I loved working at a legal brothel in Australia. Image 1.

Sarah Penello

Author, as told to

I loved working at a legal brothel in Australia. Image 2.

Arina Shabanova



In the latest installment of Hopes&Fears’ anonymous interview series, we talked to a sex worker who plied her trade in a legal Australian brothel and had the time of her life.

I worked for a legal brothel in Australia and it was the best job I ever had.

I don’t claim to speak for all sex workers, of course. This was just my personal experience, and it was great. Especially for someone so social, like me. I loved and admired the women I worked with. I took great pride in the pleasure I could give to people. It was a job that I enjoyed, and I was better at it because I enjoyed it.

I remember one particular coworker who had previously worked as a licensed psychologist. She told me once that she felt that she helped people more at the brothel than she ever had in her previous practice.

Besides the inherent pleasure of a job well done, the monetary rewards of sex work are unmatched. Try finding another job that allows me to choose my own hours and make over $1,000 per week on a part-time schedule. In a legal, regulated and safe environment, the real trap of sex work isn’t usually the stuff of horror movies but the less exciting reality of the intoxicating quality of money.

I love sex, I love money

When I moved to Australia, the thought was at the back of my mind from the beginning.

I’d always been attracted to sex work and I’d toyed with the idea in New York, but in Melbourne it was simply so accessible. When the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t fall into it, I leapt.

I arrived in Australia broke as always. Initially, I got a “normal” job at a restaurant and I hated it. Eventually, I got myself fired because my heart wasn’t in it and it was reflected in my performance. The whole time I was thinking, “you should work in a brothel!” But then I’d talk myself out of it. I don’t know what the hesitation was. I guess the idea of sex work is nerve-racking no matter who you are or where you come from.

But I got over it. I mean, I love sex. I love money. Why not? 

I started looking on Gumtree.com.au, which is like Australian Craigslist. Brothels aren’t allowed to advertise for sex worker positions, which is part of the legality of it. But they can advertise for receptionists.

I first interviewed for a receptionist position at Gotham City, the largest, gaudiest brothel in Melbourne. It had all this medieval shit on the outside: cement gargoyles and these stupid wrought iron lanterns with spikes and red stained glass. You entered through the parking garage though, so at least that part of it was discreet.

I went in and walked upstairs. There was this little old lady at the reception desk. She buzzed me into the next room, which had zebra print furniture and silver reflective walls. The owner came to retrieve me for the interview. He was exactly what you’d expect from the clichés: thinning, greasy, dyed hair that was too dark for him and slicked back over his tan forehead. He was that leathery, over-tanned type of muscular where the skin looks stretched across across the chest, which I could see because his shirt was half-unbuttoned. One look at him and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I’m glad I didn’t work at a place like that.


No hats, no sunglasses

A little googling led me to the only brothel in Melbourne that was owned and operated entirely by women. It was nothing too flashy, but in reviews clients consistently referred to the club as “friendly,” which sounded nice. Plus, I couldn’t miss the chance to support a woman-owned business. I screwed up my courage and called the club.

Unfortunately, the manager wasn’t in. I shakily agreed to call again the next day, which of course I didn’t do. It took me two weeks to sac up but, finally, I called back and made an appointment for an interview.

I took public transportation to get there. I was living in the suburbs north of town at the time, and it took me nearly two hours. I got all dolled up, cat eyes and red lips. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but it was probably the best thing I owned at the time.

I was shaking.

The place had a big sign in big shiny black letters with big red lips. I walked a block to the brothel from the bus stop in my little Salvation Army heels with my little purse, and stepped right in through the front door.

The lighting in the waiting room was nice and low. There were plants and about six chairs. To the left of the reception desk there was a door that led to the session rooms. The walls featured beautiful portraits of abstract female nudes in soft colors, as well as signs that read “SMILE, YOU’RE ON CAMERA” and “NO HATS, NO SUNGLASSES.” The receptionist buzzed me into the office, where the manager was waiting. 

It was the easiest interview I’ve ever had.

“Have you ever done full-service sex work before?” she asked.


“Have you ever had sex before?”

“Um, yes.”

“Great, let’s go in the back and get you all set up!” 

I think I had my first client, like, an hour after that.

Select sex industry statistics, Australia:

— In 2010-11, there were 23 licensed brothels in Queensland.

In 2004, it was estimated that street-based sex work accounted for just 2% of all sex workers in Queensland.

The Selling Sex in Queensland 2003 study found that the respondents were aged between 19 and 57 years, with an average age of 32.

Approximately one-quarter of licensed brothel workers and sole operator sex workers were married or in de facto relationships, with most of their partners aware of their involvement in sex work. over half of the women had children.

Source: Prostitution Licensing Authority (PDF)

Call me “Vivian” 

My biggest fear going into it was that I wasn’t going to be pretty enough. I was so self-conscious, but when she walked me into the back I saw these two women, both in their early forties, not overly augmented or primped in any way, casually talking about their kids as they awaited their bookings. It put me at ease.

After my first few shifts, my body was sore and achy because I was so tense. Soon enough, though, I grew stronger and more relaxed, and the physical pain disappeared. 

Unless I had a client chomping at the bit for me to come in, I was free to come and go as I pleased, anytime between 6:00 and 9:00 pm. I rarely worked day shifts, so my days became my evenings. I had one big tote bag with my everyday essentials—wallet, keys—as well as various methods for passing the massive amounts of downtime in the brothel. I had my ten-minute Mensa crosswords (which take me a hell of a lot longer than ten minutes to complete). A novel or two. My readings for class.

Then, I had a black leather (fitting, no?) backpack with my sex work essentials—several sets of lingerie in mix-and-match colors (mostly, black and deep red), my only set of heels (which I’d thrifted), enough makeup to paint a drag queen, a hair brush, dry shampoo, baby powder, deodorant, perfume, a sexy-but-not-obvious dress for any potential outcalls and, perhaps, most importantly, snacks.

When I arrived on shift, I’d greet my coworkers and make small talk while I sponged, brushed and blended my face into a higher plane of consciousness. As soon as I walked through the door of the brothel, accompanied by a loud electronic chiming, which let everyone in the house know when anybody entered or exited the front door, I was no longer myself. I finished applying my makeup, and I was the embodiment of “Vivian,” my alias for the night.


A good service

This is another reason the brothel was so enjoyable for me. It was live improv theatre, with different players every evening.

Once my makeup was applied, I was ready to join my co-workers in introducing ourselves to the clients that came in. I’d work for eight to ten hours doing up to eight bookings. After my eighth booking of the day, I was neither mentally nor physically capable to provide a good service anymore and, as such, would request to go home. Our managers always obliged with a motherly smile. “Shall I call you a taxi, darling?” was a phrase I heard every shift.

When a potential client arrived at the brothel, he could make any special requests clear to the manager. If there was one worker he particularly liked, or if he had a particular fetish (we had one dedicated mistress in house), this was his time to let the manager know. If he didn’t, which was usually the case, the workers would go into the waiting room to greet him one by one.

This was our opportunity to make an impression on the client. I always made sure to touch his hand or shoulder or his arm, as I found initiating contact to be extremely important for the comfort of the client. It was also your opportunity to communicate your boundaries to the client. I personally had only one hard “no,” but I tried to make a joke out of it: “I won’t put anything up my butt, but I’ll put stuff up yours! Har har!”

After the client met all of the available workers, the manager returned to the waiting room to make the booking. The client paid the manager, cash or credit, and then she placed our cut (just over 50%) into a folder, the sort that restaurants use for the bill, which was handed back to the client. She returned to the rear area, which consisted of a TV room, a kitchen, a dressing room, lockers, a bathroom and a smoking patio. In the TV room, there was a monitor with running CCTV footage of the waiting room, sidewalk and parking lot. There were bins full of single serve packets of lube and condoms organized neatly by size, style and flavor.

The manager called for the chosen worker. “Vivian, darling! Thirty minutes with Jonathan! Thank you!”

I’d return to the waiting room to greet my client and receive the folder from him with a coy smile. “Hi! I believe you have something for me.”

Then, I’d escort the client upstairs to my room. There, I instructed him to take a quick shower and await my return. I’d leave the room, return downstairs, place the money in my locker, choose my assortment of condoms, toys and lubricants for the session.

Sometimes, if I needed a moment to myself, I’d have a quick ciggie as well. Followed up with a handful of breath mints from the communal bowl, of course. I’d purr, “So sorry to keep you waiting!”

In Australia, brothel sexual services make up the largest proportion of sex work industry revenue, at an estimated 32.9% of industry revenue in 2013-14, down from 33.7% in 2008-09.

Source: IBIS World

I loved working at a legal brothel in Australia. Image 3.

Visual inspection

When I returned to the room, the booking would begin. It was my job, legally, at that point to perform a “visual inspection”—you guessed it, a quick glance over the penis and balls to make sure there weren’t any obvious signs of STIs. The manager had informed them that this would happen when they made the booking, so they were prepared. Naturally, I tried to make light of it: “I know this isn't the most fun part of the booking, but I have to do a quick inspection.” I’d drop to a knee, cup their genitals in my hands, then look up with hooded eyes and gently murmur, “Looks pretty good to me.”

Then I’d throw my arms around their neck, or push them onto the bed, or throw myself onto the bed and get down to business.

Fifteen minute bookings were either sex or oral, but any other length of time was expected to include both. Anything below one hour, only one orgasm was allowed for the client, which people did not like finding out about. Legally, any penetration had to be done with a condom, and I’m pretty proud of how quickly my mouth could make guys bust, even in a rubber.

STIs are not to be fucked with. The rules on STI testing for brothel-based sex workers in Australia vary from state to state. In Victoria, we were required to be tested every three months. However, we weren’t obligated to disclose the results of our tests. Our employer simply had to have a form provided by the doctor that stated the tests were done.

Select sex industry statistics, Australia:

— Contrary to widely held community perceptions, research in Australia has consistently demonstrated that female sex workers have a higher standard of sexual health than the general population.

— Sexually transmissible infections (STI) in Australian sex workers are amongst the lowest in the world.

— In Queensland, it is illegal for sex workers and clients to engage in sexual intercourse or oral sex without the use of prophylactics and it is illegal for clients to ask for unprotected sexual intercourse or oral sex

Source: Prostitution Licensing Authority (PDF)


I loved working at a legal brothel in Australia. Image 4.

I usually would straddle the client, rub their (condomed) erection between my pussy lips, then sit on their dick. Or if I wasn’t feeling up to the task, I’d suggest doggy, which I actually really enjoy and most guys seem to find a treat. As I mentioned before, condoms were used for all forms of penetration, even fingers. If a client wanted to fingerfuck me, I’d chuck the smallest condoms we had, which were red and cherry-flavored, on his fingers and let him go to town.

As you can see, I had a routine down pretty fucking pat that I didn’t alter all that much booking to booking. Most dudes didn’t know what they wanted, and what was an old standby for me was a fucking mind-blowing experience for them. My routine was essentially formulated to get the guy to cum as quickly possible. I learned that moaning “you smell so fucking good” into somebody’s ear is an extreme turn-on and almost guaranteed to bring a client over the edge. After the client came, we’d chat and sometimes cuddle. The experience was quite enjoyable for me.

The seduction of it was the head rush that comes with the feeling of embodying a supreme sexual goddess. I felt empowered by the pleasure I could give to people. It was so gratifying that I could make people’s day, or week, or month. I can’t remember any time that a client walked away feeling as though the experience was not a positive one. 

Between bookings, we would reset our rooms—replacing the towels and folding them nicely, ensuring the bathmat wasn’t too wet (each room had its own shower) and generally making sure that the room was presentable to the next client. At the end of the shift, we’d strip our bedding, replace the sheets, empty the bins and send out the laundry to the pitiable (but wealthy) laundromat that handled our linens.

Percentage of countries with legal, illegal,
and limitedly legal sex work (of 100 countries):





Limited legality


Source: Procon

The sweet, the young, 

the religious, the elderly 

I don’t want to share intimate details about clients, but I will say that my clients have included a man with a goddess worship fetish, a Fijian man on a lot of meth and a wonderfully sweet young Pakistani man—who I’m actually Facebook friends with now. I had clients of every age, race and social group. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. My brothel was in a Jewish neighborhood, so we had our fair share of the religious. On Thursdays, the pension checks were sent out and the brothel would be flooded by the elderly.

I never found any client repulsive. Some clients I was very attracted to, and loved to see walk in the door. For the most part, johns are nice normal guys looking for a little companionship and connection. Mentally, the job could be draining, in the same way as any customer service role is. The faux, plastered smile, the need to constantly put the other person at ease—it takes a toll. However, I’m the sort of person to laugh at any situation that isn’t optimal. It’s a far better use of my energy than having a bad time.

There’s always the risk of a client who is dangerous. With incalls, which our work was mostly comprised of, the men were on camera from the moment they approached the building. They were on camera in the parking lot, on the sidewalk, in the waiting room.

In the rooms of the brothel, which were not being recorded, there was a panic button on the side of each bed. If the panic button was pressed, the manager would enter the room immediately. This, of course, isn’t a watertight method, because if a worker can’t reach the panic button for whatever reason, it isn’t really useful.

If a client were to get violent—which, to my knowledge, has never happened—we didn’t have any burly security guards. Though, we did have a house full of women who are pretty fucking fierce.

I was offered phone numbers and rides home from clients on multiple occasions, but letting a client anywhere near my true life and true identity was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. As an extra security measure, I’d have my cab drop me a couple of blocks from my apartment when I went home for the evening. The taxi drivers were aware of the fact that they were picking me up from a brothel, naturally, and it’s not the best idea for a strange man to know you’re a sex worker and where you live.


Pleasure model

Working in the brothel was a fun and laughs usually, but the reality of the situation is that in the global zeitgeist, sex work is not “just a job.” Sex workers all over the world are stalked, threatened, raped and murdered for the profession that they have chosen. Words like “hooker” and “whore” fuel the dehumanization of female and transgender sex workers who have simply found a job that suits their needs. Our physical safety is something we have to be very aware of at all times.

Historically, the main argument for why sex work should remain illegal is that it perpetuates violence against women and creates a demand for sex trafficking. However, I would argue the exact opposite. When sex work is legal and regulated, it actually eliminates the demand for black market prostitution. It reduces the incidences of rape and sexual assault, and in many cases the levels of STIs. Not to mention, in places where sex work is legal, people who are being prostituted against their will can go to the police without fear of reprisal or persecution.

People often tout the “Nordic” model of sex work legislation as a brilliant solution because it criminalizes the purchase of sex, but not its sale. However, by criminalizing the johns, authorities are still forcing sex workers to do their transactions in the shadows. And how can you criminalize the johns? They’re just people! They’re just normal dudes. They’re teachers and managers and CEOs and dads. People who support sex workers but don’t support the people who patronize it, are not actually supporting the sex workers. Legally regulated sex work performed by consenting adults provides an invaluable service to the world.

People you know and love purchase sex. And it doesn’t make them bad people at all.

who buys sex in Australia

A survey conducted in the early 2000s showed that 15.6% of Australian men aged 16–59 have paid for sex at least once in their life and 1.9% had done so in the past year.

Source: Wikipedia


Because of a reluctance of some men to self-report, it is difficult to estimate with any degree of certainty the proportion of men who purchase sex. According to the Selling Sex in Queensland report, at least one in every 30 men has purchased sex in any given year and it is possible that the true figure is substantially higher.

Source: Prostitution Licensing Authority (PDF)