Sex work and Covid-19.
It’s not exactly a match made in heaven.
Wondering how sex workers are coping with social distancing?
The impact of the coronavirus has been felt right across the world with no community and no sector spared from the crippling effects of lockdown.
From retail and hospitality through to education, healthcare and manufacturing the financial damage is likely to remain with us for decades.
So, as many industries are adjusting to a new normal to accommodate social distancing and greater heath and safety precautions, we wanted to know how the close-contact sex work industries are coping with this change.
In this feature we’ll look at the landscape of sex work under lockdown and how businesses and individuals have been evolving their services to stay COVID safe.
Sex Work and Covid-19: A Financial Crisis
First up, let’s deal with the controversial elephant in the room and state for the record, sex work is real work.
Though many people in society may disapprove of prostitution, erotic personal services and escorting, the fact remains that millions of men and women worldwide rely on sex work as their primary source of income.
In fact, conservative estimates place the number of prostitutes in the world to be between 40 and 42 million.
In many countries, prostitution is a fully legalized and regulated industry (think Nevada, Australia and several European countries) where brothel owners and courtesans pay their taxes and contribute to their local economies.
Sex workers come from all walks of life in our communities and include students and mothers who may use the adult service sector to supplement their incomes.
There are also professional full time prostitutes and escorts who have no other source of employment.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, governments have enforced lockdown conditions on their populations closing most non-essential businesses and insisting on social distancing of 1.5m-2m.
This has essentially stopped any kind of legitimate sex work from taking place and forced sex workers to pull down their shutters.
We’re all in the same boat, right?
Plenty of workers have been furloughed, made redundant or lost their jobs to the COVID-19 crisis so why are sex workers suffering more?
The problem for sex workers in many countries is that whilst governments have been stepping in to ease the financial burden for employers to offer aid to workers affected by job losses and reduced incomes, for many adult service providers this does not apply to them.
This is especially true in those countries where prostitution is legal but unregulated.
Not only that but in countries where sex work is legitimate, many sex workers are unable to claim the financial support they need due to their need for privacy with the kind of work they do.
Let’s also not forget that many prostitutes are undeclared and are therefore unable to access any legitimate financial aid.
And, as governments begin easing lockdown conditions across their nations, the last kinds of businesses to be allowed to reopen have been…you guessed it…brothels, massage parlors and other kinds of close contact services.
The main problem being one of how to make their businesses COVIDSafe.
Even in those countries like Australia where brothels have been allowed to reopen there are many sex workers who are unsure of whether it’s safe for them to return to work.
The net result of all this is that the world’s population of sex workers have been hit badly by the pandemic.
From both a safety and financial point of view, there are massive concerns over how the industry should proceed whilst the threat of coronavirus remains a real and present danger.
COVIDSafe Sex: Alternatives to Traditional Sex Work
Its untenable to think that 40 million people can just get by until a vaccine can be found for the coronavirus and, already after 3-6 months out of the workplace, most adult service providers are keen to get back in the game and start earning money.
The financial situation has been so dire for some prostitutes that they have ignored the health and safety advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and continued to provide sexual services during the pandemic.
So, what is being done to ensure the safety of sex workers whilst we learn to live with coronavirus for the foreseeable future?
Fortunately the adult services sector has always been a resourceful and creative one and there has been no shortage in ideas about how to tackle the problem.
Remember that this is a community that already takes infection control very seriously and understands how to implement personal protection measures.
Whilst social distancing isn’t always possible within the realms of a full service, it is possible for clients to maintain the recommended 1.5m-2m distance between themselves and other members of staff at their brothels.
In addition to reducing the contact of non-sex workers, most brothels are also operating a no-group sex policy with services being provided by a single member of staff only.
Seating in waiting areas is also being adapted to help facilitate safe distances between clients before their appointments. Clear signage on all entrances is also helping to reinforce this policy.
It is understood that the risk of transmission for COVID-19 is increased under close contact conditions and that this is increased the longer that this proximity is maintained.
It therefore seems sensible for sex workers to limit the amount, and time, of contact they have with their clients to reduce this risk.
Sexual health organisations and alliances of sex workers have therefore been recommending that prostitutes and other adult service providers offer as many non-contact or limited contact services as they can.
An alternative to traditional sex, brothel owners have been offering more activities like:
- Mutual masturbation at a distance of 1.5m-2m
- Strip tease
- Watching porn together
- Using latex gloves (with lube!) to perform manual services
- Use of interactive toys
It has also become common for sex workers to restrict their appointments to a maximum of 15-30 minutes instead of 30-60 minutes.
Increased Personal Protection and Health & Safety Measures
As we’ve already commented, the sex service industry is well versed in the health and safety measures needed to control infection in their business.
From maintaining excellent personal and environmental hygiene to the use of condoms, the industry knows how to self-regulate.
In terms of reducing the risk of coronavirus, there are additional measures being implemented in brothels and maintained by sex workers.
Sex workers are used to regular showering between appointments and clients too are often asked to wash before their service.
Whilst this practice is still recommended, additional steps have been added to most sex worker’s routines to further reduce the risk of infection.
This includes using hand sanitizers more frequently between and during appointments; this applies to both clients and sex workers.
There is also some evidence to suggest that friction helps break down the virus so scrubbing vigorously with soap and water whilst showering is also recommended.
A new element to the prepping stage of sex work is the handling of a client’s clothes.
Research has shown that the virus can live in clothing fibers so many brothels are asking clients to strip themselves before a service and to wash their hands after doing so.
Brothels are workplaces for multiple sex workers and back office staff and the same policies that apply to offices and other sectors also apply here.
This includes not sharing cutlery and dishes with colleagues and refraining from greeting colleagues with any physical contact.
Making the Workplace Clean
On top of their already strict protocols for disinfecting workspaces between client visits, many are adopting a new standard of deep cleaning surfaces in both public and private spaces in the workplace.
This includes receptions, doors and any counters as well as more intimate accessories and items of furniture.
Brothels are also adopting cashless transactions to reduce contact with money which is thought to have an increased risk of transmission.
Furthermore, it is recommended that rooms are well ventilated for at least 15-minutes between appointments and that bedsheets and other linen is laundered at 60 deg C or above.
Screening Clients and Sex Workers
In most countries where brothels are legal and regulated it is already standard procedure that sex workers are regularly tested for STIs with condom-use being mandatory.
There is also some degree of client screening which takes place before appointments.
Under COVID-19 conditions, it is being recommended that clients are given additional screening before they admitted for service which includes the completion of a basic questionnaire which includes answering questions like:
- Have you been on a cruise or overseas within the last 10-14 days?
- Have you developed a cough or had any flu-like symptoms in the last 10-14 days?
- Have you been in contact with anyone who has, or suspected to have, COVID-19?
Additionally, some brothels are also taking client’s temperature (using non-contact thermometers) on arrival and maintaining records of their contact details.
This is a necessary step to activate track and trace systems (see ‘Contact Tracing’, below) if there is a subsequent positive infection recorded.
Brothel operators and sex workers are also being informed of how to spot the potential signs of infection by looking out for clients who have a cough or flu-like symptoms.
Clear signage in the brothel should indicate that the establishment reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone who is suspected of having coronavirus.
Some owners are going one step further and insisting that their employees/sub-contractors test regularly for COVID-19.
Use of PPE
Whilst the use of face masks is being avoided in the industry, most brothels are offering clients the use of gloves, masks and even booties if a client wishes.
For some service providers, this can easily be worked into roleplay and may even already be an element of their fetish offering.
Certainly, the use of gloves when touching a client is being recommended and where possible that face masks are used.
Sex workers are also being asked to tie their hair back to avoid any contact with clients in this way.
Although an unpopular decision, some brothels are also insisting that they keep the contact details of all clients for a period of four weeks after their visit. Maintaining these kind of records makes it easy to track and trace anyone who has potentially been exposed to coronavirus if a positive case is recorded.
Though there are plenty of practical steps to avoid contact and to control infection, the bottom line is that a full service (obviously) means getting up close and personal.
So, how can sex workers reduce the risk of transmission when performing their job?
The industry has had some creative ideas here too.
First up, oral sex and kissing are pretty much off the table in a lot of brothels in an effort to reduce facial exposure to the virus.
If oral sex is offered then the use of a condom is, of course, to be expected.
Next, the adoption of different sexual positions may also help reduce contact and, importantly, the same shared breathing space. The principle way to achieve this is by utilizing any ‘reverse’ approach which includes:
- Reverse cowgirl
- Reverse standing
- Doggy style
- Pile driving
There are far more athletic reverse sex positions that can all be adopted and all of which keep the participant’s faces at some distance to one another.
Using mirrors during this kind of service can enhance the pleasure of the experience.
Lastly, the use of soft bondage during a session can help restrict the ability of a client to touch their service provider and can be safely and very pleasurably incorporated into sex.
The Boom in Online Adult Services
Though workplaces for many sex workers can be made safer, there is no way to eliminate risk in this close-contact role.
For this reason and whilst many brothels and adult service venues remain closed for business, what alternatives are there for sex workers to earn a living?
As we have already reported on Red Light Network, the live camming industry has seen a huge surge in new model sign-ups as sex workers head online to ply their trades.
The cam industry is well set up to offer remote sex services and many women (and men) are finding this an easy way to stay in touch with their regular clients and offer mutual masturbation, striptease and GFE/BFE.
In addition, some brothels are selling remote contact packages to their regulars which include phone calls, video calls and sexting as well as emails.
For many, the sale of adult content online such as naked photos and videos is also proving a lifesaver when it comes to keeping an income going.
The Future of Sex Work?
Whilst the threat of coronavirus remains a danger to our way of life, there is no way that we can expect a return to a pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’….in any aspect of our daily routines.
This includes visiting a brothel or sex worker.
For the foreseeable future, we can expect the above conditions, limits and precautions to be part and parcel of getting a service and accepting this is the first part of the industry’s recovery.
The bottom line is that we are all going to have to get used to a new normal and the sooner we can adapt, the better life is going to be.
The pandemic is not yet over and the threat may remain – but we can help to keep our communities safe by adhering to the guidelines.
Are you struggling to balance sex work and covid-19?
Let us know your experiences if you have been affected by the pandemic.