“Every job has ups and downs, and ins and outs, this one is no different, although there is never a dull moment in the brothel.”
So says Piper, the madam and relatively new owner of the NSW New England region’s only licensed and legal parlour, Sweet Temptations.
For many people it is a surprise that Tamworth has a bawdy house at all, while others might be surprised that there is only one legal enterprise selling sex in the region.
Either way, the den on Dampier continues to turn tricks in Taminda, and while the new age continues to bring new challenges, there is never a shortage of people looking to engage with what is colloquially known as the world’s oldest profession.
It has been 23 years since the sex industry was decriminalised in NSW, and former nurse Piper has seen seven more years than that as well. In those years there have been a lot of changes, and she has seen a lot of locations, but late last year she decided to make Tamworth her own.
“It is the only licensed parlour in the region – the closest others are in Dubbo, Newcastle, Taree or Coffs Harbour,” she said.
“A lot has changed in the last 20 years, it is not the sordid industry that people think it is.
“Owners don’t cop girls on drugs anymore, and the other girls won’t work with a girl on drugs. I am very harsh on that, and know everything that happens in my house – I always know what happens.”
While a lot has changed in the sex industry, the number one priority has not, confidentiality.
Clients are met by a receptionist, who invites them through the house, passed the signed Angry Anderson former wet t-shirt on the wall and into a sitting room where the workers view them through a one way mirror in case they recognise them, or worse.
“When I was in Wollongong a girl walked out for an intro face-to-face and just screamed and ran, it was her father, and he was a regular,” Piper said.
Next the girls are paraded for the client, who chooses one, or more. He is then taken through to have a mandatory shower, before the worker inspects the men for any signs of sexually transmitted disease, with condoms another mandatory requirement.
If all is clear then the transaction proceeds, at a set rate based on time, although “fantasies and fetishes cost extra.”
“It is not always about the act of sex, there is also a lot of companionship,” Piper said.
“I have old blokes that come in here and just sit or cuddle the girls. They don’t have sex because they either can’t or they don’t want to cheat on their wives, even if they have passed away. I also have blokes that just come in for a cup of tea, or a chat keeping their clothes on.
“We get all sorts - men of all ages and all professions, from top businessmen all the way down to people passing through town.
“We also get couples that come in for something different, to spice things up or try something else in a controlled environment with a professional, and with less emotional attachments.”
Sweet Temptations is licensed to have four working girls on at any one time, and live in the house for the duration of their tenure, alongside Madam the house cat, whose eyes have seen it all.
Many, or even most, of the women work in regional circuits, where they will return every few weeks or months, and can only work with “a current and active medical clearance which is done every three months.”
In the eyes of many the modern sex worker is often reduced to being merely a victim of circumstance, or a product of poor lifestyle choices, but Piper reiterates that it is just that – a choice.
“A lot of people don’t understand the industry, it is not mattresses on the floor and needles in arms, these girls have families, and a lot of them are uni students, spending their downtime here studying online – times are tough and they need that extra income to get through,” Piper said.
“Blokes are always coming in and trying to ‘save them’, falling in love and telling them they will take them away – but we are not holding their passports, or making them work to pay off debts or anything like that – they want to be here and can leave anytime.”
Often the girls get what they call “cherries”, or “tea bags” – young men who are either in for their first time, or on their eighteenth birthday.
“Sometimes that it is not as easy as you might think, there is a lot to be said for coordination,” Piper said.
“Working girls are not just about sex either, they are also psychiatrists, doctors, counsellors and anything else – people tell them all their problems for some reason – every client comes for their own reasons and some of the girls often have mental health problems as well.”
A lesser known fact is that the federal government’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) covers the costs of certain people employing the services of a brothel.
Sweet Temptations has a larger special needs room, where the women, along with carers and educators if necessary, take people with brain injuries, spinal injuries, learning difficulties, physical disabilities and other ailments.
“Men in wheelchairs might struggle to get that release without coming here, what chance do they have, while we also get some mentally challenged people who have been sexually aggressive towards carers or something like that. Our girls take care of them, relieve that aggression and teach them control as well.”
According to Piper safety and confidentiality are key, with security buttons in every room and a security guard on site.
“It’s a tough business and the girls know that, but everything that happens at Sweet Temptations stays at Sweet Temptations.”
In recent times the sex industry all over the world has been rocked by the advent of online porn and digital dating sites, while illegal private parlours and prostitutes are crippling the legal industry.
Website Pornhub, which offers instant gratification at the push of a button, ranks as high as the sixth most visited site in Australia.
Apps like Tinder and Plenty of Fish have also taken a big chunk of business, making hassle free rendevouz as simple as swiping left or right, with people after the same thing able to communicate that through select words and phrases in biographies.
For brothels there is no such luck according to Piper, who battles weekly with local advertisers and policymakers about what words can and can’t be used in advertising.
“I can’t even say I am open all long weekend, or over Christmas, I can’t use the word massage,” she said.
“Online porn and those apps hit the industry hard, and are probably next on the cards for a legal fight.”
And it is not just the amount of business that is changing, online porn is changing sexual habits.
“We get incidents of clients choking the girls because it is trending on Pornhub, but it doesn’t work that way. Those movies are staged.”
“If you hit someone the wrong way with a whip it can pinch nerves, and do real damage – fetishes and fantasies are possible but clients have to ask, and then we plan it.”
Recently Tamworth has been hit by a spate of rumoured illegal parlours and operators, prostitute rings operating out of motels, and even individual women working out of hotels and their own homes.
For Sweet Temptations to operate they have to have a license, and constantly meet the “tight rules and regulations” of the licensing police and Tamworth Regional Council to keep the doors open and punters happy.
“Business should be raging here, but a few weeks ago we counted 20 illegals working in Tamworth – it infuriates me.”
“That industry is greed, all greed. The prices are comparable, but they don’t have to meet regulations, like protection, security, a safe and healthy environment and client confidentiality.”
While the police and council have been swift to act there is only so much that can be done to stifle the illegal side of the industry which feeds on privacy.
“Council have been really understanding and considerate, and so have the police – they want to put a stop to it as well – I have been more than happy with their efforts since I took on the business.”
Piper believes a lot of the problems lay with advertisers.
“I can’t use the word massage because I am legal, but the private adds you see are blatantly obvious solicitation – they are the biggest threat to the industry.”
While the “world’s oldest occupation” is facing all new challenges, adversity is nothing new, and as far as the madam of the North West’s only ‘house of ill repute’ is concerned business will keep ticking, because put simply, men are men.
“Show me an all male brothel where women go – you can’t,” she said.
Sex sells, and sex will always keep the industry alive.
In NSW brothels are legal and regulated under the 1988 Summary Offences Act, although living on the earnings of a prostitute is not, unless you are a brothel owner.
The same rules apply in both Queensland and Victoria, however in the remaining states and territories independent sex work is legal while brothels are not, and the industry is not regulated.
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