Sex workers: Why our services should be under the NDIS
FOR sex worker Vanessa, her bookings with clients with disabilities aren't always about sex.
"Some are seeking a sexual service but others are seeking companionship or touch, and this is true for all my clients. Some just want to cuddle and chat and spend that time with someone," she said.
"I've sessioned with people with disabilities who are virgins who want to spend that first session doing things like cuddling or just basic touch or talking about what we might do in a future session. Flirting or chatting or having a chat or some food or a drink."
Vanessa and other workers in the industry were angered by the backlash to a court judgment where a woman with disabilities won a protracted legal battle to get the NDIS to pay for her visits to a sex worker.
But Vanessa and others in the industry say there are tangible benefits that sessions with a sex worker - like other professionals - can bring to people living with disabilities.
"I definitely see an increase in their confidence and a dropping of the shame around seeking and talking about sex. Shame doesn't really have positive health effects," she said.
"The media and anti-sex work people tend towards a single stereotype of what happens in a sex work booking, but sex workers know how ridiculous that is and how diverse our bookings are."
"We tend to go towards this monolith when we want to demonise or block something from happening, and that really does a disservice to both sex workers and people with disabilities."
"I feel like the framing of this issue like 'prostitutes are going to take all the taxpayer's money' is really a very narrow viewpoint on all parties to this issue."
Through talking to her clients with disabilities who have plans under the NDIS, Vanessa said getting funding for most services was difficult.
"There's this idea that suddenly everyone is going to take up sex work on their NDIS plan," she said.
"But the plans are bespoke and tailored to that person and they have to be approved. And the hoops that you have to jump through to achieve anything with the NDIS are pretty substantial," she said.
"I want to challenge this idea that this is something everyone will use. Seeing a sex worker is not for everyone who doesn't have a disability and it's also not for everyone who does. Everyone evaluates their quality of life differently, and for some people, an active sexuality is part of that quality of life. It's such a personal choice."
People with Disability Australia spokeswoman El Gibbs said the court decision proved that it's not for the government to say what people with disabilities can do with their lives.
"It clearly says that people with disabilities will get the supports that suit their individual needs, and for some people, that will include access to sex work services. But not everybody, just like not everybody uses a wheelchair," she said.
"The NDIS doesn't apply to just one part of our lives. It applies to all parts of our lives, and that includes adults having sex. I know that's weird to go 'gee, people with a disability might have sex' but we do."
Sex worker rights organisation Respect Inc Qld's state co-ordinator Elena Jeffreys said many people with disabilities won't need these services.
"But for those that do, seeing a sex worker can be a safe option for negotiated exploration - and for some it is their only opportunity," she said.
"By the time a person with a disability, and in this case a woman, is able to access intimate touch or sexual services from a sex worker, they have had to fight to convince others of its importance to their health many times over."
"Should people with disabilities have the same right to full enjoyment of life? Of course they should. Intimacy, touch, erotic play and sexual expression are important to the full enjoyment of life for many people, that's part of what sex workers provide."
Sex worker Hope has seen one client with a disability for two years and said their sessions weren't about sex in the conventional sense.
"For him, it's more about an intimate touch. He has people come in to do different things for him, and it's all very professional and rigid," she said.
"With the condition he has, he's unable to have sex, but it's that touching, being touched, and having someone to lay there and talk with."
She said another client had a head injury and found it difficult to meet women socially.
"Probably everybody I've seen with a disability wants that intimate touch, and a lot of them talk about having professionals in changing their catheters and things. They want to have someone who's not doing that, that's touching them and that they can touch and to have that contact on an intimate level."
"Some people aren't able to have sex, and I find a lot of people just want to touch my body rather than me touch theirs," she said.
"I've had female clients that had autism. They weren't able to pick somebody up, but still wanted to be able to have some sexuality in their lives."
Hope has also seen the difference in her clients after their bookings.
"I've had guys say that they actually feel like a man now for the first time in ages. Guys - disability or not - love to be thought about sexually, so I can do that for somebody and that's a really good confidence booster for them," she said.
"I can imagine in a world full of clinical - treatments, doctors, carers - that having something that's outside that would feel really amazing. I just try to basically be a sweet girlfriend for an hour or two."
"It's a break from the monotonous. It's having that person who will go to dinner or the theatre with you with the understanding that things are going to take longer and be slower. That's a valuable thing to people with disabilities."
Hope said she also enjoys her time with those clients.
"Quite often they're nicer and sweeter than some of the other guys I see. They often develop - what's the nicest way to say this - skills that other guys don't bother with," she said.
"I've been to dinner and musicals with a gentleman, and it wasn't about anything other than that. I'd go to dinner and flirt, and I was his arm candy. There was no sex," she said.
"I had a young guy who'd been in a car accident and he'd lost the use of his legs. He just wanted to build up confidence in the bedroom before he tried it with a girlfriend, so we practised what he could do now."
One of Hope's regulars also saves up his pension to see her and has done for years.
"I just think it would be really beautiful if once a month or two months, that could be paid for," she said.
"I think it would be really valuable for some people who are lacking that kind of connection."
Originally published as Sex workers: Why our services should be under the NDIS