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The Best Movies About Sex Work

Here's a handy guide to help navigate the wealth of sex work-centric films Hollywood has to offer.

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This entire reliance on rich men is the biggest obstacle to Irene being with Jean, a hotel employee she sleeps with one night after mistaking him for a wealthy guest. Jean is infatuated with Irene but after depleting his entire savings in just one afternoon of wooing, realizes that the only way he can be close to her is to join in the game. Irene takes Jean on as an apprentice, teaching him how to cater to wealthy elderly ladies, and the two become lovers as well as colleagues. American movies are so reliably bad at doing sweet and funny simultaneously that the jokes here are made even more delightful for their rarity. Finally, a prostitute movie you can take home to Mama.

Hottest Sex: The Center of the World

When computer whiz kid Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) convinces stripper Florence (Molly Parker) to join him in Las Vegas for a weekend, neither seems sure of what to expect. Richard's new affluence baffles him, and Florence isn't used to spending time with paying men outside of the dark and noisy confines of a club. Since one of Florence's conditions for the trip is "no penetration," she grinds and writhes on Richard as her stripper persona from 10pm to 2am and spends the rest of the day with him as a companion. As the two develop a real friendship, their chemistry goes from the charged dynamic of client/provider to a more personal desire. Richard is a genuinely nice guy, so nice that he's even undeterred by her (fake) period all over his lap and hands. His kindness infuriates Florence, who's desperately trying to keep her emotions out of the arrangement.

Molly Parker, the pale, thin redhead who played a prostitute in Suspicious River and a necrophiliac in Kissed, is possibly the most erotic actress working today, and although Richard tells her "you don't look like a stripper," it seems probable that she'd be the most popular girl in the joint. She knows how to work her eyes and mouth when her face is centimeters away from a man's. The film is also memorable for an onscreen, detailed description of female ejaculation (during anal sex no less!), the first and only I've come across in any (non-porn) movie.

Lifetime Achievement Award in Sex Work Obsession: David Lynch

Given Lynch's interest in archetypes, it's no surprise that whores and virgins are among his most common characters. Laura Palmer, of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, is a high school prostitute, as is her murdered friend Theresa, whom Laura's father occasionally hired. In Lost Highway, Alice is at one moment a loving wife and the next a porn actress who has sex less for sex's sake and more as a means of manipulation. Lynch is particularly intrigued by the parallels between actors and sex workers; Mulholland Drive's nameless prostitute closely resembles aspiring actress Diane, and Nikki of Inland Empire vacillates between living life as prostitute and a film actress.

Of all his works, Inland Empire is the most consumed with sex work; it's even framed by a Polish call girl who watches the movie on a TV and haunted by a group of young American prostitutes who occasionally sing. The complexities of sex work are well served by Lynch's opaque, tangled story-telling style, which routinely highlights the gray area created by the myriad ways people use sex as a tool, even if not directly for cash. When someone asks the Polish escort "you know what whores do?", she responds with "they fuck", no doubt intentionally leaving out the stipulation "for money."

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