What is Sex Work?

The term ‘sex work’ means different things to different people. Each Australian state and territory has a different legal definition of sex work. Victoria’s legal definition is unusually broad, being the only state to incorporate elements of stripping in its legal definition of sex work.

Victoria’s definition is found in section 3 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic), under the definition of ‘sexual services’. Sexual services

  • require the exchange of money or other type of reward
  • require at least two adults
  • require at least one adult to be sexually stimulated
  • can include physical touch of a sexual nature between the two adults
  • can exclude physical touch between the two people, as long as one views the other touching themselves in a sexual manner
  • do NOT require sexual intercourse to occur
  • do NOT require ejaculation to occur
  • do NOT require the sex worker to be female. The definition includes all genders.

This definition includes certain activities by law as sex work, while leaving out others. The word adult is defined as a person over the age of 18. 

Sex work is

Strip club Melbourne
Victoria is the only Australian state which classifies some types of stripping as sex work (Unsplash: Eric Nopanen)

Sex work is not

  • pornography
  • stripping without toy play
  • telephone sex
  • peep show performances without toy play or masturbation, either clothed or unclothed
  • patrons paying to enter sex-on-premises-venues (SOPVs)
  • massage therapists offering strictly non-sexual massage services


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Trafficking Versus Sex Work

Human trafficking is NOT the same as sex work. Sex work involves freely consenting adults. A sex worker is engaging in work. The legal definition of trafficking must include coercion, threat or deception. A trafficked person is subjected to enforced labour and is not engaged in employment.

Sex Work or Prostitution?

Initially the Sex Work Act was called the Prostitution Control Act. The Victorian Parliament updated the terminology to reflect more contemporary usage of the term ‘sex work’. However, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) still uses the term ‘prostitute’ under the occupation code 451813 in its Salary and Wage Occupation Codes 2018 publication. The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics Online website also continues to use the terms ‘prostitute’ and ‘prostitution’ while referring to sex work criminal offences.

Australian Taxation Office Occupation Codes 2020

Australian Taxation Office Sex Industry
In 2020 the Australian Taxation Office continued to list ‘prostitute’ as an occupation code.

© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2023

Last updated: 17 April 2023