Contrary to common belief, female porn stars have great self esteem

Pornographic actresses are probably having more sex than you. No surprise there. But a newly published study suggests there's a good chance many of them have better self esteem, to boot — not to mention more enjoyable sex lives, better body images, and more positive outlooks on life. As for the widely held belief that female porn actresses share a history of sexual abuse (commonly known as the Damaged Goods Hypothesis), the researchers found the actresses were no more "damaged" than their non-pornographic counterparts.

In a study recounted in the latest issue of the Journal of Sex Research, a team of investigators led by Shippensburg University psychologist James D. Griffith surveyed 177 porn actresses on "a variety of behavioral, social, and psychological dimensions," namely: demographic information (age, ethnicity, etc), sexual behaviors and attitudes, self-esteem, quality of life and drug use.

"Some descriptions of actresses in pornography have included attributes such as drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, desperation, being pimped out, and being victims of sexual abuse," write the researchers. "Some have made extreme assertions, such as claiming that all women in pornography were sexually abused as children."

But studies on women in porn are lacking. And without data, argue Griffith and his colleagues, "claims regarding the attributes of pornography actresses lack support."

Contrary to common belief, female porn stars have great self esteem

Griffith's team relied on self-reported survey responses from pornographic actresses ranging from 18—50 years of age. The average performer had been in the industry for 3.5 years. Self-esteem, quality of life and drug use were surveyed using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the World Health Organization Quality of Life Scale and the TCU drug screen, respectively — all of which have demonstrated strong reliability across wide populations. Sexual and behavioral attitudes were assessed with a series of questions, featured here.

The porn actresses' self reports were then compared to those collected from a sample of women matched according to age, ethnicity, and marital status. The result was a TON of data. Featured here is a table comparing responses from each group on the "Sexual Behaviors and Attitudes" portion of the survey, but similar tables exist for each of the other sections (accessible here, free of charge, as of 11/27/2012):

Contrary to common belief, female porn stars have great self esteem

Tons of stuff to dissect here, obviously, but Griffith and his colleagues touch on some highlights:

Porn actresses were more likely to identify as bisexual, first had sex at an earlier age, had more sexual partners, were more concerned about contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and enjoyed sex more than the matched sample, although there were no differences in incidence of [childhood sexual abuse].

As for the other sections of the survey, the researchers report:

Porn actresses had higher levels of self-esteem, positive feelings, social support, sexual satisfaction, and spirituality compared to the matched group. Female performers were [also] more likely to have ever used 10 different types of drugs compared to the comparison group.

"The characteristics of porn actresses have been largely assumptive, although much debate has surrounded the issue," conclude the researchers. "Perhaps this study can provide some information that can be used to make informed decisions regarding porn actresses, rather than rely on stereotypes from sources lacking empirical data."

But the lack of research on women in the porn industry (and those involved in sex work in general), highlighted by Griffin and his colleagues, raises questions about how their study should be interpreted. On one hand, notes Cynthia Graham, senior lecturer in health psychology at Southampton University, the study "is one of very few that has included matched controls," though she admits it has its limitations. At the same time, feminist commentator Dawn Foster tells The Independent that the study's findings could present the lives of adult entertainers in an icomplete, and therefore inaccurate, light:

"It is dangerous to generalise about a huge industry," she explains. "Women who are successful and in control of their careers in one pocket don't speak for women in the less scrutinised parts."

"The study's main objective seems to be to prove that not all women in porn are exploited: no one has argued that. But glossing over the exploitative aspects helps no one."

The researchers' findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Sex Research

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