Sex workers talk about sex work: Six contradictory characteristics of legalised sex work in Melbourne, Australia

Sufia Begum, Jane S. Hocking, Jan Groves, Christopher K. Fairley, Louise A Keogh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Despite research suggesting that legal sex work is safe and that emotional risks and social stigma are of greater concern than health risks, much research on sex work has focused on health risks. Given the legalisation of sex work in Victoria, Australia, it is timely to look beyond health. Three focus groups were conducted with a total of 14 female sex workers on their experience of legal sex work, both positive and negative, and the social acceptability of their profession. Thematic analysis was used to identify the key ways that sex workers described sex work. Women saw legal sex work as safer than illegal sex work, but still not socially acceptable. However, they also described six contradictory elements of sex work, which was seen as: financially rewarding and entrapping; empowering and demeaning; increasing some opportunities while reducing others; flexible and demanding; offering both intimacy and competition; and leading to a 'double life'. While legalisation has improved the safety of sex work, stigma and discrimination persist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-100
Number of pages16
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • job satisfaction
  • sex work
  • stigma

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