Canberra’s adult industries have long been a point of fascination, but for some Canberrans, sex work is just a part of their normal life.
Anita* and Miranda* are two such Canberrans, who both work at Red Door—Canberra’s only female-owned and run licensed erotic massage venue. Anita has been a sex worker for five years, while Miranda has been working for 18 months.
What drew you to apply for a position as a sex worker?
Anita: I originally wanted to get breast implants and thought the extra money on the side would help me get there. I still haven’t got them. Each time I have enough money I find something I want more—like a holiday overseas.
Miranda: The credit card debt that I had hanging over my head. I love that where I work is not only female owned and operated but that it is a family business—the owner’s mother even works in reception.
So while the credit card debt is what led me to the industry, the parlour as a business is what made me stay.
How often do you work?
A: I work the maximum shifts a week, which is five. It works out to be nearly full-time hours. I also study full-time.
M: My shifts are more on a casual basis as I have other jobs as well. I usually work two-three times a week either on weekend days or week nights.
What is a normal shift at work like?
M: Guys tend to think we are in the back room in lingerie having pillow fights and making out. I’m sorry to burst their bubble but it is a lot more relaxed than that.
We usually get in about half an hour earlier to do our hair and our makeup and then sometimes we have bookings, sometimes we don’t, and just meet clients when they come in, but it’s never the same and it’s hard to determine what kind of day we will have.
A: No two shifts are the same. We get there make sure our hair and make-up are done and then see where the day takes us.
What kinds of clients do you see?
A: I see all types of clients, young/old, all ethnicities and body types. I have a soft spot for the oldies, I feel like the companionship is a big thing for them. I also offer kink services so get to meet some really interesting people there, which I adore.
M: It’s very varied as it depends on what each client coming through the door feels like or has a fantasy about.
What are some negative preconceptions about being a sex worker or the industry in general?
A: That the people who do it, do it out of desperation. That we all do drugs to just get through the day, but in our down time we are just watching Netflix or sleeping—not doing lines of cocaine!
M: Unfortunately, working in the sex industry is met with a lot of negative preconceptions and stereotypes. One stereotype I have been on the receiving end of is the idea that we have been coerced into doing this line of work by some seedy guy with gang connections.
In my experience, this is not the case. We are not forced to be here. We are free to leave at any time, just like any other workplace. We chose this career, and we enjoy it.
What would you like people to understand about being a sex worker?
A: I do love my work and could talk about the benefits to no end. However, the work is hard, and it isn’t for everyone. Starting in the sex industry isn’t something someone should do on a whim or if they want quick cash. It can be hard and can be physically and emotionally draining.
M: Sex work is more than just getting someone off. It’s helping people with a very primal need to be loved and feel connection with another person.
Have you told your family and friends?
A: Yep, all my friends know. My direct family (parents and brother) know. My dad found out whilst I was overseas. He is a very conservative man and I was terrified of him ever finding out. He told me he loved me and supported me no matter what I did.
My brother is supportive, and I love telling my mum stories from work to see her reaction. A couple of friends have been uncomfortable with it and I have lost those friendships, but if they don’t want to be my friend over something as irrelevant as what I do for a living they aren’t the kind of friends I want anyway.
M: All of my friends know and support me. My brother found out through social media and didn’t take the idea well, demanding I tell my parents.
I ended up telling my mother, who told me I was like many other girls before me trying to make my own way in the world, and that while she wasn’t over the moon about it, she understood that I was an adult and could make my own choices.
Are you in a relationship? Has being a sex worker had any impact on that part of your life?
A: I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for four years and he has no problem with what I do for work.
M: I’m single, but I have a few friends with benefits who know what I do and are cool with it. I’m a little nervous about eventually being in a relationship and having to bring it up, but anyone who wouldn’t be cool with it isn’t the person for me.
Is the money as good as people think it is?
M: It’s pretty decent and has certainly allowed me a lot more freedoms than I would otherwise have. But we all have what we call “donut days” where we don’t get jobs, and no jobs equals no pay, so you need to budget accordingly to account for those days.
A: When it’s good the money is great; however, the money isn’t consistent. You can never tell when you will have a good week or a bad week. That being said, I was able to quit my full-time job (not a high-paying job) and still consistently make more than I did in that.
What do you get out of the experience of working as a sex worker?
A: I like the freedom—I’m not sure how I will go working a ‘proper’ 9-5 day without having the opportunity to nap! I genuinely enjoy my job; I get bored easily and can’t stand the mundane workday many other careers offer.
I get to meet so many people I otherwise would never have the opportunity to connect with, and hearing their stories is always interesting.
*Names have been changed