One thing I enjoy is a nice cup of coffee. Luckily there is a cafe close to where I am living in Newtown. For those of you who don’t know, Newtown is a vibrant enclave of Sydney with lots of colorful characters. I have been going to this cafe for coffee and breakfast for the last three months. It is a nice feeling walking into a place where they know your order. A few weeks ago I was there for my normal coffee and croissant when I met someone I will never forget. I was standing in line to pay when I noticed a very attractive girl next to me. I said hello and we started chatting. I think my American accent spiked her curiosity. At one point I asked her what she did for a living. She responded immediately, and in a very cavalier way, “I am a sex worker.”
I was like, “Come again?” I was surprised to hear her say that but more surprised with how open she was about it. Some people around us also heard her. I figured if she was willing to say that out loud than she would be willing to talk about it. I figured correct. We continued to chat about sex work for the next ten minutes. I was very intrigued by what she was telling me and wanted to hear more. I asked her if she would be willing to sit down with me and talk about how she got into the industry and tell me more about how it works. She agreed. We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet. It took a while to get the meeting setup. At one point she went radio silent and I assumed she changed her mind. She later told me she did have some reservations. Some of the girls she works with told her it was a bad idea. However, Amber ultimately decided to meet and talk.
Sex Work Laws in Australia
Prostitution in Australia is governed by state and territory laws. Some places allow brothels while others allow sex work but not brothels. Federal law does make trafficking and sex slavery illegal. Testing for STD’s is required every three months but Amber says she gets tested more frequently. New South Wales, where Sydney is located, has the most open prostitution laws. This website outlines the different laws by state and territory, http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/laws/
When thinking about legal prostitution places like Holland and Southeast Asia come to mind, not Australia. I was surprised to learn that it is legal here. The debate continues here, as in many other places around the world, but Australia has gone down the path of regulation rather than criminalization.
Getting Into the Industry
Amber and I met in a pub in Newtown. I had a beer and she had a fruity cocktail. She is 24, friendly, funny and well spoken. She could easily be mistaken for a student or bartender. Sex worker is the last thing you would assume about her. The obvious first question was how she got into the industry. Her answer surprised me. She had a friend that she was attending sex parties with. She described her friend as a very normal university student who also worked as a sex worker. As Amber attended more of these sex parties she became more sexually open. One day her friend suggested that she get into the sex industry. She had no idea how that worked.
Her friend put her in touch with the brothel she was working at. She thought about it. She was tired of struggling financially and decided to give it a shot. She contacted the brothel and said she was interested in working. She said they try and get you to start immediately because the longer they let you think about it the more likely you will change your mind. She had three days. It was a longest three days of her life. She did not eat or sleep much. She almost backed out. We all get nervous about our first day at a new job but I doubt many of us have ever been anywhere that nervous.
At that point, she had not had many random sexual encounters and was nervous about having sex with a total stranger. To deal with this she went on Tinder and matched with what she described as a good looking guy. She sent him a message and said she is getting into sex work and wanted some practice. She asked him if he would be willing to come to her place, have sex with her, and then leave. He agreed (shocking). I can’t imagine what was going through his head when he got that message other than it was his lucky day.
Eight months later she got a text from a random number asking if she wanted to meet up. She asked who it was. He responded that it was the guy from Tinder she used as a trial run for her new job. He then asked if she was down for a repeat. She responded, “Yeah, the price is $340/hour.”
Her First Day at Work
Amber showed up to work at 8 am. Her first booking that morning was at 9 am. Apparently this guy was the “new guy” girl, meaning he had the luck, or misfortune, of testing out the new girls. She described him as mid 40’s, average looking, boring and very vanilla. The appointment was for 30 minutes but he left after 20. She pocketed $110. She had two more clients that day. She left work with $500. She said she used to make a little more than that in a week. She decided that she would continue working.
A Day in the Life of a Sex Worker
Amber works 3 days a week. Her shift is 9 hours. At first she only saw 3-4 clients a day but now she sees between 3-6 on average. She works the day shift. She describes most of her clients as normal professionals. Most come for sex but some just want to talk. Many are married. She says they don’t get enough sex or attention at home so they come to the brothel for it. She also has a lot of regulars. The brothel sets the price at $340/hour, they get half and the girls get the other half. This includes kissing, vaginal and oral sex. Condoms are mandatory. If any “extras” are negotiated, the girl keeps all of that money.
There are two ways she, and other girls, get clients. One is an appointment with a regular. The other is more interesting. When a client comes in and does not have a specific girl in mind, all of the girls are called out. She says there are 10-20 girls working at any given time. They walk into the room one by one so the client can check them out. He then tells the reception which one he would like (or which ones). Reception then calls her out and tells her she has been chosen. A basic but efficient system.
Amber works as a private contractor, also refereed to as sole trader. She has an Australian Business Number (ABN) and pays taxes. She says she earns between $800-$1200 a day, working out to roughly $3,000 a week.
One thing I found interesting is that there is no training process. I guess if you are willing to get into sex work than you probably know a thing or two about sex. She says most men are easy to please. The clients will tell them if they are not happy. This is a job that you know very quickly if you are good or bad at.
One Year in the Business
She has been working in the sex industry for the last year. I asked her how she feels about it. She says she is happy to be making enough money to pay her bills and enjoy life. She gave no indication of regret, maybe because she was smiling and laughing the entire time. She is saving up to buy land in a tropical place. Taking it day by day in this industry is important to her. She will continue the work as long as it is enjoyable and profitable.
She made a point to say that this is her decision and it is a lifestyle she is comfortable with. She added that it is a misconception, at least in her case and many of her co-workers, that women get into this because they have no other options. She describes most of the girls she works with as smart, strong willed and liberated. I would argue that because it is legal and not in the shadows it is safer for the girls who choose to do it. She also draws a line between street girls, who often times have a pimp, and brothel girls, who work for themselves. She says she enjoys the power of the job and really enjoys giving both physical and emotional pleasure. She told me, “If you like sex then why not get paid to have it?”
One area that was tough for her is her parents. This was her biggest fear of getting into the industry. When I asked her if they knew she hesitated and said, “Well kind of.” At first she did not tell them but eventually they got suspicious. How was she paying for rent and taking all these luxurious vacations? One day her mom confronted her about it. She said she hoped her little girl would have had more respect for herself. All she could say was that she is choosing what she does with her body. It is something they choose not to discuss. She says they hope she is just working as a stripper but probably know the truth.
Sex work continues to be stigmatized, albeit it less so than in the past. Some argue it is immoral while others argue the girls don’t have a choice. In Amber’s case, she has a choice. But even the most open or liberated girl will face some level of judgement for choosing to work in the sex industry. She says most girls lie about what they do to their friends and family to avoid being shamed or judged. Amber’s openness about what she does is not the norm. She says most of the girls could not date a guy who is cool with what they do. Amber says she cannot date a guy who is not cool with it. Regardless of how you feel about it, working in the sex industry can’t be easy.
A Few Stories
All jobs create stories, some much better than others. Sex work might create some of the most interesting stories. During our conversation Amber told me many stories about her work. I have chosen to include a few, I may include the rest in a later post.
Many of the clients ask for her number. There is a rule in drug dealing – don’t get high on your own supply. There is a similar rule in sex work – don’t give the clients from the brothel your number. She has done it a few times, with mixed results. One guy invited her to dinner with another girl. He paid for dinner at a nice restaurant and paid each of them $800 for their time and a little bonus. The bonus was watching them go at each other in a suite he rented. Apparently he just liked to watch.
Another client, an investment banker who visits her 3-4 times a week, told her he wanted to do a sleepover and asked her how much it would cost. She told him $2,000 for 8 hours. He countered at $1,500 for 12 hours. She did not like the idea of being low balled for less money and more time so she turned him down. Apparently he still comes to the brothel and showers her with gifts. It is less about sex and more about companionship with him.
There was one client who got overly aggressive. She says she likes being slapped and chocked, but not too hard. One guy took it too far and nearly made her pass out. She finally got him to stop and she called security. She refuses to see him anymore but he tells the other girls to tell her hello.
I enjoyed meeting and talking with Amber. Her openness shed light on an industry that is not talked about much and considered taboo by many. She does not fit the common stereotypes sex worker (originally I used the term prostitute but she told me that is a negative term and applies more to people who are coerced into the industry http://theconversation.com/dehumanising-sex-workers-whats-prostitute-got-to-do-with-it-16444). I can say one thing for sure, she chose this path and is happy with her choice. She is also a good businesswoman. She charged me $150 for her time, much less than her standard rate. So now I guess I can say I have paid a prostitute for her time, but only to talk.