Sex worker clients are increasingly women — and they're seeking more than pleasure
Updated October 09, 2019 13:30:39
When it comes to paying for sex in Australia, there’s a demographic of buyers that is growing: women.
The pursuit of pleasure is a major motivation, but it’s not the only one.
Women are seeing sex workers to learn about their bodies, deal with stress or trauma and experiment in an environment they consider safe.
“People think, ‘oh, go along to a sex worker and have whips and needles or something’,” says white-collar worker Jocelyn*, who says a sex worker helped her recently after a period of significant work stress.
“No. I almost wanted someone just to hug me a lot for an hour.
“It can be that sort of healing and cleansing stuff … it was huge for me.”
Jocelyn says the sex worker helped her to feel “much lighter” and “clear out that stress in a way that conventional mental health practice probably never would have or would have cost me a lot more time and money”.
Which is not to discount that, when she’s feeling “more up”, Jocelyn also sees sex workers to “explore” or “have just outright pleasure, and just enjoy it”.
“It can depend on the space you’re in,” she says.
Over the six or seven years she’s been employing the “skill and unique talents and qualities” of sex workers, Jocelyn says she’s gained help in other areas of her life too.
She says the sex workers have helped her “achieve a better life … unequivocally”.
That, she believes, is something anyone should have access to — without stigma getting in their way.
“Having the sex that is right for each person is, I won’t say a right, but something that I think we can reasonably expect,” Jocelyn says.
“Intimacy is a part of life for a lot of people; to just ignore it and sit there and talk about it can’t do the whole job.”
Clients seeking physical and ’emotional safety’
Gala Vanting, the president of the Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, and a sex worker, says female clients in the sex industry are “definitely on the rise”.
She offers several reasons for why that might be, including an increase in “economic mobility for women”, sex worker rights activists’ work towards breaking down stigma and the increased availability of sex workers who provide services to women.
Today it is “more accessible for female clients to seek our services”, she says.
Ms Vanting believes many women are attracted to the idea that they can try things out in a private, formal setting.
“I think that female clients are looking for spaces where they can safely, and within a sort of container of consent, navigate their own desires,” she says.
She says that’s something that can be “tricky … in a current relationship, where there are perhaps some expectations around sexual roles and practices”.
And while internet dating doesn’t generally afford the possibility of doing “a background check” or to understand a person’s “skills and experience”, sex worker services are “a way to get over those barriers, to just enjoy the thing that you want to explore”.
Hilary Caldwell, a visiting fellow from the University of New South Wales, is the lead author of the first major study into women buying sex in Australia.
She agrees that, unlike dating, the regulated and formal sex work environment offers women a greater sense of safety.
“I think there are lots of worries about dating regarding physical sex and safety, but also emotional safety — will you be rejected, or will you be laughed at or belittled?” she says.
“So negotiating these services with somebody who has this [sex worker] experience seems safer.”
The women in Dr Caldwell’s study were between the ages of 18 and 69 when they had bought sex. They used the services of both male and female sex workers.
Like Jocelyn, they reported feeling more “empowered and more confident and happy” after buying sex.
Also, says Dr Caldwell, “they knew themselves better and they felt more prepared for relationships, and more able to negotiate things like consent and what it was they really wanted”.
Jocelyn puts herself in that category.
She says an increase in women who are, like her, “feeling more empowered to do things their way” is a “really good thing”.
How can independent escorts operate in each state and territory?
- Victoria: Cannot work from a place of choice. Escorts can go to a client’s space only. Up to two escorts can work together
- New South Wales: Can work from a place of choice, can work with others
- Queensland: Can work from a place of choice, can only work alone
- South Australia: Sex work is criminalised. A bill to decriminalise sex work is currently in Parliament
- Western Australia: Can work from a place of choice, can only work alone
- Tasmania: Up to two sex workers can work from their own place of choice
- Australian Capital Territory: Can work from a place of choice, can only work alone
- Northern Territory: Can work from a hotel, not a place of residence. Must work alone
‘Sex workers are healers in my book’
For Jocelyn, who is a transwoman, the opportunity to better understand her body carried extra significance.
“The first part of my life was in so many levels and angles a very traumatic experience,” she says.
“As a transwoman I’ve had, in a sense, issues with my body, which are partially to do with sex and gender, but they’re also partially to do with an experience of not feeling trustful in myself or with other people.
“So to have someone who communicates really well, which a good sex worker will, and just to have that sense of empathy and the communication happen before, during and after, is a dream that … helps build a sense of trust, which I haven’t had in my own body and myself.
“The workers I’ve worked with have been really helpful with that.”
She says in the years since she’s been buying sex, she’s fundamentally changed.
“I feel more confident about my own body and more … at home in my own body,” Jocelyn says.
“I’m gradually feeling more confident to explore.”
She says her experience demonstrates the value of an industry she believes is often maligned or misunderstood, particularly by what she refers to as a conservative, “pale, stale, male” portion of the public.
“People have such a very stereotypical view of all forms of sex work, but sex workers are healers in my book,” she says.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
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First posted October 09, 2019 08:00:00