So Much, Not Enough: Sex Work Laws in Australia

Australia’s sex work laws have a long and interesting history. While sex work is legal in many areas of the country, there are still many stipulations that complicate sex work there. In Western Australia, for example, prostitution itself is allowed but some activities associated with it are not, including working in brothels or doing sex work in pairs. This puts Perth escorts and other WA sex workers at risk, because brothel work and paired work is often safer than solo sex work.

I became interested in Australian sex work laws when I discovered Zahra Stardust. Zahra does many different kinds of sex work – including stripping, poledancing, and porn – and she’s also taught gender studies at a university, advocated for sex workers’ rights at the United Nations, and spoken out in the media against Australian censorship laws in porn. Basically, she is a badass. A badass who’s hella smart, incredibly cute, and can squirt enormous amounts.

Zahra has worked closely with the Scarlet Alliance, also known as the Australian Sex Workers Association, with the goal of achieving justice, equality and autonomy for sex workers down under. Among other things, the Alliance does research about sex workers’ lives and work. One finding of theirs is that the mandatory HIV testing required of sex workers in some areas of Australia may actually be a bad thing. A 2012 article (of which Zahra Stardust is a co-author) claims that mandatory STI testing increases stigma, and is invasive, costly, and ultimately unnecessary, because Australian sex workers have some of the lowest STI rates and highest condom usage rates of any sex workers in the world. This suggests that government intervention into sex work may be more hazardous than helpful.

It does indeed seem that many sex work laws make sex workers less safe, despite technically making their work legal. Brisbane escorts and other Queensland sex workers are allowed to work privately or in licensed brothels; however, they are not allowed to hire receptionists, drivers, lawyers, accountants, or cleaners, and they are only allowed to tell another person where they’re going if that person is not a sex worker too. This obviously makes the work not only dangerous but also even more laborious and time-consuming than it already is.

This minimal level of legalization doesn’t even work the way it’s supposed to. A 2009 report found that 90% of sex work in Queensland is either illegal or unregulated. It’s no surprise that when you put ridiculous limitations on how sex workers are allowed to conduct their work, more and more of them will work outside the bounds of legality.

I don’t live in Australia and I’m not anywhere near as entrenched in this world as someone like Zahra Stardust, but at least on paper, it seems like Melbourne escorts and other Victoria sex workers have some of the best rights and protections of any sex workers in Australia. In licensed brothels, sex workers may refuse to see a client if they feel the situation may become unsafe or violent, and they cannot be punished for doing this. Condoms and lube must be provided to sex workers for free in these brothels. Brothel owners must provide workers with clean linens, showers, baths, and hot and cold water. Escort agencies have to provide sex workers with a cellphone or another two-way electronic device to allow for safe communication between workers and licensees. Privately licensed escorts in Victoria are allowed to hire staff, unlike in Queensland, but they may not advertise to find staff.

While there are still many ways in which Australian sex work laws are lacking, it seems to me that they are miles ahead of many other countries in this regard. For example, here in Canada, it’s legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it (?!). I hope that more countries move in the direction Australia is heading, albeit with more protections for sex workers and fewer absurd restrictions on how they can do their work.


Note: this post was sponsored, but as always, all opinions and writing are my own!

Feminist Porn Week Diary, Part 3: Fuck Dolls, Phoenixes, & Accountability

On Thursday April 16th I went to the Public.Provocative.Porn screening at the Bloor cinema. Good For Her hosts this event each year as an accompaniment to the Feminist Porn Awards: it’s an opportunity for attendees to see a broad sampling of the nominated porn films before the awards ceremony.

I crowded into the theatre with a tiny cup of wine and some peanut M&Ms from the Dollarama next door and settled in to watch the 14 (!) different porn shorts on the program. There was a lot to talk about in those clips but here are some personal highlights:

• Last year’s Heartthrob of the Year, Zahra Stardust (a.k.a. the world’s cutest Australian femme princess), screened her film “Fuck Dolls,” in which she and Lexi Laphor writhe around on the girliest bed of all time, fucking with Barbies. By which I mean both “making Barbies fuck each other” and “using Barbies as sex toys.” Zahra wears silver glittery thigh-high boots, there’s a pink sheath over her Hitachi, and the whole film is chock full of cute girly underwear. I turned to my friend and said, “This is the femmiest thing I’ve ever seen in my LIFE!” and she replied, “I know! This is my dream!!”
• Tobi Hill-Meyer’s film “Bound By Borders” is a “docu-porn” in which she and her long-distance partner intermittently have sex and discuss the injustice of their situation: immigration laws, marriage laws, discrimination against poly relationships, etc. We got only a brief taste of the film at the screening but it was enough to leave me and my friend crying quietly into our sleeves. I’d love to see more of this blend of real-world unsexy emotions with sex in the porn of the future.
• Skyler Braeden Fox made his film “Hello Titty” as a goodbye to his breasts before getting top surgery. What we saw was trippy as fuck and included my favorite on-screen domme, Sadie Lune, being delightfully weird and capping off the scene with a lactation money shot. Yes, you read that right.
• I was excited to finally get to see a clip from Shine Louise Houston’s side project Heavenly Spire, after hearing her mention it at the Feminist Porn Conference two years ago and being immediately intrigued. It’s a porn series that celebrates masculinity on all sorts of different bodies. The clip we saw was a kinky tryst between two cis guys, and it was hot as fuuuuck.

After the screening, there was a brief Q&A with some of the filmmakers and performers. It was cool to see so much local Toronto talent on that stage, including my buddies at Spit!

The next night, Friday April 17th, was the centrepiece of the whole week: the Feminist Porn Awards gala! I spent a couple hours getting thoroughly dolled up (outfit details in a minute) and then rode the subway to the Capitol Event Theatre. (Taking public transit while in full formalwear is always a laugh and a half, lemme tell ya.)

I arrived during the pre-show cocktail hour for VIPs and nominees (and media folks comme moi), so I spent some time milling around the bar sipping white wine and chatting with various porno folks. I am super awkward and the idea of approaching my favorite pornographers to compliment their work is utterly terror-inducing, but I managed it a couple times with the help of alcohol. Hallelujah!

As per usual, the event was emcee’d by Ryan G. Hinds and Lex Vaughn. Some of the presenters were folks I know, like Sophie Delancey and Sam Leigh from Tell Me Something Good, and fellow sex bloggers Lorax of Sex and Kara Sutra. The acoustics in the theatre unfortunately made it really hard to hear what people were saying, but, y’know… they looked fantastic.

CoCo La Creme did some burlesque for us, and was ravishing as always. Her act involved a gas can and a handful of baby oil. The crowd was flabbergasted in the best possible way.

Morgana Muses won the Heartthrob of the Year award, which, hell yeah. She got involved in porn after leaving her marriage in her mid-40s, and the film for which she was nominated this year showed her suspended in gorgeous rope bondage, dressed as a stunning phoenix, symbolizing her “rebirth from the ashes” of her old life. I watched the scene in awe and it is a perfect example of how so much eclectic, emotional, life-affirming stuff shows up under the umbrella of feminist porn. I’ve never walked away from a mainstream porn scene feeling profoundly affected or inspired to change my whole life around, but feminist porn has this effect on me regularly. Amazing.

I was also thrilled about Spit winning an honorable mention award. They’re still a very new company but are deadset on proving they earned this honor and having even better stuff to show off next year, and I totally believe they can do it!

There was some controversy surrounding the FPAs this year, which unfortunately the hosts opted to make light of instead of addressing in any real way. Tobi Hill-Meyer’s acceptance speech on behalf of Courtney Trouble touched on these issues in a tactful and respectful manner; I’m glad someone said something about it (thank you, Tobi) and I sincerely hope the FPAs will address some of the community’s concerns by next year.

Before I sign off this series, some quick outfit pictures!

For the Thursday night screening, I kept things casual and wore a lilac tank top tucked into a black bandage skirt, with a black leather jacket and harness boots. My lips were also painted deep purple, because the feminist porn crowd is a community that can truly appreciate a gothy lip, methinks.

For the awards gala, I wore a strapless black tulle dress that I’d scored at Value Village for $10 (#blessed) with red T-strap heels and a little red bag, both also thrifted. I did a red lip with NARS Cruella and a L’Oreal glossy stain, and felt preeeeetty babely.

Well, that’s my whole Feminist Porn Week wrap-up! (Read the two previous parts here and here.) How did your week go?

Feminist Porn Week Rocked

It is kind of astonishing to me that I live in the city where Feminist Porn Week happens to take place every year.

It is truly so amazing and fantastic that it feels like a gift, a glorious coincidence, a joyful miracle. I do not take it for granted.

This year I live-tweeted the whole Feminist Porn Conference, and it made me even more hyper-aware of what was going on around me – in a good way. Reading other people’s moment-by-moment tweets, and composing my own, allowed me to process and enjoy the talks and panels even more.

I won’t write an exhaustive summary like I did last year, because frankly the #FPCon2 hashtag is full of fantastic accounts of what went on. But I will write a little about the most memorable moments and experiences that happened to me during Feminist Porn Week.

The fisting workshop. I will be honest: I bought my ticket not so much because I wanted to learn about fisting (which is still, I think, well out of my vagina’s conceivable grasp), but primarily because I wanted to see Courtney Trouble… in person… fisting someone. I mean, how amazing is that?!

The “fist-ee” was Zahra Stardust, the adorable pink-haired Australian porn princess who ended up winning Heartthrob of the Year at the FPAs two nights later. I developed an intense crush on her from the way she talked intelligently about porn laws down under and then took Courtney’s fist with seemingly no effort. She squirted on the people in the front row. Courtney fucked her powerfully and intensely and it felt so intimate that I shouldn’t be looking, and yet I couldn’t not look. It was beautiful and educational.

Dylan and Danny’s talk. Um, I may have mentioned how much I love Dylan Ryan and Danny Wylde before. They are my favorite porn stars, ever. But I love them even more now, because of the wonderful talk they gave at the conference. They spoke openly and candidly about “getting in and getting out” of the porn industry and how those transitions have affected their identities. They are both amazingly smart and thoughtful. The room was positively packed, for good reason: it was one of the best talks of the conference.

Tobi’s talk. Tobi Hill-Meyer is a trans woman who makes feminist porn, so of course, she’s no stranger to receiving criticism. Her talk was about how to deal with criticism effectively. Of all the sessions I attended, this one had the most pertinence to my real life, and I think many people there felt similarly. When you work in a controversial area like sexuality or feminism, no matter how peripherally or centrally, it is useful – nay, vital – to know how to respond gracefully to critics. I will be sure to start implementing some of the strategies I learned in Tobi’s presentation.

Aussie porn. Australia has some fucked-up porn laws. A lot of it is illegal, and they are very strict about things like fetishes, BDSM, squirting (which they classify as urination and therefore a type of fetish), and fisting. The Aussie porn session, run by the very articulate Ms. Naughty and Zahra Stardust, screened several films, many of which were political and commented directly on the injustice of the porn laws there. I also discovered that Ms. Naughty’s company, Bright Desire, makes the exact kind of porn I’ve been longing for all my life: female-gaze-oriented, female-pleasure-focused, sensual, sexy, soft, yet also hardcore. Hey, my birthday’s in about a week; I’d gladly accept a Bright Desire subscription if you’re not sure what to get me! Wink wink.

Courtney Trouble’s keynote. Oh my fucking god. Everyone was speechless. Not literally – we were all tweeting up a storm and cheering our hearts out – but figuratively, we had the wind knocked out of us by what Courtney had to say. I will embed the video below, because you MUST watch it; there’s little I could say about it that could embody just how powerful it really was. Courtney, if you read this, thank you, thank you, thank you, for saying so many things that badly needed to be said. Every single person I’ve spoken to has said that this speech was one of the main highlights, if not the highlight, of the conference.

Were you at any of the Feminist Porn Week events? What were the highlights for you?

Heads up: there’s a sponsored link in this post!