women of the world

What It’s Like to Be a Legal Sex Worker in New Zealand

Photo: Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Women of the World is a series of snapshots of how women live, in honor of International Women’s Day. In New Zealand, the government fully decriminalized sex work in 2003, making it legal for any citizen aged 18 or over to buy or sell sexual services. Sex workers are free to solicit on the street, run a brothel or see clients at home, and they’re protected by employment and human-rights legislation. The Cut spoke to a 52-year-old sex worker from Auckland who goes by the name Bubbles to find out what her life is like.

I started 17 years ago so I’m a bit of an old hand (excuse the pun). I was working in a factory and I needed a new car. I loved sex and one of my friends said, “Why don’t you get paid for it?” I quit my job and never looked back.

My average workweek looks like this: on Monday, I look at all my bills and decide if it will be a busy week, or a cruis-y week. I’m usually part-time, but no week’s the same. I advertise in our national newspaper and Backpage. I get about $700 a week, which is an average wage here. I pay taxes — this is work like any other job. I mainly work from home with two other ladies.

My clients are just normal men who want to get rid of some sexual frustration. Some look so young that I have to ask them for ID because the law say that you have to be 18 to pay for sex. Those young guys are the hardest to work with — they are such babies. Elderly gentlemen are lovely because all they want is company, cuddles, skin to skin, someone to talk to. They’re usually on too much medication to get anything up. I’ve built up a good client base. I have about four regulars I’ve been seeing my whole career and a gentleman in his 80s who I’ve been seeing nearly a decade. He’s in an old-age home and his caregiver found us for him.

In this country, “full service” means a hand job, blow job, massage and full sex, and I let them take a shower as well. That’s $120 an hour, but I’m cheap. One of the women who works from my house is a lot younger, so she has a higher rate and clients have to pay more for “extras” like going down on her or kissing. I’m old school, so I only charge extra for “backdoor.”

Before sex work was decriminalized I had to be very careful about wording when I advertised. I couldn’t imply that there was sex involved. Now I can state very clearly, “Please do not ask for any services without a condom.” I will not have sex without one, and I do not kiss my clients. If I was working in America, carrying condoms when I go on home visits would be risky because if you’re caught the police can use them as evidence and get you for soliciting. That’s not safe for anyone. Decriminalization allows me to advertise my services transparently, plus I don’t have to work alone and I’m in charge of my schedule. Also, I’m not constantly scared about who will come knocking because I know it will be a client and not an undercover cop.

Because my work is legal, if anything goes wrong, the police have to help. Before the law changed I had a panic button and a cricket bat under my bed. I once broke a client’s finger because he tried to take his condom off mid-sex. Looking back, I shouldn’t have worked with him. We were at his house and the first room he took me to had bunk beds. I said, “I am not having sex in your children’s bedroom!” Then he took me to another room and it had Jesus Christ all over the walls — talk about warning bells! Now if a client takes his condom off I can go to the police and report it, and if I want to take it further and go to court, I’m most welcome. I can also call the cops if a client robs me. A couple of years ago, a woman took her parlor owner to court for sexual harassment — isn’t that awesome?

I feel like I found my calling. I’ve come out of my shell and I love what I do. I take time to put them at ease, work my personality. There’s a reason I’m called Bubbles: we always have a laugh. I’m married to a guy I met on the job — kinda like an office romance, except I made a lot of money from him first. We take lovely vacations together with my sex-work money.

A few years ago I realized that as much as I’d like to do this forever, my body will eventually shut up shop, so I went to university and did my bachelor of social practice for backup, and sex work helped me pay the way. When I do retire, I know that when those bills come along I’ll probably put an ad in the paper from time to time, you know, “This weekend only … Bubbles is back!”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What It’s Like to Be a Legal Sex Worker in New Zealand