Mind

Are Porn Stars Happier?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticNov 24, 2012 7:53 AM

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Women who appear in porn are happier than other women, enjoy sex more - and have lots more of it. So says a new paper with the pulls-no-punches title of Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis

Researchers James Griffith and colleagues sampled 177 American adult actresses, and an equal number of other women of the same age, gender and relationship status. The results were pretty clear: the actresses said they started having sex earlier; had far more partners with an average of 75 vs. 5 in their lifetime (and that's not including on camera). They were a lot more likely to be bisexual (67% vs 7%!), enjoyed sex more, and reported slightly higher levels of sexual satisfaction, happiness and self-esteem. On the other hand, they were more worried about STDs and took more drugs (50% had tried ecstasy, 40% cocaine and 27% methamphetamine.) Finally - and the authors emphasize this - they were no more likely than other women to have suffered childhood sexual abuse. They're not 'damaged goods' as that horrible phrase has it. So. Well. This study is clearly going to become a hot potato, or rather a political football in The Great Porn Debate, so let's take a calm look at it. In any survey the fundamental question is - are the respondents representative examples? Or were the porn actresses who filled out the questionnaire atypically happy? Were the comparison women unusually miserable? We really have no way of knowing. The controls were recruited from a university and an airport, which is pretty sensible although it might introduce some bias. The actresses came via adverts placed in an L.A. clinic specifically for the adult movie industry, the now-defunct AIMHF. That seems like a selective sample - but the clinic reportedly catered to most, if not all, stars in LA because all performers had to get monthly HIV tests there. Ultimately, though, we don't know how representative they were. Next up, it was all self-report. So the reports might have been wrong. However, that's a feature of all survey studies, especially those about such things as happiness. It's hard to see a way around this. It's also not clear what bias it would introduce into the results. It could be that the porn actresses were motivated to exaggerate their happiness in a bid to defend their industry, which I suspect will be a common criticism - but that assumes they're happy enough with it to want to defend it, so it's somewhat circular. Finally, and most importantly in my view, L.A. porn stars are not your average pornstars. The American professional adult movie industry is the biggest, most regulated, and most 'mainstream' in the world. Sadly elsewhere the degree of exploitation, coercion, poverty and abuse among people who end up in porn is a lot higher. Basically, I can't see anything obviously wrong with this study as far as it goes, but all it shows is that American porn actresses are in fairly good shape. Most women in porn, however, are not American.

Griffith JD, Mitchell S, Hart CL, Adams LT, and Gu LL (2012). Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis. Journal of sex research PMID: 23167939

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