I’ve been a sex worker for over 20 years. I’m a migrant sex worker based in Sydney, Australia but have travelled for work opportunities both interstate and internationally during that time. The most important thing for sex workers is that our clients are respectful and courteous. It is a mutually consenting activity between two adults. I have never discriminated against clients’ race, age, nationality or ability, so over time I have seen quite a number of clients with disability. This includes people who were born with certain disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy, those who are living with more progressive disabilities, such as Muscular Dystrophy and those who have acquired a disability through accident or illness, such as Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) or quadriplegia.
My work has been featured in a documentary, Scarlet Road which was released in 2011. It features two of my clients with disability as well as the work Touching Base, an organisation I co-founded in 2000. Touching Base also has a Referral List of disability-friendly sex service providers.
As the designated Touching Base Committee Member it is my job to support other sex workers to become individual members of Touching Base and to include their details in the Referral List. I also give support and advice to sex workers who are seeing clients with disability as well as sharing personal experiences and information during our sex worker workshops.
The roles of sex workers are quite varied. For some clients they have never had the experience to touch another human being. For others they want to learn what their bodies can and can’t do in a sexual way. Sex workers also are renowned for being educators – teaching people about safer sex practices and letting them explore their sexual expression in a safe and supportive environment. Seeing a sex worker can assist in one’s rehabilitation, allowing people to rediscover their sexual functioning after an accident and also learn to adapt to new sexual positioning with their new limited mobility. For some it’s about allowing people to experience feelings of pleasure and happiness while they are dealing with a lot of pain and grief through these earlier stages of getting used to their disability. For others it’s about gaining confidence and skills ‘in the bedroom’ before they go out and start dating.
An official working definition for sexual health by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that ‘Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.’
People with disability are so often denied autonomy and respect as adults with the same sexual rights and desires as everyone else. This means allowing them to be able to have the same sexual expression as other adults in society and enabling pathways for this to occur when they need assistance to do so. While seeing a sex worker is not for everyone, just like in the general population, for some, this is a positive experience people want to pursue.
With Decriminalisation of the sex industry in New South Wales (NSW), Australia I have been able to talk openly about this issue and be able to provide sexual services to many clients with disability.
While sex sells everything these days, from perfume, cars and even ice cream, talking about sex is still ‘the last frontier’. The parents, siblings and support workers I have come in contact with through my work as a sex worker are battling with the on-going stigma, discrimination and legal frameworks that societies around the world are continuing to place upon those who support the sexual rights of people – especially those living with disability. Yet, they persevere knowing that what I provide to my clients with disability is a bit of happiness and joy and an experience that a lot of us take for granted. The next time you curl up with someone, the next time you hold hands with someone, the next time someone caresses you in a meaningful way – treasure that moment. I often tell people, the next time you kiss someone or are wanting to have sex with your significant other, imagine if you had to call your mum or your dad to organise that interaction. That’s what some of my clients have to do, AND they have to wait a few weeks for that to be organised!
What we take for granted and is a spontaneous act is an orchestrated moment in some peoples’ lives… but that is no reason to ever deny people the opportunity to experience such things if they so choose.