Sex work activists gather in a Los Angeles street to protest for sex worker rights.
When we work together, the world becomes a much sexier place.

When it comes to sex work, politics matters. Here's why.

Georgie Wolf
Georgie Wolf

I used to say, 'I'm not into politics.'

Reading up on the law, voting, and listening to stuffy guys in suits give thanks! I was too busy having fun and trying to make ends meet.

But when I started work as an escort, a whole lot of obscure laws and regulations began to dictate my everyday life. Things like:

  • Where I'm able to meet my clients. In Victoria, it's illegal for our clients to visit us at our homes...which means that every time I take a booking, I need to get dressed up and travel to an unfamiliar place to meet my customer, all while trying to remain discreet and relaxed.
  • How much skin I was allowed to show in advertising photos. Would you believe that only a few years ago, our pics in ads had to be restricted to head and shoulders only? How was I supposed to advertise properly, when my potential clients couldn't see my amazing cleavage?
  • Being forced to register my name and address with the government. It's annoying and feels invasive knowing that some government department has my private details on file. Sometimes they send me mail with official-looking logos on it, which would be a real issue if I were trying to keep my work private from the people I live with.

I discovered that politics only feels boring when it doesn't affect you. As soon as those folks in suits start messing with your way of life, sh#t becomes personal.

A quick intro to sex work decriminalisation

Broadly, types of sex work law around the world fall into three categories:

  • criminalisation (banning everything)
  • regulation/licensing (making special rules around what certain types of sex workers can and can't do)
  • decriminalisation (treating sex work like any other type of work).

Decriminalisation is the only approach recommended by sex worker rights organisations. When sex work is treated like any other job, we can do the stuff we need to stay safe, while following the same laws as regular businesses.

As a client, sex work criminalisation and regulation make life harder for you too. A few reasons why:

  • Your provider feels less safe, and you need to work harder to show you're trustworthy. Sex work isn't an inherently dangerous job, but it becomes more so when we're treated like second-class citizens. When we feel unsafe, we need extra reassurance that you're a legitimate client. That means screening, references, and a lot more talking before your escort can relax and trust you.
  • You might not be able to ask for what you want. If you're interested in a particular activity, sex workers are a great way to try it out. But criminalisation and regulation create uncomfortable situations where you often can't mention specific types of sex (or, sometimes, talk about sex at all) before you meet up. Instead, you simply turn up and hope they can offer what you're looking for. If they don't, you're out of luck (and out of pocket, too).
  • Your worker might feel anxious and give you a poor service. Good sex requires relaxation and focus. But working under threat from the law can be's hard to have fun when we're stressed out!
  • When whorephobia and stigma are the norm, everyone suffers. When sex work is treated as a special case under the law, it encourages the idea that our work is 'shady'. Then both escorts and clients feel they can't be honest about what they're up to. No matter who you are, feeling alone really sucks.
What’s the Deal with Decriminalisation? Your introduction to sex worker rights and the law.
Is sex work legal in Australia? What does ‘decriminalisation’ really mean? And why do activists insist it’s the only way, when many states of Australia already allow it in one form or another?

So, what do we do, once the 'political' gets 'personal'?

It might be tempting to ignore this situation and hope it gets better all on its own. Unfortunately, recent developments in Australia and overseas, such as FOSTA/SESTA and South Australia's recent attempt at reform, show that things can go backwards just as easily as they can improve.

Unless we act, nothing changes.

Here are a few suggestions. I know that not everyone can become a crusader - you might be worried about your job, your safety, or your other relationships. But if you're able to speak up, doing this stuff might help:

  • Know the difference between full decriminalisation, regulation/licensing, and criminalisation. Politicians often use 'weasel words' that suggest they've found the perfect solution to manage sex work...but unless their solution includes full decriminalisation, it's not the answer.
  • Refuse to vote for people who talk trash about sex workers. Sure, it might mean having to rule a lot of political parties out, since few of them support us! But do you really want to get behind someone who is actively working to make your life worse? It just doesn't make sense.
  • Stand up for sex work. You don't need to come out as a client to stick up for your favourite sexy workers. It could be as easy as telling a mate to 'cut it out' when he's saying gross things about strippers, or correcting someone about sex trafficking. The more you stick up for us, the quicker public opinion will change.
Lola Davina on defending sex work from SWERFs and negative clients.
No matter where you are in the world, no matter what kind of sex work you do, at one time or another you’re going to cross paths with folks who don’t approve. How can we find the right words, when we find ourselves in an argument?

Currently, the Victorian and Queensland Governments are working towards full sex work decriminalisation...but it's not a done deal. You can get the latest news from Scarlet Alliance.

Let's keep the bastards honest and make sure we get full decrim! Anything less simply isn't good enough.