Parenting takes you on some interesting twists and turns, but as I lay in the maternity ward gazing into my newborn’s eyes, never in my wildest dreams could I ever have imagined that 21 years later I’d be trawling the websites of sex workers looking for a suitable young lady to take his virginity. Yet that’s exactly where I found myself earlier this year.
We’d not long left the hospital when I noticed my baby’s gaze had a distant quality. A few days after his third birthday, he was diagnosed with autism.
He’s now learning to drive and to catch public transport, having finished high school. But navigating social relationships is harder than reading a train timetable or Google Maps. Physically and sexually, he is a young man, but his social skills lag by several years.
I hope one day he will find the right girl, his own version of Love on the Spectrum. But how can we healthily channel his sexuality until then?
Briefly I wondered whether he might prefer to meet the right boy, as more autistic people identify as LGBTQ+ than those without autism. However, while my son thinks he’s bisexual, it’s clear from his comments that he’s primarily attracted to women. “No filter,” his teacher once observed.
This frankness is largely a blessing. Teenage boys now have unfettered access to internet pornography, but – unlike my son – don’t confide their viewing habits to their mother, giving her the opportunity to correct misperceptions. There’s a danger in socially isolated autistic males, with their obsessive tendencies, being exposed to misogynistic porn. Already they are overrepresented among “incels” (involuntary celibates), who are known for their anti-women views.
So, when my son alluded to certain “activities” he’d obviously come across online, I was able to explain that, in real life, not all girls like that sort of thing. That good sex was about mutual caring and respect.
I’d suggested the idea of a sex worker to him a couple of years ago when he had trouble getting past his first rejection, his first broken heart. Unfortunately, the pandemic intervened. Then, late last year, I attended a webinar on disability and sexuality.
A male sex worker from Touching Base, a Sydney-based charitable organisation that links up sex workers and people with a disability, answered questions, as well as a female worker called “Anna” who identified as neurodiverse. Touching Base’s vision aligns with that of People with Disability Australia, which argues that “people with disability have a right to a sexual life, just like everyone else”.
Feeling validated, I asked Touching Base to email me a list of suitable sex workers and summoned my son to look through the candidates. After lobbying hard for this to happen, he suddenly became diffident. “You choose,” he said.
Ha-ha: a mother’s prerogative.
I’m not opposed to tattoos, but the heavily inked women in black leather looked rather fierce. In contrast, there were a couple of workers who favoured a girl-next-door look. One of them I recognised as Anna, from the webinar. I had my girl.
Worried others might judge, I confessed our plans only to one good friend, who also has an autistic son. He had visited a brothel off his own bat. She was quietly proud of his initiative (parents of children with disabilities have a completely different frame of reference for achievement) but wryly added she’d have preferred to hear about it in less detail.
I emailed Anna, describing my boy and what he sought from the encounter, but also what I wanted. My son understood consent in theory, but I wondered if he could apply it. Who better, I thought, to educate him than an experienced sex worker? Anna was agreeable and we negotiated terms – a four-hour “immersion experience” for $1,000.
She asked if we’d be using NDIS funding, but I demurred. Some brave souls have fought for and won the right to have sex work included in their NDIS plans, but this was one battle with bureaucracy I preferred to avoid.
Finally, the day arrived. I’d once imagined that disability sex workers would be a distinct and rather dowdy bunch, not everyday workers who’d diversified. In my mind’s eye, my son’s first sexual encounter would be with a short-haired woman wearing sensible shoes, not the bare-footed sylph with pre-Raphaelite curls who opened the door to us.
It’s probably all downhill from here, young man, I couldn’t help thinking.
I left them alone and did what any other mother would do after dropping her child off at a sex worker’s: I cooled my heels in a coffee shop, read magazines, window-shopped and avoided using my imagination.
Four hours later, after collecting him, I inexplicably choked up.
“Are you OK, Mum? You seem distressed,” he said, in an impressive display of empathy for someone who (by nature of his condition) is supposed to lack it.
I reassured him I was fine but did not want to know what happened, and mercifully he took this onboard. When he later admitted, “This has been the best day of my life,” I knew I’d done the right thing.
Still, I wondered how it was from Anna’s perspective. What was the protocol here – could I ask? Perhaps she read my mind because a few days later I received emailed feedback. My son was totally respectful and would make someone a lovely boyfriend when the time came, she wrote.
Throughout this my husband preferred to remain in the background, not out of misplaced prudishness but because he worries that sex work is exploitative. Which it can be, obviously. But none of this applies to Anna, who’s her own boss and obviously comfortable in her choices.
My son is keen on a second visit, but I told him that he’ll have to save up for it himself. Hopefully he will find a girlfriend one day and learn to enjoy sex in a loving relationship. Whatever happens, I will remain forever grateful to Anna for the gift of confidence she has given my son.