"Without the Internet, I never would have sold sex": Young women selling sex online

Special issue: Internet and Sexuality

Among Swedish youth with experience of selling sex, the Internet is the most common means of contact between buyer and seller. There are few descriptions of how these contacts are established, but studies have indicated that young people under the age of 18 seldom engage in open prostitution online. This study aimed to examine what role the Internet and the use of smartphones play in young women selling sex online, focusing on the method of contact and the characteristics of the communication online between buyer and seller. The study included 15 young women between the ages of 15 and 25 (M=18.9) who had sold sex online before the age of 18. Thematic analysis was used to identify similarities and differences in the narratives.

Two main themes were identified: (I) Internet use—Part of daily life, for good and bad, and Depending on mood. The young women described using the Internet on a daily basis. During periods of poorer psychological health they were more active on sites focusing on self-destructiveness and sex. During these periods, they also sold sex more frequently. (II) Patterns of contacts—Innocent/curious, Dating, and Advertising. The narratives about communication prior to a sexual encounter detailed differences ranging from being lured to direct negotiations. The results indicate that there is a group of young women who sell sex online that is not in the open prostitution. Police and other authorities working with young women selling sex need to better understand the coded sexual communication behind some of these sexual encounters and how different communication strategies might affect the young women.

young women; prostitution; selling sex; online; Internet
Author biographies

Linda S. Jonsson

Author photo Linda S. Jonsson is a PhD. student in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at Faculty of Health Sciences Linköping University, Sweden. Her research interests include sexual risk-taking online and online sexual abuse in children and young persons.

Carl Göran Svedin

Author photo M.D., PhD. Carl Göran Svedin is a Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at Faculty of Health Sciences Linköping University, Sweden. He has long clinical experience and his major research interests are trauma and abuse in children and adolescents.

Margareta Hydén

Author photo PhD. Margareta Hydén is a Professor of Social Work at Linköping University, Sweden. Her areas of interests include violence in close relationships, narrative and gender studies. Her recent work focuses on children's narratives of witnessing violence in the family and on social network's responses to interpersonal violence.

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