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'Female porn stars are happier' report slammed by expert

Philippa Lees
Monday, November 26, 2012
Image: Thinkstock
A study claiming porn actresses are happier in their sexuality and self-image than other women has been discredited by an Australian expert.

The US research, from Pennsylvania's Shippensburg University, the Texas Woman's University and the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation set out to disprove popular stereotypes – including the assumption that most adult film stars were abused as children or were addicted to drugs.

Sheila Jeffreys, a sex industry expert at Melbourne University, said the study, Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis is "sullied" by poor research and bias – having been funded in part by the industry.

By surveying 177 American adult actresses and the same number of women outside the industry, researchers found a higher rate of happiness and self-esteem as well as sexual satisfaction in the porn industry. They also found no difference in the rate of childhood abuse between the two groups.

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 three and a half years. More than one-third were either married or in a serious relationship, and 44 percent were single.

Related: Porn damaging one in three relationships

The study also found that female performers were more likely to have used illegal drugs and a very high number of sexual partners in real life compared with the control group.

Jeffreys said pornography was often more damaging than prostitution and these conclusions made false assumptions.

"Pornography is likely, in some ways, to be more severe than other forms of prostitution in its effects," Jeffreys said.

"The women are penetrated over long periods of time, often hours … having to take a number of drugs to survive the pain.

"The drugs include painkillers, also used in prostitution inside the vagina … muscle relaxants and drugs to disassociate mind from body to survive the violation, such as marijuana and heroin.

"Women who are interviewed whilst still in prostitution give very different responses from those who have left, often to protect their sense of self."

Since conducting its survey the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, which provides HIV tests for actors in the porn industry, has been shut down following allegations of inadequate care.

Jeffreys said its survey question around childhood abuse was not specific enough and, contrary to the conclusions, women were unlikely to benefit in any way from working in the adult industry.

"There is no benefit except that women can get immediate money for rent and food.

"In 2007 average earnings of woman in prostitution according to the industry in Australia was $29,000, poverty wages.

"The health effects of both, in terms of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, post-traumatic stress disorder and opportunity costs – that they have usually not finished education and have no job experience – are very considerable."

The study was published in the Journal of Sex Research.

Author: Philippa Lees

Approving editor: Rory Kinsella.


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