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Sex work in the age of social distancing

INTERVIEW! Bordellos are closed and Berlin's sex workers are feeling the pinch. BDSM and fetish domina 'Lady Thora' tells us how the sex industry is coping with going contactless.

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Photo courtesy of Lady Thora. A Berlin sex worker tells us if a Corona-induced digital turn on really hits the spot with her clients.

With schools, stages and clubs, bordellos were among Berlin’s first institutions to fall victim of the virus, and the city’s sex workers are feeling the pinch. Thirty-two year-old domina ‘Lady Thora’ (a wink to her Icelandic roots) from Spandau-based BDSM fetish Studio Avalon tells us how the industry is coping with going contactless…

So, is the sex industry on stand-by?

When it comes to the studio sessions, everything just went silent. We didn’t get any request for personal sessions anymore, it completely shut down. The studio has to remain closed until April 20, probably longer we think. All the sex workers have had to stop working there, but now the dominas are trying to switch over to digital. We might go to the BDSM studio just to have the background image because the clients do like to see them in that space. We’re trying to be creative, but unlike many other professions we can’t truly do a full switch over. It’s not as lucrative and it’s more difficult for our activities to translate in an online medium. We are setting up Skype sessions, distance domming sessions and stuff like that so we can at least try to make some money. I think our biggest challenge now is how we can actually get that money to us because PayPal, for example, doesn’t allow sex work and there are some websites that allow it but then there’s always commissions you have to take out. So that’s like the hardest thing to bypass right now. How do we actually get paid.

It’s easy to get a guy to go get some clamps from his home laundry room and have them put them on their nipples, you know? We just give them orders.”

How much can you really do through Skype?

At the studio we do anything from BDSM to bondage to pet play and impact play and all kinds of other stuff. We have a clinic where we do small medical procedures, a bit of needle play, a latex room, I mean really anything under the sun when it comes to fetish and BDSM play is available at the studio. Sometimes there is a lot of contact, sometimes there isn’t. And right now with the switch over it does become more difficult, but the 20 or so women who work there are really creative, we have our ways – and it’s easy to get a guy to go get some clamps from his home laundry room and have them put them on their nipples, you know? Basically it’s that, we just give them orders. We have chastity play, which is a really big thing through distance domming – they have to report to us things like erections, they cannot orgasm or masturbate, or we get to choose when, where or if. And of course video chat sessions, that’s something the dominas are getting into.

The mistresses and the dominas have some very dedicated slaves. And people get really bored at home!”

A digital turn on, does that hit the spot for your clients?

I think it’s a challenge. They’re not alone at home mostly, they have roommates and other such things. It gives them less privacy to do the things that they want to do and a lot of people aren’t exactly out and proud, it’s hard when everyone is quarantined in your home with you. But I think they’ll survive a month or two! As long as they do get some of their entertainment online and they can do virtual sessions with their mistresses, things will be fine. The mistresses and the dominas have some very dedicated slaves. And people get really bored at home!

But were you worried about getting coronavirus at the studio?

No, not at all. After each session the room is thoroughly disinfected, all the tools are disinfected, everything is washed and cleaned. We wear latex gloves most of the time during the session. Everything is very clean and we have very good rules in place about how to keep it that way.

Do you miss going to work there?

Very much. It was a fun job, I enjoyed it a lot. I walked out of there smiling most of the time. I like the environment, I like my colleagues, they’re all very supportive and always willing to help out and teach me things. I miss my clients, I really do. And of course the income as well, to be honest.

I was making €400-500 a week. This is financially ruining of course. I just got established and suddenly everything stops.”

How much income are you losing now the studio is closed?

I had only been working there since February, so just new off the boat I guess, and this whole thing happens. Because I don’t have a big client base yet and I only did two shifts a week, which were six hours each, I was making €400-500 a week. This is just financially ruining of course. I mean I have no idea about the future, I just came to this country, I just moved and got established and everything was going flyingly well and suddenly everything just stops. I’m not really sure how this is going to go, but I’m hopeful and I’m positive, I’m not going to leave Berlin, that’s for sure, but aside from the online domina work, I’m not getting any other income now.

Are you entitled to any financial support?

The Goverment is opening up the option for us to apply for support because we are freelance sex workers, but I guess you would have had to have had paid taxes which I haven’t as I only started a month ago. I’m going to apply for it and see what happens. But the other women, I think they are all going to apply because for a lot of them this was their only job. They don’t have a fall back job like I do, which is working in a restaurant – but that’s also closed (laughs). Through the restaurant job, I’ll hopefully be able to get on this compensation the Government is making available for people who are not working. As long as I have enough for rent.

How about the studio, will it survive the lockdown?

They’re trying to help us sell vouchers for when we can finally open. Clients can buy special deals, such as pay for four upfront and you get the fifth session free. The studio is very active on social media and reminding our clients of it. They’re doing everything they can, but they’re also in the same situation. It’s hard to keep a business running with little or no revenue for months. We’re trying to do everything we can and help each other out as much as possible.

And post-Corona? What’s your prognosis for your career and sex studios like the one you work at?

There’s always a market for this, I know I’ll always find another studio if needs be. But I really liked this one and want to stay working there. If it has to stay closed for six months or something, I’ll do whatever I can to help them out with online sessions at the studio as long as we can actually travel within the city, just to help keep them afloat.