Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pleasure Kittens

More than 100,000 pleasure craft are registered in the Auckland City Harbour, which why this town is “The City of Sail.” There are also more than fifteen hundred prostitutes working here, from brothels and massage parlors to well-trafficked street corners—but they don’t have a snappy slogan on the tourist brochures. At least, not yet they don’t.

Like most Americans, I’m a bit of a sex and violence snob. When Kiwis get upset about the kids who drink beer and forget to brush their hair every day, I smile tolerantly and point out how nice it must be not to have crack in their fourth-grade classrooms. And as far as high-profile sex goes, I’m from San Francisco. I was cheering Dykes on Bikes in the Gay Pride Parades before I was exactly clear on what a dyke was, or why they were so fond of leather.

So all in all, I thought the Kiwis were rather sweet and naïve, with all their fluffy sheep and their endless chit-chat about the weather. I was in for a rude awakening.

Prostitution has been legal in New Zealand since 2003, when Helen Clark helped push through the Prostitution Reform Act. Sex workers in New Zealand get free condoms, regular health care, and legal protection—as well as job training and financial assistance if they decide to leave the industry.

As for the leaders of the free world, Americans don’t have anything remotely resembling the Prostitution Reform Act. We can’t even manage affordable health care for citizens in straight jobs, let alone our dirty whores.

Then again, we haven’t elected a female head of state either. New Zealand did that a decade ago.

So when Sereia dropped anchor in Auckland, my mission was clear. I needed to chat up some whores.

I like to think of myself as a modern, liberated woman. I should be able to use phrases like “anal play” in a sentence without blushing furiously and stumbling over my words. But when I started calling brothels last week, in an attempt to meet up with some real, live sex workers, I came up against a lifetime of good girl conditioning.

The first brothel I rang was The Establishment, which charmed me because their website didn’t talk about “escorts” or “ladies.” Instead, they call their workers “pleasure kittens,” which is a delightful phrase that makes me think about soft things I can pet. It made me homesick for Quiznos, the American fast-food chain that coined the phrase “sandwich artist” for the guy who slaps roast beef on your Toasty Torpedo.

Heart pounding, mind racing, I actually wrote out a little script for myself so I wouldn’t go blank on the phone. “Hi my name is Antonia Murphy I’m writing a book about New Zealand and I’d really like to have the chance to talk to some of your sex workers when you’re not too busy if that’s OK,” I babbled, terrified that someone might yell at me or hang up the phone. They didn’t. In fact, the guy on the other end seemed a little bored.

“Sure. You can talk to them. I don’t see why not,” he yawned. And just like that, I had an in.

From the outside, The Establishment looks like a big house in the suburbs. Inside, it’s got high ceilings, lots of natural light, a beautiful wood bar and a fish tank. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to order a cappuccino or a glass of chardonnay, not a blow job from a pleasure kitten.

And the girls I met looked like… girls. Rein was tall and voluptuous, with a pretty, freckled face and sharp green eyes. Her dress was short, and her boots had stiletto heels, but she didn’t look like a working girl. She was dressed like my friends and I dressed in college, when we went out on a Friday night. Veronica looked more Maori, with dark, wavy hair, and big gold hoop earrings. Neither was wearing much makeup.

“So what do you think about prostitution being legal in New Zealand?” I asked, trying to sound breezy.

Rein’s green eyes narrowed. Veronica didn’t look up from her Jack and Coke. “I reckon it’s what you think,” she muttered.

There was a pause. I stood there, a nervous smile twitching on my lips.

“It’s gonna happen anyway,” Rein pointed out, giving me a sideways glance. “You might as well make it safe.” She fiddled with her riding crop, which she’d set on the bar, between her purse and her drink.

I saw my opening, and jumped right in. “It must be so much safer now,” I coaxed. “You can go to the cops if someone gets rough, right? And you get… what? Health care?” I smiled confidingly. “Lots of people can’t even afford to see a doctor in the States.”

Rein stirred her drink, then pulled out her straw and pointed it at me. “That’s right! You have to buy that stuff… what’s it called?”

“Insurance,” I told her. “It can be really expensive, unless you work for a big corporation.” I changed the subject. “I used to think New Zealand was more conservative, but—”

Veronica interrupted. “No way, we’re heaps more liberal,” she corrected me. “It’s the Bible belt out there. Don’t you lot, like, pray before every meal?”

“Not exactly,” I told her, and pulled up a stool. Clearly, we had a lot to chat about.


  1. There seems to be two different conversations going on here. What do they think you're talking about?

  2. Anal play! You're solution to birth control?
    What the hell are you smokin?

  3. he he he he ha ha he he.

    this is gonna be fun :). I remember the time my illusions painfully acquired from screaming preachers got shattered.

    took a week to recover some composure and the rest of my life to try and root out all the early programming.

    have fun with it Antonia.

  4. "Nancy, I want my Pleasure Kittens included in the bill"
    "Oh.. BO, I love it when you talk to me like that!!"
    "I'm not talking about you. And stop calling me BO"
    "Yes Barry. I buried the line on the Pleasure Kitten coverage on page 1756"
    "Good. I gotta keep my girls clean"
    "I showered this morning. Do you think we could...?"
    "No. Not now. I'm late for basketball practice"

  5. Jesus... quite a dramatic turn switching from circmnavigating NZ to visiting brothels in the big city.

    Can't wait to see what's in store next week.

    at least give us a visiting sailors perspective of Auckland (anchorages that is.... not brothels).

  6. Antonia the Princess is also the Drama Queen. Peter has to be the Prince.