In an unprecedented and unexpected twist of the 2008 financial crash, those walled inside the enclaves of academia have suddenly found themselves short of money. Despite the Kafkaesque nature of grant money, or most likely because of it, a few scientists are now turning to fresh sources of revenue streams. This reporter spoke to employees of a respectable research institution who, understandably, wish to remain anonymous. Among those was “Cathy”, who initially came up with the idea, “while having sex in the bathtub.” That idea came in the form of a “discrete, client-based service for those with intellectual dispositions”; initially working solo, Cathy saw that her services of providing intellectual stimulation whilst providing other kinds of stimulation was quite a hit. In an effort to expand upon the idea, Cathy attempted to recruit a few of her somewhat skeptical colleagues: “It was really difficult at first”, she explained, “some asked, ‘why would someone want to have a discussion about wave-particle duality while being jerked off?’ ”. Eventually her persistence and detailed bank account statements managed to convince some that there was method in her madness; “it was a way of generating a reliable source of funding”, explains “Daphne”, “plus the hours are more predictable”. Together, they created, ‘Sex with Scientists’, which currently boasts of twenty-five employees across five institutions. “Naturally, anonymity is everything,” Cathy insists, “so we do our outmost to protect the identities of our employees and clients.” Indeed, their website consists of profiles such as: “Flagrant Galileo”, “Newton’s Big Apple”, “Vectors and Forces”, “Uncontrolled Repetition”, and in a titillating homage to literature, “2BRO2B Horny”. So it goes.
While the outrageous costumes worn, which includes Greek robes studded with rhinestones and 17th century attire complete with a suggestive hat, does seem to confer a degree of anonymity to the participants there have been a few awkward encounters. One such consisted of a post-doc, “Patrick”, who was surprised to find that a client he had expected to meet at a discrete hotel was his own supervisor: “It’s a little disconcerting when one day your boss is riding your ass and the next he is literally riding up your ass”, he said, commenting that he was saved from further humiliation by his drag outfit and heavy make-up, “at least I was not recognised, thank God.”
Asked if she expects demand to drop soon, Cathy replied “No, not really”, further suggesting that, “These are hard times and hard solutions are expected.” Daphne, who at the start of the entire escapade was a PhD student, thinks that this business is a good way of escaping from the trials and tribulations of the funding agencies: “Before, I used to have sleepless nights wondering if I was going to get money for another year, but now I get to make good money whilst setting my own hours.” She admits that it has been difficult juggling academic work with the pressure to perform off work: “The clients definitely expect a lot. Some want you to make good conversation before going up to the room, while the more demanding want dirty science sex talk as they ram you.” Asked what that sounds like, she says, “a bit like word salad from a scientific dictionary with duck noises.”
Patrick, as well, does not appear to be discouraged by his near miss: “I couldn’t think of stopping,” he muses, “not when this project is getting real results.” The entire enterprise seems to be primarily driven by the pressure to succeed coupled with extreme financial insecurity: “Previously people would give up a career in science,” Cathy ponders, “but now they have the option to put out before giving up.”