This article originally appeared on VICE UK
When it comes to designing a dream office, most companies can’t seem to get more creative than bean bags, a pool table, and a few potted plants. Things get more complicated when it comes to sex work. “We’d have a brothel cat,” one sex worker told me. “Maybe a hot tub?” said Kate, who works in London. “That might be a little decadent but can you imagine how much more fun the sacred act of complaining about your last client would be if you were in a hot tub?”
How you’d organize a workplace—safety, support, hot-tubs for bitching sessions, cake—is a conversation I’ve heard many times as sex workers discuss the fact that, in the UK, working together is illegal. While selling sex is legal, brothel-keeping is not, thanks to the archaic and poorly designed laws that govern the industry.
So before you even get to the hot-tubs and cake, there’s the crucial issue of safety. Nowadays, most UK sex workers make their livings indoors, either working for agencies or independently. That’s a lot of women routinely working alone, in hotels or flats or strangers’ homes. Surely there’s a better, safer way. I asked some sex workers what their ideal workplace would look like, if we lived in a country that actually embraced decriminalization.
19 years old
I often talk about this. My ideal brothel would be a co-op situation with me and a bunch of friends, with us not necessarily all doing the same sort of work. We could have a BDSM floor and vanilla floor. We’d have a chocolate fountain, and cake, and tea and coffee. There’d be a big kitchen so we could cook.
You’d have the freedom to work whenever you want, knowing you had friends there. After you’d had a booking you could debrief with each other. It would be about the camaraderie; that’s a really attractive aspect of decriminalization. I’m sick of being stuck in a hotel room or traveling to someone’s house on my own. I can communicate with sex-working friends but it’s not the same as working together and I still feel isolated.
27 years old
Besides the scanty facilities, my main complaint about brothels is usually the management, from the services they insist you provide to the shifts they make you work. “Don’t ever tell them you’ve got thrush,” one woman warned me. “They’ll make you work anyway. Say you’ve got food poisoning or something.”
Sex workers running things themselves seems vastly preferable. When I consider it seriously though, I wonder how we’d manage things like finding ourselves passed over by clients, for not offering certain services or for charging more than other workers—or even because oppressive beauty standards affect how much business we get. I get excited about the possibilities but I’m brought back down to earth when I remember that so many of these problems with work are problems of capitalism. Still, they’re more often than not exacerbated by bosses.
37 years old
The things I miss most are what most people take for granted: being able to chat with workmates, moan about work, that sort of thing. So my ideal would be a workers’ co-op like they have in New Zealand. We would share the bills, and just be there for each other. It would also be cool if we could all pay into a fund to cover us if we were ill and unable to work.
I picture somewhere as non-stereotypical as possible. Bedrooms more like you’d find in a good Airbnb, and the biggest, most powerful washing machine money could buy. I’d put an old antique mirror in every bedroom. Clients are dull and think watching themselves is hot, but at least the mirror could look good.
The co-op would have panic buttons in all the rooms, too. It’s not nice to think about the bad side, but we have to be realistic, and it would be such a relief to know if anything did happen, the police would be instantly alerted.
39 years old
The thing with BDSM is that it can really work well if you have a lot of really good kit, but that can be expensive. As a pro-Domme, it’d be much easier if I could work with other people and we could share the equipment—and maybe even get business loan. I’d like to work from a big, detached house and set it up with themed rooms. There’d be a clinic, a dressing room for people who like to cross-dress, a throne room with cages, and a wet room where you could do messy play.
It would attract experts in all kinds of BDSM or fetish play so it would really be a center for learning. You could have classes there and help the public to explore their fantasies safely. Criminalization is a barrier to so many things, including the educational side of sex work. My ideal kink brothel would be a place where sex workers could learn skills from each other, and could work together in sessions legally.
22 years old
The dream brothel I’d like to work in would be run collectively. The workers would go in daily rotation of managing ads, taking calls from clients, and other pressing matters. The clients would look on a website and call up to choose which person they want to meet, so that the workers don’t have to do a line-up.
I wouldn’t want to work in too big a brothel, perhaps four or five workers together at once. The workers would be very supportive, so no competition—no matter what your body type or gender, you’d be welcome to work there.
The whole place would be decorated in vintage chic. The hallway the clients would walk in through would have a camera so that all the sex workers could see who the client was for safety. There’d also be a lovely chill out room with a bed and books.
33 years old
I work independently, but if I could share a flat with other workers without getting arrested, I would. We could form a co-op or just support each other informally.
Being in my 30s and trans, I’m not very marketable so I have to hustle a lot for very few bookings. Considering how little use my room gets for what it costs, splitting the rent would mean I’d be under less pressure to choose between destitution and a dodgy sounding client.
Prohibitionists talk about how we need the cops to protect us from “pimps.” Clearly they don’t know what cops are like. Often it’s exactly the other way around. But bosses come with a lot of disadvantages: they restrict your freedom to work how you’d like, they take a cut of your earnings, they’re often abusive. Under decriminalization, we’d have less need for bosses, which is why many of them are against it.