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Louis Theroux on why Selling Sex was his most challenging documentary to date

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Lauren Geall
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Louis Theroux Selling Sex

Louis Theroux’s new documentary Selling Sex, which airs tonight at 9pm, will take an intimate look at the world of sex work through the lives of three women. 

Louis Theroux isn’t one to shy away from a difficult or controversial subject – and his latest documentary, Selling Sex, which will take an intimate look at the world of sex work, is no exception to the rule.

The laws dictating sex work across the country remain the subject of vociferous debate.

In England, Wales and Scotland, prostitution itself (the exchange of sexual services for money) is completely legal. However, a number of related activities – including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering – are crimes.

“Current UK law makes it a criminal offence for sex workers to work together for safety,” said sexual health specialist Louise Cahill, when she called for the government to change its current sex laws earlier this year.

“Brothel keeping is defined as just two or more sex workers working together. Therefore, sex workers have to choose between keeping safe and getting arrested. No one should be put in danger by the law.”

Many people have an opinion on sex work – with some focusing on the safety of sex workers, others on the morals and ethics. Now, Louis Theroux is adding his voice to the conversation with Selling Sex, his newest documentary for BBC Two.

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The one-hour documentary film will follow the lives of the three sex workers as Theroux explores their lives and experiences. As websites and social media open up the world of transactional sex to people who might have never previously considered it, the documentary will see Theroux explore whether selling sex can ever be a healthy way to make money.

“I’m always drawn to stories that involve ethical wrinkles – issues that are deeply felt, but are also divisive, and in which good-hearted people can come to opposite conclusions,” Theroux explains. “The debate around selling sex is exactly that kind of story. It is one of the most straightforward, yet complex interactions that can take place between two people.”

Writing in a post on Facebook, Theroux added: “Ashleigh, Caroline, and Victoria use social media and an industry website to sell sexual services and intimacy. The online technology allows them to review customers and customers to review them, much like Uber, Airbnb, Yelp, Ebay, etc. 

“It’s rather surreal - users claim it makes the act of selling sex safer I don’t have a clip to show you, I can’t find one online. So for now I’ll just say: it was one of the most arduous films to make because of the sensitivities involved but I’m very proud of it.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Theroux has tackled a controversial subject - in fact, that’s what makes his documentaries so great. Earlier this year Theroux revisited ‘America’s most hated family’ when he took a third trip to the Westboro Baptist Church, and he took on the difficult subject of postpartum mental health in Mothers on the Edge, which saw him follow the stories of women on two special psychiatric units.

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Research suggests that there are around 72,800 sex workers currently working in the UK - of which 32,000 work in London. It is hoped that Theroux’s documentary will help to raise awareness about the people making a living from selling sex and how technology has revolutionised the world of sex work.  

“Once we started looking we discovered that the sexual economy seems to have been turbo-charged by the prevalence of new websites and social media that allow users to meet up more easily, to write reviews of each other, and swap information,” Theroux revealed. “What we ended up with was a very intimate look at three very individual women and the different paths that led them to this field of work.

“I found it revealing and thought-provoking to make – I hope viewers have the same experience. Mainly, I’d like to thank the women who so openly and honestly let me in to their lives and helped broaden my understanding of their lives and experiences.”

Louis Theroux: Selling Sex airs at 9pm on Sunday 12 January on BBC2.

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Image: BBC Two

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Lauren Geall

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