Sex Work And Taxes

I hear it all the time. It’s often deployed against sex workers as an attack line. I saw it again just the other day on a heated, controversial, sex work thread on the bird app. A commenter (a guy, it’s always a guy) spewed out the old sex-workers pay a zero tax rate trope. As an insult, “you don’t pay taxes” comes in just below “you’re a whore, shut up.” It’s one of those urban myths that gets passed around, and around, and around, and it’s used to demean and discount sex workers and the work they do. Sex workers don’t pay taxes, sex workers don’t contribute to the common good, sex workers work outside the system. The reality is sex workers do pay taxes. Sex workers pay a lot in taxes.

When engaging in legal sex work, selling video clips, audio clips, photos, having a fan club, performing on cam, performing in adult films, dancing in a club you need to provide your tax information as well as your legal identity information. This is true for any platform you are selling on or venue you are working in. You have to give them your social security number, your photo ID, and an EIN if you have a registered business. Recently, in order to register to use a platform, not only did I have to provide my government ID, but also a photo of me holding my ID next to my face. That’s not something you have to do if you are selling doohickeys on Amazon or Etsy. As a sex worker, you will receive a 1099 at the end of the year from every single platform you sell on, or film you perform in, or venue you dance in. You’re an independent contractor and Uncle Sam expects to get his cut if your income. Uncle Sam would also prefer it if you paid your estimated taxes quarterly. If you don’t, you will get hit with a penalty. In the legal styles of sex work, you are a small business owner. Maybe you’re an S-Corp, maybe you’re an LLC, maybe you’re a sole proprietor, but you’re still a small business owner according to the IRS.

No matter which way you go, you still must file your taxes every year, just like every other small business owner. You can itemize your expenses (maybe) or take the standard deduction. You must also pay self-employment tax and contribute to social security. Many sex workers rushed to become LLCs to take advantage of the pass-through income and the tax laws that changed in 2017. I’m not sure it did what a lot of people hoped, but it did increase the cost of filing at year’s end. In my state, filing taxes as a sole proprietor is free. Filing as an LLC is three hundred bucks. No matter how your business is designated, you still pay. Every year around tax time, some jackass picks a fight with me or a colleague about taxes, calling us tax cheats or freeloaders. It’s usually around the time I’m writing a big, fat, sloppy check to my greedy Uncle Sam. It’s as infuriating as it is predictable. Which is to say it’s very infuriating. 

Even in sex work that is not on the up and up, escorts and some styles of dominatrices also pay taxes. Just because your work might not be legal doesn’t mean Uncle Sam isn’t after you to get his share. These businesses are cash business just like the antique shop, coffee shop, or weed store, and that doesn’t mean you can get away with not paying taxes. Ever try to get a mortgage without a tax return? How about a car loan with no credit history? Invest in a retirement fund? Apply for a credit card? Some landlords even require tax returns for an apartment lease. If you want to be a regular member of society, you must pay your taxes. You’re not going to write “hooker” as your occupation on your 1040; consultant will do, or entertainer. The IRS doesn’t care what you say you do; they just want their share. Sex workers are regular members of society and as such they pay taxes.

The misconceptions about sex work abound. People think they know what it’s like or how it operates because they believe what they see in bad movies on Lifetime, or make a lot of assumptions based on nothing factual but a lot of feelings they may have about the profession. Usually those are morality feelings. Sure, we can be a cagey bunch, so getting accurate information isn’t always easy; we play a part in that but we’re cagey for good reason. We are a marginalized, stigmatized, and frequently maligned group of people. We hold a lot close to the vest and are very skeptical of strangers. Sticking your head above the parapet–for example writing an essay about taxes and sex work is opening yourself up for debate. That can be a very hurtful experience if you don’t have a thick skin or are not confidant in who you are. Calling it risky is an understatement, but it’s not as risky as not paying your taxes, which can get you into a world of hurt, bring scrutiny where you don’t want any, and generally screw with your life. Do sex workers pay taxes? Why yes, yes, they do.

Originally published on which sadly no longer exists.