I still remember the varsity friend who, wired on exam nerves, late waitressing shifts and cheap wine, rang an escort agency to ask what she could earn.
‘I’d make more in a month than my father,’ she gasped. She’d reached the agency entrance next day when the reality hit her: the tacky sign, the kitsch cupid fountain, the balding guy with bad teeth grinning as he pushed past her. ‘It could just never be worth it,’ she told us when she slunk back. It may be relatively easy to turn down a job as obviously dodgy as this, however tempting the money. But today many options come in shades of grey. So your mother may not approve, and some friends may raise eyebrows, but should that stop you? Read on before ruling them out – or rushing to sign up.
POLE AND LAP DANCING
KITTY*, 25, Thai-Massage Therapist
‘I was waitressing and studying alternative therapies when curiosity made me go with a girlfriend to Teazers four years ago. I was surprised and impressed by the stylish professionalism of the place – and the pay potential! I found myself asking if I could have a go, and being handed this skimpy costume. I’d been a skinny kid and lacked confidence, and my first dance was totally terrifying – even before I dropped my G-string. Then I saw that guys fancied me and I began enjoying myself. You may be naked, but you’re to-tally in control. It’s cool for self-esteem, and teaches you to read people – I can tell immediately which guy will book me for a pole or lap dance, and focus on him. Some day I’m going to channel all this into running my own alternative-therapy studio. The dancing’s also great for your body, by the way – I’ve developed muscles of steel!’
REQUIREMENTS Well-proportioned body, ability to move ‘with rhythm and enthusi¬asm’, says Kitty (formal dance training unnecessary), and an open mind.
RISKS Occasional groping from overexcit¬ed patrons, but reputable establishments forbid men from touching you (or permit minimal contact only), and monitor this with security cameras in any private cubicles.
RATIO OF PAIN TO GAIN Physically tiring; long, antisocial hours (often 12.30pm to 1.30am).
RANDS For someone with no experience the pay rate begins at R5 000, but the average within the industry is from R15 000/month. The going minimum is R350 for a lap dance and R200 for a table dance.
LYNETTE*, 22, Postgraduate Science Student
‘I first learnt of the possibility of donating eggs last year, when friends saw posters put up on the UCT campus by a US-¬based agency. We checked it out and established the eggs would be used to help infertile couples from overseas, who choose donors from data published on a website. Once they’ve selected a donor, they write in giving the reasons they want a child so badly. Hearing their stories and realising how much they wanted children convinced me it was worth donating eggs. As in most medical undertakings there are risks, which were explained to me on signing up [see below]. You need two weeks of daily hormone injections to ensure you’re ovulating in sync with the recipient mother. My own mother gave me the first shots and I quickly learnt to do the rest myself. On the day of donation, you’re sedated and a small tube is inserted through your cervix, guided by ultrasound, to suck up four to six eggs. Two are fertilised in vitro and implanted in the mother’s uterus, in case one isn’t viable. The rest are frozen for possible future use, though there’s only a 20% chance these will be viable. I’ve chosen not to know if the recipient mother was successful in her pregnancy, though this is allowed. [The South African Human Tissue Act does, however, forbid contact between donor and recipient.] I’d like to think she was. When people ask me if it’s strange that I may have a baby somewhere out there, I say that genetics is only part of the makeup of a child. To me, that child belongs to the family into which it was born – I only provided them with the potential to create it. I’ve donated only once but I’d definitely do it again.’
REQUIREMENTS Egg donors should be aged between 21 and 31 (based on medi¬cal studies on egg viability), educated and healthy. Lynette had a blood test for STDs and HIV/Aids, a gynaecological checkup, and a test by a private psychologist.
RISKS Around 2,5% of egg donors get ‘overstimulation syndrome’, a metabolic fluid imbalance. This can be easily treated, but may become life-threatening if donating monthly for more than four months. Fewer than 2% of donors develop sepsis and risk becoming infertile. Some research suggests that Clomid, a drug used to induce ovulation, could be dangerous for women with genetic susceptibilities to ovarian cancer. This applies mainly to infertile women placed on high doses of hormones for long periods. Egg donors are placed on very low doses for about 10 days. There are other risks: the trading of genetic material for financial gain is illegal. You, the agency and others involved could be prosecuted if you’re paid more than reasonable reimbursement for loss of income, hospital visits, medication and other genuine expenses.
RATIO OF PAIN TO GAIN Daily injections may put you off and hormone treatment may affect your moods. There’s some controversy around the issue, but the procedure itself is painless – ‘much like a gynae exam,’ says Lynette.
RANDS The Southern African Society for Reproductive Science and Surgery puts acceptable payments at R6 000, but every clinic decides for itself and some pay up to R10 000.
TANA BENZON, 29, Artist
‘I have a fine-arts degree, but that doesn’t bring you money, so four years ago I offered to model for fine-art and graphics classes at the Durban Institute of Technology. I knew what was involved, but it was nerve-rack¬ing at first. I’ve learnt to depersonalise the experience by not making eye contact with individuals and treating the class as one big creative organism. I see my body as just a vessel – my personality is my sacred space. I try to project love or compassion to inspire students, and that’s as rewarding as the pay. I love being part of the creative process.’
REQUIREMENTS Confidence and the discipline to keep still for up to 90 minutes, but no special body type. Arts qualifications are an advantage, as you understand better what students are looking for.
RISKS Catching cold or cramping, but good studios supply heaters and cushions; occasional titters from nervous new students, ‘but responsible lecturers demand that they respect models,’ says Tana.
RATIO OF PAIN TO GAIN Surprisingly hard work – expect both bodily and mental numbness unless you’ve got a rich internal life.
RANDS Around R55 an hour, for up to six hours a day.
THROWING SEX-AID PARTIES
TAZNIEM*, 23, Sales Assistant
‘A friend and I began throwing parties after a request from a customer at Score Adult Gift Shop in Durban where we work. You can’t be inhibited, but it’s fun, especially for girls-only parties. We buy stocks at wholesale prices and make our money from a mark-up, but we also charge a R120 fee in case nobody buys. That’s never happened! We take free gifts of a chocolate penis for each guest to warm them up, and organise games like pass the vibrator – ¬whoever’s holding it when the music stops must do something funny – but not sordid – with it. If guests want us to, we demonstrate how Roger Rabbit or Dan¬ny Dolphin works with a silicone vagina, show them crotch less panties and dildos and talk about lubri¬cants. But we don’t undress – we’re denim and tackies girls.’
REQUIREMENTS An open mind, out¬going personality and some capital for stock.
RISKS Beware stag parties – mixed or all-girl ones can get wild, but seldom nasty, says Tazniem. Trust your instincts and arrange telephonic safety checks with a friend, as well as backup help.
RATIO OF PAIN TO GAIN ‘Once you’ve relaxed the crowd, it can be a hoot.’
RANDS About R500 a night, depending on sales.
ASSISTING AT FUNERAL PARLOURS
ILSE FOURIE, 28, Branch Manager
‘I was a sales assistant in a pharmacy until I saw a more promising position advertised – at Doves Funerals. I thought it would be cold and creepy, but it was a warm, calm, clean, reassuring place that demystified death for me. Early on I was asked to look in on a deceased who’d been prepared for viewing by the family, to be sure they’d be happy. I was so impressed by the dignity and respect given to the deceased, and the care and concern for relatives; I knew I wanted to be a part of this process. As a funeral-parlour assistant, you do removals (collecting bodies) and prepare and ‘coffin’ the deceased for the funeral. You’re shown how to do basic makeup and hair so they look natural. [Reconstructive makeup for trauma victims and embalming require specialist, long-term training.] You also help at funerals. Dealing with families can be difficult, as everyone reacts differently to death. You’re trained to stay calm and show empathy. It’s tremendous life experience. After two years with Doves in Port Shepstone, I was promoted to manager. This has become not just a job, but a calling. It’s very rewarding.’
REQUIREMENTS Driver’s licence, matric certificate, calm personality and good people skills.
RISKS Emotional burnout and back injury. Negligence with health procedures could expose you to dangerous diseases.
RATIO OF PAIN TO GAIN ‘Helping others to make closure is as inspiring as it’s demanding,’ says Ilse. Hours are erratic – you’re often on 24-hour call for removals.
RANDS From around R3 500 a month.
*Names have been changed.