Please enter verification code
The Point of Counting: Mapping the Internet Based Sex Industry
Social Sciences
Volume 7, Issue 5, October 2018, Pages: 233-241
Received: Aug. 25, 2018; Accepted: Sep. 26, 2018; Published: Oct. 22, 2018
Views 1226      Downloads 133
Teela Sanders, Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
Rosie Campbell, Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
Stewart Cunningham, Department of Law, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Jane Pitcher, Department of Law, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Jane Scoular, Department of Law, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Article Tools
Follow on us
Study Aim: This paper tries to grapple with some of the questions about counting numbers in the sex industry as an adjunct to a much larger sociological study of the ways in which digital technology has changed the commercial sex industry. The project sets out to reflect on the ethics of counting online and what this means to the sex work community. Method: The data is provided by the largest online adult services advertising platform in the UK which is compared to our own counts of sex worker profiles on that same platform to illustrate some of the challenges related to counting the sex industry. Result: The data comparisons show that using front facing public profiles of adult sex workers is not an accurate measure of the size of the sex industry, and whilst the information can be used for some purposes it must be used with caution. The findings point to the need for researchers and others involved in mapping sex worker populations to reflect carefully on ethical issues and the impact of mapping on sex workers. Conclusion: It is suggested that the usefulness of counting profiles on adult websites should be approached with caution both as a researcher analyst and also as someone who uses or requests this form of quantification. With over 40% differences between outward facing and active profiles the margins for error are high.
Adultwork, Counting, Internet, Online, Population Size, Prostitution, Sex Work
To cite this article
Teela Sanders, Rosie Campbell, Stewart Cunningham, Jane Pitcher, Jane Scoular, The Point of Counting: Mapping the Internet Based Sex Industry, Social Sciences. Vol. 7, No. 5, 2018, pp. 233-241. doi: 10.11648/
Copyright © 2018 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License ( which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Jones, A. (2015) ‘Sex work in a digital age’, Sociology Compass, 9 (7), 558-570
O’Neill, M. (2001) Prostitution and Feminism, Cambridge: Polity.
Hammond, N. and Kingston, S. (2014) Experiencing stigma as sex work researchers in professional and personal lives. Sexualities. 17(3), pp.329-347.
Collins, A. (2004) ‘Sexuality and sexual services in the urban economy and socialscape: an overview’, Urban Studies, 41(9): 1631–42.
Cusick, L., Kinnell, H., Brooks-Gordon, B.M. and Campbell, R. (2009) Wild Guesses and Conflated Meanings: Estimating the size of the sex worker population in Britain. Journal of Critical Social Policy, Vol. 29(4), pp.703-719.
House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (2016) Prostitution: third report of session 2016-2017, London: House of Commons. Accessed 5 February 2018.
Office for National Statistics (2014) Changes to National Accounts: Inclusion of Illegal Drugs and Prostitution in the UK National Accounts
Brooks-Gordon, B., Mai, N., Perry, G. and Sanders, T. (2016) ‘Calculating the Number of Sex Workers and Contribution to Non-Observed Economy in the UK’, presented at ‘Evidence for Decriminalisation’ Session, hosted by John McDonnell MP and the ECP, House of Commons, 3 November 2015.
Eaves (2008) see Bindel, J. and Atkins, H. (2008) Big Brothel: a survey of the off street sex industry in London, London: Eaves Housing for Women.
Bindel, J. and Atkins, H. (2008) Big Brothel: a survey of the off street sex industry in London, London: Eaves Housing for Women.
Pitcher, J. (2015) ‘Direct sex work in Great Britain: reflecting diversity’, Graduate Journal of Social Sciences, 11 (2), 76-100.
Kinnell, H. (1999) ‘Sex Workers in England and Wales: Europap-UK Briefing Paper for Department of Health, National Sexual Health Strategy’, EUROPAP.
Whowell, M. and Gaffney, J. (2009) ‘Male sex work in the UK: forms, practice and policy implications’ in Phoenix, J (ed) Regulating sex for sale: prostitution policy reform in the UK. Bristol: Policy Press.
Laing, M., Pilcher, K. and Smith, N. (eds) (2015) Queer Sex Work Routledge, London
Ellison, G., and Weitzer, R. (2016) The Dynamics of Male and Female Street Prostitution in Manchester, England. Men and Masculinities.
Vartabedian, J. (2017) ‘Bodies and desires on the internet: An approach to trans women sex workers’ websites’. Sexualities online first.
Sanders, T., Connelly, L., Jarvis-King, L (2016) On Our Own Terms: The Working Conditions of Internet Based Escorts in the UK for special issue Sociological Research Online 21 (4) 15
Global Network of Sex Work Projects (2015) Mapping and Population Size Estimates of Sex Workers: Proceed with Extreme Caution, Accessed 5 February 2018.
World Health Organisation, United Nations Population Fund, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Global Network of Sex Work Projects, World Bank and United Nations Development Programme (2013) Implementing comprehensive HIV/STI programmes with sex workers: practical approaches from collaborative interventions, available at Accessed 5 February 2018.
Gill, P., McCleod, A., Lester, H. and Hengenbarth, A. (2013) Improving access to health care for Gypsies and Travellers, homeless people and sex workers: an evidence-based commissioning guide for Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health & Wellbeing Boards, Royal College of General Practitioners and Inclusion Health.
Home Office (2017) 2017 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery, HM Government. Accessed 5th February 2018.
Merry, S. E. (2016) The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking Chicago University Press, Chicago
Sanders, T., Scoular, J., Campbell, R., Pitcher, J., Cunningham, S. (2018) Internet sex work: Beyond the Gaze, Palgrave, London
Metzenrath, S. (1998) ‘In touch with the needs of sex workers’, Research for Sex Work. 1, 11-13. Accessed 5 February 2018.
Longo, P. (2004) ‘From subjects to partners: Experience of a project in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’, Research for Sex Work. 7, 9-10. Accessed 5th February 2018.
Goldenberg, S.M., Brouwer, K.C., Jimenez, T.R., Miranda, S.M., Mindt, M.R. (2016) ‘Enhancing the ethical conduct of HIV research with migrant sex workers: human rights, policy and social contextual influences’ PLoS ONE 11(5). Accessed 5 February 2018
Wolffers, I. (2004) ‘Editorial: sex workers health, HIV/AIDS and ethical issues in case and Research’. Research for Sex Work, 7, 1-2. Accessed 5 February 2018.
Van der Meulen, E. (2011) ‘Action research with sex workers: Dismantling barriers and building bridges’, Action Research, 9(4): 370-384.
Pruitt, M. V. (2005) Online boys: male-for-male Internet escorts. Sociological Focus, 38(3), 189-203.
Cunningham, S. and DeAngelo, G (2017) ‘Signals, Screens and Vertical Differentiation: the Case of Commercial Sex Work’, presented in Displacing Sex for Sale, COST Prospol, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, 29-31 March 2017.
Castle, T. and Lee, J. (2008) Ordering sex in cyberspace: a content analysis of escort websites. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 11(1), 107-121.
Tyler, A. (2014) ’Advertising Male Sexual Services’ in Minichiello, V. and Scott, J. (eds). Male Sex Work and Society. Harrington Park Press: New York, 82-105.
Newburn, T. (2014) Hard evidence: how accurate are British crime statistics? The Conversation
Cunningham, S., Sanders, T., Scoular, J., Campbell, R., Pitcher, J., Hill, K., Valentine-Chase, M., Melissa, C., Aydin, Y., Hamer, B (2017) Behind the Screen: Commercial Sex, Digital Spaces and Working Online Technology in Society 53 (47-54).
Science Publishing Group
1 Rockefeller Plaza,
10th and 11th Floors,
New York, NY 10020
Tel: (001)347-983-5186