A few months ago I was listening to a podcast from ABC radio between Rachel Wotton and Richard Fidler. It was one of the most interesting interviews I've ever heard, and I really wanted to do an interview with Rachel myself, for this blog. I was struck by her empathy, compassion and dedication. She was so well spoken. I contacted Rachel by email immediately after the interview, and spoke to her a few days later. I asked her for an interview as I am so interested in the concept of skin hunger.
Touching Base website:
Touching Base provides people with disabilities and their carers information about how to access sex workers, as well as providing disability education to sex workers, and training for the disability service providers."Touching Base developed out of the need to assist people with disabilities and sex workers to connect with each other, focusing on access, discrimination, human rights and legal issues and the attitudinal barriers that these two marginalised communities can face."
A documentary called Scarlet Road aired on Australian TV last year, and Rachel tells me it's just aired on TV in Switzerland and in film festivals in Canada. Scarlet Road showcases Rachel's work with her clients, and highlights the positive difference she makes to her clients' lives.
About 18 months ago, I did a radio interview on 3CR about sex and dating. I was asked about my thoughts on people with disabilities using sex workers. To be honest, I was quite confronted by this question. I was not prepared for it, and my personal view was that I wouldn't use one. However, after some thought, the Scarlet Road documentary and Rachel's interview on ABC, I could see the role of sex workers in ensuring people with disabilities have access to sex and intimacy. I came to realise that sex workers are equally about companionship and intimacy as they are about sex. And Rachel's interview with Richard Fidler and also with me really demonstrated the way two marginalised communities come together.
Sex is often a taboo topic among families and carers of people with disabilities. There is sometimes the assumption that people with disabilities are asexual and do not want or need sex or intimacy. It can also be difficult for people with disabilities to access sex.
Here's Rachel's story. Thank you for your time Rachel, I appreciate it.
Carly: Why do you take care of people with disabilities?
Rachel: "I do not "take care of" people with disabilities - I merely treat everyone with dignity and respect and that includes my clients. Some of my clients just happen to be living with disability so I just modify my services to best fit their needs.
I find people very interesting - the things that are similar in all humans and also the 'uniqueness' of each person. This flows into my work. Every scar tells a story. Every client teaches me something - whether it be about the kind of work they do, their hobby, where they went on holidays, what music they're listening to, the wine they like to drink... I am also learning more about how to best provide services to clients with disability via my clients. They know their bodies best and how they can and can't move. They teach me about their limitations and how they have learned to adapt. I have also learned a lot about how modern technology has assisted so many people to communicate - the iPad has given so many people the freedom to directly communicate with others in such quick and easy ways. It's amazing!"
Tell me about some of the intimate services you provide, and why are these so important? Keep in mind my blog is M rated! I really like your discussion about touch and hair washing on Richard Fidler's show.
"I provide a range of services to my clients depending on their needs. Yes, I spoke about the simple beautiful appreciation of just being able to touch another person and the joy of washing someone's hair on the Richard Fidler show. I know that people also take the sheer joy of spooning for granted but a lot of people never get to experience what it's like to have another naked body up against yours. Everyone has their own thing that makes them happy. The main thing is always about consent. People get so caught up in what sex workers provide and to whom and when and how much but it really isn't anyone's business. It is a mutually consenting service between two adults.
I do like to stress though that seeing a sex worker for many people with a disability is just one of many options for someone to pursue sexual expression. I never advocate this as the only option but it is an option that shouldn't be taken away from someone just because others are morally opposed to it or it isn't for them. It's about choice. Just because someone has a disability doesn't mean they should suddenly lose the right to be treated as an adult when it comes to matters of sexual expression."
How do you define skin hunger?
"Skin hunger - you can google it and come up with a lot of people writing about it - ie: an Urban Dictionary definition and Dawn Lees.
As you would have heard me talk about on Richard's show - we are bombarded with information to eat well, exercise daily, don't drink too much, stop smoking etc. Everyone forgets that the skin in the largest organ of the body. Some people are lucky enough to always hug and kiss their friends and family hello and good bye. Others are more isolated and perhaps are working in a world where they only shake peoples' hands. Others have no other regular contact with other humans at all. Skin hunger to me is the craving of regular touch from others in a caring way. Even a regular therapeutic massage or scalp massage from your hairdresser can make you feel buoyant and more in touch with your body. That in turn can awaken a desire for a deeper level of intimacy or touch from another in a more sexual way. I, as a sex worker, provide services to consenting adults who wish to spend some quality time with a woman which can include being intimate with me. I get to put a smile on someone's face and make them feel good about themselves. To me this is a great job!"
How do you change the perception and stereotype of sex workers?
"There are many sex workers and our allies across the globe trying to change peoples' perception of sex workers and our clients. Consenting to be a part of Scarlet Road is my small contribution to making people stop and consider the issues from a different angle. I wanted people to 'walk a mile' in my own shoes and see what I see.
In the film you can see some of the amazing and talented sex workers and friends in my life. You see the diverse range of people involved in the sex industry. We come in all shapes and sizes, different ages, work and live in different countries. Yet we all fight for Decriminalisation. This is the only regulatory framework that treats the sex industry equally to other occupations and also removes the police from the equation. The police cannot be their to do their job (to fight crime, take reports from the public about crimes committed against them and apprehend criminals) if they are also the ones regulating and 'policing' the sex industry and treating us as criminals.
The abhorrent "Swedish Model" laws that, among other things, criminalise the clients treats all sex workers as victims without the ability to consent. The Swedish Government says that there is no such thing as consensual sex work and all clients rape us.This is insulting and demeaning. Scarlet Road clearly shows that this is NOT how the sex industry operates and that sex workers are quite capable in articulating what with keep us safe, eliminate corruption and give us our Industrial Rights, provide good and concise Occupational Health & Safety guidelines and protect our Human Rights.
People have such a black ideology about who is involved in the sex industry and what's involved. I always try to normalise it to what it is. People are going to bars and going online to dating and pick up sites to get a date and to have sex. No one cares how many times a week their neighbour has sex or who they are doing it with. No one cares about who is or isn't using a condom and certainly no one cares to monitor if anyone at the bars and clubs and online is every getting an STI check up. Suddenly when you actually say that you are calmly negotiating what you will and wont do with the other person, arrange a mutually beneficial time to meet, have a clear discussion about safer sex practices and just happen to put a monetary value on this exchange - THEN people get their knickers in a twist and feel that they have the right to talk about you. They suddenly feel that they are threatened by you and suddenly that both the clients and the sex workers need to be in isolation far away from everyone else in the public. Yet people forget that we ARE part of the general public. We ARE the parents at the P & C meetings, we ARE the people buying milk at Coles, we ARE your neighbours, we ARE someone's son or daughter, we ARE sitting next to you in the cinema.
So, I always try to normalise things. People try to talk about the sex industry like it's the worse thing in the world but people are having sex all the time and no one cares about that. It seems that it's ok to give it away for free but if you add money to the bedside table suddenly it becomes a horrible experience in their eyes. It's not for everyone but then that can be said for every occupation. Personally I would hate to be a garbage collector because I hate getting up in the morning so early! I'd hate to be a pilot because I'm afraid of heights. I couldn't stand being a bank teller ... but I'm very glad someone else is doing that job so there's people there at the bank each day. I don't spend very much time cooking so I'm very thankful that if I choose to go to a restaurant or order take away that there are people there happy and willing and able to provide those services for me. AND I PAY THEM for such services. This is no different for sex workers and our clients. The only difference is that the garbage collectors, the pilots, the chefs and the bank tellers all have laws supporting them and the public who do not overtly discriminate against them for their occupational choice."
Listen to Rachel's interview with Richard Fidler.
Read more about Scarlet Road.
Read more about Touching Base.
View Rachel's website.