Still from the music video of Dragon’s Are You Old Enough?
The legal age to be a sex worker in New Zealand is 18 and most sex workers will not accept clients under 18. According to my (light) investigations, there is actually no age restriction for sex workers’ clients other than the age restriction for sexual consent which is 16. (I stand to be corrected).
Interestingly the blog post about sex workers within the same family raised a number of issues, the most interesting to me (as a sex worker who entered the industry in my late teens) being that a sex worker or two said they would not want their daughters to do it until they are older as if the age restriction of 18 was considered too young. Ladies of that age may not be ready, may be open to coercion or exploitation, or may not be strong enough to deal with some of the men they come across.
Yet there is definitely a demand for young ladies in their late teens by clients. These clients are often shamed for their preferences, sometimes by older sex workers. I have worked with a few sex workers in their late teens and early twenties and there is no doubt about it, these ladies are extremely popular, occasionally to their detriment, as they can be susceptible to personal issues like burnout.
The law rules that 18 year olds are old enough to be sex workers, but I think the unspoken concern is that they may not be mature or wise enough. But what is maturity and wisdom but a learned thing, that is acquired with experience.
While sex work is not as physically demanding as other jobs, such as fruit picking or cleaning or almost anything else I can think of, if a sex worker is going to take over 4 clients a day, which is fairly easy when she is young and gorgeous and everyone wants her, she needs to pace herself and allow for time to eat, and prepare for each client not to mention get a good night’s sleep beforehand and afterwards.
She also needs to be able to cope mentally. Each client, particularly clients who are new, are an unknown factor – she doesn’t know how the booking will proceed and it can be frightening or stressful if bookings do not go as she expects. No one likes an unhappy client, but she must also guard against her own unhappiness as well by having an idea of what is reasonable according to the services she advertises. In other words, she must know where the boundaries should be and what to do or how to respond if these boundaries are pushed up against.
Besides this, there are guidelines about safe sex which she must abide by. She must know how to recognise unwellness in her own and her clients’ sexual organs. She must know about safe ways to do certain sex acts and be clear that she must and can by law insist on protection every single time. She also must know where to go to get her lady parts checked out and also to do this regularly.
There is so much to learn, no one was born knowing this stuff. However, anyone new to the industry, of any age, must acquire this knowledge. The NZPC provide an excellent starter pack with written advice which should be read cover to cover before meeting her first client. Actually there is a whole lot more to know, to do with dealing with people: clients, co-workers, others at the house if she is an independent sex worker, and then there is the tax man, the doctor, the people from the ad agency she is using, people on social media, reviewers etc etc etc. And then are the people in her non-sex working world who don’t know about what she is doing.
There are occasionally complaints about the service of younger ladies, which I consider an ageist stereotype. Some younger ladies are often hard to get bookings with, due to the sheer volume of clients who are interested in seeing them, and this results in occasionally a few disgruntled clients. As well as that, they can find themselves overworked, for no one likes to turn away money, resulting in what is hopefully a rare occasion in a service which is not as dedicated as a client may like. Typically, young sex workers, because of their inexperience with the unique time-management skills which are required for this job, may seem quite disorganised and if they are aware that they have a seemingly endless supply of clients, may not care to handle annoyed clients as diplomatically as they could.
So how does a young lady who wants to enter the industry acquire all the information that she might need to be successful in this industry, even if she only has short-term goals, such as to save for her uni fees, get enough money to travel or set herself up with a nest egg? And is it possible to reach financial goals without moving the goalposts a little further away or taking a little longer because it seems like this stream of gold will be flowing forever?
This is where we need to call on the expertise of others. A young lady new-to-the-industry a few years back wrote to Mary Holm from the NZ Herald when she wanted to know about money and taxes. Many of us regularly call on our local branches of the NZPC, who are just a phone call away. I have heard of managers of agencies and parlours who are very proactive and happy to give business advice and call on other advisors and government resources to come and talk to their ladies. The Sexual Health Centres up and down the country are fantastic.
As an aside, I’m not sure if boarding schools nowadays are like they used to be, but in one I’m familiar with, new girls could choose senior girls and ask them if they could take them under their wings. Seniority was very much “a thing,” this meant that the seniors ruled the roost, and at the dining table if the seniors asked for the butter, the butter was immediately passed to them. In the house study, if the senior wanted a newspaper which a junior was reading, the junior immediately closed it and took it to her. If a group of seniors were walking down a hall, the juniors stood aside so they could pass. When it was exam time, the juniors ran errands for their seniors. It seems rather unfair, but the juniors got something valuable in return. Throughout the juniors’ first year, seniors pointed out to the juniors what the etiquette of the school was. The seniors looked out for them and kept them on track. They had their senior going into bat for them if the occasion arose that the junior stuffed up, which was inevitable. Also, the juniors had someone to go and cry to when they were homesick and the school world with the unfamiliar rules was all a little too much. In a few years, those juniors would be seniors and a timid, wide-eyed junior would nervously approach her one day and ask for her ongoing help. These voluntary one-on-one relationships contributed towards the common goal of preserving the reputation of the school and keeping the order in order.
Obviously sex work is no Mallory Towers (an Enid Blyton style of sex work erotica would be fun, though.) However, we can not go beyond the help, advice, listening ears and informal mentoring that could go on and does go on between more experienced sex workers and ladies who are new to the industry. I have seen this happen within SOOBs occasionally, although god forbid, not as formally as the boarding schools of last century.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had some kind of mentoring scheme for ladies new to the industry, where more senior ladies could take them under their wing and show them the ropes? (Not quite like the boarding school example as it’s likely to be that the juniors needn’t afford their slightly older mentors as much deference.) Then it would be reassuring to those who fear for the 18 year olds who are entering this wonderful industry. To see ladies co-operating rather than competing would be fantastic for all embarking on this puzzling job. While it could be an epicaricacy issue or a competitor jealousy thing which allows an occasional situation where a more experienced lady leaves a gorgeous newcomer to flounder about on her own, on the other hand many other ladies know how offering a listening ear, sage advice or even advocacy is a great win all round for the sex industry, which of course is made up of ladies in it.
However, this must be seen for what it is by outsiders (ie, in a positive light): as a desire for one sex worker to help another to use the industry for her goals and not be swallowed up in it; as a way to improve the standards of service and behaviour by sex workers for their safety and their clients’ satisfaction. It would be sad if mentoring in this way was seen as one more experienced lady exploiting another less experienced lady, and coercing her to enter or remain in an industry against her will. The sex industry need not be as sordid as some would like to suppose.
Another useful free service where new to the industry ladies (of any age) could be directed is part of the NZPC. The Christchurch NZPC has a counsellor available on Wednesdays for sex workers where anyone can talk through issues related to any aspect of life (as a sex worker, or other areas of their life – sometimes the sex work part is the only constant). In a previous occupation of mine, I had a Professional Supervisor where I could debrief of my work. This fortnightly or monthly appointment made it a lot easier for me to keep my professional life in the box where it belonged and my domestic life free of my job as it should be. I found this on a supervisor’s website, which describes perfectly the intention or purpose of seeing a Professional Supervisor: to examine, clarify, redefine and strategise work role challenges and issues, including addressing any impacts on one’s personal life.
If guidelines were in place among ladies to protect the integrity of what is now a legal industry and we all worked together in a more organised way to help newbies establish good working habits and attitudes towards clients, sexual health, money (including tax), the law and the industry as a whole, it would benefit us all. And with caring guidance, there should be no reason, as the law allows, that a level-headed 18 year old could not successfully enter and eventually leave the industry to take full advantage of the excellent money-making opportunity for a young sex worker that this industry allows.
Considering that many young ladies enter the sex industry and are muddling along as they go without knowledge of many of the resources that other occupations take for granted, they deserve high praise for still emerging relatively unscathed. Someone said to me the other day “Dealing with our taxes is so hard, plus it’s compulsory, yet how to do it was not covered in school.” Being a new sex worker can also feel a bit like being thrown into the deep end sometimes. Watch out for sharks!!
The ladies who are starting have the most to gain (and lose – if things go pear-shaped) and if they are shown how others who are more established have developed habits which they could consider for working and coping, they are less likely to end up being trapped in a lifestyle that they do not feel they can ever exit from, just as their selling power begins to decrease. Maybe this is what is really feared for the idealistic 18 year olds raking it in when they start in the sex industry, that they will never be able to leave, at least not without a soul-destroying crisis. While it’s always ideal for anyone of any age in any job to also have other resources to call on to widen their options, there is no reason why sex work can not be a fantastic life-long career if it is something one happily chooses to do.