'It Turned Very Dark, Very Quickly': Sex Workers Are Divided About Porn Drama Adult Material

Channel 4's explosive new series follows porn star Jolene, whose work has shaped her approach to life – both inside and outside of adult entertainment.
Hayley Squires plays lead Jolene in Adult Material
Hayley Squires plays lead Jolene in Adult Material
Channel 4

WARNING: Contains spoilers from episode one and references to rape.

Adult Material aims to showcase what life is like for people in the adult entertainment industry, but real-life sex workers are divided about Channel 4′s new drama.

Creator Lucy Kirkwood, who was an executive consultant on Succession, created the show because she was fascinated by how porn pervades all of our lives, yet we know so little about the way it’s made. She also wanted to address contradictions she has felt existed within the porn industry.

Speaking about Adult Material, she told Channel 4: “Porn is a part of our lives, whether we know it or not, but as a society we don’t know anything about how it’s made… Once I started to look at porn much more closely, I started to understand better what the appeal of a job that is so unappealing to most of us is.”

Hayley Squires as Jolene in Adult Material
Hayley Squires as Jolene in Adult Material
Channel 4

Lucy’s script focusses on porn star Jolene, played by Hayley Squires, who gets entangled in a series of shocking events tied to her work in the porn industry. It’s often not an easy watch.

In one plot line she takes new porn recruit Amy, played by Siena Kelly, under her wing and tries to teach her to stand up for herself against the male studio manager – but Amy ends up experiencing a distressing prolapse on set after being coerced into anal sex.

Elsewhere in the first episode, Jolene’s daughter Phoebe, played by Alex Jarrett, is raped by her boyfriend. When she tells her mother what has happened Jolene brushes the crime off, implying it’s her daughter’s job to better understand the needs of men.

The show has been generally well received by critics and viewers alike, although some sex workers who spoke to HuffPost UK feel it isn’t reflective of the realities of their jobs.

It turns very dark, very quickly, which I like, because I like to watch something with good entertainment value, but it’s definitely not an accurate representation of the adult industry,” says Levi, 30, a camera girl from Babestation.

Another sex worker from Off The Record Models, who asked to remain anonymous, agrees. “Overall I like the fact topics like these are coming into the media more, but I feel like this could’ve been portrayed a lot better, even if it is for comedic effect,” they said.

They disliked what they saw as the show exaggerating stereotypes about sex workers, potentially making it even harder for audiences to understand what sex work is really like.

“You’d get a much more human and ‘real’ idea by watching a documentary; I think this show might sadly push stereotypes of desperate women willing to do anything, being working class maybe,” adds the model from Off The Record.

Siena Kelly plays Amy in Adult Material
Siena Kelly plays Amy in Adult Material
Channel 4

Levi believes the two scenes in which characters Phoebe and Amy are sexually assaulted will “stick in people’s minds” but “weren’t handled well… it’s not giving the greatest outlook for what really goes on.”

Referring to how Jolene responds after her daughter Phoebe tells her she’s been raped, Levi says: “I was quite shocked at how Jolene, who would be more educated than anybody else to know what’s consensual and not consensual, brushed it [the rape] off like an opinion you’d expect from a 1950′s housewife.

“It was awful advice, and for a woman of the world like Jolene you would’ve thought she would’ve known that was absolutely out of order what happened to her daughter.”

“If everybody watches it, the whole world would have a different view: on consent, on sex in general, on the industry and how it’s perceived.”

- Penny Pierce, sex worker

Others felt these scenes were realistic in their depictions of the worst possible outcomes for porn stars.

Sex worker Penny Pierce, 23, thinks the scene in which Phoebe is raped was purposefully made to feel shocking in order to convey the real risks young girls face, either entering porn or growing up in general.

“It got me really quite disturbed… a lot of it is about the fine line of consent which really spoke to me just through personal experience,” she says.

Penny asserts that in sex, “not everyone understands that if there’s no verbal agreement there’s no agreement at all,” and that real life instances of scenes in the show “will continue unless it’s spoken about”.

She adds: “If everybody watches it, the whole world would have a different view on consent, on sex in general, on the industry and how it’s perceived.”

James and Ethan, two performers from So Spoilt, also praised how realistic the drama was, but felt the show fell down in terms of inclusivity.

“It showed the porn industry from a straight girls’ perspective so it didn’t represent all the types of adult workers, so maybe next time they could incorporate a more diverse cast and storyline,” they said.

Some viewers tweeted similar thoughts about how the show veered from realistic depictions of working in the porn industry to scenes which felt exaggerated. They were surprised by how dark the show became when it had begun feeling light-hearted, with one tweeting: “It’s gone from being funny to seriously disturbing.”

Another said: “I’m not being funny but all the previews looked like a story of a young powerful woman thriving in the adult industry and pure entertainment, not this dark, morally bankrupt headf**k.”

Perhaps the most prevalent takeaway is that Adult Material is a solid piece of drama, but perhaps falls short at offering a truly authentic insight into what life’s actually like working in porn.

Regardless of its legacy, Penny hopes that by simply platforming some of these challenges from within the industry, the show will help create a brighter future for all who work in porn.

“Sometimes bad things happen, but that’s what we’re trying to stop,” she said. “Normalising the industry [by showing it more on screen] will stop these negative situations that happen in the show.”

Adult Material airs on Mondays at 10pm on Channel 4. The entire series is available to watch now on All4.

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