Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

Big Read: Two sides to the world of sex work

This is the tale of two prostitutes: One had a great experience of the industry, the other didn’t. The women tell their stories to Corazon Miller.
Two women have different perspectives on being a working girl. Photo / NZME
Two women have different perspectives on being a working girl. Photo / NZME

The woman who chose it

"Ancient history" is what led one Kiwi into a "glamorous" career as a working lady. Not a bad boyfriend, break-up or broken family, but the heroines of ancient Greece and Rome.

At just 22 she had already spent some years mulling over selling sex as a career, fuelled in large part by her love of history.

This was further fuelled by her admiration of strong women with an erotic aura, who tended to be sexually rebellious.

"It was as if it was an idea that I had since childhood or adolescence and as I got older it became more of an obsession."

Thais, a high-class prostitute in Athens suspected of being one of Alexander the Great's lovers, was one she recalled looking up to.

"I wanted to live a life like these talented beautiful, independent women."

She met a working prostitute and spent time asking her about the realities of life as a sex worker before deciding to give it a go.

"I was so excited ... it also kind of fit nicely in with my penchant for dressing up and performing."

Despite her eagerness, the woman, who has spent the better part of 13 years working in the industry, said there were a few last-minute jitters on the eve of her first job.

She confessed to needing "one drink to calm my nerves", but said it all went as expected - except there was no sex.

"Afterwards I felt euphoria, but also a bit of disappointment as we never ended up having sex."

At 35, she's now trying to make ends meet with an office job and classes herself as being "semi-retired".

But she says sex work enriched her life and that of others.

Some of the clients who moved her the most were those who were recently widowed, divorced or "differently-abled"; "that just wanted to be held, to have skin contact with no judgement".

"One client even booked an extra hour just to sleep in my arms," she said. "It just goes to show how important human contact is for our souls."

She said bad experiences were few and far between at the brothels and mainly involved clients trying to push the boundaries.

"I'd try to tell them off in an affectionate and humorous way and if that didn't work I'd kick them out of the room."

The biggest issue she's found, barring the tax forms and the lack of sleep, was the stigma.

While most of her friends know of her work, she believes her family wouldn't understand and fears her employers would fire her if they knew.

"It's a job that can be very misunderstood and people have very strong emotional opinions towards it, even if they have never talked to a sex worker in their lives."

She said it wasn't a job for everyone, but said of the people she'd worked with, she'd never met one who was forced into it.

For those who might have been, she said criminalisation of the industry would just make it harder to get help.

"As long as humans need comfort, non-judgemental company, skin contact, someone to make them feel better, or just sex, in fact, as long as we are human, there will always be a need for prostitution."

A variety of reasons can lead someone into sex work, sometimes it's free will while others feel forced in the work due to life circumstance.
A variety of reasons can lead someone into sex work, sometimes it's free will while others feel forced in the work due to life circumstance.

The woman who didn't

At 18, struggling with self-esteem issues, belonging to a broken home with no formal education and fearful of ending up on the dole, she went into prostitution as a short-term fix.

But what was meant to be a temporary job ended in more than three decades of turmoil as she found herself drawn to the financial security but struggled with the dangerous realities of where she was working including drugs, alcohol and abuse.

Today at 58, the former sex worker is happy to have received help that's meant she can move on from her former life. Now she just dreams of a simple life where she can be happy.

"I want to live a life worth living, that's where I'm heading."

But looking back at her years in prostitution she said: "I do regret those choices".

At the time, she said, struggling with her home life and at a loss of what to do career-wise she thought it could be a good stepping stone.

"I didn't want to go back on the dole, back then it was seen as quite terrible and for some reason I thought it [prostitution] might be a better idea."

She said it was great - at first.

"I was on a high, I had lots of money; it was clean and well-looked after."

It was also busy, with between 10 to 15 clients serviced in a typical eight-hour day.

"It was boom, boom, thank you ma'am. Ten minutes max, five minutes."

For her the glamour wore off quite quickly but there was no easy out.

"You sell your soul; once you start you can't get out ... you try to escape, but you cannot escape because you will always need money."

To cope she numbed herself emotionally.

"I didn't know how to feel, I cared for my family when I saw them, but you are basically living a lie," she said. "You are not really there. You are disconnected."

At 32 after giving birth to her son, she managed to call it quits for 20 years but then said an abusive partner forced her back into it in her early 50s.

She said her return was awful, she felt constantly on edge and felt as if every job was putting her in danger.

"There were great men, normal men, but there's also lots that you have to put up with. You have to be strong, you have to be very, very careful," she said. "I was always at risk, but you can't think about that, you don't."

Her experiences have left her with a dim view of prostitution and anything that she believes seeks to normalise it, including its decriminalisation.

"Many of us are broken, or in some way broken; self-esteem issues, huge rejection issues that we are not aware of when we are young."

Two women share their different stories on how they became sex workers. Photo/Brett Phibbs
Two women share their different stories on how they became sex workers. Photo/Brett Phibbs

- NZ Herald

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