Author and sex worker Tilly Lawless reveals the biggest misconception about the industry

Sydney-based sex worker and author Tilly Lawless. Photo/


In Tilly Lawless’s debut novel, Nothing But My Body, the 26-year-old narrator reflects on how sex work is similar to many other jobs – athlete, nurse, therapist, babysitter – until ‘until her reverie is interrupted by the fact she washes the semen off her hands.

The book is a work of fiction – but Lawless, like its protagonist, is a young queer sex worker from northern New South Wales. She moved to Sydney after graduating from high school – and when Centrelink failed to cover the cost of living in her first year of college, she turned to the work industry of the sex.

“During my second year, I was like, ‘What can I do? What’s supposed to be financially lucrative and not take away from my study time?’ ” she told

So she googled escort and didn’t look back – first from an escort job to a massage parlour, then to a brothel, then to a private escort, then to a job. brothel.

An industry where work involves being placed in such a vulnerable position with strangers may seem overwhelming to some, but for Lawless it has been “a breeze”.

“That’s not to say it’s not hard for other people, it was just for me. I think it’s because I’m gay too, so the first client I slept with was not than the second man I’ve slept with in my life, and it was actually so easy. When you’ve slept with mostly women, sleeping with men is a piece of cake,” she said. laughing.

“They come so much easier – you just have to put yourself in sexy positions. You actually don’t have to try very hard, so for me I found that to be an anticlimax when I started sex work, because I was like, ‘Oh, lol, they come so easily’.”

Having been in the industry for nine years now, Lawless says she’s become much better at handling clients than when she was younger, and “handling different scenarios if [the client] is difficult or has too much ego”.

Instead, the biggest hurdle she faces, like all other millennials, is burnout.

“I had no awareness of burnout, you know? For me, it was, as I said, child’s play. I didn’t get properly burned until maybe three or four years in the industry… So I wouldn’t say it’s gotten harder over time, but I’ve had to deal with burnout, like anyone who’s done it full time after a few years .”

“When you’ve slept with mostly women, sleeping with men is a breeze,” Lawless said. Photo / Instagram/@tilly_lawless

Her work also made her “much more celibate than people would expect me to be in my private life, and purely interested in sex with an emotional connection”.

While Lawless says there has always been a demarcation between her and her work, as well as an “emotional separation” from her clients – something she notes may be more difficult for her friends in the industry who are heterosexuals – she now “barely” has sex in her private life.

“Because I can’t – you know, sometimes I have ‘fun’ sex for work, like most sex isn’t good sex, but sometimes it’s good or fun – and I say, ‘Why would I have sex for free? when I could have nice, fun sex that I get paid for,” she explained.

“So I’m literally only interested in having sex with someone if I have a bit of an emotional connection to them. I feel like if I wasn’t doing sex work I would be having a lot more sex casual or I would date, but I have no interest in dating people or meeting new people because every time I meet a client, it’s like a blind date.”

As to whether it’s ever created problems in her personal romantic relationships, Lawless says it hasn’t — likely because she’s dated women who aren’t threatened by her sleeping with them. men for work, and also because she often hates people within the industry.

The only time a partner became uncertain was when she dated another worker who “would get jealous if I made more money than her.”

“Dating me, if we worked the same shift and I was picked by more guys, she would argue with me because she was upset that I was picked more than her,” Lawless recalled.

At the same time, Lawless has worked to overturn negative public perceptions of sex workers through her social media posts — sprawling captions that detail a job booking or a queer party she’s been at. attended, love life or hometown – and website columns.

When asked if it was a conscious effort for her to help destigmatize a workforce long relegated to stereotypes of girls with “daddy issues” and Julia Roberts fantasies in Pretty Woman, Lawless says it was much more “inadvertently” at first.

In fact, she went viral around the world after responding to an article from an Australian publication that claimed the aforementioned Roberts character was not “the face of prostitution”; it was rather the “face” of “that woman beaten in a gutter or something”.

“I thought I was just telling my followers, and then it got bigger than that, so I was like, ‘Oh fuck, now the internet knows I’m a sex worker and it’s never going to go away because it’s my real name and my real face,” Lawless said.

“And then I was like, well, I’m in a position now that so many sex workers are terrified because they might lose custody of their children or lose their normal job, or lose a partner or a family. And I was like, well I’ve risked all of this before, so I felt like I had an obligation to use this in any way I could.”

In the decade since entering the industry – which she has no plans to leave any time soon – Lawless has also been working on her book, with a second slated for release. later this year, and a draft of a third is currently in the works.

Nothing But My Body can explore the life of a sex worker and be partly based on Lawless’ own experiences and observations, “I deliberately wanted to write fiction to be like, sex workers can write au- beyond memories.

“I wanted sex work to literally be part of the atmosphere the same way Sydney was the atmosphere,” she added.

“Whereas I wanted the real topics that the character questions to be romantic love and mental health and queer community and what it means to create family and friendship and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t want to really sex work to be the subject of the matter.”

The theme of friendship was particularly important – which “for homosexual people is really important, or was historically important and still is for many, because maybe their family did not accept them and friendship therefore formed the place of the family and became this structure for life that they could count on”.

“I also know that a lot of queers are more critical of the type of romantic love structure, like a partner that you’re with forever – and so I think when you become critical of those island partnerships, like nuclear family , you’ve really started celebrating and relying on friendship a lot more,” Lawless said.

“I think friendship is one of the things that lasts and we need to nurture, rather than a relationship with one person that you exclude everyone else from.”

Lola R. McClure