When Sex Means Survival

I’m not homeless anymore thanks to a subsidy from the City and support I received from several wonderful agencies that gave me the stability to overcome addiction and mental health issues and the chance to continue my education. Now I’m a student at San Francisco State University finishing a bachelor’s degree.


In my Contemporary Sexuality class, we had to critique an article from an academic journal on sexuality. I bumped into research on the prevalence of survival sex among people experiencing homelessness and got intrigued. Survival sex is defined as trading sex for food, shelter, drugs or money.


Some people are appalled that a homeless person would have to resort to sex as a survival mechanism. Some even go so far as to equate it to human trafficking. When I looked back at my 4 ½ years of homelessness, this research just seemed wrong.


Homeless people have sex like any other human. They need food and shelter and sometimes drugs and money. Just because they often gain what they need in relation to people they have sex with doesn’t seem to me to be a problem.


I never traded sex for anything. Whenever I would find myself without a place to be at night, I would go to a 24-hour coffee shop and get online. I would find someone to hook up with, and I would have a place to be for the night. I could often get a shower, a meal and they never even knew I was homeless, nor did they often care. I met a guy at the mall who would get a few dollars, go to a bar and find a chick that would take him home. I’ve also watched guys drive up to encampments and hit on girls, offering them food and a shower.


Being homeless is work, work to survive. Anyone who ever tried to tell you homeless people are lazy, has never been homeless. We do what it takes to survive as human beings. There is nothing pathological or wrong about it. It would be nice if we didn’t have to struggle for food and shelter. Someday society will learn that lesson. Until then, stop pathologizing the problem and get out of our way.


The last thing I have to share is hope. It’s hard to have when the world is stacked against you. Now that I have hope I try to give it away as much as possible. If I can go from where you are to a prestigious University doing research on human rights and social justice, then you can do it too. Yes you. Today may not be so great, but it won’t always be this way. Hope for the future when you have the stability to pursue what you love and how you think you can make the world a better place. Your voice and your experience can make a difference.