Opinion: For his year's Dublin Fringe Festival, poet and playwright Lianne O'Hara makes her stage debut with Fluff, following two Dublin strippers through an evening’s work - below, Lianne introduces a provocative work that aims to 'amplify the voices of sex workers'.

Maeve. Outcalls only. Three hundred an hour. Irish brunette, OWO negotiable, deposit required. Nina. Brazilian beauty. Dinner dates, GFE, two hundred for incalls.

I am writing this in a cafe in Phibsborough, and while I know that one simple search query will virtually write the above paragraph for me, I hesitate. I am a writer whose debut play explores sex work in Ireland through the eyes of two Dublin strippers – and yet I do not want to be seen in public scrolling through online escort advertisements.

In 2022 Ireland, selling sex is not illegal – the buying of sex, however, is illegal. While I don’t think anyone would assume I’d be looking at advertising escorts to actually buy sex – but why not? Because I am not a man? Because I am a university teacher, and university teachers are decent people, and decent people cannot be punters? – client criminalisation, also known as the Nordic Model, has far-reaching implications, and not only for clients. In conjunction with already existing brothelkeeping laws, the implementation of this model has caused sex workers to feel more unsafe, more stigmatised, more isolated.

'Sex workers’ itself is a complex term: someone working the streets will have a vastly different experience from an escort taking incalls for three hundred euro an hour, whose experience will be different again from an ‘exotic dancer’ selling champagne and lap dances in a strip club, like Lola and Carli in Fluff. The play explores these differences, the stigma faced by sex workers on a daily basis, and the confusion between sex work and sex trafficking – a common conflation in anti-prostitution, abolitionist narratives –, from the perspectives of Lola and Carli, while also giving the audience an insight into the mechanics of a strip club: we see them wait, hustle, and analyse patrons, all in eight inch heels and pink acrylics.

Based on real-life experience, interviews with sex workers, and stories hitherto untold, Fluff is an attempt to amplify sex worker voices. ‘Nothing about us without us’ is a slogan prevalent in sex work activism. When it comes to sex work, and sex workers, everyone has an opinion – sex workers are sluts, nymphos, or ‘prostituted women’ too ignorant to understand their own miserable predicament and therefore in need of saving, by having them exit the industry.

But what if someone chooses to sell sex? What if I decided, tomorrow, to put an advertisement online and have sex with a stranger for money? Why is this anyone else’s business, beyond my own, and the client(s) involved? Because sex is sacred? Because money is sacred? Because, god forbid, the combination of sex and money could result in financial independence and bodily autonomy? (It’s very tempting here to refer to a not too distant past, in which Ireland’s anxiety surrounding the female body was firmly mortared in place in buildings all over the country.)

None of this denies the existence of sex trafficking. None of this denies that there are individuals being sold across countries, hidden away in apartments, and subjected to sexual abuse and violence. But the criminalisation of sex work is not the solution. Sex trafficking is a crime. There are laws in place for this. Sex work is work. Why are there no labour laws in place for sex workers?

In June this year, Belgium decriminalised sex work, as the first country in Europe, and the second in the world after New Zealand. Sex workers in Belgium now have access to health care, maternity leave, and social welfare, like other self-employed workers. Decriminalisation will also, hopefully, decrease stigma and prejudice against sex workers. Isn’t it, after all, my body, my choice?

Fluff premieres at Smock Alley Theatre from September 20th – 24th 2022, as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2022 - find out more here.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ