My first job as a sex worker was in a brothel. I had zero knowledge of the industry (unless you count three seasons of Secret Diary of a Call Girl) and jumped in head-first. Over the next few years, I worked at a handful of brothels in different states in Australia, before dipping my toe into the world of private escorting. My first foray into escorting wasn’t overly successful (due to a lack of knowledge), and I ended up going back to brothel work because I liked the ease and convenience.
Eventually, I got sick of brothel life. I can vividly remember being sitting in the girls’ room during a dead, long day-shift where I’d made $0, and a fight breaking out between two of the girls and thinking “I’m done with this”. So, with the help of the knowledge of my partner and a few close friends, the very next day, I bought a burner phone and rented a hotel room, and the rest is history.
I’ve never worked in an escorting agency, so I don’t feel qualified to talk about that. It’s also important to note that I’ve never worked in a setting where sex work is illegal. My knowledge is based on the privilege of my experiences working in legal brothels and as a legal escort in Australia.
That’s not to say Australia’s laws are perfect by any means – they vary by in ridiculousness in each state. For example, in South Australia sex work is criminalised (i.e., it’s entirely illegal). In New South Wales, sex work is *mostly* decriminalised, but sex workers still face endless stigma. In Queensland, sex work is legalised, but there are specific laws about how, where and with who you can do sex work. For example, brothels don’t allow alcohol and only 8 workers can be on shift at one time, private escorts can’t work in pairs and advertising in skywriting is illegal (seriously, that’s in the Prostitution Act), and everyone must use gloves for handjobs… And in Victoria, private escorts can offer outcalls but not incalls – try to make sense of that.
I could rant about Australia’s nonsensical sex work laws for hours, but my point is that experience in this industry is highly individualised depending on where and how you work. So take everyone’s experience (mine included) with a grain of salt, research the type of work you want to do, and always make the best choices for YOU.
Okay, I’ll stop ranting now and get into the information. What’s the difference between working in a brothel and working as a private escort?
- Convenience. Brothels are generally a walk-in walk-out environment. There is none of the additional labour that is associated with escorting (i.e., writing advertising copy, website and social media maintenance, answering enquiries, liaising with clients, booking hotels and flights, etc). You show up, do your shift, and leave.
- No setup costs. One of the things that many sex workers struggle with when they start independent escorting is the setup costs (e.g., photoshoots, website construction, advertising, new phone, incall location, etc). When working in a brothel, there are no costs, as these are covered by the portion of your fee that the brothel takes.
As a side note, I will say that if you are wanting to start escorting but the costs are a barrier, I’d encourage you to click away from the $1000/hr escort ads and set the bar a little lower. You don’t need a suite of professional photos and a luxury hotel room to start independent escorting. I started escorting with the cheapest burner phone I could buy, some selfies, a free ad on Backpage (RIP Backpage, never forget) and a $100 hotel room. The idea that you have to start with a glossy shoot in Louboutins to be successful is false (and perpetuated by escort social media) and you need to remember that you aren’t married to your escort persona forever. You can pivot, change personas, rebrand, upgrade, do whatever you like, whenever you like.
- Low barrier to entry. In terms of set up costs and convenience, but also in terms of knowledge. You can walk into a brothel with zero knowledge of the industry, and they will (hopefully) show you the ropes. I had no idea what I was doing when I started, and I don’t think I even knew private escorting existed, let alone how to post an ad and see a client. Brothels are a great way to build knowledge and see clients in a more supportive environment (there’s nothing better than running back to the girl’s room and telling your friends about the ridiculous thing your client said).
- Support and safety. Whether or not brothels are really safer is a topic for another day, but when I started out and had little knowledge of how to interact with and manage clients, I definitely felt safer working in a brothel. There was generally a receptionist or manager that would back me up if a client was being a dick.
- The environment. Brothels are like any workplace – you’ll love some of your co-workers, and you’ll hate others. There are some brothels filled with supportive, badass peers, and other brothels are filled with toxic waste that makes you want to rip your hair out. In saying that, many of my best friends today are women that I met in the girls’ room of a brothel.
Working in a brothel was the first time I felt fully accepted by a group of women. There’s a camaraderie that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. You are living this life together, holding each other’s secrets, seeing a side to each other that no one else knows, and it really creates a strong bond. I had so much fun working in brothels – hanging out with my friends all day, watching TV, bitching about clients, making copious amounts of coffee on grave shifts, doing doubles bookings together and laughing when the client was looking the other way, running to the café across the road with trackpants slipped over our fishnet stockings to grab lunch, falling asleep on the couch together at 4am, holding each other as we cried when a client had violated our boundaries. There’s something really special about that environment and those friendships if you’re lucky enough to find them.
- Set shifts. I’ve always worked in brothels that had set shifts of 8 hours. You could make the most money on grave shifts, which ran midnight to 8am. My earnings varied, and I kept terrible records those first few years, but I made anywhere between a few hundred dollars to over a grand in one shift (and occasionally more or less or nothing at all). The reality is, while an 8-hour shift doesn’t sound too bad on paper, you might only be working for an hour or 2 of that time. I can remember feeling so hopeless and annoyed after spending 8 hours in the girls’ room having made no money, surrounded by a bunch of other annoyed women. The amount of wasted, idle time spent in the girls’ room ended up driving me nuts and was one of the reasons I left for private work.
- The $. Every brothel I’ve worked at has had a 50/50 split – you get 50% of the base fee, the brothel receives 50% for ‘room rental’. You keep any ‘extras’ you earn. Base fees aren’t enormous, especially when the brothel takes half. When I was working in brothels, the base fee was generally around $250 for one hour – which means I would pocket $125 and the brothel would take $125. This drove me nuts because you can book a hotel room for an entire evening for $125, but the brothel was making that much out of EVERY SINGLE BOOKING I was doing. I get it, that’s their business model. But once I felt confident as a sex worker, I felt that made way more financial sense for me to book hotels and work than split my earnings with cranky brothel staff.
- The rules and regulations. If you’ve ever worked in a brothel, you know what I’m talking about: only 8 girls per shift, remake the bed after your booking, make sure you spray the shower down with the blue spray, only give blowjobs with a condom, you can’t charge more than $50 for extras, blah blah blah. So many made-up rules with so little sense behind them. It’s my body and I’ll apply my own rules to it, thanks.
- Cranky and controlling managers. I’ve met some wonderful, warm, caring managers at brothels, but I’ve also met many managers who were less than pleasant. I don’t think brothel managers have an easy job by any standard. They are trying to wrangle together a bunch of people who are harder to heard than cats, and I don’t envy them in the slightest. But I also don’t appreciate being told what to do with my own body.
- Freedom. Private escorting is the opposite of an 8-hour shift stuck in a windowless girls’ room. If you are smart and savvy, private escorting gives you the time and freedom to live your life. You can make a day’s worth of earnings in an hour, a week’s worth of earnings in a day, a month’s worth of earnings in a week. You can work or study full-time and do one cheeky booking on the weekend to stash some cash away in your savings fund. You can make private escorting work around your life and give yourself time to do other things.
- No ceiling for earnings. Unlike brothel work, there is no one telling you that you can only charge $50 for extras or that $250 is the maximum you can charge for an hour. You can charge what you want for doing the services you choose and work as much or as little as you want.
- Control. Private escorting allows you to control your time, your services, your rates, your marketing, your image and your clients.
- No intros. One thing I hated most about brothel work was doing intros. When a client arrives at the brothel, usually each girl on shift will introduce themselves to the client, one-by-one. You have a minute (or two if you’re lucky), to introduce yourself and ~sell your services~. For me, it usually went something like this:
Me: Hi, I’m Amelia! How are you?
Me: Do you have any questions?
Me: Okay, nice to meet you!
To me, there is nothing more awkward than trying to get a client to book me while prancing around in lingerie. I have never been a good salesperson (I would be a terrible stripper). I prefer private escorting because (usually) by the time the client has contacted me, they have already CHOSEN me. They like the way I look and what I’ve written about myself. I don’t have to dance like a monkey to impress them – they already WANT to book. And by the time they arrive, they are excited to spend time with me, rather than wanting me to do a backflip to impress them in an intro room.
- Loneliness. The first time I tried private escorting, I was living alone. I’m an introvert, but I still found the lack of contact with people (other than clients) really difficult. Now that I live with my partner, I find it a lot easier as there is always someone to go home to. But, if you are private escorting and living alone, you have to make a conscious effort to socialise and connect with others.
- Lack of community. Aside from the loneliness, it can be difficult not having a community of sex workers around you, as you do in a brothel. There’s no one to run and tell about that weird client, and no one to double check with about what to charge for anal or how to douche. There’s no one around who gets it.
If you are private escorting and you feel like this, I want to encourage you to CONNECT with other sex workers. Now, I don’t mean connect by sending other escorts flirty banter on Twitter. I mean REALLY connect, away from prying client eyes. Message a worker in your area and ask if they’d like to catch up for coffee. Ring your local sex worker peer organisation and find out when their next event is. Surround yourself with a community who will be there for you when you need it.
- No guidebook. There is no guidebook for private escorting – trust me, I looked when I started! No one tells you what to do, what to expect, what to charge, how to message clients, or how to do your tax. It’s a wild, confusing world and it’s easy to get lost. I’m glad I started my sex work career in brothels so that I could find my feet before venturing into the private world.
- Admin. The thing no one tells you about sex work is that there is much less sex than you would imagine and a lot more of other things… Washing towels, folding sheets, sanitising toys, cleaning bathrooms, writing advertisements, editing websites, responding to enquiries, crafting emails, figuring out how to respond to that needy client in an assertive yet kind manner, booking flights, picking hotels, driving, flying, travelling, writing blogs, orchestrating photoshoots, editing photos, maintaining a social media presence, shooting content, filing taxes… You are running a business, and the task list is endless.
There is the “fuck it, I’ll be a stripper!” joke when people lose their jobs or fail at university, and to some extent, I think it’s true. I believe anyone can be a sex worker – as I said, the barrier to entry is low. But to be a GOOD sex worker? To be GOOD at sex work? That’s a lot harder. As a private escort, you’ll find you need skills you never thought of.