Nikki Stern has said students who are engaging in sex work would be better protected if they worked in brothels.

Students who are engaging in sex work would be better protected if they worked in brothels, former Canberra sex worker Nikki Stern says. Photo: Janie Barrett

Students, or ''sugar babies'', who do sex work should be working in brothels rather than relying on online prostitution organisations, a former Canberra sex worker says.

The Sunday Canberra Times reported hundreds of ACT university students are receiving gifts and having their tuition fees and rent paid by so-called ''sugar daddies'' whom they have found online.

About 200 students at the Australian National University, the University of Canberra, the Canberra Institute of Technology and the Australian Catholic University are members of a website that matches millionaires with young women, it was reported.

A former prostitute and the star of the erotic film franchise The Horny Housewife, Nikki Stern, says that Gen Y students who are engaging in what she calls ''sugar-coated prostitution'' would be better protected if they worked in brothels.

''Canberra is not a cheap place to live, so sex work is a very practical solution to their problem if they're OK with it, are in control and know what they are doing,'' Ms Stern said.

''It would be safer to work in a brothel. If they're prepared to do this sort of work - if they've crossed that line anyway - then I would recommend they go and work in brothels, as it is legalised and there are other women around in the same situation.

''It's just far safer; you've probably got security. They [the clients] don't contact you directly, they're removed from you, you use a fake name. There's all sort of protections in place,'' she said.

Ms Stern, who has written a book about her experiences in the sex industry, Not Your Ordinary Housewife, said most of her colleagues at a Canberra brothel in the 1990s were struggling students.

''The students who I knew were prostitutes were not getting any great luxury from it. They weren't doing this type of work to buy fancy clothes. It was more of a necessity to just pay the rent, that kind of thing, whereas these women today seem to be doing it for the non-essential items of life, like holidays and gadgets,'' she said.

Exchanging sexual favours for HECS payments is nothing new, however Ms Stern said the fact that it is continuing is a worrying insight into tertiary education.

''It's sad that education funding is still so poor that women feel the need to do this to get through their university studies. However, it doesn't sound like it's a survival thing any more. Maybe they have come from fairly good homes, become accustomed to a nice lifestyle and have been a little bit spoiled, then they realise it's a bit harder to make ends meet when they are studying,'' she said.

Eros Foundation co-ordinator and spokesman for the national adult industry group, Robbie Swan, said a number of single sex workers are well-educated and come from privileged backgrounds. ''There is no doubt that there are girls from private, elite schools working in the sex industry,'' he said.