Behind the only-fans glam
A sex worker’s guide to what you’re actually paying for.
You could argue there’s never been a cooler time to be a stripper thanks to the progressive uprising among society and the *liberated whore* movement (where ‘whore’ is seen as a self-lovingly reclaimed phrase) on IG and TikTok. Yet, paradoxically, the sex industry in all of its misunderstood glamour is still mostly relegated to the shadows – considered illegitimate, immoral and distasteful to so many, including the Gen Z and Millennial demographics. So when it comes to sex work, we want to know: who is paying, and for what? Through the eyes of five sex-workers we pull back the curtain.
In the dying hours of ‘today’ before it becomes ‘tomorrow’, a well-travelled young woman, endowed by her girdled thighs and university degree, dances slowly in the haze of a strip club, swaying hypnotically in impossibly platformed heels. Like her, the client she dances for is a man whose daylight scenes look dramatically different to this one. Juxtaposed by his white collar credentials, he seems to possess a certain disregard for contractual agreements. Despite paying for this lap dance and verbally agreeing to the protocol of “keep your hands to yourself”, he can’t seem to refrain from reaching for her body. If it wasn’t so slow tonight, she’d tell him to get fucked. It’s likely that in a prestigious enough club, security would kick him out without another word. But this week, bills loom dangerously, so she dances on. For those who work in this industry, nothing can prepare you for the emotional burnouts these sorts of boundary violations incur.
“You can’t let different areas of your life bleed into each other,” one young woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells me. “You’ve gotta know how to compartmentalise; dealing with so many different people’s personalities and energies while also managing your own personal life is a skill in and of itself.”
Anonymity is something that protects majority of sex workers who do not wish to be either celebritised or demonised – an interesting cross-roads the industry has reached where visibility is both a marketing tool and a potential threat. Some dancers use pseudonyms on private IG accounts that allow their customers to stay connected and know when they’re in the club. Some do not feel the culture is safe enough to tell their closest friends of their secret hustle. Here in Australia, a Brisbane-based dancer explains the naivety that has shrouded public visibility of sex-work: “The industry in my city is so oversaturated, which means there’s less money to be made. A lot of ‘younger’ girls want to enter the industry as dancers or Only Fans creators, but no-one is talking about the shit nights where you make little to nothing.”
With the internet push-back on sex workers under the guise of censoring R18+ content, many in the industry have seen content deleted, their accounts shutdown and blankets of silence thrown over their online livelihood. Many online content creators have their work pirated and shared illegally. It would be easy to say that it’s probably by the same types who send revenge porn and share images their lovers have sent them with their friends. But the truth is many don’t realise the power of sex when it is shared with them, whether they pay for it or not.
The women we spoke to in the sex industry largely consider self-empowerment as the highest marker of success in their profession. Interestingly, competition is less important than bringing one another up in vulnerable spaces. One woman told us: “I think you’d consider yourself a professional at your job when you feel confident in an ever-changing environment, you can work a room and you have regulars. I was extremely lucky to work at a club that had really lovely supporting women, they kind of took me under their wing and showed me everything I needed to learn.” Another woman explained: “You have to be generous, kind, welcoming and you need to position yourself as an ally and trusted person to the other women in this industry. Far too long have women from all walks of life been told that other women are their competition and that we must tear other women down to gain the approval of men. I say fuck that; the men will be there no matter what. To be a good sex worker is to love and encourage all of the women around you.”
There is a strong intersectionality between the vulnerabilities of sex workers, the age old plight of women and the struggle of people of colour, the LGBTQIA+ community and First Nations people. That’s because the sex industry is leading from the back with a new wave of feminism comprised of many individuals from a vast array of different communities, where privilege ceases to exist given the demand for sex is so universal. Many in the sex industry are not only facing persecution for protecting their livelihood but also for their cultural context. Social media has allowed those with enough privilege (typically middle/ upper class White hetero females) to not only create cultural shockwaves celebrating innate human sexuality, but to actively advocate for better treatment of society’s least considered. Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ is considered a feminist farce to some, but an anthem of self-proclamation of sexual power to others.
The Australian Sex Workers Association, the Scarlet Alliance, is on the forefront of restoring self-determination in a world that can’t accept its own shadow amongst a multiplicity of valid realities. Their mission to decriminalise runs deep: “Migrant sex workers, street-based sex workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sex workers, sex workers living with HIV, and private (independent) sex workers must be decriminalised. Full decriminalisation of sex work means removing sex work-specific criminal penalties for all sex workers.” After all, a society that cannot accept and protect its most vulnerable is one that cannot truly move forward.
The unfolding of this industry is immense and will continue to impact power systems into the future. We often talk of the inextricable link between self, other and Earth. Something one ex-industry professional credits the industry with giving her an awareness of: “I think that I have become a more accepting person, having encountered so many types of people in this work. Giving my time to people I maybe usually wouldn’t has allowed me to open up and learn about the world more. I feel that I am able to better advocate for myself and know my worth.”
Something you won’t see in the movies is the very human aspect of sex work. One interviewee voiced her intent to dislodge our most tender hurts and damaging stories. “I tend to think of self-care in the sense of digging into your psyche (even if it’s uncomfortable), doing shadow work, journaling, sitting with yourself and your emotions. I try to be in nature as much as possible because it grounds me. I read a lot. There isn’t much to it, but I do rest a lot, and I need to take a lot of time out for myself to relax.”
And no-one is exempt from burnout. Those in the industry have to be on the front foot when they are giving so much of themselves to their craft: “I have learnt I am super hard on myself with reaching my financial / savings goals which leads me to work too much and burn out (with a side of multiple mental breakdowns). Then I get sick with a cold or infection and it results in me missing more work and triggering more stress. I am booked in with a mental health plan to see a sex worker-friendly psychologist to help me with managing my stress amongst other things.”
In a world polarised by sex, our aversion to directness with sex itself is perhaps remnant of patriarchal and dominating religious structures – where women are considered temptress to their male victims, and where sex is reserved for procreative or consecrative purposes only. We are surrounded by subtleties of sex, forced to grapple with what texts like. “I’m bored 😏” may possibly mean, yet are offended if the message instead reads, “Come over and fuck”. As a society we perpetuate a timid, yet expectant sexual voice. This sort of indirectness and assumed okay-ness with sex is the kind of societal attitude many sexual violence campaigners like Chanel Contos credit to the prominence of rape and sexual assault in countries like Australia. Up until recently, Australian law reflected the assumption that sex is wanted in the absence of a “no”, regardless of whether the sex has been met with an enthusiastic “fuck yes.”
Inherently, this is the sort of sex many suffer most from: sex that is taken rather than offered as an option. In a recent poll, 73% of our audience indicated that this sort of interaction is more than familiar to them. In the same poll, 99% of responders agreed that everyone should be loving the type of sex they’re having. The disparity between the sex people want and the sex people are faced with is a price we are all currently having to pay.
Channel Void is firmly a supporter of the sex industry and all individuals who exist within it determined to rewrite history. Sex is human stuff. And in a consumerist society, we all have a responsibility to ensure we are protecting those who provide services to meet humanity’s needs. If you don’t like the idea of selling sex, you don’t have a right to take away someone else’s freedom to do so safely.