So, what is it like being a sex worker in Melbourne? Well I can’t show you, but I can tell you what I’ve experienced.
If you don’t know much about the sex industry in Melbourne, it’s probably quite confronting to imagine. When we think about women working in the sex industry, there tends to be two extremes: either you’re a street hooker with a drug addiction, or you’re a high class escort, reminiscent of Diary of a Call Girl. The reality is that the majority of sex workers sit somewhere in between. Melbourne’s most common forms of sex work are stripping, private escorting, porn, sugaring and brothel work.
If you’re in your 20s or even 30s, you’ve probably known a sex worker, even if they haven’t told you about their occupation. We’re everywhere – in university lectures, behind the counter of your favourite coffee shop, watching our child’s soccer match. We’re just like you – contrary to what many people believe.
When I tell my clients that I’m a uni student, they nod sympathetically and say, “Oh, that’s really great, you’ll be able to get a real career when you’re finished.” I’m sorry, but this job is probably bringing in a better income right now than my ‘real career’ will in 5-10 years. I choose when I work, who I see at work and how many hours a week I put in.
This makes it an excellent job to be working while at uni. If at any point I start to really struggle with my workload, I can reduce my hours or even just take a week or two off. If I want to go travelling in the summer, I can leave for a month or two and when I come back, I’m still going to have a job. Yet I am still your average uni student. I have a wonderful, supportive family and group of friends. I spend 30-40 hours a week on campus and still seem to be behind. I might be sitting next to you in class, running off caffeine like so many other students.
I’ve been working in a brothel in the inner city for around a month now (although beforehand I had dipped my toes into the world of sugaring and found it not to my liking), and I couldn’t be happier with my job. Brothel work is generally considered “full service sex work” – it generally involves penetrative sex. Coming in for my first shift I was absolutely terrified. I had no idea what to expect from the clients, the managers or the other girls I’d be working with.
Thankfully, the manager who interviewed me and prepared me for my first shift quickly put me at ease, showing the various rooms and running through the process of remaking rooms after bookings. As she led me into the back room to meet the other girls I would be working with, I was surprised to see that there were such a variety of women eager to meet the new ‘baby hooker’ – you will find women of every shape, size and age in brothels.
The back room is where all the girls wait in between seeing clients – it’s a modern, comfortable space with a kitchenette, tea, coffee and raisin toast on offer. Everyone has a small armchair and table. Come into the back room of a brothel and you’ll find all sorts of activities happening – studying, reading, knitting, watching YouTube, gossiping, tarot reading and more. Everyone has such a diverse range of interests that it very quickly becomes clear that sex work attracts women from all walks of life.
The process is pretty simple – a client will come in and will be seated in a small room, called an ‘intro’ room. All of the girls available will go out one by one and chat with the client and let them know about the services they offer (i.e. if there are any extras they offer such as kissing, fantasy or kink). After all of the girls have spoken to the client, the receptionist chats to them to see if they want to make a booking with one of the girls and for how long. Of course, no matter the circumstances, at the end of the day we choose who we see and are always able to refuse a client.
The clients that we see, just like the girls that work in the industry, come from various backgrounds. I’ve seen men in their early 20’s and in their 60’s. I’ve seen people of all ethnicities. I’ve had clients that just wanted to get their rocks off, and I’ve had clients that were just looking for a friend. One of my clients was a lovely young man who had just moved here to get his masters in engineering. He was severely depressed and begged me to meet with him for a coffee outside of work because he wanted a friend so desperately.
Sometimes working in this job is hard, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think. There is an emotional drain, but often it’s from hearing the sad tales from the lives of clients rather than because they’ve mistreated you. Heck, when one of us gets mistreated at work the client is promptly removed from the premises and is banned from the business. My experience in the world of sex work has been much less degrading to women than I previously would have thought – in fact, sex work might be the only industry where women are paid more than men. I recently asked one of my colleagues what she thought about being a sex worker. Her answer was to say that her one regret from working in the industry was that she had only discovered it five years ago.
You may have heard the feminist argument, which positions sex work to be good for women because it empowers them. While this is certainly the case in some instances, it’s detrimental to spread the idea that sex work is only legitimate if it happens to make the person feel empowered. There are many workers who do not like and may even strongly despise the job, but for whatever reason, it’s their only source of income.
To suggest that all sex work is or should be empowering is to treat sex work not as a normal job – you would never ask a hospitality worker if they feel empowered by their job and it’s important not to push this idea onto sex workers.
Millennials are often given advice by Australian politicians on how to become financially independent, supporting ourselves in the age of the rising cost of living and the housing bubble. Rather than being offered any tangible solutions to these problems, we’re told “get a good job that pays good money” and to stop eating smashed avo.
Well Mr Hockey, I took your advice, and I got a good job that pays good money – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
An anonymous student near you
Photography by Isabella Nye