Porn Stars Molested About as Often as Accountants, New Study Finds

What Women Really Think
Nov. 28 2012 2:58 PM

Porn Stars Molested About as Often as Accountants, New Study Finds

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Former adult film actress Jenna Jameson has written about her childhood sexual abuse

Photograph by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Whenever a new porn starlet appears on The Howard Stern Show, Stern asks her the same biographical question: “Were you molested as a child?” Many of them were, and detail their history of childhood sexual abuse on the air. Some admit to it later. “I lied like a rug,” Jenna Jameson wrote in her book, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, of her own appearance on Stern’s show. “I didn’t want anyone to think that I was in the business because I was a victim."

Stern’s routine line of questioning has fueled the perception that all porn performers are victims of child sexual abuse, and that their career choices are the result of this unresolved past trauma. A new study challenges that assumption. According to the study, published this month in the Journal of Sex Research, a significant percentage of women in porn do report to have been molested as children—but nearly as many women outside the porn industry report the same thing.

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Researchers administered a voluntary survey to 177 female performers seeking routine STD testing at the now-defunct porn industry clinic, the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation. The survey was also administered to a demographically comparable group of women, recruited through universities and airports, who have not performed in porn. Thirty-six percent of the porn performers reported being molested as children, compared to 29 percent of the nonperformers (previous community surveys have found childhood sexual abuse rates ranging from 20 to 40 percent). Female porn performers aren’t significantly more likely to have a history of sexual abuse; it’s just that we tend not to ask insurance agents and mainstream actresses about molestation on live radio. As porn performer and director Kimberly Kane told Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon, “I’ve found that everyone is damaged no matter what line of work they’re in.”

The study did find some significant differences between women who perform in porn and those who don’t. The porn actresses reported having more sexual partners (off the set) in the past year than most women had in a lifetime. (The performers reported an average of 74 lifetime sexual partners, compared to the nonperformer average of 5.) Performers were more likely to have experimented with drugs, have a history of alcohol abuse, and smoke more weed (hey—they do all live in California). They also reported that they enjoyed sex more, had higher levels of self-esteem and social support, were more spiritual, and were much more likely to identify as bisexual than the non-performers.

Of course, the study’s participants represent just a slice of the estimated 1,200 to 1,500 performers currently employed in the porn industry. And though the study included women ages 18 to 50 who had been performing between one month and 30 years, it didn’t include women who had exited the industry. It only surveyed women who liked the gig enough to stick around. As the researchers note, those women who do choose porn as a career are part of a highly insular group. Their reports of high self esteem and social support could be affected by the fact that they receive significant “reinforcement from management, coworkers, and fans” within the industry—and are forced to deflect high levels of stigma from those who are on the outside, looking in.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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