‘Why I choose to do sex work’
As a sex worker, sometimes it's difficult to justify exactly why I do my job.
Not in a day-to-day kind of way - of course it pays the bills and keeps the lights on - but in the sense of the bigger picture.
Friends who do sex work to pay for their university courses or children's school fees have an easy answer when asked, "Why?"
It's totally understandable that someone studying full-time at university would turn to a job that pays well and requires comparatively fewer hours of labour from them than, say, working in a shop or a bar.
Mothers returning to work have the reasoning of seeking out a job that allows them a good work-life balance: When the kids are at school, it's all business at the brothel, but work takes a back seat to the school pick-up at 3:30pm.
But those of us with less obvious reasons for working in the sex industry often have a difficult time explaining our choice of profession to others.
Why would someone choose to work in a brothel instead of an office? Why spend your day having sex with veritable strangers when instead, you could be putting that degree to use in a nine-to-five?
A lot of people have a hard time accepting sex work as a career if there's no urgent, driving force behind it. While people in almost every other industry get to head off to their jobs without facing too much interrogation as to their motives, sex workers seem to cop it in bulk.
If we're not desperate for money or desperate for sex then why on earth wouldn't we get a normal job like everyone else?
While sex work has frequently been blamed for a lot of society's ills, it's is also responsible for many great outcomes: In Rhode Island, reported cases of gonorrhoea declined after sex work was legalised, and in the Netherlands, reported cases of sexual assault decreased by as much as 40 per cent when sex work was legalised in some areas.
But is this what sex workers have been waiting for all these years? Justification that we should be allowed to work because we actually lower crime and increase sexual health, rather than the other way around? I'm not totally convinced.
While at face value it's heartening to see a drop in sexual assault, it's important to also note that sexual assault cases frequently go unreported. According to RAINN, as many as three in four assaults are never reported to police.
Whether or not a sexual assault is reported to police is the only way a country or state's attitude towards consent and sexual education is being measured, is it truly reliable?
Correlation doesn't equal causation, as the saying goes, and to draw the conclusion that sexual assaults are occurring less just because they're being reported less seems, to me, shaky at best.
Even if incidences of sexual assault are dropping in places where sex work is legal or decriminalised, what is this meant to say about the clients of sex workers?
I find it incredibly difficult to believe that a large portion of those men who visit sex workers would choose to assault women if they couldn't access our services.
Anyone, of any gender, who commits sexual assault against another person is performing a violent act.
It seems unlikely that the same man who seeks intimacy and fun from a sex worker is going to go out and become violent with a woman if he can't visit a brothel.
After all, sex workers require consent and respect just like any other woman: if someone who is inclined towards violence against women visits a sex worker, their actions are going to be just as violent as they would be with a woman who isn't a sex worker.
Sex workers add a lot of good to the world. We spent time with people who are lonely and want companionship and intimacy, we help people lower their inhibitions and have fun, and we frequently give crash courses in sexual health to those who need them. While all of this can contribute towards increasing a society-wide change in belief around consent and sex, sex workers deserve to be seen as more than just a stopgap in sexual assault prevention.
To truly put an end to sexual violence, a worldwide shift is needed in the way we talk about sex and the way we talk about violence.
Of course, we need to start having broader and more open discussions about consent; but we also need to tackle the root causes of violence: gender-based stereotypes, anger, fear, and abuse of power.
Sex workers deserve to play a role in this, but it's not our fight alone. Society has to change to prevent sexual violence in more ways than simply legalising or decriminalising sex work. To only find value in sex work because it may prevent women who aren't sex workers from being assaulted speaks not only of misunderstanding the nature of sexual assault, but is to misunderstand the nature of sex work.
Sex workers are responsible for many great things, but preventing crime shouldn't, and cannot, be one of them.
- Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Continue the conversation @kateiselin