The delicate art of calculating tax deductions in the sex work industry | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The delicate art of calculating tax deductions in the sex work industry

Last week I found myself combing through an entire year’s worth of bank and credit card statements in order to make a list of business expenses. It’s that time of year again: tax time. 

Perhaps others are more organized than I am and keep spreadsheets throughout the year to save themselves from doing this mind-numbingly tedious task all at once. I haven’t managed to do this yet though, and I’ve been working for myself for at least 15 years. 

So there I sat, going line by line. I use my phone for my business, so that should definitely be written off. Internet, most certainly. Plane tickets and hotel tabs for work-related conventions. I have a studio inside of my house that I use exclusively for work. The studio, therefore, and all of the furniture and supplies that are in it count.

These are all of the standard work-related deductions, regardless of what kind of business you run: office supplies, meals with potential customers or collaborators, equipment necessary to run the business, etc. 

But what if you are in the business of sex? 

Despite popular misconceptions – think back to the #thotaudit – many sex workers pay taxes. This raises interesting questions in regard to business expenses. What sort of supplies do sex workers need? What can sex workers reasonably write off?

Obviously, the answer to this question varies depending on the type of sex work we are talking about. An independent porn performer, for example, will need more sophisticated technology than someone who strictly does phone sex (like, say, a good camera, microphones, and editing software). A dominatrix may bring more gear (whips, masks, restraints, etc.) to a booking than would an escort. 

That being said, sex workers of all types advertise and sell an image, and that isn’t cheap. Promotional photos and advertisements can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. And primping for these photos can be just as expensive. These are all things we as sex workers need to track to have an accurate count of our business expenses.

Sultry Miss Em says that in addition to some of the tech/communications expenses related to the job (phone, website, computers, etc.), she also writes off “makeup, skincare, hair products, lingerie, and sex toys.” Goddess Sly has a similar approach, saying she writes off her “internet service, sex toys/paraphernalia, lingerie/underwear purchases.” 

Ivy Quill writes off many of the same things, saying, “I write off my work phone; rent for my work space … furniture and décor; subscriptions, apps, software for work (EX: photo editing, accounting, social media planning); and Amazon orders for supplies.” However, she is hesitant to include things like makeup. “I avoid writing off meals, makeup and beauty treatments, and clothes/lingerie because it feels like just asking to be audited, but perhaps I’m just paranoid,” she says.   

Victoria Veritas shares Quill’s concern. She warns, “Be careful with writing off makeup and lingerie as these could easily be argued expenses for regular life and not just job-related. … Cosplay wigs and costumes are much easier to defend than lingerie and makeup.”

Both Quill and Veritas point to the subjective nature of tax write-offs. What expenses are necessary for work, and which aren’t? When it comes to sex work, this complication is amplified. Care and maintenance of the body is something that is essential for sex work, but it is also essential for life. In what ways is self-maintenance more expensive for sex workers? 

Ramona Flour offers this insight: “An accountant told me in an audit an expense for the profession of choice would need to be both ‘ordinary and necessary.’ Wardrobe, hygiene/cosmetics, and plastic surgery feel ordinary for sure, some would argue necessary no, but this industry is superficial.” 

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By Mars Johnson