New Study Shows that Porn Actresses are Not All Abuse Survivors with Low Self-Esteem

It's a common belief that anyone who would have sex with multiple people on camera for money must have low self-esteem. Most anti-porn critics claim that most (some even say all) women who work in the adult industry are survivors of child sexual abuse and this alone indicates that porn is bad, bad, bad. If it wasn't so bad, why wouldn't 'undamaged' women do it?

Although we often hear this, there have actually never been any large-sample, comparative studies to show that it's true. Well, finally someone is trying to put the test to those claims. Researchers from Pennsylvania's Shippensburg State University and Texas Women's University just released their study in which they interviewed 177 women who work in the adult film industry. They also interviewed women who do not work in the industry and them matched a sample to the porn actresses ages, ethnicities, and marital status. The interviews consisted of questions about the subjects' history, self-esteem, and attitudes toward sex.

Although the study has a lot of limitations - given that the questions didn't go into great detail on any of the subjects - two things emerged as pretty clear.

First, the porn actresses reported approximately the same level of history of child sexual abuse as did the non-actresses - around 40%.

Second, the porn actresses reported significantly higher (that's right, higher, not lower) self-esteem than the non-actresses.

Other things that came out of the study that were interesting were that the actresses reported being much more concerned about STI's than the general population group. They also reported enjoying sex much more than the general group.

Again, the study is not conclusive and can only tell us what this group of women said about these questions. However, this is a fairly large sample size - much larger than any of the few studies conducted previously. It does tell us more than we've known before. What it seems to be telling us is that most porn actresses (at least the ones who were surveyed here) enjoy sex, enjoy what they do, and feel good about themselves on the whole.

I imagine there will be a lot of criticism of this study by the anti-porn faction. There is a segment of our culture that is heavily invested in the idea that women who do porn are victims. I think the big question is not necessarily if they are or aren't, but why we so desperately need them to be.

I think it has a lot to do with our values around sex and our understanding of gender. When we look at porn, whether it looks like the women are enjoying themselves or not, we seem to have to convince ourselves that they are not. We don't have space in our society for women who freely and openly enjoy sexual pleasure. We seem to need to protect ourselves from that concept. We have an even harder time with the idea that some women might enjoy things that many people consider extreme or degrading. It doesn't fit with our image of female sexuality. And so we tell ourselves that those women are clearly being forced to do those things. That is the only way that it makes sense. We cannot conceive of a woman who participates in the raw sex we see in some porn simply because she likes it.

Now I am not saying that I believe that women are not exploited in porn. There will always be exploitation of women (and yes, men) in porn, just as there is exploitative of women in all industries. But I do think that there are, particularly now, a lot of women involved in the porn industry who are doing so on their terms and have control over their own work lives and careers. These are not women who don't see any other option or feel that their only value is in their sexuality. These are women who have chosen to do this because it is something that appeals to them and they feel it's a good way for them to make a living. It may be hard for the anti-porn critics to swallow but this study seems to give some evidence to back that up.

You can read the abstract to the study and download it here.

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