PHD: “Women who buy sex in Australia” Hilary Caldwell, 2018 | Respect QLD

Women who buy sex in Australia: From social representations to lived experiences

This project aims to explore the phenomenon of women buying sex in Australia. In
doing so, I provide the first empirical evidence of women buying sex in Australia and form a
baseline from which further research can be conceptualised. The project investigates the
phenomenon by assessing what people say about women buying sex, what sex workers say,
and then specifically asks women about their experiences buying sex.

Sex workers themselves may have pre-conceived and stereotypical ideas about female clients, such as one who said: “One of them came in and really surprised me. She just didn’t seem like the type. Actually, I suppose none of them really seem like the type”. Sex workers’ unanimous assertion that female clients are diverse may be an acknowledgement and rebuttal of female client stereotypes. Stereotypes of heterosexual women who buy sex, often portrayed in media, describe women as rich, lonely, bored, or busy. Male sex workers actively reported that women who bought sex were not all rich housewives or time-poor businesswomen. Some rather disappointed female sex workers remarked that not many women who buy sex from them were “hard core dykes”. One female sex worker said, “You know, there is nothing that makes someone unusual for buying sex whether they are male or female, they could be anyone”

The women clients had various motivations to buy sex from seeking therapy to fun. They said they generally felt empowered however, they feared stigma and criminalisation. Australian based research on the sex industry is internationally important because the sex industry is at present, largely legalised/decriminalised, meaning participant and researcher efforts are not skewed to clandestine or illegal activities. The importance of exploring women buying sex extends beyond academic debate about female sexuality and into socio-political spheres. Thus far, a lack of scholarly research about women buying sex contributes to maintaining their erasure or misrepresentation in debate. This thesis provides the first empirical evidence of women buying sex in Australia.

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