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Young women selling sex online – narratives on regulating feelings

Authors Jonsson L, Svedin CG, Hydén M

Received 10 November 2014

Accepted for publication 11 December 2014

Published 16 February 2015 Volume 2015:6 Pages 17—27


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Steven Youngentob

Linda S Jonsson,1 Carl Göran Svedin,1 Margareta Hydén2

1Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden; 2Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Linköping University, Norrköping, Sweden

Abstract: The current study concerns young women’s life stories of their experiences selling sex online before the age of 18. The aim was to gain an understanding of young women’s perceptions of the reasons they started, continued, and stopped selling sex. The study included interviews with 15 young women between the ages of 15 and 25 (M=18.9). Thematic analysis was used to identify similarities and differences in the narratives. Three themes and eight sub-themes were identified in relation to different stages in their lives in the sex trade. The themes were organized into three parts, each with its own storyline: “Entering – adverse life experiences”; traumatic events: feeling different and being excluded. “Immersion – using the body as a tool for regulating feelings”; being seen: being touched: being in control: affect regulation and self-harming. “Exiting – change or die”; living close to death: the process of quitting. The informants all had stable social lives in the sense that they had roofs over their heads, food to eat, and no substance-abuse issues. None had a third party who arranged the sexual contacts and none were currently trafficked. They described how their experiences of traumatic events and of feeling different and excluded had led them into the sex trade. Selling sex functioned as a way to be seen, to handle traumatic events, and to regulate feelings. Professionals working with young people who sell sex online need to understand the complex web of mixed feelings and emotional needs that can play a role in selling sex. Young people selling sex might need guidance in relationship building as well as help processing traumatic experiences and ending self-harming behavior. Further studies are needed on the functions of online sex selling and on the exit process for young people, in order to prevent entrance and facilitate exiting.

Keywords: adolescent, women, affect regulation, selling sex, prostitution, online

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