The summer I moved to New York, I was 23, unskilled, flat broke, and “keep her away from the babies/ pets/houseplants”-level irresponsible. This appealing combination of qualities somehow failed to land me a dream job. Or any job at all, actually. In the few months since my move to the city, I had been fired almost instantly from a job selling ballet tickets over the phone; was sent home from a temp job because I didn't notice that there was puke from my previous night's partying speckled on the hem of my coat; and turned away from a job passing out cell phone flyers dressed as Spiderman because, quote, "Spiderman doesn't have tits."
By this time, I only had about one more month's rent left in the bank. So when me and my sweater puppies got passed over for the Spidey job, it looked like all three of us were going to move back into my mom's basement.
And then, I made a discovery -- the kind of discovery that feels like a real revelation when you're checking your couch for change every hour, in case there was a quarter that you missed. I read on a celebrity gossip blog about a model who ran a website where she sold her used, unwashed panties off to the highest bidder.
Seriously? You could sell your used panties? For money? Actual money? Not, like, Disney Dollars or something? I was intrigued, to put it mildly.
Hopping on to good ol’ Craigslist, I was able to confirm that A. people really were selling used panties, and B. it seemed like people actually bought them. My brain meats raced with calculations. If I charged $30 per pair, and wore and sold a pair every day, I'd have $900 a month. With that kind of money in my pocket, I could live like a king! Or, you know, at least pay my rent. Whichever.
In the years since my time toiling in the panty fields, I've noticed that a lot of women consider selling panties their secret emergency money-making plan. It seems so easy, right? You're sweatin' up them panties anyway -- might as well anonymously sell them to strangers on the Internet. Why doesn't everyone do this?
Answer: Because it is actually incredibly hard to sell used panties successfully!
There's a myth about sex work in America -- one that I unconsciously bought into when I started selling my panties. The myth says that all sex work is well-paid and requires almost no effort. Even in our age of non-stop bloggy oversharing, people still believe this. And I think they believe it because it hinges on another, more insidious belief -- that sex work is so degrading, the pay is mostly based on the worker’s willingness to just show up.
This is, obviously, patently untrue. There is nothing inherently degrading about sex work, every possible type of human being does it, and the financial payoffs vary from job to job and person to person. But as I skimmed the used panties listed on Craigslist that first day, I believed that all I would have to do to make bank was simply show up.
After studying the other ads posted, I composed an offer from a “nasty co-ed” named “Gigi,” who, when not busy going wild, was selling one of her many her "sweaty, well-used" thongs. I then took an identity-obscuring photo of my butt (wearing the only thong that I actually owned), sat down, and politely waited for the money to start rolling on in.
I posted my listing four times a week on Craiglist for about three months. Over that period of time, “Gigi” received more than 200 emails. A brief breakdown of the content of those emails:
90%: looking for free butt pictures
5%: think they can trick you into coming to their house
3%: interested in trying to manipulate/ abuse/ harass a sex worker because they can't believe that you are an actual human being
1%: actually interested in buying panties
1%: other (great deals on Viagra, foreign royals who need your credit card number, etc.)
Here is what I learned working in Panty Land: Not that many people actually buy used panties on the regular. So, competition was fierce for the handful of existing customers. At minimum, half a dozen women were also posting regularly on Craigslist, offering the exact same (sweaty) product that I was, or maybe even something even better -- panties accompanied by Skype chats, photos, or other things I didn’t do. A few guys sent me weird, harassing emails. One guy demanded a full body photo, including my face, holding a sign with that day's date on it, before he would buy. When I refused, he went off on me, saying that a real sexy panty lady would follow his orders and that I was only refusing because I was clearly actually a "fat, hairy, disgusting man." Project much, buddy? I doubt he would have bought anything, though, no matter what photo I sent him. These guys who sent weird emails didn’t get off on panties -- they got off on trying to push my limits and see what I would do in order to land a sale. And they never bought anything.
Those kind of emails were not frequent (I received maybe two a week), but they were stressful enough to color my panty-selling experience. When I found myself cleaning my entire bathroom daily just to put off opening the “Gigi” email account for a few more minutes, I knew that professional dirty panty selling and I were not meant to be.
It was turning out to be both literally and metaphorically not worth it for me. Panty selling wildly exacerbated the anxiety I had already battled my entire life, leading me to obsess non-stop about whether my post was good enough, whether I was replying fast enough, whether I had made any mistakes that would result in missed money-making. And at the end of three months of postings, I had made only around $300 total.
Of course, this story has a happy ending -- I landed a part-time job soon after my first posting, which allowed me to stay in New York; and soon after “Gigi” closed up shop, I landed a full-time gig in Office Land that I've held ever since. I still have a cardboard box full of cheap, shiny, hopeful "Gigi" panties that I have never worn -- though I occasionally use them as cat toys.
But I’ve still never told anyone I’m close with about my time as a used panty monger. I’m not ashamed of what I did -- I respect all sex workers, and I’m proud that I didn’t give up on my NYC dreams. But I do feel ashamed that I failed. Even after living through the reality of it, part of me still believed in the myth of sex worker’s easy money. And if I couldn’t get that easy money -- if I made my sexual self available and, instead of having a closetful of designer clothes and a sweet-ass apartment to show off for my troubles, made only enough money to cover one month's student loan bill -- what did that make me? Ugly? Unlovable? A failure?
From time to time, I think about bringing Gigi out of retirement for one last score. I think: I could do a good job this time. I'm more confident now, more mature, less desperate, less prone to barfing whiskey sours into my purse. I could handle the weird email requests, the jerks, the competition. But the truth is I've gotten too old for this shit. And so has my vagina.