interview with a former receptionist at a legal brothel

Last week, I answered a question from a reader wondering how to list her job as a receptionist at a brothel (which is legal in her state) on her resume. Since that’s an industry not typically discussed in the context of workplace advice, I thought it would be interesting to talk to her about how she fielded some of the work situations that came up there, and she graciously agreed to let me interview her for a post here.

Here’s our Q&A. Warning: Given the subject matter, there’s some mild discussion of the existence of sex.

What was the interview process for the job like?

I had heard about the open position through an acquaintance, so I think that my interview was a bit more low key than it would have been for others. Generally, though, it’s not the kind of job that you put a resume in for.

Does that mean that it’s typically filled through people the business knows (or someone connected to the business knows)? Why do you think that is?

In my state, brothels aren’t allowed to advertise for any kind of position, so if you’re a sex worker or a licensed brothel manager (read: receptionist) and you’re looking for a job, you’re relying on either word of mouth or just calling around to find somewhere. There’s enough turnover that it’s not that hard to find something. I think that there’s a lot of competition and a bit of animosity between businesses, so I don’t think that business managers call each other to get references about receptionists, hence not really bothering with a resume.

There’s still so much stigma around the industry, which I think leads to prejudice like thinking that everyone else in the industry is not to be trusted, so I think that’s why business managers like recommendations from people they trust. And I trained some unsuitable people while I was there, so I totally understand that line of thinking. Not everyone is has the right personality for reception work and some people are just batshit crazy no matter where they work.

What were your basic responsibilities?

Answering the telephone (the most common question was “Who’s on today?”), making sure that the rooms were tidy and that laundry was being done by the ladies throughout the shift, buzzing the rooms to let the lady and the client know that their time was almost up, letting ladies know when their “Doctor’s Certificate” was due (they are required to be tested for all STIs every three months and then to give their workplace a certificate to show that they have been tested).

Note: I don’t generally like to refer to adult woman as “girls” and I’m not much of a fan of the word “lady” either, but these seem to be common industry-speak. They’re short for “working girl” and “working lady.” The official term is apparently “Service Provider,” but that sounds pretty clinical. 

What did you find most challenging about the work?

There was a period of time where I was switching between day and night shifts and that was hard on my body and mind. I eventually switched to night shift and embraced my unusual hours, but night shift comes with its own challenges. If you work day shift, you can build up a rapport with lots of the regulars, but the clients who came in during night shift were a wild card. Some of them really lovely, but some of them very drunk or on drugs, or otherwise difficult. Sometimes the girls were difficult too, and that was hard to deal with at 3 am.

Difficult in what sense? And what was your role / how did you handle it when that happened?

For the most part, what society tells you about sex workers (at least here, in a legalised industry) is completely wrong. Most of the girls are normal and trustworthy and a joy to work with. But this means that the rare few who were on drugs were so much more difficult to work with in comparison. There are very strict laws against having drugs or alcohol on premises, so when there were ladies on drugs on shift, I wasn’t just worried about their safety (in terms of potentially overdosing, or not being in the best state of mind to be working) but I was also worried about the business potentially losing its licence if the police happened to stop by. Businesses will generally have some processes in place like random bag and locker checks (we had to mention this when a lady started at the business) and the owner and business manager were supportive of me and trusted that I would manage my shift how I had to.

I wanted to be on great terms with the ladies I worked with, but I also had to be assertive and stick to my word. I sent a lady home once because she was drunk and she refused a locker check. When she realised that I was going to send her home, she agreed to the locker check. After she had hidden her vodka elsewhere.

What did you like best about the job?

I learned some really excellent ways of communicating with people about difficult topics. I’ve had to tell clients that their regular lady doesn’t want to stay with them anymore and I’ve also had to tell a guy that he had terrible B.O, and that’s why no one would stay with him. He kept coming in and actually dealt with the B.O!

I’m completely impressed that you told someone about his terrible B.O. That’s hard to do! And it was a successful outcome too. On behalf of all the managers who are uncomfortable dealing with this, what did you say? Any advice for doing it well?

The whole story is that he had already tried to book a couple of girls and they both said no. A third lady, who was very experienced and said that she could deal with anything, took him upstairs and then sent him down again because she could absolutely not deal with it. So, he knew something was up. I said to him, “Hey, this is really hard to tell someone, but the reason that the ladies don’t want to stay with you is because you have very strong body odour. Please make sure you wash really well and use deodorant and we’ll see you again soon, okay?”

Let’s talk management. In some ways, I’d think that good management would be even more important in this type of business, because sex is so fraught with the opportunity for people to behave weirdly. Comparing it to other jobs you’ve had or jobs people you’re close to have had, would you say the management practices/systems were pretty similar, or did you see things done differently from a management perspective than what you’ve seen in other sectors? (I don’t even know what I’m thinking of here, specifically. Just wondering if anything stood out to you as different/unusual/notable.)

I think compared to other industries, there is a lot more importance on getting to know the girls on your shift and how they tick, so that you can work with them best. I’m sure this happens everywhere, but not quite to the same extent. As a receptionist, you have to keep the girls, the clients, and management happy. That might mean making sure that you ring the pizza place on behalf of one of the girls, to make sure that she can have lunch on time, so that she doesn’t keep her regular client waiting, because if you upset him he’ll only book for two hours and not three! It might mean co-ordinating everything around letting a girl who is having a really busy day have cigarette breaks.

The nature of the work does add an extra element to it, I would try to always check in with the girls to make sure that they were comfortable and that they knew they could talk to me and we would find ways to work around issues. I think one time I told a client that his regular lady was running late because I was a “hard ass” and had made her fold some towels. He laughed and waited the five minutes. She was probably actually still with another client, and I never liked telling a client that.

With most jobs, no matter how exotic or unusual, at some point they start feeling mundane. For instance, I used to work on marijuana policy, but was focused the administrative work of running the organization, not thinking “hey, this is about WEED.” Did you have a similar experience, where after a point you stopped thinking “hey, sex is happening!” and were exclusively focused on just ensuring things were running like they were supposed to? If so, how long did that take to happen?

I don’t know if I ever thought “sex is happening!” I think that as a straight woman in a brothel, from the start I was just shown the business side of things and I just either never thought that much about what was going on upstairs or I could never really think of what was happening as sexual. My only concern was that the ladies were safe and had been paid by the client.

{ 213 comments… read them below }

  1. Eli*

    What a fun, interesting, and informative Q&A. Thank you Alison :) And interviewee (OP?), you sound like a really great person to work with!

      1. LPBB*

        That was absolutely fascinating! I love talking to people who have unusual jobs and finding out about different industries. Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview.

  2. Adam*

    If you get the opportunity, Alison, I would definitely vote in favor of more posts like these (interviews with people about their jobs, particularly if they’re unusual). This type of job is something I would never feel comfortable doing, so hearing a little bit what it was like was fascinating to me.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yes – and not necessarily only people with very unusual jobs. I’m just as clueless about the world of accounting as a I am about the world of brothel managers. :)

    2. louise*

      Yes, more interviews! And/or guest posts! I really appreciated it a few years ago when everyone’s favorite commenter, Jamie, (right? Oh. Just me? Guess I’m a weird stalker) guest posted.

      That said, I fell in love with this site because I’m a sucker for good advice columns, so I wouldn’t want to see it go to all interviews or guest posts or get entirely away from bread and butter of advice. In fact, when I read my former favorite columnists (dear prudie, carolyn hax, miss manners) I realize I prefer Alison and Captain Awkward and I want them to re-answer everything I see elsewhere. :)

          1. SA*

            Or, relevantly, sex work questions… I generally think she gives decent advice, but good God is she prudish (heh) about sex work!

      1. LPBB*

        I know this would never happen because WaPo has its own workplace advice column, but I’d love to see a joint Carolyn Hax and Alison chat.

      2. Woodward*

        Yes, I agree. Add more interviews – maybe once a week? But the regular advice column part is why I keep coming back daily.

  3. Jane Jones*

    Hi everyone, interviewee here. It was such a pleasure to be interviewed by Alison and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about my experience.

    1. fposte*

      It was really interesting, Jane; thanks for doing this. I have a somewhat tangential question–your spelling isn’t American, and I was wondering if this was in the US or elsewhere.

          1. Jane Jones*

            It’s actually a bit confusing here because all the states have different laws. In some, it is legalised, in one it is decriminalised, in a couple of others it is criminalised, but I think actually tolerated.

            1. Ms Enthusiasm*

              Jane, would love to see more updates from you on your job search and if your brothel experience comes up at all. Thanks!

        1. Bea W*

          Oh interesting. I assumed Nevada US where in some counties it is also legal. Is it legal in all of Australia or limited to certain regions? How long has it been legal and do you know the history behind it?

          1. Liz*

            Some of your questions have been answered by the lady herself above, but off the top of my head, sex work started being legalised in the late 90s? My mother used to work for a right wing think thank (now there’s an unusual job), and she wrote up a lot of press releases about how it signalled the end of society, etc — that’s how I remember.

            In … hmm, 2004? A friend and I went to a job expo with coffee provided by one of the local legal brothels. It was good coffee! The lady preparing it admitted they were sometimes tempted to ditch the sex work all together and become a cafe.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      This was really interesting and de-mystifying. Thank you for sharing this with us! Alison, this was great.

      I would love to see this as a continued series. Most of my ideas about other jobs come from television (much to the despair of my attorney husband, who is constantly disabusing me of my notions.)

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Yes! There are so many careers that people don’t know about unless they’re the standard ones that you learn about as a kid (doctor, lawyer, firefighter, etc.) or a friend or family member does that job.

        1. Adam*

          And more than that, many careers have a certain mystique about them that people who have never done the job before see that people who actually have done the job and understand the realities of it could dispel.

          1. SH*

            So true, Adam! If I had known what the film industry was really like (a lot of unpaid work) I never would have gotten a degree it in.

        2. Catherine in Canada*

          Yes! Everyone thinks “oh, I like writing, I could be a technical writer!” when actually i) liking writing doesn’t mean you can write ii) tech writing isn’t actually _writing_.

          1. Close to a Fire Fighter*

            Most of it is actually sitting around and waiting. Depending on how busy your station is. They do a lot of training and physical fitness, but then a lot of it is just sitting around waiting for the bell to ring. When the bell rings its almost never a fire – its usually a medical call (more fire fighters are also their state’s first response paramedics). There are also a lot of truly crazy people. It’s a much more boring job than I think most people imagine.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I assume it’s close to the definition I heard of an airplane pilot’s job: Mostly boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

          2. MissLibby*

            My husband is a firefighter and at his department they also spend a lot of time doing public safety and education (installing smoke alarms, fire safety at local schools, extinguisher training for businesses, etc.) and also they do all of their own maintenance on the trucks and building. They really only have downtime overnight and some evenings. A lot of their training happens in the evenings because they are combination department with full and part-time firefighters and that is when the part-timers can train without impacting their regular jobs. Like the other person said, there calls are mostly medicals, and even a good share of the “fire” calls are false alarms.

      2. louise*

        So true! My husband used to be an alarm technician for a boutique provider (i.e. they did some really cool stuff that wasn’t your standard ADT alarm) and would go CRAZY watching anything from the CSI franchise. “You can’t enlarge ONE PIXEL from the reflection off a side view mirror from a car 30 yards from a parking lot camera!” for example. Now that he’s a computer programmer, he doesn’t have much time and rarely watches TV, so I don’t know if he’d have new rants. He seems to think “Have you tried turning off and back on?” from The IT Crowd is spot on. :)

        1. the gold digger*

          I don’t notice the work stuff – they don’t do shows about marketing people in technical companies, I don’t think, and if they did, it would be exciting only if you like watching people put together presentations about software at the last minute – but I do notice things like nuns wearing a rosary as a necklace, which would never happen in real life, and an army sergeant being promoted straight to officer level, which also does not happen.

          1. Laufey*

            I took a single class in forensics in high school to round out my science requirements (i.e., just a basic overview), and CSI drives me crazy. I love it, but it still drives me crazy when they don’t even use gloves in early episodes.

        2. AmyNYC*

          I get (or got, it’s over now) irrationally angry at How I Met Your Mother anytime Ted is being an architect.

          1. Eden*

            LOL, I get this and I have no idea what an architech really does…but I know it wouldn’t look like that!

        3. LizNYC*

          LOVE IT Crowd! And yeah, CSI gets a *bit* carried away with the level of zoom that’s available on some crappy back alley security camera.

        4. Chinook*

          Movies and tv shows about teachers drive me up the wall as well. Either the teachers are too buddy, buddy (which would lead to major classroom control issues) or seen as broken people with a liquor bottle in the desk drawer. Even something like Glee, which is focused on both students and teachers, made me want to scream “they woudl eat you alive.”

          Oh, and I currently hate a coffee commercial up here that shows a teacher going off to work in the morning with a purse over her arm and that’s it. I have never met a teacher who doesn’t haul around atleast one big of homework to mark or books for lesson planning. She is also smiling as she watches teh kids at recess from inside her classroom, enjoying a cup of coffee. More accurately, she should either be drinking her coffee outside on supervision or setting up for her next class.

          1. EM*

            Ah, do not watch the British show Bad Education. It would drive you nuts.

            It’s funny, but so very very obviously not accurate (thank goodness).

      3. A Minion*

        That’s why I stick with The Walking Dead. That way my husband can’t say, “That’s SO unrealistic! I must have killed a dozen zombies at work last week and the way they’re moaning is WAY off. Real zombie hunters know zombie moans are much more gurgly!” ;)

      4. This is She*

        Oh yes. I work for a legal organization, and the lawyers are universally amused/outraged at how their profession is portrayed in movies and TV. One day recently, one very senior fellow started to expound on the unreality of Perry Mason in particular, and everyone else expected him to say it was the neat and clear wrap-up at the end of every hour, dramatic witness box confessions, always get the bad guy (no wrongful convictions), etc. — but he claimed the perfectly spotless, shiny desk, with nary a piece of paper to be seen, was the least realistic aspect!! :)

        1. cuppa*

          It always amazes me how on tv lawyers always have so much time to hang out. The attorneys at the firm I worked at didn’t have that kind of free time.

    3. businesslady*

      thanks for contributing! I used to be fascinated with the documentary series Cathouse on HBO back in the day–not so much the salacious bits, just the general mundanity of the business–so this was right up my alley.

    4. Sigrid*

      Thank you for doing this interview! It was absolutely fascinating, and you sound like a joy to work with.

    5. Alex*

      From the experience you are describing, I think you should feel comfortable in using a title above simple receptionist on your resume. You could use titles like Office Manager or Front Desk manager. The experience you are describing is well above somebody who would strictly answer phones.

      1. Jeanne*

        This is what I was thinking. Receptionist is not a title that covers such a complex job. Your responsibilities were much more than a receptionist usually has.

      2. madge*

        Absolutely, particularly with the excellent client communication skills you have (Having to tell a client they have BO? No thank you, please ask someone else.).

        Thanks for doing the interview – it was really fascinating!

      3. Woodward*

        Yes, I remember the first question and reading this it’s definitely above and beyond Receptionist. Office Manager sounds like a better fit.

  4. TANGO*

    Yes, I very much appreciated this interview. I think the OP learned some very marketable and valuable skills so it’s great to see it was in a “non-traditional” industry.

    1. Jane Jones*

      Good question.

      Clients love receptionists, or better said: they love hitting on receptionists. But I only ever had one client who completely violated boundaries and made me really uncomfortable. He would talk about me with the girls when he was in bookings with them, even after I asked him to stop doing that.

      Most of the time, when a client flirts with the receptionist and says that he wants to get her upstairs instead of one of the working girls, it’s just banter. I would usually use it a bit to my (and the girls’) advantage and engage in some banter with him and then convince him to book one (or more!) of the ladies on shift. Apart from the one really creepy guy, I never felt like any of the flirting was harrassment.

      1. Jake*

        Was there an enforced beauty standard for the receptionists (I’m assuming there was for the sex workers), or did the employers not care too much what you looked like as long as you were good at your job?

        1. Jane Jones*

          My boss definitely preferred it when we dressed up a little and wore make up (I wear at least some make up everyday anyway). She wouldn’t usually pull me up on appearance unless I wore something that she really didn’t like (one day there was torrential rain and I wore Doc Martens and forgot to bring my flats with me. She made sure I knew not to wear them again) but she would make sure that she complimented me when I had put more effort in (eg. maybe if I was wearing lipstick instead of lipbalm). She actually told me one time that this was her strategy.

          1. FRRibs*

            Doc Martins can’t be sexy? You must have had a very narrow target demographic.

            Thanks for the interview!

            1. Jane Jones*

              well, i think they’re cool but they’re not very lady-like and are potentially intimidating, i guess!

        2. SA*

          This is a great question; I’d love to know too. And would they ever have considered a male receptionist? And how would that fit with any applicable employment discrimination laws?

          (I have no idea how those things work in Australia, but in the US I think many sex industry businesses get around age/sex discrimination laws by classifying workers as “models” as part of their job, so they can legally say they’re looking to hire only young women to be combination models and cocktail waitresses, for example. I’d be interested to know if there’s some similar logic going on, or if it’s a different situation.)

          1. Natalie*

            Actually, in the US you don’t have to use the “models” fiction for something like a brothel – it’s a “bona fide occupational qualifier”, a legal reason to discriminate. However, a few places (Abercrombie & Fitch comes to mind) have attempted to hire retail workers as “models” in order to allow them to discriminate. The courts rejected this concept, IIRC.

            1. SA*

              I was thinking more for things like waitresses at strip clubs, or Hooter’s employees, etc., that are in sort of a gray area because they’re in the sex industry in a way but they’re not really sex workers. The “bona fide occupational qualifier” concept makes a lot more sense though (logically and legally)!

              1. Natalie*

                Hooters has actually successfully argued that being female is a BFOQ for the job. I’m not sure about strip club waitresses, but it’s possible that they fall under the employee limit for civil rights protections to apply. The dancers are typically independent contractors, so I don’t think they would count as employees for that threshold.

                1. fposte*

                  Have they prevailed on that in court? I’m just seeing it as their PR move when sued, but it looks to me like they always settle (or lose). Lawyers commenting seem to think that they’d have a tough time winning because it would mean that Hooters’ primary business wasn’t selling food and drink but entertainment; I suspect that that would be particularly problematic in light of their ability to get licensed and zoned under the “we’re just a restaurant, honest!” approach when an entertainment BFOQ would push them off the fast-food strips tout de suite in a lot of towns.

                2. Natalie*

                  Oh, you’re right – it looks like they have settled for cash and not having to change practices. I had assumed “prevailed”, since they have never been made to hire male servers.

                3. fposte*

                  I think it was a previous AAM thread that sent me down that rabbit hole, and it was really interesting to me that they’re kind of walking a tightrope–it might ultimately end up costing them more money if a court *does* rule it’s a BFOQ.

          2. Jane Jones*

            There were a couple of male receptionists who had worked at the brothel before I started, so I never got to meet them unfortunately. Based on comments on client forums (some clients like to talk about their brothel visits on internet forums…), male receptionists aren’t very popular.

            There are some brothels with male sex workers catering to a male client base, so I imagine most of the male receptionists end up working there.

          3. Gene*

            And “young” isn’t necessarily a requirement. One of the most successful workers in Nevada is Air Force Amy, while not in her dotage, she’s not young. But don’t google her from work.

            I remember stopping in at the Green Lantern in Ely, NV to pick up some swag – they were one of the sponsors of the road rally I had entered (Silver State Classic) – and one of the workers there was probably in her 60s. It’s a service industry, and they try to cater to most of the preferences of their clients. As a side note, Mom was my navigator and since we were on the way from the drivers’ meeting, she was in the car with me. I asked if she wanted to come in while I bought my stuff and her reaction was horror, “I’m not going to be seen coming out of a whorehouse!”

            1. FRRibs*

              Ha! Just wiki’ed the SSC; looks fun.

              My grandmother was in NV on a seniors trip and somewhere along the way someone handed her a catalog. She didn’t look at it and when she returned home we didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a brothel directory.

  5. nep*

    Excellent post, Alison. Thanks to you and the interviewee for doing this. Fascinating. A great example of how some things are universal. The circumstances might differ according to our various lines of work, but the ‘themes’ and personal interactions we encounter in our daily working lives have some significant common threads. We are all teachers and all students. (Agree with other commenter that this should be a fairly regular feature.)
    The body odour thing reminds me of a woman working a Delta flight. This woman deserves a medal, huge praise, a promotion. And I told her so. There was a young woman passenger whose body odour was strong and quite noticeable from the time she boarded the plane. She was in my row, across the aisle and a couple seats in. It was quite obvious that people noticed the odour — passengers and flight staff alike. Given that this was an 8.5-hour flight — with a couple of meals — that was going to be a problem. Long story short, one of the flight attendants handled it like an absolute star. One had to see this to appreciate her brilliance. She was competent, cool, sensitive, smart. I told her there should be more people like her in the world. (Outcome was that the young woman with the odour problem spent about 35 minutes in the restroom — with a toiletries kit the attendant discreetly gave her — and when she came out the odour was completely gone.)

      1. nep*

        One of the times the flight attendants were coming down the aisles to give out headsets or water, early in the flight, this one asked her ‘Do you speak English?’ The young woman said she did, and the rock-star flight attendant said ‘OK — I’ll be back in a minute.’ Then she came back a short while later , the toiletries kit in hand and — really you had to be there to see how smooth she was; it’s tough to convey — she got into the row with the young woman, kneeling on the floor, and leaned in and spent a good few minutes talking with her. One could not hear a single word. (As it is, it’s quite noisy on a plane anyway.) I can only guess what she might have said — but she must have said it with such tact and sensitivity. And such respect for this young woman’s dignity. When she finished and walked away, the young woman sat there for a moment, the kit on her lap. It was a powerful moment. After all, how would any of us take something like that? This young woman proved to be an absolute champ too, in my book. After a couple moments she got up and went to the restroom. She emerged after a good while smelling clean and fresh. She asked me a couple of questions about forms and such during the rest of the flight, appearing shy but openly engaging with me and another flight attendant, so she certainly was not cowering the rest of the flight.

        1. Michele*

          My sister is a flight attendant and while she is a bit obnoxious in every day life she is amazing with difficult passengers. A higher up at the FAA actually approached her about a position with her team after seeing how well my sister handled an out of control passenger.

          1. nep*

            Kudos to her. I’ve flown quite a bit over the years and have always admired the ones who do an often tough job with pluck, style, competence, humour, and respect. It’s truly a skill.

          1. nep*

            Only two people know. The rest of us knew only the impact. It’s tough to convey how this went down. I was very moved by the entire thing. It was not just about tact and professionalism; there was something about a woman holding up the dignity of another woman. Having her back. It was for all of the other passengers, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what it meant for that young woman, and about how beautifully she carried herself.
            As the flight attendant came down the aisle later in the flight, I told her, ‘There should be more people like you in the world’. She’s one of those go-to people who you just know could handle anything.

              1. nep*

                Witnessing it brought tears to my eyes for sure. I even got a little teary explaining it to my mom when I got off the flight. Crazy thing — I’d wanted to prolong my stay a bit, but the travel agent couldn’t find anything; flights were booked for weeks. Glad I was on that flight after all.

            1. Headachey*

              Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this story, nep. I love the way you describe the passenger and her response to the flight attendant’s actions, too.

          2. RJ*

            I would like to know what she said specifically, but apparently she used tact and sotto voce so that nobody else could overhear, which is critical in preserving the young woman’s dignity. I would imagine that de-escalation training, like Verbal Judo by George Thompson, would probably be helpful in situation like these. Security expert Gavin de Becker references the “Dignity domino” in his work and how preserving the dignity of others is key in handling sensitive or difficult situations.

            1. nep*

              Makes sense. Verbal Judo sounds interesting — I’ll have to check that out.
              This flight attendant was the epitome of cool and capable. Someone who’s really got her stuff together in a way anyone would aspire to. She certainly left a mark for me, as did the young woman whose behaviour was heartening and heart-warming.
              The flight crew had to do something. I can imagine it could have been handled in a lot of ways that would not have turned out too nicely. The flight attendant’s actions said: ‘You are better than this; you are worth our taking care of this together in a dignified, discreet, respectable way.’

        2. Adam*

          This flight attendant sounds like the ultimate people person or some psychological mastermind. I cannot fathom how she could do that and obtain such a positive outcome.

    1. Traveler*

      Flight attendants and crew have said before that the worst smell in the world is when they open the door of a plane after a long haul flight, because at that point everyone smells (whether good or bad and it’s very concentrated). Don’t know how true that is but I would not doubt it!. Nice of the flight attendant to be so polite to everyone involved (saying something, and doing it in a polite way).

      1. nep*

        Indeed — she took a burden off other passengers and treated this young woman with the utmost respect. Not an easy situation or pleasant conversation to have, but it really could not go unaddressed and this flight attendant took it on. I get it that a mix of a lot of bodies’ odours after a long flight must be awful; take it from me, this was particularly acute and we were all very fortunate this flight attendant was there to truly take care of business.

      1. Malissa*

        Yahoo travel has been doing a series with a flight attendant. Confessions of a fed up flight attendant–it’s an interesting read.

    2. EM*

      There was a TV show on A&E following employees of Southwest Airlines, and there was one woman who had to deal with a similar situation with a man who was waiting to board the plane. She found him Southwest gear to change into, got him a new suitcase (that was part of the smell) and gave him toiletries to clean up and was so nice about it with him.

      And to think on Wednesday I was proud that I told one of the interns to put her sweater on over her spaghetti-strap shirt. :)

      1. CA Admin*

        God, I wish more flight attendants would do this for passengers. I had a memorable trip from San Francisco to Albuquerque sitting next to a guy who smelled like BO, cigarettes, weed, and musty clothing. It was the most painful flight of my life, hands down.

  6. Anoners*

    Really interesting read! Louis Theroux (sp?) has a documentary on legal brothels in the states. He goes and stays at one for awhile, and interviews everyone. It’s super interesting and gives a good idea on how they work. You can watch it on YouTube for free (just search his name). He has tons of other good docs too. The brothel one is obvs NSFW.

    1. Jane Jones*

      I love Louis! But he quite often just appears so obviously uncomfortable with certain things. In that episode, especially so.

      1. Anoners*

        Yeah, that one def. make him a little awkward. I’m surprised how well he kept it together in the “Most hated family in America” ones.

  7. Michele*

    I would hire you in a heartbeat. You would be a great asset to any company. Great management and problem solving.

  8. Rachel - HR*

    Great post. Thanks Alison and OP! I read “Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women” for a college course and found it an interesting read.

    1. Laura*

      It is, but the interviewee says above she’s not in the US. The US is not the only country with states. :)

      1. Wayner*

        Very good. My mistake.
        Oz is so much like the western US in many aspects.
        Amerstralia? Or Australamerica?

      1. fposte*

        But it is funny how narratively similar it is, with Australia also having only one state with legal brothels. So I think it’s understandable that that’s confusing.

        1. Elkay*

          The OP never said it was the only state where it was legal (Wikipedia lists three), interesting what information people extrapolate from facts that aren’t there :)

          1. Night Owl*

            I would also just clarify that Australia only has six states and two territories, so when the OP talks about “a few states” where brothels are legal, she’s actually talking about like half the country. And more than that in terms of population because the states in question are the ones on the east coast, which is where our population is hugely concentrated.

            (Just providing background info as I don’t know how much foreigners know about Australian geography, and in the US “a few states” would be a minority – not so here.)

            1. Jane Jones*

              Sex workers are constantly fighting for rights around the country because some politicians still try to get the industry shut down even where it is legal/decriminalised, though, so I think it’s a bit incorrect to make it sound like more than half the population is okay with sex work…

              1. Night Owl*

                Oh definitely not saying they’re okay with it – just that it’s legal in places where more than half the population lives.

        2. Jane Jones*

          There are actually a few states in Australia where the industry is legal and regulated (and one where the industry is decriminalised). And then in the states where sex work is technically criminalised, there are usually plenty of tolerated brothels anyway!

            1. Jane Jones*

              I used to be much better versed about this, but from what I remember:
              -decriminalised in NSW.
              -legal in Victoria and Queensland. Escort agencies are illegal in Queensland.
              -pretty sure that it’s not legal in SA or WA, but that it is tolerated for the most part.
              -I’m not sure about Tasmania except that brothels do exist there.

              1. Night Owl*

                Here we go. This is from The Conversation:

                “In Australia, laws governing prostitution vary across the states and territories. From complete decriminalisation (New South Wales), to licensing and regulation of legal brothels (Victoria, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory), to allowing private and escort services but not brothels or street work (Northern Territory and Tasmania), to a primarily criminal approach (South Australia and Western Australia).

    2. Wayner*

      Is there a stigma in NV on having worked as admin in a brothel? I think not. Outside the rural counties (where it is legal), employment in admin positions would most likely be in Reno or Las Vegas. They’re certainly isn’t any stigma in those urban areas.

      1. fposte*

        That’s interesting–I’m presuming you’re saying this from your own hiring/application experience? I was wondering whether it would be different in the U.S.

      2. LBK*

        IIRC from the comments on the OP’s letter, there were a lot that indicated there was a stigma even in areas where it was legal.

        1. LBK*

          (Although now that I think about it I’m not sure if those were from people in the US or the OP chiming in to discuss her own area.)

            1. Night Owl*


              Sydney has loads of brothels but that doesn’t mean it’s socially acceptable to work in or visit one. Because they’re legalised and regulated, and often tolerated in the places where they’re not, there’s not really a lot of secrecy around the brothels. You can just go onto a site like and look up at numbers and addresses for any capital city in Aus.

              But that does mean that sex work is something that kind of happens behind closed doors here. Most Australians don’t really have to see it or think about it or talk about it, so it does nothing to increase understanding, or reduce the stigma and judgement around sex work among the general population. That generally only happens through open, honest community conversation and positive media representation, neither of which we have. Most people just don’t really talk about it.

              (Not saying that getting it off the streets is a bad thing by any means – it certainly makes it much, much safer. Just that it doesn’t necessarily reduce stigma in ways that you might expect.)

              1. Jane Jones*

                You explained this so well!

                A lot of brothels also basically hide in plain sight here (another city that is not Sydney) and I think so many people walk past without even realising what it is! But when they do realise, they get weird about it. From tourists taking photos in front of the brothel to people saying “EWWW!”.

                I went went past another brothel once and someone had spray painted “herpes” on their fence. :(

                1. Night Owl*

                  Yeah, I think it’s interesting because even though they’re legal/tolerated in Australia, brothels still have to hide in plain sight – They’re just hiding from the public rather than the police, because there’s so much stigma and they want discretion for their clients and workers.

                  Like, anyone who’s looking to find out whether a place is a brothel can do so because it’s all online. But for people who aren’t looking to find out, sex work is kind of invisible here – I’ve never seen a street walker in Sydney (I’m sure there would be some, but certainly not a lot), and people just walk by brothels without knowing what’s going on inside, unless they google the place. When the general public does find out a place is a brothel, I’ve seen similar reactions to the ones you noted, unfortunately.

                  It seems to me that, not really on this post, but more on the one last week, some Americans were just assuming that once you legalise sex work, it would become normal and everyone would just know people working in brothels, and be used to seeing it on resumes etc. etc., but it doesn’t really work like that, at least not down under (I realise Wayner from Nevada says it’s apparently considered “unique and valuable” there, but that’s definitely not the case here) .

                  Legalisation is really important and it’s definitely a first step, but its main benefits come in terms of safety and lowered STI rates, from what I’ve seen. It still doesn’t do all that much to normalise sex work. Stigma reduction is a much bigger fight.

                2. Anonymous Sydney*

                  My partner works in Kings Cross in Sydney (not in the industry – he’s in the design industry!) and their office is next to and near several brothels. They’re pretty obvious – painted black exteriors, red external lights, etc. I assume it’s just the generally more permissive nature of Kings Cross that allows them to be so obvious.

                3. Night Owl*

                  Yeah, I think you’re right that that’s because there’s slightly different rules for the Cross, as opposed to more general suburbia. If you can’t have obvious brothels in the red light district, then where can you have them?

      3. Jane Jones*

        I’m also curious about whether your comments about lack of stigma are based on any kind of experience. I’ve not come across anywhere in the world yet that there doesn’t seem to still be some stigma about the sex industry.

        1. Wayner*

          My experience in this is from living in Nevada for over 15 years and experiencing our libertarian attitudes. I don’t think that most hiring managers in Nevada (especially southern NV) would care if your admin experience is in a legal brothel. Here it probably would be considered unique and valuable.

          1. Rocky*

            I’m heartened to read that a hiring manger in Nevada wouldn’t care if someone’s admin experience was in the sex industry, but there is probably still a stigma about sex work itself, no?

  9. Brittany*

    Loved this interview! OP, you sound awesome and like an asset to any company. Alison, I hope you continue to do Q&A’s like this, it’s super interesting!

  10. Smilingswan*

    This is really interesting. Thanks for asking the questions Alison! I have always found sex work fascinating from a sociological/feminist perspective. If anyone is interested, I have read a couple of great non-fiction books on the topic- Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women by Alexa Albert and Candy Girl by Diablo Cody.

  11. Who are you?*

    Very interesting interview. I would love to see more of these. There are a lot of jobs that I wonder “how’d you end up doing that?” It was nice to see how that happened.
    OP: you mentioned that you had trained some unsuitable people while you worked there. What, specifically, made them unsuitable? In my head I’m picturing a creepy guy who thinks that he gets a freebie simply because he works there.

    1. Jane Jones*

      Haha, a creepy guy never would have made it past the business manager!
      Some examples of unsuitable behaviour from brothel receptionists I encountered:
      – being on drugs.
      – having large sums of money go missing on her shift
      – talking about her personal sexual experiences and using things she had done to try to convince girls to do things they weren’t comfortable doing.
      – escalating conflict situations because she had a huge ego.
      – verbally abusing one of the busiest girls at the business, leading to that girl deciding to work elsewhere.

      1. KarenT*

        a creepy guy never would have made it past the business manager

        That’s both interesting and a relief to hear! How does that process work? Does the manager interview prospective clients?

        1. Jane Jones*

          in case that was unclear, emphasis was on creepy. a normal guy could probably get an interview.

          can i clarify what you mean by your question about interviewing clients?

          1. KarenT*

            I was just curious as to what you meant by not getting by the business manager. I’m not familiar at all with these types of businesses and tv would have me believe that any man walking in on off of the street would be taken in. Since it sounds like that’s not the case, I’d love to hear more about how clients are approved or vetted.

            1. Jane Jones*

              Oh, right!

              In terms of creepy guys, I was referring to a question about male receptionists who might be creepy.

              In terms of clients: most are completely normal, but a few are creepy or strange. It’s up to the ladies to have a chat with the clients and if they get a creepy vibe and say that they don’t want to stay with him, then I would be understanding. Creepy guys are pretty rare though, and many sex workers are skilled at dealing with potentially difficult people anyway.

  12. Malissa*

    I loved this interview! What a way to get a peek into another field. I am amazed at how the OP handled everything.

  13. louise*

    So interesting! Thanks to the OP for sharing and to Alison for knowing how much we’d all love this and thinking to do it.

  14. JMegan*

    Fascinating interview, thanks to both of you for doing it. The response to the question about “what’s different from other kinds of businesses” reminded me of something my midwife told me. Apparently one of the key jobs of their receptionist is to keep the midwives fed – she keeps a supply of easily-digestible carbs on hand, for those times when a midwife hasn’t had a chance to eat because she worked long or irregular or unusually intense hours without a break. So maybe not so different after all, in some cases!

  15. Appleblossom*

    OP, if you are still job searching, I know a field in which your past work experience would be an asset – Public Health. We often hire Community Health Workers to work with high risk and hard to reach populations and sex workers are certainly a hard to reach population due to the stigma you mention. I see you are based in Australia – public health is important in Australia and if you are interested can be a great field to work in.

    1. The Real Ash*

      That’s a really great idea. If nothing else, she could get involved in the non-profit side of things, for things like sex workers’ rights, human trafficking, etc., anything that involves a degree of comfort with the subject and social ease dealing with sex workers.

    2. Jane Jones*

      I would definitely be interested in working in public health. I should look into it a bit more. Is it something that requires a specific kind of degree or can work experience like this be more meaningful?

      1. Appleblossom*

        One can get a Bachelors or/and Masters in Public Health but it is not required for Community Health Workers. For them the most important qualification is being from the community , or having close contacts in the community in question and being comfortable and non-judgmental towards the population that they would be working with. Community Health Workers can be involved in many different activities e.g. providing education and increasing awareness of STI, HIV etc, providing support to enable target population access healthcare, outreach to individuals to provide them information on a specific program or services available. Some programs call them Peer Counselors; there maybe home visiting and a caseload of clients to manage. It can be quite varied in level of responsibility and actual job activities. There are many articles and resources online – I would do some online research (start with the Govt Public Health Department websites), tailor your resume and talk to someone locally involved in Public Health. We (at least in the US) love talking to others about what Public Health is.

        1. Sigrid*

          Was just about to respond with this. Look into it, OP — a degree in PH isn’t required for community workers , and it sounds like you would be great at it!

      2. Melissa*

        Work experience is definitely more meaningful than a specific degree. You could get an MPH, but with your history – especially with the occupational health stuff and close interactions with people – there are a variety of things you can do in the field. Being a community health worker is one, but you could also be a field interviewer/epidemiologist who investigates outbreaks by interviewing people (that position may be a little bit more biased towards folks who hold the MPH in epidemiology, but really there are people with all kinds of backgrounds doing that). If you were interested in applied research, a lot of think tanks would also take you on to do focus groups and interviews.

        Public health is my field, too, although I’m an applied researcher.

      3. gingersnap*

        I don’t know about Australia, but in the US, it’s almost more common for public health employees not to have a degree in public health. Also, universities are increasingly offering online certificate and MPH programs to make public health training more accessible. (I’d try googling “office of public health practice”, “office of public health practice & engagement”, “center for public health practice” and universities near you to see what comes up as far as training programs).
        The fact that you already have a great deal of experience with marginalized & high risk populations (and can work well in challenging situations) would definitely make you a great candidate for some jobs. If you’re interested in public health, it’s definitely worth exploring. The field is very applied and problem-solving driven, so there’s a whole lot of experience that doesn’t necessarily look relevant but winds up being very helpful.

    3. B*

      This is a fantastic idea!

      OP – much luck to you and thank you for the interview. It really was very interesting.

  16. Cool Beans*

    Thanks for this insight! I’m not sure if you updated in the previous post but going back to your original question, but how did you spin this on your résumé since you were looking at jobs outside of this industry?

    1. Jane Jones*

      So far I am trying out listing the alternative business name and trying to dazzle potential employers with a new resume layout and listing achievements rather than just responsibilities. Fingers crossed that it works!

  17. Elle*

    I thought for a moment I had clicked on my bookmark for Savage Love instead of AAM! Thanks for the Q&A I love talking sex and work and it’s rare that the two intersect. Let me know if you ever write a memoir, I’ll buy the first copy!

  18. cuppa*

    This was so interesting! Thanks for doing this, Alison!
    The different shifts thing totally resonated with me. It’s amazing how much your body can get on a schedule — and how badly it gets thrown off when you vary it.

  19. The Real Ash*

    Given the subject matter, there’s some mild discussion of the existence of sex.

    This made me laugh at loud. I can just imagine some people clutching their pearls when they read that. Alison is the best.

    1. Kai*

      Reminds me of a similar disclaimer on This American Life, where it’s often something like “the subject matter in this story does acknowledge the existence of sex.” *giggle*

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Yeah, that is totally their line. It makes me like you even more to know you are a TALk listener. I have listened to Every. Single. One. At least once.

  20. Lucy*

    This was fascinating, and such a great idea for a post. I was really impressed with the sentiment that the best part of the job was being forced to confront difficult conversations- something I need to think more about. Thanks!

  21. Kelly L.*

    Thanks for this post! It was fascinating and I’d been wondering a lot of this stuff ever since I read the other post.

  22. anon for this*

    I worked at a sort of legal sort of brothel (bdsm dungeon) as a sex worker and my experience with the work environment was pretty similar. Interesting read!

    Oh, one thing– in my experience the late night walkins were usually scared shitless and had the same boring requests. Surprisingly in the time that I worked there (just less than a year) I never had an issue with a client or coworker. Saw no evidence of drug use. I eventually quit because my time off request was handled so stupidly, but otherwise had a great experience.

    1. Jane Jones*

      It sounds like the whole process of getting into working in a dungeon is so intense, that a person who had a drug problem wouldn’t last very long. Mistresses sound intimidating enough as it is! They would put up with even less crap than I did.

      I’m glad you had a great experience apart from your time off request being handled badly. Being able to be a bit flexible is one of the biggest draw cards of sex work, so I don’t know why they would have been so annoying about it.

  23. MissDisplaced*

    Interesting stuff! I guess that’s why this is called the oldest BUSINESS in the world. The sex industry would be so much safer for all involved if run professionally as your place was.

  24. voluptuousfire*

    This was definitely very interesting! Thanks Jane and Alison.

    I apologize if this was asked already, but did the brothel you work at have a particular theme or cater to a certain demographic? For example, catering to a clientele that prefers younger women vs. a brothel that prides itself on catering to every man? I’m curious. Are there even such things as themed brothels? (Not including dungeons offering BDSM scenes, of course.That doesn’t involve sexual contact.) What kind of men visited the brothels?

    I’ve been watching the reruns for Sons of Anarchy the past few weeks and since the MC started up with Diosa, it’s gotten me curious. :)

    1. Jane Jones*

      We tried to be welcoming to all potential clients. I have heard of brothels with predominantly mature service providers, or BBWs, but most places will try to appeal to the broadest client base possible by having all different kinds of ladies available.

      We had clients from all different demographics – businessmen, tradesmen, retirees, young guys, guys with disabilities, students from overseas, tourists from places where sex work is illegal etc.

  25. Treena Kravm*

    So if someone was looking for this kind of work, but had no real connections, the best thing is to call up? Any other tips or things to know in the job search?

    1. Jane Jones*

      I would recommend a little research first. Where I live you require a special licence to work as a brothel manager, so you would need to know first whether that it’s required. Even if it’s not, it’s a good idea to know about local laws and regulations that affect your workplace.
      Local sex work organisations or services are also a great way to find out what kind of businesses are in your area, what their reputations are like etc. Once you get into the industry, you find out even more.

      Then just call around, talk to the business manager if you can or leave your phone number with the receptionist. I passed on probably ten or fifteen phone numbers to my boss while I was there.

      And when you go somewhere to interview and have a look around, trust your gut! I actually worked at a couple of different places, but the second one was only for about three months. I didn’t have a good feeling when I interviewed there, but I took the job anyway. I don’t necessarily regret working there, but it definitely wasn’t as great an experience as the first place I had worked.

  26. FRRibs*

    I just have to chime in here that I’m surprised that the workplace internet nanny didn’t block this particular interview, but I can never read the weekly open threads because they’re about “dating”. I also can’t read about military history because “it” thinks that defense always refers to football positions.

  27. Black Rose*

    Super interesting to hear about this from a receptionist perspective. I’ve worked in the sex industry for years. First in house in brothels and now private escorting. I’m also in Australia. In my world it’s quite common and I’m also very open about it.

  28. Preludes*

    I second (Third? Fourth? Fiftieth?) that it would be great to have more work-related interviews to see how different industries handle their unique challenges and how an average worker gets on in the day to day. It’s especially fascinating for such half-hidden industries or other unusual industries, but it’d work well for anything, really.
    I think with the sex industry in particular, because there is such a stigma (and even illegality) attached, it’s fascinating to see how important the catch-all values of professionalism go, especially when the stakes can be so high at times.

  29. FRRibs*

    Slight OT; Our work has a very annoying net nanny type system; it blocks anything it considers dating, sports, etc…so bad that if I look up something about say, conflict in the middle east and the word “defense” is somewhere in the article, it’s blocked because it’s “sports”. I haven’t been able to see a weekend thread in months because it thinks that the forum is a dating site.

    So it surprised me that it allowed me to read this post with the words brothel, sex worker, etc. I was so surprised, that I wrote a close analogue of the post I am writing now, from home. But when I tried to post it at work, it blocked my post, because “dating”. /sigh

    1. FRRibs*

      I see that it did post it, but I couldn’t tell until I just searched through the thread. Some IT guy has a mean sense of humor.

  30. Kate*

    I have an interview for this role tonight! You’ve calmed my nerves, but I’m still totally lost about what to wear!\

  31. Stefanie*

    Could someone explain what is a “licenced receptionist” and how do you go about becoming one?

Comments are closed.