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What It’s Like To Be A Sex Worker Right Now

I’m an independent sex worker, and have been working for almost four years.

I’ve worked in brothels but am mainly independent. I host sex worker get togethers in Melbourne and am embedded in my local sex worker community.

Seeing a sex worker is a luxury (although intimacy is something we all need at times). When financial times of crisis hit, one of the first things to go is booking sex workers. So the industry is suffering incredibly right now, just like many others.

COVID-19 has hit sex workers hard. With the lockdown restrictions coming into place, the government has shut down brothels and massage parlours. Thousands of sex workers in Australia have been displaced from their workplace overnight.

In Victoria it is illegal for sex workers to work from home, where we could control the environment and sanitise our surroundings. Instead, we can only visit clients' homes or hotels. If a full level four lockdown comes into play, as in New Zealand, it may become illegal for sex workers to work at all in Australia.

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Sex workers come at all different rate levels, from $100 to $800 an hour. The perception that sex workers must be rich is an incorrect one. We are normal people with ebbs and flows to our businesses, just like any sole trader. For some people sex work is a side gig, for others it's our full-time career. After the Fosta-Sesta laws implemented in the US that changed the face of sex work, taking down directories in the span of a second, the industry has slowly started to recover only recently.

Sex workers rely heavily on the travelling businessman and being able to tour city-to-city. Myself and other sex workers have had to cancel tours to other cities, refund deposits for bookings, and potentially lose thousands of dollars in expected income. Some workers may have savings, but others may make low rates in brothels, and others are now facing homelessness. It is a terrifying time to be in an industry that is dependent on face-to-face interaction and intimate services.

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Do we take the risk of working and catching COVID-19 or stay at home and potentially fail to pay our rent and feed our families? Yes, Centrelink is bringing out stimulus packages but for many reasons sex workers may not be able to benefit from them. Many sex workers do sex work because they are chronically ill or have reasons they cannot work nine-to-five jobs. It makes it hard to fall into other industries, especially if you have a gap in your resume from only doing sex work for a set amount of time.

In these times you may see people saying they are starting up an ‘OnlyFans’, which is a subscription website that can be used to sell porn videos, sexy photo sets, sexting services, and a range of other online sex work content. But OnlyFans is not an option for every civilian or sex worker looking to supplement their income, nor is it an easy cash grab.

It is hard work that takes a specific skill set of marketing skills, social media know-how, and charisma. It also requires having an area where you can set up equipment like a tripod, camera, light equipment, and so on. If you do camming -- where you are live on a platform and people tip tokens while you ‘perform’ -- you also need privacy and a good Internet connection. Same for phone sex. And obviously it works better if you show your face.

For ‘face in’ providers like myself, that leads to a problem. Do we risk our anonymity or our health?

Sex workers are the most health conscious and hygiene knowledgeable people I know. This 2014 medical study showed that sex workers had a lower rate of sexually transmitted diseases than the public. We know how to keep ourselves and our clients safe and trust me, we know more about sexual health than most medical professionals. Every worker I know is taking considerable precautions to protect themselves and their clients against COVID-19.

Alas, even pushing COVID to the side, many potential clients are now home with their partners and kids, or have lost their jobs and extra play money. People are scared and not making bookings. Thus many sex workers are now facing a slow six months without income and filled with fear. The scarcity of work and support will push many survival sex workers to take bookings that may not be with safe people. Our safety, our income and our livelihoods are at risk.

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Intimacy is important and something we all crave, even when the world is filled with such fear. When sex workers ask you to follow protocols like washing your hands and so on, listen to them. As Thorne Harbour Health has pointed out, COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted disease, but it can be caught from close contact as it is airborne.

National peer organisations like Scarlet Alliance are raising money with a fundraiser to help workers who are truly struggling right now.

Sex workers are just like you -- we are scared right now. We are facing the same income uncertainty. We don’t get sick pay or insurance and many of us do not have superannuation or savings. We help you feel good, so help us back.

Featured Image: Getty