Rewards & Casual Sex Work
Content warning: Sexual assault/trauma
If you’ve spent any time on Grindr, you may have come across profiles looking for or offering ‘rewards’ or advertising themselves as ‘generous’ / ‘gen’ before. These are terms used on the app to indicate that someone is looking to give or receive money in exchange for sex or quality time.
Rewards: Payment or gifts in exchange for a variety of sexual acts.
Generous/Gen: Guys who are looking to offer rewards.
While it’s important to note, that the Grindr terms of service prohibit soliciting sex work on the app, we know it still happens quite frequently and we wanted to find out more about what it’s like to receive ‘rewards’ or engaging in ‘casual’ sex work in Aotearoa.
Aotearoa was the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work in 2003. This means that sex workers (SWs) in Aotearoa have labour rights, the right to determine their own work conditions, the right to seek justice if they are wronged or harmed while working, as well as having access to sex worker clinics, free condoms and organisations who support and advocate for SWs in Aotearoa.
Men who are participating in sex work more casually, or only on odd occasions, may not consider themselves involved in the sex industry of Aotearoa as full-time sex workers.
Since I’m only doing it once a month. I don’t necessarily think of it as being escort work despite it most likely being escort work.
The advent of apps like Grindr means that you can be offered a canopy of experiences you may have never been originally looking for, from drugs to kinks, to an offer of being paid for sex. People who may have never considered entering the sex work industry can dip their toes in without the safeguards that you may find in spaces like brothels.
This sort of casual entry into the work also means that people may do so without using any of the support networks or safety nets available.
Chris*, 35, has been doing casual sex work since he was a teenager. His first encounter was with a man he’d met online, pre-Grindr.
“I was on the youth wage, which I think at the time was $9 an hour, next to nothing. So, spending 20 minutes with this guy was the same as a whole day’s work,” says Chris.
Luis*, 26, had his first experience when he was 19 but had received many offers before that.
“I was back in my hometown on uni break and needed some extra cash. My best friend and I went over to this guy’s house to hook up with him. I didn’t enjoy it and I ended up just watching my friend fuck the guy because I couldn’t get hard.”
The appeal of having sex for rewards is different for everyone. It can be a sexually fulfilling experience, empowering you in the bedroom and creating an avenue to experiment.
“There’s definitely been times where I’ve tried things that I wouldn’t have necessarily tried before and it turned out to be something I really liked,” says Chris.
Others might get into it to help with bills or to pay for some extra luxuries they couldn’t otherwise afford. It can also open doors for travel, and other luxury experiences. For Chris, it has given him the opportunity to be flown all over the country by clients.
Chris has found that not all men are looking for the same thing when seeking out sex workers.
“Some guys just want a quick get in, get out but others do want a bit more company and intimacy,” says Chris.
Similarly, Luis has found that while some guys are just wanting to blow a load or two, others are interested in forming more of an emotional connection.
“The guys who are looking for more of a connection tend to ask more questions about my life and what I do. I don’t always tell them the truth for my own privacy. It’s fun to get a little creative and sell them a fantasy. In a way that’s what they’re paying for anyway,” says Luis.
When I was younger, I was a bit more naïve and more open to meeting people without necessarily knowing exactly who they are
Chris doesn’t consider himself an escort, although for him it is a thin line between the two.
“I’d say it’s the infrequency of the work. Since I’m only doing it once a month. I don’t necessarily think of it as being escort work despite it most likely being escort work. I guess it depends on your mindset going into it,” says Chris.
Safety can sometimes be an afterthought when having sex for rewards, since you may not be actively using the support networks, resources, and protections available to sex workers in Aotearoa.
Luis and Chris have both had a trial-and-error approach to figuring out how to keep themselves safer when receiving rewards.
“When I was younger, I was a bit more naïve and more open to meeting people without necessarily knowing exactly who they are,” says Chris.
“That was alright to start with but there were a few situations that started to make me realise that I do need to be a little bit more aware of who it is that I’m meeting and what situations I’m getting myself into.”
You can think about the same, or similar, safety precautions that you would do before a recreational hook-up for one that you’re doing for rewards.
Chris says that if he could go back and give his younger self some advice, he would say to be more assertive with his clients.
“When I was younger it was easiest to do what the other guy was telling you he wanted, as opposed to saying that wasn’t what I was into,” says Chris.
“It can be really easy for people in a position of power to coerce you into doing things you might not want to do.”
Luis has also found that with more experience, he has been able to say no to things he would’ve reluctantly agreed to previously.
“Nowadays I set out clear boundaries before we meet up. I ask what they’re looking for and see if it aligns with what I’m prepared to do,” says Luis.
You can also withdraw consent at any time when having sex with someone, whether it is for cash or not.
Luis says that anyone thinking about getting into sex work casually or full time should look out for people who don’t pay after the service is done.
“One of my worst experiences was when a guy didn’t pay me after we hooked up. He said he could only bank transfer me and I watched him do it but the money never arrived in my account. I felt really stupid. Now I only do cash and I need to see it before we do anything.”
There were times when Chris was doing sex work to meet his basic needs or get “food on the table” which led to finding himself in sticky situations.
“When you need the money more, those [safety] standards kind of slip a little bit and you sort of look at the cash as opposed to the whole kind of umbrella of what you’re getting yourself into.”
In this way, we can begin to observe the levels of privilege and safety afforded to different sex workers influenced by intersecting factors, including ethnicity, type of sex work, age, gender, socio-economic and immigration status.
This intersects with a hierarchy of work that has been described as the whorearchy by those in the industry. The whorearchy describes the way stereotypes of financial reward, as well as health and legal risks, associated with various acts classify social power among sex workers. A worker's place on the whorearchy doesn't describe their material outcomes, but rather the level of stigma associated with the conditions of their labour. Using Grindr can give guys a degree of control over where they fall along this hierarchy.
The Honour Project Aotearoa found that 28% of takatāpui and Māori LGBTQI survey participants reported engaging in sex work. Of those respondents, 65% had engaged in sex work in a private setting and 28% in street-based sex work. The participants also reported that it was in these settings where they experienced “high levels of racism, sexual and gender identity-based discrimination”.
While this article cannot speak to the experiences of takatāpui and Māori LGBTQI sex workers or street-based sex workers, it acknowledges the difference of experience and varying levels of privilege and safety within the industry.
Another factor to consider about sex work is how it may affect your personal sex life. Some people, like Chris and Luis, have found that it has affected the sex with people in their own time.
“Sometimes when you meet up with a guy for rewards, it’s easy to switch into autopilot and then that can become the default,” says Chris.
The silver lining for Chris was that this also improved his communication with his partners outside of rewards.
“Being a bit more involved with the guys I’m meeting up with for fun and trying to be more present as well as having more of a romantic setting helped separate it from the guys I was hooking up with for rewards.”
While there are some risks involved and steps you should take to keep yourself safer, having sex for rewards has overall been an uplifting and pleasurable experience for Luis and Chris.
While keeping in mind that experiences vary wildly, the ‘rewards’ of the work can extend far beyond the extra cash in your back pocket. Sex should be fun and enjoyable for all involved, regardless of how or why you’re having it.
If you’re thinking about trying it out, or you are already, then check out the tips and resources below.
- Check in with yourself: You may want to check in with yourself emotionally and physically to make sure you're ready to get into the work. Some things you can ask yourself include:
- What is your relationship to sex at the moment?
- Do you have any sexual or intimacy trauma that could make sex work an unsafe thing for you?
- How discreet do you want to be?
- Do you have any internalised shame/stigma around sex and sex work that you need to need to unpack before doing this?
- Familiarise yourself with resources and support available: There is plenty of support and resources available that will help with everything from managing clients to what to do if things go wrong.
- Have a chat with other sex workers: If you know someone who has done the work before, then talk to them about their experiences and see if it’s right for you.
- Sexual health: It’s a good idea to test for HIV and STIs so you know your status. Also, think about how you choose to keep yourself and your partners safe. The law requires sex workers and clients to adopt safer sex practices. You can also order free condoms from us here.
- Location: Think about where you want to meet your client. You may feel safer meeting them at your own home or going to their house.
- Establish boundaries: If you’ve arranged the hook-up on Grindr, it is a good idea to agree on what you are prepared to do and for how much. That way you both have clear expectations going into it.
- Other tips for staying safe in a hookup: Our guide on staying safe during a hookup has some good advice that also applies to meeting up with someone for rewards.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Substances can impair your judgement and make it more difficult to stay in control. Staying sober before and while meeting clients is the best way. Watch out for any foods or drinks you are offered.
- Consent: Remember that you can remove consent at any time during the job. Even if you agreed to something previously and changed your mind.
- Pleasure: Your own pleasure is also important when meeting up for rewards. Communicate what you like and don’t like and it will be a more sexually rewarding and fulfilling experience for all of you.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Know where you are and who else may be around, especially at night or outdoors.
- Have an exit plan: If you’re not at home, know how you’re going to get home. It’s safest to have access to your own reliable transport. Some people arrange to have a friend call them at a certain time to check-in on them or give them an excuse to leave.
- Check in with yourself again: You may find that you feel differently than you thought you would after a rewards hook-up and that’s okay. If you need confidential, free support there are resources below you can reach out to.
- Self-care: Filthy Geographic has compiled a list of self-care activities for sex workers that can help you look after your health holistically and connect with your community.
- Sexual Health: Keep up to date with your regular sexual health checks suitable to your needs to keep yourself, clients, and community safe.