What is Harm Reduction?

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is a fancy term, commonly used in reference to substance use. That said, harm reduction is a strategy used by health and community services, such as Magenta, to deliver their services. Harm reduction is not about encouraging behaviours with associated risk, but about accepting that we all take risks as people and it is important that we minimise any potential harm.

Think about a car; we jump in and put on our seatbelt. Being in a car involves an element of risk, but wearing a seatbelt is a form of harm reduction. Seatbelts are proven to reduce risk of harm if a car crashes. Covering your mouth when you cough reduces the risk of passing along your cold to others; again, it is about the reduction of harm to others and ourselves. As individuals, we practice harm reduction every day.

Why does Magenta use harm reduction?

Magenta uses harm reduction principles because they are effective, evidence based, empowering and most importantly, client focused.

Harm reduction is not about ‘saving’ or ‘rescuing’ any person. It is a client-led model based on individual’s needs. It is Magenta’s role to support a person without judgement or assumption. The result is an empowered person who makes realistic choices in their lives to minimise the risk of harm.

The harm reduction approach provides all sex workers with a non-judgmental and supportive service, resulting in increased health outcomes and increased empowerment of the individuals.

What does harm reduction look like for sex workers?

Harm reduction is different for everyone and unique to your needs, goals and circumstances. Common advice given to sex workers is make sure to save your money so you can afford to be sick.

Let us break this down. You have three workers, all catch a cold, but the harm reduction approach to each situation is unique.

Lucy works in a nearby parlour 1-3 nights per week around her study, upon starting in the industry she has no savings and is in a small amount of debt. 3 months later, Lucy catches a cold, she still has no savings, and her expenses remain the same. Lucy decides to work a shift, taking the next day off school to rest, and recover.

Ben works full time hours as a sex worker privately. When he starts he owns his home, has minimal expenses and $3000 in savings. When Ben contracts a cold he chooses to take two weeks off work to reduce the risk of giving it to clients and allow himself time to rest and recover.

Jasmine lives in Albany and is a single mother who tours Perth occasionally when she does not have care of her children. Jasmine is touring Perth for two weeks. One week into the tour, she gets a cold. She has covered her touring costs and home expenses, but has not made profit. Jasmine decides to continue to work, minimising the risk by informing clients of her cold and avoiding kissing, working to make money and return home with enough profit to recover from the flu and cover new school supplies for her children.

Harm reductions works to empower and support the individual person.

Other examples of harm reduction for sex workers;

  • Using condoms, dams, gloves and other safer sex supplies to reduce the health and legal risks to sex workers.
  • Being educated around STI and BBV transmission
  • Being knowledgeable about the legislation in the area that you work
  • Sharing information on ‘ugly mugs’ with other workers
  • Keeping sex worker safety tips within the sex worker community only
  • Screening clients in a way you feel works for YOU
  • Negotiating consent clearly

Working my way

Being bipolar and a sex worker has been an interesting journey. If you missed my post about that, you can have a read here. However, this is about how harm reduction and peer education supported my work and life. It is about working my way with support and advice from other sex workers.

Part of bipolar for me is mania, specifically hyper-sexuality. Which means I am super interested in working and do not always make the best choices. When I was figuring out how to work and manage my mental health I was seeking support from Magenta peer educators. These people may not have had bipolar, but they had been sex workers.

At first, I thought ‘how can these people, who do not live my life,  understand’? How can these condom selling health experts give me any advice other than ‘just don’t work’, which I’ve already been told by my psychiatrist. My sex worker friends pushed me into reaching out. Telling me that it was worth it and suggesting there was no harm in asking. So, I did.

I was honest with the educator about my mental health. I was possibly more honest than I should have been, but I was using a fake name  so I was totally anonymous. It kind of felt like going to a confessional. I told this educator about not charging for extra’s, running over time, doing services that I do not offer and taking health risks. I told her about the pressure I faced from clients who returned to see me when I was stable who then expected the same service and the aggression that could result if I said no.

This Magenta staff member did not judge me; in fact she listened and contributed similar experiences and a non-judgemental space. She even had advice on methods I could use to set boundaries. Things like; not working when manic, becoming a ‘touring’ worker with a different name and service description for manic periods, only seeing regulars and having a ‘menu’ of services that I don’t detour from. When I said something would not work for me, she listened to why and helped me to develop ways of working that would.

What I did not realise then is that harm reduction and peer education is not this super formal, complex approach. It is simply sharing information from the community and using the advice that best fits your way of working.

Magenta Shop Price List

Item Price
Four Seasons Condoms (Box of 144) $30.00
Four Seasons Condoms (1/2 Box) $15.00
Four Seasons Condoms (12 pack) $3.00
Variety of sizes and flavours available!
Glyde Condoms (Box of 100) $20.00
Glyde Condoms  (1/2 Box) $10.00
Glyde Condoms (10 pack) $2.00
Variety of sizes and flavours available!
Wet Stuff Lubricant Gold 500g $16.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Gold 270g $11.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Gold 100g $5.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Gold 60g $4.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Blue 550g $15.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Blue 270 $11.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Bluem100g $5.00
Wet Stuff Lubricant Blue 4g Sachet (10 pack) $2.00
Beppy Sponge Wet (8 pack) $30.80
Beppy Sponge Wet (each) $3.85
Beppy Sponge Dry (8 pack) $26.40
Beppy Sponge Dry (each) $3.30
Finger Cots (Pack of 100) $11.00
Finger Cots (Pack of 10) $1.10
Dental Dams (each) $0.65
Female Condoms (each) $3.50
Gloves (100 pack) $12.00

We also stock a variety of toys at the Magenta Shop – Just ask our friendly staff for more info!

One sex workers open letter to her future mental health professional

A letter to the professional I am about to see for my mental health.

You may be a doctor, a counsellor, a social worker, a support worker, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I am coming to an appointment and I am very nervous. You see, I am a sex worker. In the past I have seen professionals for my mental health in emergency rooms, therapist offices and doctor offices only to be leave feeling less than. I am writing you this letter as a sex worker, to discuss some of the things you should know.

  1. I have internalised stigma. This means that when you make certain comments, use problematic language, reinforce untrue stereotypes or pass judgement through body language you can reinforce this internal struggle. I know sex work is real work, I know I enjoy it. However, I face the struggle of societies whorephobia and when I am vulnerable someone I am trusting with my mental health can confirm these. I will walk away feeling like my choice of occupation, my life, myself is not worthy of help, is not allowed to be helped. Alternatively, I may walk away assuming you are part of the problem, angry and defiant. This will guarantee that anything helpful I could have taken from this appointment will be disregarded.
  2. Do not make assumptions on my past, present or future. Do not assume that story follows that of stereotypes, pop culture or the other sex worker you met. Let me tell you my story and listen. Do not ask me, in thirty different ways, about the trauma, pressure or drug use that ‘pushed’ me into ‘that line of work’. Trust my answers to your questions the first time.
  3. Try to avoid looking me up and down. It shows you are judging me. This action causes me to assume you are thinking things like ‘people actually pay to touch that thing in front of me’ or I assume you are being incredibly leery and inappropriate. Neither of which make me feel safe with you.
  4. Leaving the sex industry will not magically cure me. I like my job, it allows me to pay to see you and provides me with freedom. Even if I didn’t like my job, pressure to leave can be insurmountable with financial pressures, gaps in my resume and self-doubt. If I want to discuss leaving the industry I will bring it up. I will ask for advice on certain things. Do not be the professional who bases my mental health around my leaving my job.
  5. Your language matters. I may call myself a lot of things. I have been told off by countless professionals for calling myself crazy in your offices. This shows you understand the power of problematic language. Do not use stigmatising language. The accepted term is sex worker. However, if you not sure ask how I would like you to refer to my job.
  6. I have a life, relationships, friendships and commitments outside sex work. If I do not want to discuss sex work in every appointment that is okay. Sex work is not the cause of my mental illness and ignoring the large portion of my life that occurs outside of my work is not going help.
  7. Do not make stigmatising comments or jokes in our sessions. This includes problematic language, pop culture references and anything that reinforces the stigma. This will break my trust and likely result in me leaving your service.

These are seven things I wanted you to know. The final, and to me most important, thing is this; I do not trust you. I am in a position of requiring help with my mental health. I want to get well and understand that honesty will assist this, so I am telling you about sex work. But you need to understand that I don’t trust you. I am going to be difficult, I am going to judge your reactions and comments harshly. Please don’t isolate me by putting any of your moral objections to my occupation onto me.

Understand I will be difficult. I may ask to see your note. I may tell you to not write my occupation down. I might be stubborn. I may cry. If you can’t do these things, if your personal ethics do not allow you to see me as equal then please tell me straight up. I want someone willing to work with me. I want a professional who is willing to listen. I don’t trust you, but I want to.


The nervous sex worker who is scared you are another professional that is going to betray my trust.

Mental Health and Sex Work; A Magenta staff members personal journey

Anxiety has impacted my life for as long as I can remember. At 18 I left university because of it. With my rent past due, no food in the fridge and a crippling fear of failing at living out of home I borrowed a phone book from the next door neighbour and searched for a brothel. I figured one weekend would cover my expenses while I figured out what I was going to do with my life.

My first shift as a naïve plus size sex worker was terrifying. I had barely any sexual experiences, no confidence and was shaking like a leaf. I was expecting the worst. I found the work easy. Don’t get me wrong, I threw up before my first booking, a horrible physical symptom of my anxiety. But he was lovely, it was a lot of fun and my rent was covered!

Parlours became a refuge from my anxiety. A place where I was normal, where my nervous giggle was appreciated, my anxiety read as adorable. But I faced new triggers, like the question ‘What do you do?’ and ‘how’s work?’. Interacting with friends, family and dating became foreign, scary and I became isolated. Stuck in the fear that people would find out I was a sex worker.

At 20 I had built friendships with other workers and told a few friends. I had a supportive partner. I had become less isolated. I was still an anxious person, however routine, structure and a sense of belonging had made me complacent. I was no longer continuously self-checking my anxiety, or working with it. I was functioning and wholeheartedly believed I was cured.

However, I had put on more weight and what little confidence I had dissipated. Parlours, that once were my safe place, became a place of anxiety. Unstable income, comparing my squishy self to the perfection of my co-workers, fear of losing my regular client and my bosses well intentioned comments on my physical appearance meant my anxiety was back. I retreated into anxiety. I stopped going to work, I spent my savings.

At 21 my supportive and loving partner dragged me kicking and screaming to the emergency department. They knew I was a sex worker. I was admitted to hospital and given referrals to mental health professionals. The next 3 years were me finding mental health professionals who would help me without blaming sex work. Most refused to believe that my anxiety and at the time undiagnosed bipolar could have existed prior to me becoming a sex worker.

Over this period, I transitioned into private work. Which gave me more control and less structure. I used the sex worker community as a place of non-judgemental support. I listened to real advice and took referrals. I also kept working. If I had not of worked I would not of survived. Medications, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counsellors, GP’s, gym memberships, good food, a stable place to live all cost money.

Each time a mental health professional blamed my work I would not return and I moved onto the next. Finally, I found people willing to understand that sex work, may be a cause of stress, but so is employment or managing any small business. It was then I was diagnosed with Bipolar, OCD, social anxiety and general anxiety disorder. I had medication, I workshopped coping techniques. I set rules. I found routine.

It took me treating my mental health as my full time job for three years to get to where I am now. It took me fighting to find mental health professionals who would listen and provide non-discriminatory care and building a strong support network to get me to a good place. It took me accepting myself, my sex work, my sexuality, my mental health diagnoses, asserting my boundaries and putting the care of myself as a priority to get well.

Today I consider myself well. I work within my limits, I am aware of my triggers and yes I still get it wrong. Recently I entertained the office with a mismanaged manic episode, but our resources have never been so organised! I check in with myself frequently. I have both firm and flexible boundaries I use to ensure I look after myself. My partner, my GP, my colleagues and my close friends all know that I am a bundle of emotions and support me in looking after myself. Mostly I value my happiness, safety and existence. By placing value on these things I have found a way to work with the slightly atypical nature of my brain.

If you want to chat mental health and sex work, advocating for yourself with mental health professionals or silly self-care techniques (lists FTW!) please pop into Magenta, email me or give me a call.