Back in July, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) held a webinar to launch a new harm reduction resource we developed in collaboration with GOSHH in Limerick and Sexual Health Centre in Cork. The information card provides practical advice for anyone selling or trading sex on the street or outdoors during the pandemic and was created by a group which included current street workers, other sex workers and support workers with experience in this area.

When the pandemic started, harm reduction guidelines appeared online with advice for sex workers who continued in-person sex work out of necessity. Here in SWAI, our outreach worker Becky joined up with Billie, the support worker in GOSHH, as they realised that there was nothing available with specific information for people working on the street. More people joined the group and, in writing the guidelines, we focused on simple steps people could take to reduce the risk of COVID transmission, to protect themselves when selling sex. There is no way to guarantee safety when you’re in close contact but people still need to make money and these are just some tips for keeping yourself safer while working. The tips are also not just relevant for sex workers, they can be useful for anyone because, of course, people are still having sex even in a global pandemic! The information can be especially helpful for anyone meeting others for sex outdoors or in cars.

The leaflet is COVID-19 specific so all of the advice is focused on reducing the risk of contracting COVID but this needs to be taken into consideration alongside protecting yourself in terms of your overall health and physical safety. Sex workers are used to risk assessing and making judgements for their own safety, and often go by gut instinct. This new information isn’t supposed to override all of that and we always stress that your immediate physical safety takes priority.

On the back of the card we have included some facts about the law. We know from experience and discussions with other street workers that not everyone knows what the laws around sex work are, including the Gardaí! Since 2017, selling sex on the street is legal but paying for sex is not. It is also illegal to work indoors with other people but you are allowed to work inside alone. The Gardaí were given new powers at the start of the pandemic which allowed them to move on and even arrest people who were not complying with lockdown orders. These laws have now been rescinded but currently on-the-spot fines exist for people found breaking COVID regulations. However, you should not be getting in trouble or arrested for street working otherwise and if you are having any issues with this you can contact us for advice and support. 

SWAI is a sex-worker led organisation working towards giving a voice to people who are in sex work by choice, circumstance or coercion. We believe that sex workers know what is best for us and are best placed to advocate in the policies that affect our lives. We also work to provide support to any sex workers who need it whether they work indoor, outdoor, online or another section of the industry. We have peer support available so that you can speak to someone who has a similar experience, without any judgement. We can help with a range of issues including legal, immigration, accessing addiction or housing and homeless services, health, or if you want to look at leaving sex work and need support. 

If you want to contact us you can call Becky on: 085 824 9305 or email [email protected]

Here is a link to the resource and if you are interested in attending a webinar about this issue please get in contact with us Leaflet Print ready v2

Harm reduction, sex work and Covida-19

For sex workers

As sex workers ourselves, we know that when everyone is being told to isolate our work gets hit. If you can take some time off to stop working and social distance now is a good time. 

We also know that some people will need to work to survive. This blogspot outlines a harm reduction approach to sex work during the coronavirus. Do the best you can, that is all anyone can do and you are the best person to make decisions about the reality of your life.

Covid-19 spreads through droplets when a person sneezes or coughs. The virus has a long incubation period so people can transmit without showing symptoms. The safest possible scenario is to keep a distance from others of two to three meters. We know this makes most of our work impossible! So, some suggestions for safer work during this time are:

  • Refraining from kissing and insist on condom-covered services including for blowjobs and dental dams for rimming.
  • Positions like doggy style or reverse cowgirl are better to limit contact and make sure you and your client take long hot showers before and after.
  • Make sure your client washes his hands for 20 seconds upon entry, and when he has left clean all surfaces that he has touched (including doorknobs and handles) with soap and water. Anti-bacterial wipes are okay, soap and water is better.
  • Try not to touch your own face as this is the way the virus enters the body.
  • Take extra care to wash any sex toys that are used
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds or longer between each client, after being outside and after handling money 
  • Do not do in-person sex work with a client who is displaying symptoms of the virus
  • Do not do in-person sex work if you are displaying symptoms of the virus
  • Each worker charges according to her situation but if possible do not drop your prices. Remember that for your client this is leisure but for you, it’s your livelihood

We know us sex workers are already very good at protecting our health, we just have to be extra careful at this moment!

Please note that there is now a firewall between immigration and the department of health so even if you are undocumented you can still contact a doctor if you have symptoms of the coronavirus.

If you need anything from SWAI, even just for a chat please get in contact with us. We would love to hear from you. 

For clients

Please note that sex workers have always been impeccable when it comes to hygiene. 

  • If possible try to seek remote sexual services such as video or phone sex. Please note that this may not always be possible
  • Ensure your hygiene is exemplary. Note that you are responsible for your own health
  • Wash your hands immediate for 20 seconds or more when entering the premises
  • If running water is not available please use hand sanitiser
  • You should always respect the boundaries a sex worker has but now please do so for your own safety
  • Tip generously, sex workers are always impeccable about hygiene but are taking a risk to see you
  • Wear a condom for all sex acts (without complaint!)
  • Do not seek the services of a sex worker if you are displaying symptoms of the virus
  • Do not be racist to members of the Asian community
  • Donate to the SWAI hardship fund
For allies