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The Nature of Prostitution Work - An Australian Study

Prostitution is one of the highest paid professions for women. Over 75% of the prostitutes in the study earned as much as the highest 9% of Australians. Many prostitutes would leave the business if they couldn't earn at least twice the salary they would earn in "straight" employment. Part of this is due to no fringe benefits and that usually retirement is far earlier than in straight employment (have to compete with younger girls that many men prefer).

Many career prostitutes pay taxes on their earnings to avoid possibly being indicted for tax avoidance based on their property, cars, and other property. As one worker said, "I pay the same kind of taxes that a doctor does. But I actually receive far less because I can't work until I'm 65 like my father can, I get no prestige from my work, and no recognition for what I do."

There has also been a movement for taxing brothel workers as employees withholding taxes like on other employees, but the workers argue they are independent contractors since they are not paid a salary but share the service fee with the house. They argue they are not supplied uniforms (for being nude?), and are expected to pay their own overhead. In the case of a bondage mistress this can be exorbitant, as Martine points out: "We have to buy our own equipment, our own dildos, our own enemas, even our own amyl nitrate as the clients like snorting in a session. We have to buy our own leather clothing, which is very expensive."

For independent "call girls" they usually rent a separate apartment with all its utilities, furniture etc. And business can be erratic dependent on the whims of customers.

A third of prostitutes work 25-36 hours a week, or as brothel workers three to four days a week. Less than a fifth work a "normal" working week of 37-48 hours. More than a fifth work 49-60 hours a week often doing double shifts at brothels.

There are varying attitudes about how much they enjoy their work, very much to "its just a job". In real loving relationships many prostitutes have lovers who are far from the perceived "typical" client in appearance, mannerisms and attitudes. Prostitutes are more likely to be attracted to men as lovers who are least like the client stereotype in a subconscious motive to distance themselves from their work in their private lives. This is probably not too unlike the plumber who loathes having to work on his own pipes.

Services offered: Hand relief 84%, Full French (to completion) 51%, Sex (Coitus) 89%, Part French and sex (most common in brothels) 91%, Greek 5%, Kissing 27%(often saved for real lovers), Lesbian acts 46%, Buck's parties (where they live up a party and are often presented as a "gift" to the male whose honor the party is held) 24%.

Unlike in the U.S., oral sex has undergone a transformation in the more recent decades. Back in the 50's it was considered perverted and dirty in Australia vs. in the U.S. where the Kinsey study showed fellatio was common. As it became more common in the culture, demand for it rose. By the 80's it was also commonly offered by prostitutes in Australia. Now there is a negative attitude towards anal sex similar to that of fellatio in the 50's. But as with fellatio, if anal sex grows in popularity generally in society it will spread as a regular service in commercial sex, for, contrary to popular opinion, prostitution follows sexual trends rather than initiates them.

Of the services rejected by most of the prostitutes buck's parties are avoided because of the drunken, loutish behavior usually associated with these male social events repel most women. Sexual surrogate work is rejected but not because patients are handicapped (in fact, many prostitutes have handicapped clients) but because this kind of work doesn't pay well and the prostitute has to work in an atmosphere of condescending medical staff.

Aspects of prostitution liked by prostitutes: The good money 92%, Flexible hours 58%, Extent of personal freedom it allows 44%, Companionship among workers (in brothels) 41%, Helping to understand oneself 31%.

For Caroline, prostitution has developed an improved self-identity: "It was the best thing I have ever done, because it has developed a strong character in me. Before prostitution I was just another clinging, obsessive female. Now, I am my own person, independent."

Martine found it gave her greater confidence and higher self-esteem. Martine found it gave her greater confidence and higher self esteem: "When I started working I was actually quite frightened of men. Whenever I found myself in a room alone with a strange man I'd get scared. It was an awful feeling and I think most women have it. To be scared most of the time, to live in fear is not a good feeling. Now I'm no longer frightened of men and I'm learning a lot about them. I mean they are no longer as mysterious nor as revolting as I imagined them to be. When they come into the parlour they tell us these terrible secrets about themselves and sometimes they are extraordinarily honest, so that you really get to know these men on a very intimate level very quickly. I love my work because it has given me confidence to communicate with men and it has taken away my fear of them. I'm not afraid of them any more. It's the best thing that has ever happened to me. It's also given me confidence physically and I'm no longer self-conscious about my body. It doesn't worry me that I'm not perfect and I really do think that I'm attractive to some men but not to others, whereas before I use to have this very bad physical self-image."

Martine's discovery that her role as a sex worker enabled her to overcome her fear of men is a common experience with prostitutes. It is the first step to controlling the situation in prostitution. The popular concept that prostitutes are entirely under the control of the clients' demands is another example of the mythology surrounding the sex industry. In the individual interaction of prostitute and client, in fact, it is the prostitute who establishes the boundary of behaviour; the client simply announces his request, and if acceptable to the prostitute, she then sets the limits within her framework of convention. In some respects the client-prostitute interaction is reminiscent of the early stages of ordinary courtship, when social convention demands that the female stabilises the pace of the sexual process in the romance in order to avoid sexual anarchy. Yet, of course, as in ordinary romance, it can sometimes go awfully wrong, resulting in violence. But in the majority of instances the prostitute controls the situation. As Laura expresses it: "I can always rush them if I want to or I can allow them to stay longer". June, a woman with a strong feminist consciousness, discovered where the myths end:

You do have a degree of autonomy in prostitution, which actually surprised me. Within that whole realm of men selecting women with its notion of female passivity, there is a strong input of sexual control by the women.

Zoe is another prostitute with a feminist perspective who found sex work to be very different to gender relations in everyday life:

They are paying for you, so you can demand what you want and don't want; no you can't kiss me, no you can't do that, time's up, whatever. In my personal experiences I found it was a total role reversal to the usual positions of power and dominance by men with women subservient to them. I gained a lot of confidence out of it.

Once more, women in prostitution are seen to have gained from their experience with the result that their relationships with males generally change thereafter; their perspectives of male sexuality becomes more realistic; and their position in gender relations is empowered

Aspects of prostitution disliked by prostitutes: Having sex with men not liked 71%, Bitchiness among workers 52%, The social stigma of being a prostitute 52%, Paying out half earnings to the house 48%.

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