Porn stars and the naked truth

Women in the industry are healthy rather than exploited, claims new study

Female porn stars are psychologically as healthy or healthier than other women, according to a new study, which challenges widely held views about women in the adult entertainment business.

Adult entertainers were found to have higher self-esteem, a better quality of life and body image, and to be more positive, with greater levels of spirituality. They also had higher levels of sexual satisfaction and, perhaps unsurprisingly, many more partners than other women.

The American researchers, who report their findings in the Journal of Sex Research, said they found no evidence to support the "damaged goods hypothesis" that actresses involved in the porn industry come from desperate backgrounds and are less psychologically healthy compared with typical women.

"Some descriptions of actresses in pornography have included attributes such as drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, desperation and being victims of sexual abuse," they said. "Some have made extreme assertions, such as claiming that all women in pornography were sexually abused as children. Stereotypes of those involved in adult entertainment have been used to support or condemn the industry and to justify political views on pornography, although the actual characteristics of actresses are unknown because no study on this group of women has been conducted."

The psychologists compared data taken from 177 adult entertainment actresses with a sample of women matched for age, marital status and other factors. The actresses, all of whom had been paid to work on at least one X-rated movie, ranged in age from 18 to 50, with an average career in the industry of 3.5 years. More than one-third were either married or in a serious relationship, and 44 per cent were single.

One of the main claims by commentators on the industry has been that actresses have frequently experienced sexual abuse in childhood, but the results show no statistically significant difference between the two groups of women.

The study also shows that the actresses sleep better and have more energy. Almost 70 per cent gave enjoyment of sex full marks, compared with 33 per cent of the other women; and they had first had sex at a lower age: 15 rather than 17. On the negative side, industry workers had a history of more drug and alcohol use, and problems possibly linked to sensation-seeking personalities. The study was undertaken by researchers at Shippensburg University, Texas Woman's University and the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation.

Cynthia Graham, senior lecturer in health psychology at Southampton University, said: "This study really challenges views about women who engage in sex work and the porn industry. Although the study had limitations, it is one of very few that has included matched controls."

The feminist commentator Dawn Foster criticised the study: "It is dangerous to generalise about a huge industry: women who are successful and in control of their careers in one pocket don't speak for women in the less scrutinised parts. The study's main objective seems to be to prove that not all women in porn are exploited: no one has argued that. But glossing over the exploitative aspects helps no one."

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