How Are Australia’s Brothels Handling The Pandemic?

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, are Australian brothels open for business as normal?

Since the middle of March, Australians have been used to seeing shops, bars and businesses closed to the general public as the country took action to prevent the spread of COVID19. However, government policies introduced in May has meant a slow return to a new normality…for some sectors. Yes, making Australia’s workplaces COVIDSafe is no easy task when you have a contact job like sex work and brothels have had to wait the longest time to get the green light to reopen.

In this feature we take a look at the government’s three step plan for making Australia COVIDSafe and, specifically, what this means when it comes to reopening brothels. We’ll also look at how Australia’s bordellos have been coping under the lockdown and what changes you can expect the next time you visit one.

COVID19 and the Impact on Australia’s Sex Workers

Whilst the Commonwealth Government has announced financial help for all sole traders following the economic crash resulting from the pandemic, many sex workers are not eligible for income support. Indeed many women (and men) who work in brothels, strip clubs and erotic massage parlours are unable to seek aid due to reasons of privacy.

Just like the rest of the country, sex workers have been forced into temporary unemployment but many face a more difficult financial challenge. News of the end of lockdown can’t come soon enough for this sector but how are Australia’s brothels expected to safely reopen and what changes will there be to the traditional service?

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Some brothels, like Melbourne’s Top of the Town, have used the lockdown as an excuse to renovate. Image via Top of the Town.

Australia: Coming Out of Lockdown – The 3-Step Plan

Since the federal government announced its three-stage plan to bring the country out of lockdown, parts of Australia have seen a slow but welcome return to something resembling normality. The framework is based on three steps aimed at:

  • Step 1: Allowing individuals to reconnect with family and friends in small groups with some businesses allowed to reopen.
  • Step 2: Slightly larger gatherings to be permitted and more businesses reopening. Those activities deemed to have a higher risk to be placed under tight operating restrictions.
  • Step 3: Reopening all businesses and the wider community with minimal restrictions under COVIDSafe conditions.

Though the above framework is a national policy, it remains down to each state to implement each stage in accordance with the rate of infections in their area. Restrictions can be tightened and stages reversed depending on whether coronavirus cases are increasing or decreasing. For instance, Victoria announced a state of emergency at the beginning of August and both regional towns and cities (including Melbourne) all went back into a partial lockdown.

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As cases of COVID19 rise in Victoria, business across the state have been forced back into lockdown including brothels like Silk Lotus. Image via website.

The overall aim of the policy is to safely bring all parts of the community and workplaces out of lockdown in order to prevent further outbreaks of the coronavirus. The plan goes on to add detail to key sectors and areas, including:

  • Sport & Recreation
  • Retail & Sales
  • Education & Childcare
  • Cafes & Restaurants
  • Hair & Beauty Services
  • Domestic Travel
  • Accommodation
  • Entertainment & Amusement Venues

It is in this last sector where the activities of brothels are covered and, according to the 3-step framework for a COVIDSafe Australia, these venues must remain closed under Step 1 and Step 2 of the lockdown plan. The document does not determine whether brothels can reopen under Step 3 but nightclubs must stay shut and events like unseated festivals cannot operate.

So, where does that leave legitimate sex work businesses like brothels?

COVIDSafe Brothels?

As a place of entertainment where close contact is part and parcel of the job, brothels are a high-risk transmission zone for COVID19. As a result, they are one of the last businesses in our communities that can emerge from lockdown.

Making brothels COVIDSafe is no easy ask but the Australian Sex Workers Association, Scarlet Alliance has been working with government to promote safer working practices and to limit the risk of infection.

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Scarlet Alliance has created a set of guidelines for making sex work safer in the pandemic. Image via Scarlet Alliance.

Scarlet Alliance has therefore published guidance for its members on how to stay safe during the pandemic and with practical advice on how to reduce the transmission risk. Unlike government advice, the association recognises that for many sex workers, taking time off work is unrealistic. With this in mind, Scarlet Alliance recommends that brothels and independent call girls undertake these basic steps to stay safe.

Screening Clients

In addition to any usual screening that takes place before a booking, clients should be asked the following questions:

  • Have they been overseas or on a cruise within the last two weeks?
  • Have they experienced any flu-like symptoms or developed a cough?
  • Have they been in contact with anyone who has, or suspected to have, had the coronavirus?

When meeting clients for the first time, it is recommended that sex workers observe them for symptoms of coronavirus (cough, fever, runny nose, headache) and, where possible, to use a thermometer to take their temperature.

Prepping Before Appointments

Whether it’s a dungeon, medical play room or bedroom, the space to be used for bookings should be thoroughly cleaned with hospital grade disinfectant or diluted bleach. This includes any toys, play devices and safe sex accessories (lube bottles etc). In practice, this is already a routine part of operations for brothels bu now extends to other surfaces as well as those in use during sexual play.

Sex workers are also advised to shower well and to ensure they scrub their skin well with soap and water. This is a key piece of advice as friction is thought to help break down the virus.

Door handles and surfaces should all be given the same thorough cleaning before and after clients leave.

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As brothels reopen, what changes are being made to keep COVIDSafe? Image via Pixabay.

Personal Protection Advice

Sex workers should insist that clients wash their hands on arrival or use a hand sanitiser; this should be for the recommended 20 seconds. This should be repeated after the client has handled their wallet and/or any money.

Showering protocols remain unchanged but clients should also wash their face.

When handling a client’s clothes, sex workers should wash their hands again as the virus can be transmitted through droplets which can remain on fibres.

Antibacterial wipes should be placed within reach of the bed.

Sex & Contact Work

Sex workers are encouraged to tie their hair up during their work so that it does not come into contact with any bodily fluids or the client’s face.

Where possible, face-touching should be avoided.

Oral services should also be avoided (both giving and receiving) but if they happen, a dam or condom should be used.

Alternatives to Traditional Services

As well as incorporating the above advice, sex workers have been given some suggestions about alternative services that can further reduce risk by limiting contact with clients. The ideas all include ways to minimise face-to-face contact, reduce shared breathing space and observe social distancing protocols.

Suggestions include:

  • Using latex gloves during manual sex acts and for touching clients
  • Indulging clients in a session of mutual masturbation at a distance of 1.5m
  • Standing behind clients to provide manual relief
  • Offering massage or a striptease instead of a full service
  • Watching porn together
  • Using soft bondage to limit client’s touching
  • Experimenting with different positions where the client or sex worker is face down.
  • Using mirrors and toys to enhance the above.

The alliance is also recommending that sex workers take shorter bookings to reduce the risk of transmission by minimising time spent with any one individual.

Where sex workers offer GFE, brothels are being advised to offer low contact alternatives and even to work online if they can. The internet has seen a huge upsurge in live camming since the start of lockdown with regular brothel users turning to this kind of service.

Return to Work: The Brothels Welcoming Clients Back

With the exception of Victoria where a rise in the number of COVID19 cases has forced many cities and towns back into lockdown, most brothels right across Australia are open for business and many have thrown wide their doors.

However, there are some bordellos who took the opportunity presented by lockdown to undertake renovations and there are several examples of these which are still closed.

Those that are open all have new guidance in place when it comes to bookings so do be prepared for  few changes.

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Crystal Lodge in Victoria is closed for business after the state went back into lockdown in August 2020. Image via Crystal Lodge.

As above, you should expect to be screened on arrival and for the brothel owners to insist on your using hand sanitisers before you enter. Every brothel is different but you will be expected to observe the 1.5m social distancing rule with all members of staff, other than your service provider (unless asked to do so). You may also be asked to remove your own clothing before your service; however, face masks are not compulsory and we know of no brothels that are insisting on their use.

The choice of services available may be limited with some brothels only offering hand relief or full service in a handful of positions.

Not all sex workers have returned to work and if you have been visiting the same service provider on a regular basis, you may find they are continuing to ‘shield’ or work from home.

Be prepared to be offered some creative alternatives to a full service as per the suggested list above and be open-minded about these. The changes are there to help protect you and the staff on site in order to help keep coronavirus infections rates down.

You can find details of local brothels in a city near you by heading over to our City Brothels Guide where full details of their websites have been included. Typically, each brothel publishes a roster of ladies available and news of whether they are open for business currently. Many also run a social media account so you can get updates on when and how they are coming out of lockdown.

Featured image via 88 on Logan (Brisbane).