the two studies about porn stars

So yeah. This study found actors in adult films in LA were no more likely to report childhood sexual abuse, and were more likely to report higher self-esteem and sexual satisfaction. This other study has gotten less media coverage – it’s from the same researchers, comparing student perception of performers and self-report of performers; basically what it says is that the results of the first study would surprised a lot of college students.

For those who are skeptical, the studies are fine as far as they go. They’re very simple, so as long as you accept the limitations that we all accept all the time for self-report questionnaires, and as long as you recognize that their sample represents only what their sample represents, it’s, ya know, social science.

Regarding the question of reported childhood sexual abuse among adult film performers, 36.2% (64) of actresses and 29.3% (52) of the matched sample reported being abused. Which. Okay, let’s pause for a minute:

1 in 3 women in their study reported being sexually abused as a child, and that’s considered the NORMAL rate. WHAT THE CHRIST IS WRONG WITH OUR CULTURE.

Okay, back to our show. Their stated goal in the paper was simply to test the (ahem) “damaged goods” hypothesis that “all” actresses in the adult film industry had been sexually abused. So they asked this as a yes/no question (even though we know that (PDF) how you ask about CSA matters (PDF)), so we have no information about severity (which has been found to impact arousal and orgasmicity <-- there\’s a lot more in this paper, pretty interesting), or about perceived impact on their current sexual satisfaction. All we know is that the overall reported rate is not significantly different. I feel like this was a missed opportunity. It makes me nutsy that they didn\’t ask about SIS AND SES. I would LOVE to know if adult film workers tend to be higher or lower on inhibition or excitation. I mean, what would you guess? You’d guess higher SES and lower SIS, right? Me too. But who knows? No one, because (to my knowledge) no one has asked.

And furthermore there’s now strong evidence that adult survivors of CSA have heterogeneous profiles in terms of hypo- and hypersexuality, mediated by differences in excitatory and inhibitory responses to sexually relevant stimuli, so wouldn’t it be interesting to know how that heterogeneity split across adult film performers and the matched sample? Wouldn’t it?!

To my knowledge, that study has never been done.

It’s a FASCINATING topic, rich with potential, and all this study did was, like, not even scratch the surface, they just pointed to the surface and said, “Look, a surface.”

I might be missing the point. Maybe the point is that a lot of people are surprised to learn that women porn stars aren’t literally *all* screwed up victims. They’re only as likely (or slightly less) to be screwed up as everybody else. And my desire for greater precision and depth is just me being a nerd while everyone else is like, “Oh hey, wow, porn stars are regular people.”

So let me add, for the record, that all the people I’ve ever met who’ve had movies made of them having sex, seemed just as normal/crazy as everyone else I’ve met. Actually, because they tended to be more on the radical sex-positive feminist side of the porn spectrum, I generally found them to be quite a lot saner about sex than your average American.

And I feel pretty sure that people’s surprise that adult performers are regular people is mostly due to how hung up most people are about sex; after all, if someone can do something you’re afraid to do, like have sex in public, they’re either heroes or fucking lunatics, right? But I haven’t actually measured that hypothesis empirically.