"Working privately has taught me to be very business savvy - you have to take your own photos, make a website, message back and forth with clients and work out pricing and boundaries – but I can earn at least double."
While sex work is increasingly common for Australian students, their experiences are usually only represented as cautionary tales. This year, a UK study found that 5% of women worked in the sex industry while studying. One in five have thought about it.
Marina (her working name), is a twenty-year-old undergrad at the University of Melbourne. For the past two years she has also been doing sex work. This is her story.
Growing up, my only understanding of sex work came from movies. While I always thought "I could do that if I really had to", I never seriously considered it.
Soon after turning 18, my friend and I were walking down a Melbourne laneway when she pointed to an ad for an Australian porn company. She was joking, but I was curious. I'd always been the more sexual one among my friends, and after much research I started doing erotic modelling.
The first time I was really nervous. Not about getting naked or being sexual – I was all good with that. It was more because I'm shy and introverted and wasn't very good at talking to people.
It's the same with full service work. Sex has always been easy, it's just the interaction surrounding it that's tricky. Sex work is one of the hardest things to do when you're tired. When you work at a brothel clients pick up on that and won't book you.
Working privately is easier because you can just invite them in and get straight into it, which I prefer because there's less pressure for me to be engaging and inviting. After sex, whether it's pleasurable or not, the talking part comes more easily. Sex work has actually helped with my shyness and ability to make small talk in my outside life. It's a totally transferable skill!
I came out about my work to my dad and his partner about six months ago. My stepmother had guessed, but my dad was disappointed. He's accepted it now, and we're still very close, but when I try to bring it up he doesn't want to talk about it.
One of the most important aspects for me being part of the sex-positive community was meeting like-minded people. When I was doing erotic modelling I only met older men, but when I moved into doing porn it was fantastic because it was with an all-female run company.
My first scene was an eight-girl orgy – 'Pirates and Sirens' – and I jumped right in.
The atmosphere on set depends on the company. Sometimes the women behind the camera will be naked too, and it's all very relaxed.
The porn that I do promotes authenticity and of us actually getting pleasure out of it. They want authenticity, they want real sex, real pleasure, so we're having real orgasms rather than it just being this constructed thing for men to watch. There's a move away from women just being 'sexy' to women actually being sexual themselves.
I've never had a bad reaction to what I do, but my job is more easily digestible to other people because I'm white, educated, I come from a middle-class background, and I'm a student.
Sex workers like me are often critiqued for erasing the stories of workers who don't have as much privilege. I know that many sex workers; women of colour, trans women, street-based workers – don't have the same intersections of privilege. But although that is a reality for some, it's not the only reality. For those of us who've actively sought this industry out, it's not about 'erasing' those other experiences, it's just about creating a wider range of experiences that are visible.
We're all socialised to see sex work as dirty and exploitative, but as we hear more from sex workers themselves, that idea is changing.
I was disappointed to see Lena Dunham come out against decriminalising sex work. Having such high profile opposition is extremely damaging. She doesn't seem to understand the concept of women choosing to do it.
Some organisations believe that all sex work, whether consensual or not, is exploitative of women simply because they're exchanging sex for money and it's men who are buying our services. But this undermines our experience.
On the other hand there's this argument that sex work is only ok if it's empowering. But that's also bullshit – we don't ask café workers if they're empowered.
Coming out to my dad, I felt I had to construct this very empowered representation which at heart is very anti-sex work. Like "it's ok that I'm doing sex work because I feel empowered and because I make a lot of money" – but unlike other types of work, it wouldn't be seen as 'ok' if I didn't.
Brothel work is great because it's all set up, but it's not on your terms. Working privately has taught me to be very business savvy. You have to take your own photos, make a website, message back and forth with clients and work out pricing and boundaries – but I can earn at least double what I earned at the brothel, which means I can work less.
There's no one 'type' of client, but it's interesting how as soon as their clothes are off and they're turned on – the job and the class just falls away. They all just want pleasure and to be appreciated and they want to be touched. They want to feel like they're a good lover.
I have ways of screening potentially bad clients. If they're pushy, sending dozens of question marks because I've taken five minutes to get back to them, I figure they're going to be rude in person. I also don't respond to guys who try to negotiate my price – usually an indicator of them not respecting my boundaries.
I'm very opposed to this notion of sex work being a thing that you do for a short amount of time because you 'need' to. I'm not just doing it to get through uni. Working in the sex industry is going to be a lifelong thing, and I'd love to get into porn producing at some point. I know sex workers who are in their sixties and seventies and killing it, so we'll see.
Alice Williams is a Melbourne author.