A look into the panty selling business
by Nia Abram; illustrations by Caroline Li
The screen displayed a debt balance of $80,000. I sulked and shuffled downstairs to find my mother, but tears were already brimming in my lower lash line.
“Why are you upset?” she asked.
I stayed silent, too scared to utter my reality aloud. She glanced at the screen on my computer.
“Oh. I see…” she sighed. “Yeah, sometimes you have to make sacrifices. You know, I graduated with a barrel of student loans on my back and thought, ‘I’ll never get rid of this. Everything I do and all the money I make will be going towards my debt. They own me.’”
This didn’t make me feel better. I walked my dog and tried to process my thoughts. At the moment, all I wanted was to be as blissfully carefree as my ginger-haired puppy, but before I could sink down that rabbit hole of despair I quickly came to terms with reality. I needed a solution. Fast.
I spent the next four days scouring cyberspace in hopes of finding a quick fix: easy money. After signing up for sweepstakes, rebooting my babysitting account on Care.com, attempting to teach myself about the stock market and sending my headshots to game show agencies, I stumbled across a hidden marketplace in the depths of Reddit: panty dealing. Selling used underwear is a concept I was only familiar with through a few comical episodes of “Orange is the New Black,” but I had never considered it a viable option. As an intersectional feminist, I have always been an advocate for people who participate in sex work, and theoretically, I have never been opposed to doing it myself. Although I’ve seen headlines about college women acting in porn to pay off tuition or stripping to pay for medical school, I’d never personally envisioned sex work as a feasible source of income. Yet, here I was, signing up for one of the more prominent used underwear sites, PantyDeal.com.
Now let’s backtrack a little bit. I did some research before I simply signed up for PantyDeal. I wanted to gain some insight into how risky this line of work is, and whether or not I would actually get a good bang for my buck. Of course Jezebel.com, the one-stop shop for popular feminism, had an “Everything You Need to Know About Selling Your Panties on the Internet” article waiting to be read. Lindy West, the author, was pretty frank about dealing panties, “It’s the person, not the panties, that makes the sale. In short: you gotta market your crotch.” There are men who like underwear that has been worn for days with cum, sweat, menstrual blood, urine and poop. If you’re willing to market yourself then you’re in for the real deal. Another article on AnimalNewYork even did a survey on all of the major undie selling sites to get women to divulge the tricks of the trade. According to the author, there are tens of thousands of women who are actively engaged in the used panty marketplace, ranging from lawyers to bartenders to working moms. And some women have even turned it into a part-time job, earning up to $35,000 a year. While both sources articulated the necessity for some serious time commitment, they concluded that, generally, women feel empowered through this process. Lindy West says, “[Panty buyers] have a need, [sellers] are willing to serve that need, nobody’s being exploited, a few guys feel less alone in the world, a woman makes money while being in charge of her sexuality, everybody wins. Ta-daaah!” I figured I’m down for the challenge, I’m down for empowerment and I’m down for relatively risk-free sex work. What do I have to lose?
I spent about an hour crafting a fake email, a sexy alias, and taking some half-clothed selfies. Soon, I had my PantyDeal (PD) account up and running. There are numerous panty dealing sites out there, but I chose this one because it is user friendly and the interface basically operates like Facebook, but for used panties. The only catch is that in order to get full access to the site you have to pay $19 a month. However, according to the AnimalNewYork article, the average pair of underwear is going for about $20 so if I sold at least one pair of undies, I wouldn’t lose any money. Within the first few hours I received nine new messages; they sensed I was new. After some sexy haggling with Jonesing0629, Sugardaddy12 and romo9 I still hadn’t nailed down a deal with anyone. They all thought my panty prices were too high. In fact, none of them were even really asking for panties. They were asking for a lot more. They wanted video chats, masturbation videos and sexy photos without a care in the world about whether or not I was actually wearing underwear, and they weren’t afraid to be rude about it.
At this point, I was starting to question how empowered I really felt about this situation. I was comfortable participating in sex work when it was on my own terms, and all I had to do was market underwear to strangers, but now it was personal. The best marketing strategy in this business is intimacy, which I was vastly unprepared for, despite my research. This put me at a competitive disadvantage among the thousands of other women out there willing to do a lot more than I was. These men have the power of consumer’s choice, and I knew that if I didn’t meet the criteria they expected of me, they could simply choose someone else. The only thing giving me a competitive advantage was my “ebony look,” which was just code for black. As with almost any form of sex work, the fetishization of women of color is inevitable. I knew about my “marketable traits” before I went into this line of work, but now that they wanted my body in a personal pornographic context, I started to wonder: Where do I draw the line between empowerment and exploitation? Between empowerment and disembodiment?
A couple days later, I receive a message from sexyboy01 that really made me question my personal boundaries.
sexyboy01: hey babe, i like your look. i have a fantasy for you
Me: what would like?
sexyboy01: hun, I’d like for you to send me a small container of your poo once a month
I wonder if he would have asked me as blatantly if we were standing on a street corner? He has safety in his anonymity, and in an instant he can get the product he wants. It seems that for many of these men, the computer screen is a conduit for their desires, in which they are not hindered by their words or fears. The chat room context only enhances their agency. After shock and prolonged contemplation, I responded.
Me: what’s your price?
sexyboy01: 80$ a month, but i have to know if your product is good
sexyboy01: just send me a photo to my email. The bigger the better. Sweet and soft.
I left the conversation. I was a beginner. There was no way I could just jump into this, so I reached out to a seasoned PD veteran: Ladeeda. Ladeeda’s profile is a robust illustration of her hobbies, sex appeal and customer satisfaction. She has ample reviews vouching for her reliability and success on the site. I sent her a message asking for help, and she responded immediately. Her advice was kind and reassuring.
Me: i’m sort of lost. how do you stay at it without getting discouraged?
Ladeeda: don’t worry hun. You will get better at this. It takes time and patience and persistence. At the end of the day you just have to remember that you are important and beautiful, and there will be a buyer out there who will recognize that, no matter what you look like.
After speaking to Ladeeda, I had some newfound confidence. I started sending messages, sending friend requests and adding photos to my profile. I just needed to seem authentic and approachable, and most importantly—as Ladeeda says—I needed to be online. I stayed online for a couple more hours and eventually I received a message from a man who wanted to pay me $200 for a week’s worth of sexting and nude photos. I took him up on his offer, but I was suspicious. A week later I still hadn’t received my money. After this, I got scammed two more times. Eventually, classwork caught up with me, and I was too busy to spend a couple hours a day browsing PD. I started to give up; this wasn’t compatible with a busy college lifestyle. I received a message from Ladeeda the next day:
Hey hun, how are you holding up?
Me: not so well, I haven’t been able to make any sales
Ladeeda: that’s alright babe, you just have to stay confident and persistent. If you keep your head up, you’ll find something.
I was surprised that Ladeeda checked in on me, and I began to realize that the women on PD have formed a network of solidarity. I had multiple women reach out to me asking for advice or just a friend to talk to. And although I wasn’t of much help to them, it was clear that there is a flourishing community of female support layered beneath the greater PD community.
I still have yet to sell any of my services, but the most empowering aspect of PD is not about making sales, it’s being uplifted by other women. Panty dealing communities have become places for women to encourage one another to embrace all types of beauty.
However, constantly marketing my body was exhausting and discouraging. And yes, making $20 gives me more monetary agency, but does it really give me power? And does it truly empower? I’m still begging for money at the mercy of misogyny. At the hands of men who have the power to decide whether I’m even “worth” $20. Even if I enjoyed panty dealing purely for the sexual fulfillment, the gendered power dynamics of our culture still loom large every time a man sends me a message. While panty dealing is a form of sex work that lowers the risk of physical violence against women, the violence of male privilege is still perpetuated in the seedy underpinnings of online anonymity’s power. It seems impossible for inner empowerment to truly thrive in a cultural context that livens the spirit of misogyny with little means of subverting or dismantling the systems that have forced women into sex work in the first place.
My subscription to Panty Deal eventually expired, and I still hadn’t made any money. I took at least 50 selfies just to get five that actually looked good, spent around two hours a day pining for men’s approval, entertained their desires, only to get scammed and ta-daaahh! I’m $19 poorer than I was when I started, and have gained no sense of agency, monetary or otherwise. Panty dealing only made me a tad more bitter and a bit more broke.
Part of the Red Issue