What Can 10,000 Porn Stars Tell us About Sex on Screen? Not as Much as You'd Think.

What Women Really Think
Feb. 19 2013 3:09 PM

What Can 10,000 Porn Stars Tell Us About Sex on Screen? Not as Much as You'd Think.

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Porn DVDs. For science.

Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Jon Millward set out to correct a cultural stereotype: Most people think of the typical porn star as “a blonde with big boobs,” but she’s really a brunette with a B-cup.

Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

For “Deep Inside: A Study of 10,000 Porn Stars,” Millward, a writer, ran a statistical analysis of the demographic info of thousands of porn performers to build a more accurate profile of the prototypical industry star. She is California-born, 5’5” tall, weighs 117 pounds, wears a 34B bra, and has brown hair. She starts performing at 22 and stops after three titles. Her first name is Nikki, and her last name is Lee.

Millward’s study—which goes on to dissect the average age of a MILF, the percentage of female performers who squirt, and the number of lifetime on-screen partners of top straight woodsmen—shines a statistical spotlight on an industry that generally shies from hard stats. But given our insatiable appetite for porn, 10,000 porn stars is still a somewhat modest sample, so it’s not clear that, as Jezebel put it yesterday, “Everything You Thought You Knew About Porn Stars Is Probably Wrong.”

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Millward extracted his data from the Internet Adult Film Database, an online porn resource that compiles information on more than 115,000 performers and 120,000 films, released as far back as the 1970s to as recently as last week. Fourteen volunteer contributors comb Adult Video News, porn review websites, and vendor publications to maintain a running log of porn produced around the world. And they face significant barriers in keeping complete and accurate tabs on 100,000 Nikkis.

First, not all performers are interested in putting their birthdates and birthplaces on blast. “People who do porn don't generally want to be found, so it's in their own best interests to fly under the radar,” IAFD webmaster Jeff Vanzetti told me. While IMDb is a standard promotional tool for any budding mainstream actor, the adult version can “make for a potentially awkward Sunday dinner” with a Google-equipped extended family. Some self-promotional performers do contact IAFD asking the site to promote their latest performance. But others email with requests “to erase them from the history books.” (Vanzetti denies most of them.)

And while many producers rely on IAFD as a kind of adult industry LinkedIn, others don’t see the point in obsessively cataloging the dimensions of their actors and the content of their scenes. IAFD catches new DVD releases through a variety of official channels, but web-only titles are underrepresented on the site. Out of “laziness” and perceived lack of “return on investment,” Vanzetti says, many internet porn producers have declined to provide IAFD with basic data on the scenes they’re churning out on the web. So the titles that end up catalogued on IAFD are the ones made for people who still buy porn in a physical format—hardly a representative sample of modern consumers.

Most support comes from viewers like you, who tip IAFD’s volunteers with new information for updating dormant entries, making corrections, or adding new titles (an editor vets each submission). That means that the site favors performers who fascinate hard-core fans the most. Volunteer preference and time availability also inform the data. Four IAFD volunteers specialize in cataloging European titles, “so we’ll have a bunch of them,” Vanzetti says. Another volunteer “handles all of our gay stuff with an assist from our sole female editor.” And two photographer volunteers make sure performers’ photos are updated with shots from the latest trade shows.

All of the above limit Millward's sample, but he's limited by his own preferences, too. In order to weed out pages too skimpy to provide any helpful data, Millward kept his analysis to “records for performers whose year of birth was known,” he told me. That means the sample is skewed toward higher-profile performers with available biographical data. That’s why he cautions readers to view the study as one of “porn stars” as opposed to “performers.” And straight, cisgender performers at that: Millward declined to run stats on some stars—gay men and trans performers—to accommodate “the average attention span of a blog reader.”

So our typical Nikki isn’t as representative as we might think. Maybe she’s just the porn star who appeals to fans who buy straight porn on DVD and tip the IAFD. Still, given the scant information we have on the porn we watch, that’s a step forward. “As far as I know, [there is] no other comprehensive record of what performers are doing, with whom, and for how long,” Millward told me. He hopes to expand his study sample in the future. “I'm sensing a sequel: 'Going Deeper!'"

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