We all know how the mainstream media typically embellishes the sex industry. Mainstream media outlets glamorize the "porn star life" (along with the "stripper life" and the "hooker life") and focus discussions on women's choices to participate in the sex industry. There are also sometimes late night shows broadcasted on TV, which give a good image of and/or defend the pornography industry, and also pretend that violence in pornography is the exception and not the rule. As anti-pornography feminists say: "To focus on women’s complex choice to participate, while portraying anti-pornography feminists as judgmental and critical of the women in pornography, has been a powerful way to erase and undermine critique of the industry itself and of those who most benefit from it-the producers, pimps, and consumers... Women at top feature companies, such as Vivid, often command relatively high salaries and can make additional money on the strip-bar circuit. These are the women we see on the Howard Stern show, in men’s magazines such as Maxim, and in other mainstream media outlets... Not featured in glamorized mainstream media portrayals is the bodily damage women risk in the industry. Many women suffer from botched breast implants and other surgeries, and condom use is still the exception, not the norm... The idea that women in porn make a lot of money is itself a distortion, fueled by intense media focus on the few Jenna Jamesons of the world. Most women in porn do not get rich, particularly since they have a very brief "shelf life" -- so even if they initially command a high rate per scene or per movie, their market value as "fresh meat" declines rapidly." (1) Typically pornography performers, in interviews, say things like "I freely chose that career and I love it", but we should not forget that these women are ACTING, whether they are on the set or in interviews. You don't really know what they say and think when the camera is off.
A. HOW WOMEN GET INTO PORNOGRAPHY:
This is rarely a "totally free choice" as many pornography defenders put it. As Robert Jensen says: "A meaningful discussion of choice can't be restricted to the single moment when a woman decides to perform in a specific pornographic film but must include all the existing background conditions that affect not only the objective choices she faces but her subjective assessment of those choices." (2) In fact, women get into pornography under a variety of constraints:
1. CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE: When a woman or a girl has been raped or molested (sometimes repeatedly) in childhood, she is more likely to be revictimized (3), and more vulnerable to recruitment for pornography and prostitution. (4) In one study on prostitution, 70% of the women reported that past sexual abuse affected their decision to become a prostitute. (5) A history of childhood sexual abuse often leads vulnerable young women to believe that their primary purpose in the world is providing sexual pleasure for men. It is also worth noting that child sexual abuse is shockingly common. Researchers estimate that, in the U.S.A., about 25% of girls and 10% of boys are sexually abused (6), which is equivalent to one in four girls and one in ten boys. Another study showed that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, (7) so, indeed, child sexual abuse might be more common than we think it is. There is no particular research that has been specifically carried out on pornography performers, but to summarize study findings, research carried out on prostitutes (some of whom had pornography made of them) and clinical literature on different types of prostitution, it is estimated that between 65% and 95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children. (8) Some studies estimate that, in the U.S.A., the percentage of women in prostitution, who are survivors of child sexual abuse, is closer to 85%. (9) Some ex-porn actresses, as well as some people who knew pornography performers, have also testified that most women in pornography are indeed survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation's website also quotes "Survivors of Incest Anonymous" in its "Recovery and Support Groups" section, (10) which shows that they know it is not uncommon for pornography performers to be incest survivors. Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist who counsels strippers and prostitutes, estimates that between 60% and 80% of strippers are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (11)
2. CHILDHOOD PHYSICAL ABUSE: Child physical abuse is another way of influencing a "choice" to enter the sex industry. When a child is beaten or physically hurt in any other way by a parent or a cargiver, it is very traumatizing. In a research on prostitution in 9 countries, 59% of the 854 prostitutes interviewed said that, as children, they had been hit or beaten by a caregiver until they were injured or bruised. (12) Some children get both physical and sexual abuse. Others get only sexual or only physical abuse. Both "physical and sexual assaults of children result in pathological adjustment responses that leaves adults vulnerable to being manipulated and abused in adult relationships. These include: difficulty creating or sustaining trust, inability in setting and enforcing personal boundaries (including sexual boundaries), lowered self-esteem (including self-doubt, self-blame, and lowered self image), difficulty in recognizing cues for danger, and relationships characterized by an imbalance of power." (13) Any other kind of sad experience in childhood (such as emotional abuse, child neglect, or exposure to psychological and/or physical violence,etc...) can also precede a girl or woman's entry into the sex industry. (14)
3. POVERTY, HOMELESSNESS AND/OR ECONOMIC DEPRIVATION: Other social factors such as poverty, unemployement, or homelessness can make some women enter the sex industry. Some girls get kicked out of their home as soon as they're 18, or sometimes, even before that age. Others run away from abusive homes. Many of them have a lack of work experience and education, and have no money for studying. These girls need food and a shelter. Sometimes, they become the preys of ruthless pimps who prostitute them, or make them participate in the production of pornography. It also happens that a girl or a woman who has not got a lot of experience or education, finds herself in debt or economic needs and have to make an (at least) meaningful sum of money very quickly. It has been documented that being poor or disadvantaged economically or educationally is one of the ways to drive women and girls (and sometimes men and boys) into the sex industry. (15) Why would we say that the women in pornography and prostitution, who are sexually, physically and emotionally mistreated in every way possible, have made their choices to be there? When we seriously think about it, it is obvious that, generally, those "choices" have been made under a certain form of constraint somehow. Seeing them smiling and/or enjoying their "career" on the set or in interviews and broadcasts, is part of the sex industry's marketing scheme. The women have to ACT their part so the industry can make more money.
4. TRAFFICKING: Sex trafficking occurs either domestically and internationally. Selling human beings' (especially women's and girls') bodies is one of the world's most important sources for trafficking, besides the trafficking in guns and drugs. There is no need to try to differentiate prostitution from trafficking. Trafficking is merely prostitution on a globalized scale. There are books -- such as Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress (2003) and Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography (2004) for instance -- and websites -- such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (catwinternational.org), Prostitution Research and Education (prostitutionresearch.com) -- which document that. When trafficking occurs internationally, vulnerable women from very poor countries are brought to Western or richer countries, after being given the promises of a job abroad and a better life by either fraudulent advertising or traffickers. When they reach their destinations, they find out that they are being sold for prostitution in brothels, and sometimes get pornography made of them (which is probably later put on the Internet). Some of these trafficked (either nationally or internationally) women get also sold to the stripping industry. (16) Alternatively, some women and girls are kidnapped and "seasoned". There are methods of control pimps use to break down their victims' emotional, psychological and physical resistance and to season them into prostitution and, sometimes, the making of pornography. These techniques of control and domination involve beating, raping and torturing women and girls into submission. (17) They also involve showing women pornography to instruct them on how to "perform" in prostitution. (18) Through the great amount of research that has been made on prostitution, there is a good reason to believe that pornographers probably have the same techniques of control. It becomes so obvious when you read about it. Once, she has been seasoned by a pimp, a prostituted woman or girl is expected to do anything the john wants. She has to endure all kinds of bodily violations and invasions and must service many anonymous men every day, while pretending that she enjoys these violations. (19) Whatever are the circumstances in which she entered the sex industry, a woman or girl often endures pimps' techniques of control. Many pimps have made pornography of the women they prostitute. Also, some men force their wives and girlfriends into prostitution, and make pornography of them, which they sometimes later post on the Internet as "amateur" or "homemade" videos. (20) Alternatively, some women are unaware when pornography is made of them. Increasingly, men secretly take pictures or film women (with mobile phones or cameras) when they are naked in restrooms, changing rooms, etc., and then post the pictures or film on voyeur website. Some men take naked pictures of their wives and girlfriends (consensually or unconsensually), and later put them on the Internet without telling their partners. The Internet has hugely expanded global sex trafficking (21); Systems of prostitution are interconnected: some strippers are also prostituted in escort services or massage parlors; some women who were prostituted or "pornographised" as children get into porn; many strippers get into porn; women in brothels get pornography made of them, etc...
5. FRAUDULENT JOB ADVERTISEMENTS: It has been documented before (22) that pornographers have fraudulently placed recruitment ads for "models" or "actresses" in newspapers (they probably place some on the Internet nowadays). When the women reply to these ads and go for an "interview", they find out that it is not the "modeling" or "acting" they expected, they're being coerced into posing or performing in porn. Some women have also come across ads for "escort" which omit mentioning the sexual component of the "job". We don't know how often women enter the sex industry through fraudulent job advertisements, but we know for sure that it happens.
6. CULTURAL TRAINING AND/OR SOCIALIZATION TO THE PORNIFIED CULTURE: There are indeed some women who eagerly seek "careers" in the pornography industry. And why? Because the whole culture promotes the "porn star" job as a glamorous job. From hit movies to music videos, the images of the stripper and "the happy hooker" are shown as "liberating" and "empowering" for women. Some young girls unfortunately are still immature, even when they turn 18, and with no doubt fall for the pernicious ideologies that the media industries (whose owners, managers, producers and broadcasters are predominantly men) want them to believe. This culture obviously trains women and girls to be sexually available for the pleasure of men. However, even those women and girls -- who "choose" to enter the stripping or porn industry after having had a harmful pornifed cultural and social training -- do not choose the conditions in which they will "work".
7. TOTALLY FREE CHOICE: It is always possible that there are a few women out there who do freely choose to enter the industry, and are fully aware of what's involved. We do not believe it is common though, contrary to what the pornographers and the media would have us believe. Otherwise the research made on prostitution would show different results. If somebody was asking us "What if I knew that this particular woman's choice to enter the porn industry wasn't constrained by anything?", we should answer: "By renting or buying that DVD or by looking at this porn site, you are creating the demand for pornography, and that means you can be sure that there are plenty of other women who will enter the industry with "choices" that are a lot less free, and more women will be hurt".
B. HOW WOMEN ARE HARMED INSIDE OF THE INDUSTRY:
No matter how a woman who is in pornography has entered the industry, she will have to face the highly likely:
1. PSYCHOLOGICAL HARMS: One of the psychological harms is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which often results from abuse in childhood or sexual violence in adulthood, and notably involves a traumatic re-experiencing of events, a protective emotional numbing and autonomic nervous system hyperarousal. (23) Of the 854 prostituted respondents interviewed by researchers, 68% met the criteria for PTSD. (24) Women in prostitution whose tricks or pimps had made pornography of them had significantly more severe symptoms of PTSD than did prostituted women who did not have pornography made of them. (25) One of the harms is in the process of "dissociation", which means that women in prostitution and pornography have to mentally "split" to be able to put up with what they do and survive. Fragmenting the mind into parts as well as separating mind from body are essential. That's all part of the dissociation process. (26) The use of drugs can make this process easier. Those who do not learn to dissociate properly, are more likely to become suicidal. (27) That is one of the reasons why feminists are not surprised when they see "porn stars" who say "they love what they do and they freely chose it" in interviews for TV documentaries, which are a part of the pornography industry's marketing scheme. Feminists know well that these women have well succeeded their dissociation process, which gives them a better "acting". Other mental disorders in women in prostitution may include multiple personality disorder, Complex PTSD (CPTSD - when the prostituted self takes over and there is nothing left of the real woman), bipolar disorder (which involves agitation, anxiety and depression), Stockholm Syndrome (which involves, among other thing, emotional bonding to an abuser and denial of the extent of violence and harm he has inflicted), etc... The level of emotional and psychological trauma must be awfully high in the pornography industry.
2. BODILY HARMS: Considering the fact that pornography producers always have to make increasingly more violent and degrading materials due to the increasingly desensitized users' demand to push the envelope, the unbelievable amount of bodily harms these women suffer is abject. Taking a close look at pornography in a non-sexual way makes obvious that these women suffer daily: choked during oral sex until they cry, forced to perform violent and/or painful anal sex, having their sphincters stretched in such a damaging way, getting beaten, slapped, tortured and bruised, these women must horribly suffer inside of that industry. Tears in the body and throat must be awfully painful. Sometimes, during the scenes, the women forget to act: they do not even attempt to fake moans of pleasure anymore, they are in pain and focused on being able to survive through the scene. (28)
3. EMOTIONAL PAIN: Women in pornography and prostitution cannot always mentally dissociate properly and they often undergo serious depressions and nervous breakdowns due to the emotional pain of being sexually degraded and having their bodies being awfully used and abused. Many prostituted and pornographized women suffer various mood disorders. Some of them eventually become suicidal.
4. HEALTH RISKS: The use of condoms in the American porn industry is below 20%. (29) The website of the nonprofit Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation lists some of the health risks of standard porn sex acts-from HIV and hepatitis to rectal chlamydia, gonorrhea of the throat, and damage to the vagina, throat, and anus. Scenes in which numerous men ejaculate in a woman’s face are extremely risky, the site notes, since "the eye is a direct conduit into the bloodstream." (30)
5. DRUG ADDICTION: Just like in any other form of prostitution, pornography actresses use drugs (both illegal ones and prescription ones) in great amount to be able to numb themselves to the continual objectifying intimate use of their bodies and the pain of being used and abused. (31) Some must be dying of overdose.
C. HOW MOST PORNOGRAPHY "ACTRESSES" ' CAREERS ARE SHORT AND NOT VERY LUCRATIVE:
Despite the fact that the media glamorizes porn careers as wonderful and lucrative, here is an excerpt of what social scientist Sharon A. Abbott (who interviewed porn producers, directors, company owners, magazine editors, agents, makeup artists, camera operators, porn actors and actresses) wrote in her analysis, "Motivations for Pursuing an Acting Career in Pornography", which appears in the book Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry (2000):
"Popular beliefs maintain that the lure of "easy money" draws people, particularly the young, to the world of pornography. This belief is supported by trade and fan magazines that glamorize the industry by focusing on the lavish lifestyles of its members. While the industry cultivates the idea of porn as profitable, income varies greatly by individual. Furthermore, rather than "easy money", respondents reported that most of the work is tiring, boring, and physically exhausting. Like prostitutes, a few make a great deal of money while most make a modest or meager living...
The most common scene combines oral sex and penile-vaginal intercourse, and pays, on average, $500. Though the pay is high per hour, income is limited by the amount of work actresses are offered; this money must often stretch between extended periods of no work...
In addition, particularly at the "professional level", actresses must spend a major portion of their income on their appearance. Cosmetic surgeries...are the norm in the business... Appearances at industry parties...often require costumes... Even the HIV testing, required every 30 days in order to work, must be paid for out of pocket...
[P]articipants in amateur productions are often paid little, if anything at all...
For women, erotic dancing presents an opportunity to enter the porn industry. Dancers are often informed that they can make more money stripping if they appear in a few pornographic videos, and if a dancer has established a name for herself, she may be recruited by the porn industry...
If stripping can lead to porn, the reverse is true as well. It is rare for a big-name actress not to "dance" (strip) at least periodically. Dancing provides an opportunity to increase recognition and fan appeal, and thus, to make oneself more "profitable" to the industry...
Increased recognition, however, can have negative effects on an actress's career. Porn companies are continually searching for "fresh" faces in order to appeal to both new and old viewers. Actresses who are "overexposed" in videos, magazine layouts, and dancing appearances are assumed to be unable to offer much appeal for viewers since their images become too familiar... The ingredients for having a successful career are the very things that can end one...
As one actress explained:
"Girls have a shelf life of nine months to two years, unless you are different. Like me, I am Asian, so it helps. Men stay forever. It is different for a man. If he can perform, he can stay in. There are guys that have been in the business ten or fifteen years."
Furthermore, as Levy found in the "straight" film industry, popular successful actresses are younger on average than their male counterparts, suggesting the beauty norms held by both producers and audiences. In both the straight and adult industries, actors are able to age, while actresses are replaced by younger, newer talent...
Although the industry is dependent on fans for survival, many of the respondents reported a fairly negative image of the imagined viewer... Ironically, then, actresses and actors are motivated in part to receive recognition from a group they know little about and often disparage. In addition, they reported little pride in the products they produce. Like most artifacts in the "sleaze industry", porn is disposable, mass-produced, fungible, and easily forgotten... Unlike the "straight" industry, actors and actresses are paid a flat fee for their performances, and receive no royalties for successful projects." (32)
(1) Gail Dines, Rebecca Whisnant, and Robert Jensen, SlideShow Who wants to be a porn star? Sex and violence in today’s pornography industry; 2007, unpublished.
(2) Robert Jensen, Getting Off; 2007.
(3) Coid et al., Relation between childhood sexual and physical abuse and risk of revictimization in women: a cross-sectional survey; 2001.
(4) Russell D., The Secret Trauma: Incest in the lives of girls and women; 1986.
(5) Silbert M., "The Effects on Juveniles of being used for pornography and prostitution"; in Zillman D. and Bryant J. ed., Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations; 1989.
(6) National Center for PTSD, source: ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/fs_child _sexual_abuse.html
(7) Russell D., "The Incidence and Prevalence of Intrafamilial and Extrafamilial Sexual Abuse of Female Children", in Walker E. ed., Handbook on sexual abuse of children, 1988.
(8) Farley M. and Kelly V., "Prostitution: A critical review of the medical and social sciences literature";Women and criminal justice; 2000. Farley et al., "Prostitution and Trafficking in nine countries", in Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(9) See Silbert M. and Pines A., Sexual child abuse as an antecedent to prostitution; 1981, Early sexual exploitation as an influence in prostitution; 1983; Giobbe E., Prostitution, Buying the right to rape; 1991; Hunter S. K., Prostitution is cruelty and abuse to women and children; 1994; and also Council for Prostitution Alternatives, "Characteristics of 800 CPA Participants"; 1991.
(10) aim-med.org/recovery.html [accessed on 05/08/2007]
(11) Layden M. A., "If pornography made us healthy, we would be healthy by now", Erotica USA; 1999.
(12) Farley M. et al, "Prostitution and Trafficking in nine countries", in Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(13) Christopher Kendall and Rus E. Funk, based on the works of researchers Briere J. -- Child Abuse Trauma: Theory and treatment of the lasting effects; 1992 --, Herman J. -- Trauma and Recovery; 1992 --, Higgins D. J. and McCabe M. P. -- Relationship between different types of maltreatment during childhood and adjustment in adulthood; 2000 -- , in Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress, Farley M. ed.; 2003.
(14) Melissa Farley Ed., Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(15)Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003; Not For Sale: Feminists resisting Prostitution and Pornography; 2004; Prostitution Research and Education's website at prostitutionresearch.com
(16) Sherry Lee Short, "Making hay while the sun shines", in Not for Sale; 2004.
(17)Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(18) Mac Kinnon C. and Dworkin A. Eds., In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings; 1997.
(19) Gunilla Ekberg, "The Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services: Best Practices for Prevention of Prostitution and Trafficking in Human Beings"; 2004.
(20) Stark C. and Hodgson C., "Sister Oppressions: A Comparison of Wife Battering and Prostitution", in Prostitution, Trafficking, and, Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(21) see Rebecca Whisnant and Donna M. Hughes' essays in Not for Sale; 2004.
(22) See MacKinnon and Dworkin Eds., In Harm's Way;1997; Ann Russo, "Feminists confront pornography's subordinating practices", in Pornography: the Production and Consumption of Inequality, Dines, Jensen and Russo; 1998.
(23) Melissa Farley Ed., Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(24) Melissa Farley et al., "Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder", ibid. ; 2003.
(25) Melissa Farley, "Renting an Organ for Ten Minutes: What Tricks tell Us about prostitution and Trafficking", in Captive Daughters Media Ed., Pornography: Driving the demand in International Sex Trafficking; 2007.
(26) Melissa Farley Ed., Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003.
(27) Sheila Jeffreys, "Prostitution as a Harmful Cultural Practice", in Not for Sale; 2004.
(28) See Gail Dines Conference Google Video "Pornography and Pop Culture: Putting the Text in Context" (2007) -- linked to this website in the "Content and Speech" section; Robert Jensen's Articles on his website "Robert Jensen Home Page"; Dines, Jensen, and Russo, Pornography: the Production and Consumption of Inequality; 1998; Jensen, Getting Off; 2007.
(30) aim-med.org/Risk.pdf, quoted in Dines, Jensen and Whisnant, SlideShow Who wants to be a porn star? Sex and violence in today’s pornography industry; 1997, unpublished.
(31) Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant Eds, Not for Sale; 2004.
(32) Source: nopornnorthampton.org, "Porn Actresses, Careers are Short, Few are Lucrative"; 2006.