Students are turning to sex work in order to reduce loan debt and fund their basic lifestyle while at university, according to a major study.
Research by Swansea University showed one in 20 students had worked in the sex industry while studying for a degree and men were more likely to be involved than women.
Students took up various occupations from prostitution and escorting to stripping and internet work, the Student Sex Work Project report found.
The researchers have called on universities to do more to support those involved, which could number into the tens of thousands across the UK student population.
Dr Tracey Sagar, who led the study, said: "We now have firm evidence that students are engaged in the sex industry across the UK. The majority of these students keep their occupations secret and this is because of social stigma and fears of being judged by family and friends.
"And, we have to keep in mind that not all students engaged in the industry are safe or feel safe. It is vital now that universities arm themselves with knowledge to better understand student sex work issues and that university services are able to support students where support is needed."
The study, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, involved 6,750 students, of which 5% of men and 3.5% of women said they had worked in the sex industry, while nearly 22% overall said they had considered doing so.
Nearly two thirds of those involved responded that their motivation was to fund a lifestyle and 56% said it was to pay basic living costs, while two in five wanted to reduce debt at the end of their course.
Money was not the only motive, as three in five thought they would enjoy it, 54% said they were curious and 44% cited sexual pleasure as their motivation.
But up to a quarter reported they had found it difficult to leave the industry and one in four did not feel safe while going about their sex work.
Meanwhile, the numbers of those accessing counselling rose to 21% for student sex workers but universities often had no specific policy to deal with the issue, according to the report.
Dr Sagar, an associate professor of criminology at Swansea University, added: "Our research has not been about encouraging students into sex work it has been about supporting students who are in sex work. And this is the reality, students are engaged in sex work occupations - this is a fact. Another fact is that some of them need advice, support and sometimes assistance to step away from the industry.
"At the moment students feel so stigmatised and judged that they are afraid or at least very reluctant to disclose their occupations to staff and services at universities that could help them. Stereotyping is also a problem.
"Sex work is widely but wrongly perceived to be an occupation that is predominantly taken up by women and this means that males may fall through the student support net because they are not associated with sex work occupations."
The latest available figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency suggest the UK student population numbered 2.3 million as of 2012/13.
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