Sex worker reveals what 'oldest profession' is like, the social stigma, truth about clients and whether it's really 'easy money'

This was one of Newshub's top stories of 2023. It was originally published on August 20

Vixen Temple is sitting nervously at her mum's kitchen table in Dunedin. She's readying herself to tell her mum she is a sex worker and has been lying about it for more than a year

Her mum is one of her closest friends; she's kind and loving and has always supported her. But Temple is terrified that is all about to change. She's watched countless friends, many who also had close relationships with their parents, shamed, ostracised and even disowned for being sex workers.  

She has readied herself to lose the "beautiful" friendship they have developed, all because of a job. 

Her fear isn't unfounded. Even though sex work has been decriminalised since 2003, people in the industry are often viewed through a stereotypical lens; they're seen as criminals or victims - but this couldn't be further from the truth for Temple.

The twenty-seven-year-old is a bubbly, clever and self-assured woman. She's charming and easy to talk to. She is a Takatāpui writer, activist and performance artist. 

Even though she's not doing anything legally wrong, the intense social stigma means Temple still regularly agonises over whether to tell people or not. 

"I've been at parties where I've come out as a sex worker and the women around me start to get weird and clench onto their boyfriend's arms as if they think I'm going to steal their man."

It's not just judgement she worries about either; telling people can put her in actual danger. 

"I can be quite scared to say that I'm a sex worker because I'm worried men will assault me. They will take one look at me and think, 'Oh, she's attractive, she's covered in tattoos, she's queer, and now she's a sex worker. She wants to have sex with me'.

Slut shaming and victim blaming are something many victims of sexual assault deal with, but for sex workers, it can be even worse. 

Vixen Temple standing in front of a chain link fence.
Vixen Temple. Photo credit: Supplied

Temple has first-hand experience of how stigma towards sex workers leads to devastating real-life consequences. When she first started stripping in 2018, a client assaulted her at work.

Temple knew it wasn't okay and reported it, something many victims struggle to do. She had CCTV footage and witnesses - it was an open-and-shut case, or so she thought. 

But instead of getting the justice she deserved, Temple was advised to take a plea deal because, despite all the evidence, a jury will "look at your job and go, 'Oh, she was asking for it, she's a stripper'."

Constantly being told she was worthless or less of a person because of her job took a toll. She grew up with a mother who repeatedly told her she would love and support her no matter what - as long as she was happy. 

But, even with that support, constant criticism, harassment and judgement meant Temple started to genuinely believe her mother would never accept her or her job.
She convinced herself their relationship would be ruined and her mother would never be able to look at her, let alone love her. 

But lying to her mum was hard and the longer she did it, the worse it felt. She was back home in Dunedin when she finally worked up the courage to tell her. 

She spent the day stressing and worrying until she was certain the big reveal was going to be the end of her life as she knew it. 

But when her mum got home from work she sat her down and ripped the bandaid off. 

"I just said, 'Hey, Mum, you know how I have been working at the bar at the strip club?' She said, 'Yeah'. I said, 'Well, I am actually a stripper. I wasn't completely honest with you'.

"I was waiting for her to start crying or yelling at me. I don't know what I expected, but I realised instantly I completely underestimated my mother because she just looked at me and she laughed and said, 'I know you are a stripper. I was just waiting for the day you were ready to tell me'."

Vixen Temple in an elavator.
Vixen Temple. Photo credit: Supplied

The instant relief she felt was indescribable, but it was also tinged with a deep sadness for all her friends and coworkers who would never get the same acceptance from their families. 

"I cannot even begin to express the relief. It was at that moment I realised I had severely underestimated my mother and let my fear and my anxiety and the social stigma cloud my perception of her." 

But that's easy to do when you face stigma every day, even from well-meaning people who can let her job change how they see her for the worse.  

"I'm no longer just a person who is a cat owner, a sister, a daughter, or an individual. I'm no longer a writer. I'm no longer a performer. I'm no longer an activist. I'm no longer these things that make me a human. I know through their eyes, they think that I’m just a whore and it’s horrible.” 

Introduction to sex work 

Temple's introduction to sex work was in 2018 when she started selling nudes online. She was a full-time student and struggling to afford to eat after a coeliac diagnosis forced a complete overhaul of her diet. Unfortunately, simply surviving suddenly got a lot more expensive and despite getting a student allowance and working part-time, she couldn't afford gluten-free food. 

Selling nudes wasn't a huge leap for Temple who, at the time, ran a popular Instagram account dedicated to cosplay and regularly had followers asking for naked photos. 

"I was constantly getting men messaging me saying, 'How much for a nude? How much for a sexy Harley Quinn photo?'

"This was pre-online censorship so it was a lot easier to do online sex work back then, and I just started selling my nudes on the internet."

A close up of Vixen Temple's face with a chain in front of her.
Vixen Temple. Photo credit: Supplied

A few months later she finished university and started working as an assistant manager at a retail store. But she was miserable, overworked, underpaid and struggling to manage full-time work with her disability - so she quit and started stripping before eventually moving into full-service sex work. 

Temple, who has worked in many areas of sex work, loves her job. She can work two shifts a week and make what she would at a full-time job. 

But the idea of sex work being "easy money" is something she pushes back on strongly. For her, it's "accessible money", especially as someone with disabilities because there is no limit to her earning potential. But at the same time, her income is very inconsistent, which means it's not the right fit for everyone. 

The flexibility is one of the biggest draws for her because it means she can manage her coeliac without stressing about running out of sick days or calling out at the last minute. 

She gets to choose when, where and how she works and makes enough money to not only survive but to thrive. 

"Every week I make a different amount. It’s all dependent on the clients, as well as the state of the economy. Even on the weeks I don’t earn a big amount, it’s better than working a full-time job." 

It's also rewarding work and one of the only jobs where the main goal is to make people feel safe to explore their sexuality - which can be incredibly fulfilling. 

"I think under a capitalist system it’s very fair that people commodify sex and intimacy. I think it's beautiful. I don't think it's something people should be shamed for. 

"Everything in this world is commodified. Sex is a basic human urge the majority of humans have, and not all of us can just go out there and get it.

"Why should that not be a service? Some of us need a back rub. Some of us need a haircut, and some of us need emotional support. That's all been commodified, so why shouldn't sex?"

Vixen Temple dressed up as the Devil holding a card showing a picture of the Devil.
Vixen Temple. Photo credit: Supplied

She sees it as an important service for people who might be lacking intimacy or physical touch such as people with disabilities or living in retirement homes. 

"We as a species crave human touch. Imagine if you are disabled or living in an old folks' home 

and the only touch you get is medical - it's through a medical glove." 

One of the biggest drawbacks of the job is that she feels unable to talk about the negative sides of it, or bad days, without people immediately stereotyping her as broken, damaged, unstable, a victim and an array of other offensive stereotypes. 

People also have very skewed views of the work and clients, often assuming they are all sleazy weirdos.

But in reality, her clients are regular people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They are parents, friends, partners and often sex isn't even the main thing they are looking for. 

"It isn’t always 100 percent about sex. A lot of the time, clients are really looking for some level of intimacy," Temple said. 

It's something she's noticed across all areas of sex work including selling nudes online, although it's easier to set boundaries when it's not in-person work. 

The first 20 minutes of an hour-long, in-person booking is often men trauma dumping on her, which can be exhausting and means boundaries are incredibly important. 

As much as she wishes she could care about her clients, she can't take on all their issues and has to compartmentalise because it's "unrealistic" to expect herself to emotionally connect with every single client.

"It is really [taxing] and sometimes I am just like, 'Okay you get in the shower and I’ll get the bed ready for us'. It's funny because people say to me 'Oh, the sex must be so hard' and I'm like 'Nah the sex is so easy'. It's talking to a stranger and having them tell you really intense things [that's hard]'."