreneurial gig economy. Kate uses a theoretically informed and mixed-methods interdisciplinary approach to research law, policy, and cultural phenomena related to sexual markets and commerce, and the women who labor therein. Alex Nelson, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology, and Antoinette Izzo, a Ph.D. student in Sociology, are co-investigators on this research project. Alex is a feminist anthropologist and urban ethnographer who studies romantic love, marriage and gender relations in South Korea, as well as sexual commerce. Antoinette has a doctorate in human sexuality from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, and she is continuing her research on sexual commerce while studying masculinity and U.S. military culture for her dissertation. Sarah Bessen began as a team research assistant while she was an undergraduate student at Dartmouth. After going on to earn her MPH, Sarah is now working on her M.D. at Dartmouth. Susan Lopez joined the research team in 2016 as a qualitative researcher. With a Masters degree from the London School of Economics and a longstanding commitment to this type of research, she brings expertise and insight to this research team. Finally, special thanks to our two research assistants, Jennifer Barnette who worked with us briefly, and Leslie Hunter, M.A., who continues to work with us, for their many contributions; their hard work and insights continue to make this research team stronger.




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