Jan 28, 2020
Louis Theroux’s documentary #Selling Sex wasn’t an easy watch. The Twitter feed reflected the range of responses to be expected from TV journalism that enters this far into the personal worlds of women who sell via online sites. Some praised his balanced, compassionate stance, some criticised him for creating another exploitative and exposing situation for the women to fall into and others were angered by the suggestion that that the sex economy is not a place for those who genuinely choose to take power and use it by selling something people want to buy.
The range of responses reflects the range of emotions that Theroux clearly felt as he spoke with three very different women about their real lives, their real desires for acceptance, affection, freedom, affirmation and fulfilment and, for two of the women, their real need to earn some money.
At Beyond the Streets we speak with people who talk about many of the same issues. Some women talk about how selling sex affects their personal relationships. I have been told by many how it leaves them feeling isolated instead of accepted and others talk of being trapped in a source of income that is ruining their self esteem and wreaking havoc with their bodies. The women who call us don’t tell me how empowered they feel. Like Victoria, the mum selling sex to give her children the life she never had growing up, many have said how they didn’t know what else to do. Just like Victoria and Ashley, I have been told many times how the abuse experienced as a child left women sexually and emotionally numb and paved the way for what they do now.
Louis asks, ‘Are they leveraging the after-effects of trauma into financial opportunity? Does it represent a kind of power or its opposite?’ We speak with women who entered the sex trade when they recognised that they could at least fill the fridge by offering a simulated version of intimacy. They don’t describe powerfulness or even making the best of a bad situation, rather about how they would just love to be able to pay the rent without having to lead a life of pretence, where men pay for the privilege of not having to consider where you enjoy what you do.
Ashley says to Louis, ‘No one wants me to be around just for who I am, people want to be around me for what I can give to them, and for most men, what I can give to them is sex.’ At Beyond the Streets, our privilege is to be around women as they explore another story of value, just because they are; as they recognise that they have overcome a great deal. There is real power in that recognition and when women harness it they discover a new energy to do things they never thought possible.