IF I’VE heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times.
As the brothel clock ticks towards the end of the hour, I disentangle myself from a gentleman and lay back on the bed.
“That was great,” I say, and he inevitably pouts and rolls his eyes towards the ceiling.
“Well, I’m paying you,” the man says.
“You have to say that.”
Earlier this week, I read a piece in a Fairfax publication about the effect the author believes decriminalization of the Victorian sex industry would have on the state.
While I’m personally in favour of decriminalisation of sex work — I agree with Amnesty International that it would make workers safer and less likely to encounter exploitation and abuse — the author wasn’t, and in making her point she used a phrase that I, and many other sex workers, have heard a lot throughout our working lives: bought for sex.
It’s a phrase I personally find really hurtful, as it seems to paint a picture in which a worker is not only offering their time and services, but giving up their entire self for a client to do whatever they want with. It makes me picture doll-like women being plucked off a shelf by shadowy men in suits, which doesn’t have much in common with my experience of working in brothels: reclining in the back room, eating take-away, watching reality TV, and waiting for the next client to walk in the door. Although the idea that the clients of sex workers are somehow buying the right to do whatever they want with us is an incredibly harmful and misguided one, the author is not alone in being uncertain about what exactly is being sold by the hour.
Whether it’s clients worried that paying our hourly fee means they’ll receive some dishonest, performance-enhanced version of sex instead of the genuine, human response they’re seeking; or feminists and academics concerned that buying our time equals buying our bodies and forcing us to submit to acts far beyond the limits of our consent, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what exactly is being bought when sex is being sold.
So allow me to try to clarify: I’m a sex worker. My job is to provide a sexual service to my clients, and although I have plenty who visit me just to talk, or to cuddle, I would be incredibly dishonest if I said that sex wasn’t a huge part of my job. I consented to this part of my job when I called up a brothel for the very first time and asked if they were hiring; and I continue to consent to it every time I start my shift. As with any other sexual encounter, my consent can be withdrawn at any time and for any reason: I can choose to end a booking if a client is threatening or aggressive towards me, if they deliberately attempt to violate my boundaries, or if they have visible symptoms of an STI and I think that seeing them would jeopardize my health.