An outspoken defender of sex worker rights, Aella is a former factory worker who never graduated college. At one point, she was one of the most successful and best-known creators on the adult subscription site OnlyFans, earning more than $100,000 per month. She has now pivoted to doing data science research full time, with an emphasis on sexual fetishes. In March, she spoke with Reason's Liz Wolfe about her work as an escort and a cam girl, the class distinctions in different types of sex work, and why the most successful sex workers are selling much more than sex.
Q: What was camming like when you first got started?
A: Really scary, because I had come from an extremely conservative culture. We were Calvinists. My dad is a professional evangelical debater. So, when I started camming, I made $60 the first night, and I was like, "This is more money for four hours of work than I've seen in my lifetime." I was extremely excited, and it was something where I could actually see results from working really hard, and that was the first time I'd been put into a system where I could work really hard and have concrete results from it.
Q: What did your business model look like for escorting and camming?
A: With camming, most of the income comes from a small percentage of men, because the men are visible to each other. There's much higher competition. As a guy, if you're tipping the girl or giving her money, it's in front of other men. It's very competition-oriented, so you end up with a system where 80 percent of your money comes from two guys. This leads to a lot of vulnerability for emotional abuse too. If all of your money is coming from just a handful of guys, then they can make a lot of demands of you. Whereas with escorting, that's not the case at all, because the guys are not visible to each other. They're not competing against each other in any way. Your income is much more distributed across men.
Q: Have you learned what your clients respond well to?
A: Men want personality. They really do. And there's some sort of fantasy that you're selling the guy on. Like, I'm not just a body for you to fuck. I'm some sort of escapism that you can fall in love with for a night, who's warm and bubbly and fun to be around and makes you feel great about yourself. And there's a little bit of therapy involved too. One aspect of selling sex to men is that you're selling them an identity about themselves.
Q: Could you explain the class differences in types of sex work?
A: I did a survey of a bunch of escorts and found that the amount of bad things they encountered, like sexual assault, or theft, or police, or whatever, was pretty strongly correlated with their price range. Basically, the more money you charge, you're pricing yourself out of more sketchy clientele. The people who are going to be paying you $1,000 an hour are not going to sexually assault you. They're a lawyer or a doctor or a politician or someone who just doesn't want to mess with that.
Q: What has this dual identity as a sex worker and data scientist been like for you?
A: I think I'm really good at deeply understanding correlations and the ways that data can lie to you. I'm surprised more sex workers aren't also data scientists.
This is also selling the guys an identity for who they want to be. If you're like, "Hey, I'm a sex worker. And also, I do data," they're like, "Wow, I'm such a high-end guy that I am attracted to this hot woman who also does data. Look how deep I am."
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, visit reason.com.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Aella on Sex Work Economics".