Sex Actually TV review: ‘I guess I was thinking … is Kayla enjoying it?’

‘I was not prepared for the reality of watching people have sex two metres from my face’

Alice Levine parachutes into the story

Alice Levine parachutes into the story

 

As you’d expect of a documentary about couples who put on live sex shows for strangers on the internet, a lot of questionable human noises feature throughout Sex Actually with Alice Levine (Channel 4, 10pm). But the one that really stays with you in this big-hearted if sometimes slightly toe-curling film is the sound of sobbing. 

The tears come as Levine, the chatty former BBC radio presenter, asks Kayla, a 21-year-old from Newcastle, how her family feels about her line of work. “The hardest part was my dad finding out. I felt shame then,” says Kayla, breaking down. “He doesn’t understand. I don’t want to work for £6.10 an hour.”

Kayla was earning minimum wage in a sandwich shop while her boyfriend, Jack, who is 27, wasn’t doing much better as painter and decorator. Now they’re exploring the “newest frontier in Britain’s gig economy” by putting the physical aspect of their relationship on public view.

Alice Levine watches her life flash before her as she agrees to observe Kayla and Jack get down to it on camera. Afterwards, it is revealed they’ve earned just £40 – not even €50

Yet, for all the romping around, they’re not yet quite rolling in cash. Levine watches her life flash before her as she agrees to observe Kayla and Jack get down to it on camera. Afterwards, it is revealed they’ve earned just £40 – not even €50.

“It does seem like a lot of effort,” says Levine, recovering her composure. Later, she confesses to camera: “That was utterly bonkers. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever done. In many ways it feels I was deeply unprepared. I didn’t expect it to be so graphic – which is really stupid.” 

Levine isn’t here to judge. Her new series is produced by Louis Theroux, and she approximates his style of quietly bumbling into absurd situations and seeing what ensues.

She maintains a good-natured and curious demeanour as she travels to Bournemouth, where 24-year-old Nikita and 29-year-old Sam each run an OnlyFans subscription service in which they “perform solo” while also hosting their couples sessions.

This is a 24/7 job. As she chats with Levine, Nikita is constantly called away by clients who want her to ritually humiliate them over the internet and do things with sex toys. “You’ve got to remember it’s work,” Sam says with a shrug. “It’s a service people are paying for.”

The territory is similar to that covered several weeks go by Virgin Media’s Only Fans: Ireland’s X-Rated. However, Sex Actually with Alice Levine fares better by parachuting Levine into the story as an audience surrogate. She tries very hard not to moralise, although you can see her implacability crumble as she sits through Kayla and Jack. This isn’t prudishness so much as concern.

“I was not prepared for the reality of watching two people have sex just two metres away from my face,” she says. “I guess I was thinking … is Kayla enjoying it? The tears end up coming out of your eyes.”

All the couples insist they are happy with their decisions. Back in Bournemouth, Nikita and Sam say that the version of their love life they present on screen is a performance, that they save their moments of true intimacy for just the two of them. “They’re selling the bodies, but they’re not selling their love,” says Levine. “And that’s how they draw the line.”