A Sydney teenager who started a website to auction off her virginity to the "highest bidder" says she hopes to raise at least $100,000 for university, a car and to help her parents pay off their mortgage.
The 18-year-old from Fairfield in Sydney's west set up the website using the pseudonym Siena Payton shortly after her birthday last month. She said she had already received two bids, one for $1000 and one for $10,000.
"That's not my goal amount," she said. "I'm hoping for $100,000."
Payton said she got the idea after seeing news stories online about supposed "virginity auctions" where some young women claimed to have made millions of dollars.
"I've been thinking about it for a long time and I thought I would give it a go," she said. "I thought it's best to do it now, later on I might meet someone and I don't want to have to wait for my first time because I'm still waiting to sell my virginity."
Payton, who just finished her HSC and hopes to study IT at the University of Technology Sydney, said it was "not a big deal, and I thought that if I could have the opportunity to sell it for money it would definitely help me".
"I just need some quick financial help and I think it'll give me a good boost to help pay for uni fees, I know you have to buy a lot of textbooks," she said. "Also a car, and I can help my parents pay off their mortgage and pay bills."
Such stories have made the rounds for years but always with a question mark over whether they are scams, publicity stunts, or sex workers pretending to be virgins.
Auction inspired by NZ woman
In 2010, a 19-year-old from New Zealand claimed to have auctioned her virginity for $NZ45,000 on a classifieds site to pay for her university fees.
In 2014, a 28-year-old medical student from the US made headlines by documenting the process on her blog, "Musings of a Virgin Whore", saying she had received bids as high as $US800,000 before getting cold feet.
Earlier this year, a 23-year-old from California enlisted Nevada's Moonlite Bunny Ranch to help auction her virginity for an expected $10 million.
A large number of stories have been promoted by controversial German website Cinderella Escorts, which last year claimed to have auctioned a 19-year-old model's virginity to an Abu Dhabi-based businessman for $3.9 million.
Cinderella Escorts' credibility was thrown into doubt earlier this year, however, when a Romanian model who had claimed to have auctioned her virginity as an 18-year-old for $3.7 million came forward to say it was all a publicity stunt.
Aleexandra Khefren, who first made global headlines in 2016 with an appearance on a British morning TV show, told porn website Sugarcookie the "virgin auctions" were just a marketing tool disguising a sinister sex trafficking operation.
"It never happened," Khefren said in a video interview. "Like, (there) was no bidder. I didn't sell my virginity. The plan was that … I would kind of become famous with my modelling career, become a celebrity and all that stuff, and they will get so much publicity on their escort site."
Sugarcookie alleged Cinderella Escorts' founder was not German man Jan Zakobielski, as named and photographed in local media, but a Greek man who uses the publicity to lure women to work in seedy Athens brothels.
Payton said she was aware of those claims but was "not sure who was telling the truth". She said she had applied on the website but the process was "very tedious and long" so she pulled out, which she now realised was a "good decision as something could've gone wrong".
She reached out to another woman for advice, a 22-year-old student from Brazil who told media in August she was auctioning her virginity for $1.3 million.
"I found her off an article, I went to her web page and emailed her on there," she said. "I was asking her questions, asking her advice on how to start. She told me, you know, 'Make a web page, make sure you set up the details correctly, know what you're looking for.'"
Payton copied the layout and much of the text from the other woman's website.
"I don't care about the age or the appearance of a man," one section reads. "I admire respectful and intelligent men. Men who take care of women, give compliments and know what they want. I will be waiting for you to take my innocence."
It also lists a series of rules for the process, stating that "documents of my virginity will be provided by local health authorities", the buyer "also has the further possibility to check me up again with a doctor he trusts" and "we will spend 12 hours together at the hotel where the winner is staying".
After setting up the website Payton first posted a link to the auction on Reddit, which was "a terrible decision because I got a lot of s**t for it".
"Everyone was just saying, 'Why would you do that to yourself?', 'It's prostitution for a day', 'Imagine having to tell your children about how you lost your virginity', s**t like that," she said.
Payton said she didn't want to ask her parents, who are originally from South America, for any financial help and would "probably" never tell them.
"I think they would think it's kind of stupid, I don't think they would get angry, they would just ask me why I would do something like that," she said. "I guess I'd lie (about where the money came from). I would just say I got a job."
Payton said she was concerned for her safety but would ask her friends to come with her as a "bodyguard". "I would probably have to tell them about the whole situation, I'd probably tell all my friends," she said.
"It definitely can be dangerous. Obviously I care if it's dangerous, I'm very well aware of that. But it's my body, I don't care about it too much — not my safety, as in bidding off my virginity, for me it's not a big deal. Some people they do it for free. Most people."
Earlier this year, Genevieve Gilbert, founder of the anti-prostitution charity the Pink Cross Foundation, warned that the "virginity auction" trend showed women were "disadvantaged in our society" and students in particular were in "precarious financial situations".
Her message to young women who might be tempted was to seek out the support of a social worker or older community member. "Get a case worker to help you achieve your short-term goals," Gilbert said.
But she added it was the responsibility of men to take a stand. "The men are the ones that need to take action," she said. "We see prostitution as violence against women. It's about men standing up against that, to stop using women to achieve their enjoyment."
'It's up to a woman how she uses her body'
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, senior social scientist at the University of Melbourne and author of Intimacy on the Internet, said she didn't see it as "either positive or negative".
"At the end of the day it's up to a woman how she uses her body, and if she wants to profit from selling access to her virginity that's her choice," she said.
"I do think it says something about our culture that the quickest way for a woman to earn $10,000 upwards is to do this. That's revealing about things such as the premium on virginity and female sexuality and youth, and also labour market realities."
Rosewarne disagreed with the radical feminist view that "there are certain things that can't be sold", saying the "mysticism" around sex actually disadvantaged women.
"It's only in the sex industry that we talk about these issues of 'saving' or 'protecting' women or the possibility of this being something negative," she said.
"The stigma is attached to the fact it's involving sex. We're still a puritanical society and talk about it as if there's some obvious negativity attached that doesn't haunt other industries, even ones that are physically arduous."
She warned the only possible negative was "in these types of arrangements she becomes her own pimp, if you like, and I think that puts her in a precarious situation". "Just be careful," she said.