Lulu Valentine, a Sydney-based escort, describes her job as ‘girlfriend by the hour’.
“To put it simply, I am paid to provide sexual services to my clients,” Valentine tells SBS.
“However, in reality, what happens is – I am paid for my time, and it is up to those who are paying for it as to how this wish to spend it.
“Our job is to provide pleasure, which can be interpreted in a lot of different ways.”
What some escorts do
Valentine explains that, unlike some people, she always had a realistic view of what ‘sex work’ entailed before starting out in the industry four years ago. She was never of the belief that sex work was sex-free: a fact and practice which she now thinks is sometimes misrepresented within certain parts the industry.
“My knowledge of sex work was limited to what I had watched, and read – which as, I have, come to find, are often gross misrepresentations of what the industry is actually like,” says Valentine.
“For the purposes of consumption, authors and screenwriters tend to glamourise, and, over indulge in different parts of the industry. For instance, when sex work is portrayed in media, it often smooths over the more arbitrary details of the job, which I think creates a different reality – sex work is not always luxurious, or exciting, or profitable.”
Social perceptions surrounding the world of escorting are, perhaps, fuelled by pop culture and media portrayals of the industry. The hugely popular Netflix series You, Me, Her is one of the latest in a long string of shows based around the work of escorting. Joining series such as The Girlfriend Experience, Secret Diary of a Callgirl, and Satisfaction; You, Me, Her takes on the escorting industry in broad strokes, eliminating much of the reality of the sex work involved. Sure, there’s plenty of sex in the show, but how much of it is the emotion-free type that sex workers are paid for? None.
The Canadian series focuses around the polyamorous relationship of married couple, Emma and Jack Trakarsky; and a 25-year-old college student and part-time escort, Izzy. Jack meets Izzy when he books her for a ‘job’. Instead of having a night of sex, they engage in hours of deep conversation. Sex, it seems from this show, is an optional part of the escort gig.
Claudia Cadine, a Melbourne-based escort, says despite Hollywood notions of what escorts do, she’s never had any misconceptions about the nature of her work – it’s to have sex. Not fall in love.
Cadine tells SBS that, like Valentine, she also offers the ‘girlfriend experience’ involving a narrative that replicates a real life relationship. She goes on dates, goes to cocktails and attends events with her ‘boyfriend’ client. But, as she points out, this is almost always followed by the expectation of sex.
“A client’s end goal is usually sexual contact; some men prefer to use escorts for direct sexual exchanges (most want it to seem like the woman is enjoying it, or happy enough that she doesn’t hate herself because of her work), and some men prefer a more romantic interlude that seems like a real date,” explains Cadine.
“These men [who I see] are [often] fully aware that they are booking for and paying for sexual services,” she says, “but I suspect that the prelude enables them to think of what they are doing as being something different, or ‘better’.”
Official sex work: who’s doing it?
Given the transient and often secretive nature of the industry, there are no official statistics on the demographic of Australian sex workers.
However, Scarlet Alliance (the Australian Sex Workers Association) estimates there are roughly 20,000 sex workers at any given time in Australia.
“In terms of absolute numbers of people working in the sex industry, it is a difficult one to estimate as many people move in and out of sex work and others may move overseas,” CEO Jules Kim tells SBS.
“As an estimate – as that is really all you could hope for in determining numbers within sex work – you could say that there are roughly 20,000 sex workers at any given time in Australia.”
Despite popular representations of escorts being young, white, and female; Kim says that it is far more diversified across both ethnicity and gender.
“In terms of racial backgrounds, there is a broad diversity of people working in the sex industry,” says Kim. “Our research into migrant sex workers in Australia identified a large number of birth countries that sex workers came from.”
What do ‘they’ look like?
Valentine, who is of Middle Eastern and Asian descent, says popular notions of what an escort might look like are often whitewashed.
She explains that many women of non-Caucasian background who are involved in sex work are rarely portrayed with the same sense of glamour, or power, or prestige on television as Caucasian women. They are invariably portrayed as trapped, forced to work in the industry under duress. Sex slaves, not escorts in control of their own destinies.
“As a person of colour, I can probably say that I think most roles, especially ones of power, are portrayed in film and television, by cis-gendered, Caucasian people – this is not specific to sex work,” says Valentine.
“Perhaps in the past, the white, cis-gendered, educated woman was the most desirable person to represent the industry, because it would be easier for the public to digest this as a figurehead for sex workers. If you think about it, historically, the representation of ethnic, or non-cisgendered within the industry tended to be the oppressed stereotypes – the trafficked woman from Asia or Eastern Europe; the African-American woman who is enslaved by a pimp, or the queer survivalist ‘prostitute’.”
On the contrary, Valentine says that her experience has been one of safety and respect – conditions that not all sex workers have access to.
“As a person of colour working in the sex industry in Australia, I would have to say that my experiences are quite privileged – I am still subject to the occasional client with a desire to fetishise me based on my heritage, and the occasional racist remark.
“But I think also because of my good command of English, and my having been brought up to be no different culturally than my Caucasian counterparts, I am not subject to the same experiences as other ethnically diverse workers without these luxuries.”
How they do what they do
Despite the misconceptions surrounding the escorting world, Cadine says that after a longstanding career in the industry, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I genuinely enjoy the company of my clients and the social interaction, the ability to work closely one-on-one with others,” says Cadine.
“The freedom, flexibility and the security of choosing my own hours is appealing to me, as is earning a higher income without spending hours per week in the office. I would be lying if I said that the financial side was not a large aspect in the benefits on the work. I would not work as a sex worker for free, but then, the majority of people would never work for free.”
Cadine advises women considering escort work to come to grips with the reality of the profession before signing up.
“Go to the main mall in your city. Turn and look behind you and think – you have to have sex with this man. Always my first tip,” says Cadine.
Rather than prescribing to the ‘cleaned up’ version of escorting being touted on mainstream television, women should be sure to make their own decision regarding the work.
Some women might really enjoy the job and it may even exceed their expectations. This is not about judgement, right or wrong but ensuring Hollywood myths don’t override your own day-to-day on the job experience.
“I’ve seen this unfortunate trend where girls thinking that it’s fashionable or some really cool gig where they will just sleep with silver foxes with big bank accounts.
“They chuck on some L’Agent lingerie, start an Instagram get cupcakes at fancy hotels with their other sex worker friends, and essentially love a lifestyle where they tag photos at the Grand Hyatt drinking an overpriced cocktail with a view…They are attracted to a fantasy.”
The Essential Escort is a non-profit online resource for escorts with the aim of making the industry friendlier and more accessible. We publish how-to articles, and aggregate resources for new escorts who are just starting out.