In an effort to make a splash in the ever-expanding streaming wars, the new platform Quibi has produced a nature show hosted by Reese Witherspoon, given Chance the Rapper the reins to the new “Punk’d,” profiled former “Drag Race” winner Sasha Velour’s highbrow drag show “NightGowns,” and tried to make Chrissy Teigen the next “Judge Judy.” Launched by Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO Meg Whitman, and an obscene amount of Silicon Valley money, the mobile-only service bet on dwindling attention spans to deliver bite-sized creative content in 8-10 minute increments. Unfortunately, the platform has had trouble making a splash since its April 6 launch, with low streaming numbers prompting some advertisers to defer payments.
When A-list celebrities fail to impress, one can always bank on sex to draw some eyeballs. Thankfully, Quibi’s latest attempt is tastefully done and seems to have the right intent. “Sex Next Door,” which recently premiered on the platform, is an 8-part docuseries following four sex workers living and working in Seattle. While the form is far from groundbreaking or even very compelling, its heart is in the right place. The series grapples earnestly with the societal challenges facing its subjects, which it presents without any judgment or perspective about the individual choices. The series comes from a POV of genuinely caring about humanizing sex workers and de-stigmatizing sex work. Such uncomplicated support is almost non-existent in onscreen portrayals of sex work — and even if “Sex Next Door” does slip up at times — this fresh take is a victory worth highlighting.
“Sex Next Door” makes its first misstep by framing its opening around a newbie, a white woman who goes by Holiday who hasn’t even seen a single client at the series’ start. Though she has tattoos, her blonde hair and live-in boyfriend make her the most conventional of the four subjects. She knows nothing about the industry, but is looking forward to using the money to get out of debt since her barista shifts aren’t cutting it. She cries imagining her first session: “It’s really personal and it’s really scary.” While her boyfriend seems supportive at first, he eventually shows his true colors, grossly asking her to shower after her first session. Her storyline turns around by series’ end, however, when it’s revealed she has wisely moved on from the relationship.
Sporting a hip undercut and a more positive attitude is Endza, who offers far more experienced and holistic approach to sex work. Through Endza the filmmakers gained access to a real session, with the client’s face blurred out, and the intimacies feel as natural and awkward as any date. Endza sees her work as therapeutic, describing a cancer survivor client who came to her for help with chemo-related erectile dysfunction. “Connection is a learned skill,” she says, explaining how sex and intimacy are basic human needs that elude many people. “Clients are generally wonderful and kind. I get to make a good living off of people who treat me with a lot of respect.”
The only person of color in the series, Cayene is a single mother who uses social media and camming to solicit clients for full service work. Like any influencer, she bemoans the constant attachment to her phone and making content, but generally loves her work and feels empowered by it. After recently coming out to her mother as a sex worker, the two women share candid but loving conversations around sex work. While her mother isn’t thrilled about Cayene’s choices, she still loves her and remains in her life, even offering support by babysitting when Cayene is working. “I’d rather have a relationship with you than not,” she says. Endza’s aunt is similarly supportive, though she worries about career longevity. These scenes of familial openness and care feel so unusual, and it is heartening to witness two older women grapple with their feelings about sex work in such an honest and non-judgmental way.
Finally, “Sex Next Door” scored a major boon with Jesse, a male dominant who fosters catharsis through BDSM. His session with a middle-aged trans man is both eye-opening and uncomfortable to watch, less due to the physical pain than the emotional turmoil on display. The client explains he has body issues due to gender dysphoria, and Jesse allows him to embrace those demons and, hopefully, release some of the pain. One cis woman client credits Jesse with saving her marriage. The series describes him as “a performer, an artist, and a sex worker.”
Leave it to Seattle, home of Dan Savage and the first unionized strip club, to produce one of the first truly positive and de-stigmatizing shows about sex work. While the oldest profession has a long way to go towards finally getting the respect it deserves, “Sex Next Door” offers one bite-sized drop in the bucket of positive media about sex work.
“Sex Next Door” is now available to stream on Quibi.