Sex Work in the Media

As the world’s oldest profession, it’s no surprise that the public have always had a fascination with sex work. As a result, countless books, films and TV programmes revolve around or feature sex workers, though the way that they are portrayed in the media is probably very different from the reality of most people working in the industry.

For the majority of the general public, TV and films form their main point of reference when it comes to sex work. This means that films and TV shows can have a big impact on the way that the public sees sex workers and even how sex workers see themselves.

So does the media do a good job when it comes to portraying sex work? And how much does fiction differ from reality?

Sex work in films

One of the most famous portrayals of sex work in the movies is the award-winning Pretty Woman. A huge success around the world, the film made Julia Roberts a household name and encouraged the public to see sex workers as real people.

What the film has in common with others that feature sex work like Taxi Driver and Risky Business is that sex workers are generally shown to be strong women with good hearts.

However these films also tend to show sex workers in passive roles, often portraying them as helpless victims who rely on other people for support and salvation.

In many films, events happen to or around sex workers, with the women themselves often appearing unable to act to help themselves. Both films and TV shows often show women being forced into sex work, trafficked and threatened with violence. Drugs also play a big role in the plot-lines of films involving sex work.

The reality

Though every woman’s experience of sex work is different, the statistics show that the majority of sex workers are not trafficked or forced into the profession.

For some women who work in the sex industry in the UK, they feel that perhaps sex work is one of the only ways that they can earn enough to support their families, and rather than working for money for themselves, they are working to provide a home, food and opportunities for their children and loved ones.

Until sex workers themselves begin to make films and TV shows about their own experiences, the way that they are portrayed in the media is unlikely to change, with directors, actors and the audiences making assumptions about life in the industry.

Another way the portrayal of sex work in the media is changing is through social media. Recent years have seen a big increase in the number of sex workers using the internet to tell their own stories, something that can only be good for dispelling myths created by the media and for giving sex workers the voice and the identity they deserve.


Doorway supports women working in sex work, prostitution and the adult industry in Norfolk. Our aim is to develop relationships with women, providing friendship, assurance, acceptance and support. Don’t forget to Like our Facebook page and follow us on twitter @DoorwayWS for info and advice.