A guide to the busi­ness of sex work

Mak­ing sex work safer can lead to less HIV in­fec­tions and vi­o­lence, stud­ies show

Mail & Guardian - - Health - Zia Wasser­man & Zoe Black

Up to 20% of all new HIV in­fec­tions in South Africa in 2010 were re­lated to sex work, ac­cord­ing to a mod­el­ling 2011 study by the joint United Na­tions Pro­gramme on HIV and Aids (UNAids).

The preva­lence of HIV among women sex work­ers is un­de­ni­ably high, but these new in­fec­tions weren’t just among sex work­ers. Clients rep­re­sented about 12% of these new in­fec­tions, and their part­ners — peo­ple who may never have bought sex in their lives — counted for al­most 3% of these cases.

These sta­tis­tics show that the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of sex work — the con­sen­sual buy­ing and sell­ing of sex be­tween adults — puts ev­ery­one at risk. It drives sex work un­der­ground, putting work­ers and clients at risk of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence and HIV in­fec­tion, and gives them lit­tle re­course to jus­tice un­der the law or ac­cess to health­care ser­vices for fear of be­ing ex­posed.

Law re­form could change this. A 2014 study pub­lished in The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal found that de­crim­i­nal­is­ing sex work could avert be­tween a third and al­most half of all new HIV in­fec­tions glob­ally in the next 10 years among sex work­ers and their clients.

Mean­while, clients and work­ers can team up to make sex work safer — and it starts with learn­ing the busi­ness of sex. The so­cial jus­tice or­gan­i­sa­tion Sonke Gen­der Jus­tice has pub­lished a guide with what you need to know.

Be­low is an edited ex­tract.

Mas­ter the lingo

Words mat­ter. In the sex work in­dus­try, it is im­por­tant to use ter­mi­nol­ogy that is re­spect­ful. For in­stance, the term “sex work” is pre­ferred to the term “pros­ti­tu­tion”, which has his­tor­i­cally deroga­tory and moral­is­tic con­no­ta­tions.

The term “sex worker” ac­knowl­edges that sex work is work that should come with all the pro­tec­tions of labour law that other work­ers en­joy.

Next, un­der­stand­ing the ser­vices you’re buy­ing is cru­cial to avoid mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Of­ten, you’ll be charged ac­cord­ing to time and not for a spe­cific ser­vice when buy­ing sex. So a “quickie” refers to about 10 to 20 min­utes. Ask for a “short time” and you’ll be charged for about 30 min­utes of a sex worker’s time. Pay for an “all night” and you can en­joy ser­vices un­til the next morn­ing.

But when clients and sex work­ers agree to a “full house”, the em­pha­sis is gen­er­ally on the type of ser­vice rather than on the time spent. As part of a “full house”, all sex­ual ser­vices are of­fered, in­clud­ing pen­e­tra­tive sex.

Agree to agree

Learn­ing the lingo is the first step to­wards en­sur­ing you and a sex work pro­fes­sional are in agree­ment when ne­go­ti­at­ing, but it doesn’t stop there. Be­fore the fun part starts, you want to make sure you and a sex worker have mu­tu­ally agreed on:

for how long;

sion. For in­stance, will it in­clude kiss­ing, nu­dity, touch­ing or role­play?; and

to com­mu­ni­cate the venue to a friend for safety’s sake. Re­mem­ber lo­ca­tions should be safe and pri­vate. As a ges­ture of re­spect, drop the sex worker off at an agreed-upon lo­ca­tion af­ter your ses­sion.


Sex work­ers are pretty clear about what they ex­pect from clients, so:

ing sex and have ex­act change;

with the sex worker, pay­ment must be in cash, so no drugs, al­co­hol or gifts;


the money; and

have the right to say no.

Dress for the oc­ca­sion

We can’t stress this enough: sex work­ers want to en­sure their own sex­ual safety as well as that of their clients. This means that clients must al­ways ex­pect to use a con­dom, for both full pen­e­tra­tive sex and oral sex.

Never of­fer sex work­ers more money for sex with­out a con­dom. Ask­ing for sex with­out a con­dom not only dis­re­spects him or her but also puts you and them at risk of con­tract­ing HIV or other sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions.

Wash, rinse and re­peat

To make the ex­pe­ri­ence more en­joy­able for both the client and sex worker, be clean and show­ered be­fore your ses­sion.

Also, be­ing too drunk or high ru­ins

un­safe sex, re­duce men’s ca­pac­ity to get and keep an erec­tion, and can also af­fect a per­son’s judg­ment and cause him or her to be­come ag­gres­sive.

Act out? Then get out

Sex work­ers al­ways have a right to say no. If you push a worker’s lim­its or do not abide by the terms of en­gage­ment pre­vi­ously agreed upon, a worker may ter­mi­nate the ses­sion at any point.

Never en­cour­age or force a sex worker to do some­thing that she/he/ they are un­com­fort­able with — this could amount to a charge of as­sault or even rape.

This is a work­place

Sex work is work. Like any other

to “save” or “res­cue” the sex worker. Also, don’t as­sume that sex work­ers will see you in their own free time.

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