Today is a difficult episode about the hardcore realities of the pornography industry. How is this marriage related? Well, pornography is a leading cause of divorce nowadays and one of the myths that we need to debunk as we fight this cancer is that viewing porn is a victimless activity.

Around 1/2 of marriages have at least one pornography-using spouse. Objectification is a big part of using porn: seeing the actors as sex objects. We’ve looked before at how watching porn impacts your marriage, but there’s another side to it too. Some people may watch porn thinking that it’s harmless fun, made by willing actors having the time of their lives. So I want to convey something of the human cost of the real people involved in creating pornography so that we all understand that viewing porn is not a victimless or harmless activity. Quite the opposite.

Human Trafficking and Abuse

So you need to know that pornography relies on trafficked victims to create its content[i]. In fact, major centers for human trafficking such as St. Petersburg in Russia and Budapest in Hungary are also large producers of pornography. Many women that are trafficked for prostitution in these circumstances are also forced to make porn.

Even what you may consider ‘legit’ or at least, legal jobs like porn acting, modeling or stripping in clubs can also be an entrance point into the sex industry. Women that start in these roles are often pressured or forced into prostitution or other illegal activities[ii].

Research and first-hand accounts show that in the sex industry, control, intimidation and violence are commonplace. Around 71% of women in the sex industry are not “free to leave” the industry, either due to being physically withheld or trafficked, or else unfree to leave until they have paid off debts[iii].

50% of American women in the industry reported regular or daily violence from their agents, handlers or pimps and 90% reported verbal abuse.

Pornography is also sometimes used as a means of control: threatening to expose the pornographic videos they have made was a way of keeping women in the sex industry[iv]. In other instances women were totally unaware their pictures were being spread in magazines or online.

The picture research paints is that once you’re in this world of sex and porn, whether you entered it willingly or not, getting out of it again is difficult and dangerous. And once you’re involved many men and women find themselves forced into situations and acts they would never have agreed to. They find control slipping away from them and into the hands of people who would exploit them for all they’re worth. And you, the viewer, have no idea what circumstances the videos you are watching were made under.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STDs are a major problem among porn actors, and one of the main concerns actors report about their work[v].

In the US porn industry Chlamydia rates are 14.3% (compared to between 0.6% and 3% for the general population) and gonorrhea rates are 5.1% (compared to less than 0.1% in the general population)[vi]. Reinfection rates within a year are 26.1%[vii]. Other STDs are not routinely screened for so prevalence rates are unknown.

HIV can also be spread within the porn industry due to the high number of sexual partners actors are required to have and given that safe sex using condoms is rarely practiced. For example there was an outbreak in Los Angeles among porn actors in 2004, where 65 men and women were infected with HIV in a single month. Screening processes used in the industry failed to stop the disease spreading[viii].

Safety standards in the industry are poor and often violate health and safety regulations. For example actors are required to pay for their own screening tests and made to sign a waiver releasing their employer from responsibility if they contract HIV or an STD[ix]. Safe sex using condoms is uncommon, and risky or extreme sexual acts are treated as commonplace. “Unsafe sex in pornography sends the explicit message that condoms and other prophylactics are unnecessary barriers to pleasure, all the while putting performers at risk of disease transmission[x]“.

So consumer demand is really driving these actors to put their personal health at great risk. And this is only talking about the physical consequences.

Objectification

Both male and female porn actors are objectified by the films focusing solely on their bodies and sexual performance, while portraying the actors as purely interested in sex and not giving them any kind of personality or character outside of wanting sex[xi].

This constant objectification takes its toll on actor’s wellbeing and self esteem. Jenna Jameson, one of the most successful porn stars in the USA, describes this effect in her own autobiography. “These guys don’t care about seeing a show. They just wanted to see some skin. So much for my delusion of actually being respected”. Later she writes how this creates a numbness and a “sickness” in her soul:

“I never take the time to feel the effects of my choices. Maybe it’s because I would be ashamed, maybe afraid. I realize I have avoided my pain as long as I can remember… As life goes racing by me, all the while my soul goes on with sickness. Yes, sickness. It feels like I’m ailing. Because the one that should be nursing it is too busy trying to succeed and be accepted.[xii]

This objectification also effects the viewers and their relationships. A study in 2015[xiii] interviewed 171 women about their partner’s porn use. They found that porn use directly predicted sexual objectification within the relationship and caused the women to internalize the beauty standards upheld in porn.

This internalization led to higher levels of body shame for the women. Porn use and objectification also predicted anxiety about the relationship, reduced self esteem, and higher likelihood of eating disorder symptoms. We talk more about body image and sexual function in episodes 88a and b.

Fighting the “Male Gaze” and staying Faithful to Your Wife

We have a very specific bonus guide for this episode that helps men who are struggling with ogling and objectifying women. Porn viewing can lead to seeing the entire world in the same objectifying terms, which opens some dangerous doors in your marriage The guide offers a pathway to freedom from this habit. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.

 

The Reality For Porn Actors

Now we’re going to dove deeper into what life is really like for porn actors, using real stories taken from books, interviews and documentaries on the inner workings of the porn industry.

Just a warning that if you are a recovering sex or porn addict this could be quite triggering. So only proceed with reading if you are safe to do so.

Male Porn Actors

Performance pressure. Men are often paid by the scene, or by their ability to perform some very specific sexual acts reliably in front of the cameras.

The pressure on the male actors can be pretty agonizing. We read of one scenario where you have an actor and an actress thrust into the same production with zero relationship with each other, several cameras, lights, other people doing sound and filming and set props and they are completely exposed and vulnerable. If he cannot perform, his career is over. And this is a woman he is being forced to act intimately with but with whom he has no relationship and quite possibly no real interest.

It’s so base: it’s reduced to completing the physical act while pretending that it is a deeply fulfilling experience and then you have all the pressure of film production on top of this.

There’s a lot of pressure and real struggles. They are being forced to perform day in and day out without any regard for the human connection that is so central to sexuality, and without any regard for the sacredness of their own souls and bodies. Intimacy is reduced to two people just getting their bodies to work and while they may portray notions of passion or interest or love those are just acted. They don’t feel that. And so there must be a huge impact not only on their bodies but on their souls as well.

Aggression. Men in low-brow porn are encouraged to display aggressive, misogynistic and violent attitudes. In one firsthand account[xiv] the author meets actor “T.T. Boy”, who said the following in an interview: “I was a shy little kid when I started, and now I’m just a guy who wants to …” he reverts to obscene, self-gratifying language about how he uses porn actresses to satisfy his own eroticized rage while encouraging the women he works with to fear having to work with him. When he addresses these actresses there is an utter disregard for their personhood. Other industry observers note the uncaring, abusive sexual self-expression and the unbridled aggression therein as being the standard way of thinking for many male actors.

As a child T.T. Boy was raised by his violently abusive father and made to work on the family plantation. He was expected to keep working on the plantation all his life, and told by his father that he would never find work elsewhere, and that not even McDonalds would take him. Porn was the only work he could find. Despite the abuse he suffered, he idolized his father as a “powerful man” and as an adult he would physically abuse his own girlfriend, while seeing himself as protecting her[xv].

Again a real human behind the aggression: in need of care and nurture and healing and yet in this industry he will be used until discarded and then what? He’s acting out of the abuse and hurt he experienced while further abusing and hurting women who are already broken. It really is an industry of pain and horror and abuse that is self-escalating, creating more and more abuse and wounding.

Female Porn Actors

Escaping poverty. Many women enter into the porn business due to a lack of alternative, due to poverty and financial pressures as well as lack of other employment options. Some also use it as a means of escaping oppressive conditions in their home countries and become trafficked as part of the sex trade, or else end up in the business after immigrating to the US due to being unable to find another way to work[xvi]. “It is not sufficient, however, to say that poverty was a precipitating factor. With most women, it was a poverty that was preyed upon by recruiters, traffickers and pimps.[xvii]

Young women are often preyed upon in clubs and malls where the pimps “befriend women, create emotional and/or chemical dependencies, and then convince them to earn money[xviii].”

Drug and alcohol abuse are often also used by pimps of handlers in the industry to create dependency and control, forcing women to use drugs until they’re addicted and being their only source of more.

Financial control is also used, for example with women who immigrate to the US and other western countries illegally and are forced to work in the sex industry until their debts are paid off. Often in reality the debts are never paid off as the handlers continue to add “expenses” or “interest” and keep the women working for them permanently[xix].

Luring amateur girls. There is big demand for young girls who have an “innocent girl next door” look in porn movies. To cater for this the industry finds young girls (age 18-21) who have never worked in porn before and recruits them online. These girls are then picked up by “talent agents” and driven to porn centers like Miami or California where they live in shared houses and given their new “porn names”.

Often these are girls who never graduated from college and have few career prospects, allured by the idea of making a name for themselves and making huge amounts of money (up to $800 for a single shoot) that they would never make otherwise.

Again you can imagine they think they’ll do a few videos, not a big deal, and then get on with their lives with the cash. But then the manipulation begins or else the experience has been painful enough they’re drug addicted and so they are either hooked into or forced into staying.

Extremes. The constant demand for “newbies” means that these girls often only get booked 2 or 3 times by major companies before they lose their newness factor and are replaced. They then have to resort to more niche or extreme and degrading forms of porn like bondage or exploitative scenarios. An example we found in the documentary film Hot Girls Wanted was the amateur porn actress Ava, who left home at 18 to work in porn. She worked in major porn studios for around 3 months before people lost interest in her and she had to find work in the genre where she plays a young girl being taken advantage of by older men. According to her “in the amateur porn world, you’re just processed meat”.

Another example is Jade, a 25 year old Latin American woman who frequently has to shoot very abusive scenes featuring degrading, physically violating activities that would never be a part of healthy sexuality. She is also forced to play roles that feature degrading and racist stereotypes of Latin American women and to have sex with men while they call her racist insults. Imagine the impact of repeatedly exposing yourself to this and then knowing that what is recorded is being broadcast on the Internet.

Women are tricked or manipulated into these films by their handlers and get increasingly less money for it. In one instance Ava arrived for a scene and was told it would feature abuse and violence. “I was terrified. I didn’t know if I could actually say no. It must be how rape victims feel, they feel bad about themselves. Did I really want money that badly?”

Lasting Abuse. For women (and men) in the porn business, having made the videos creates a unique kind of trauma where the act of violation keeps on going. As long as the videos or magazines are available, the actors in them continue to be exploited by the viewers. Since it’s impossible to ever get rid of all copies of an image or video once it’s online, the trauma of knowing it’s out there may never go away. One woman who acted in porn stated that “every time someone watches that film, they are watching me being raped.[xx]

So what is it like knowing that others derive pleasure from watching you being raped, never mind the horror of being raped itself?

The permanence of porn films once they’re made makes existing suffering and abuse so much worse. For women in prostitution, the act of being forced to make porn significantly increased their symptoms of PTSD[xxi].

This is a horrible, sickening industry.

So if you’ve been watching porn thinking it’s innocent enough, nobody’s getting hurt and these people are enjoying their careers in the porn industry…think again. These are real humans and they are coming to this work not because they are whole but because they are broken. And they are breaking themselves even more every day. All for your viewing pleasure.


References:

[i] Donna Hughes and Oscar M Carlson, ‘The Demand for Victims of Sex Trafficking’, 2017.

[ii] Janice G. Raymond, Donna M. Hughes, and Carol J. Gomez, ‘Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States’, International Sex Trafficking of Women & Children: Understanding the Global Epidemic, 2001, 3–14.

[iii] Raymond, Hughes, and Gomez.

[iv] Raymond, Hughes, and Gomez.

[v] Jonathan E. Fielding and Steven M. Teutsch, Public Health Practice: What Works (Oxford University Press, 2012).

[vi] Fielding and Teutsch.

[vii] Fielding and Teutsch.

[viii] Fielding and Teutsch.

[ix] Fielding and Teutsch.

[x] Lauren Vogel, ‘Public Health Advocates Push for Safer Sex in Pornographic Film Industry’, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183.5 (2011), E261–62 <https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-3770>.

[xi] Alan McKee, ‘The Objectification of Women in Mainstream Pornographic Videos in Australia’, The Journal of Sex Research, 42.4 (2005), 277–90 <https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490509552283>.

[xii] Matt Fradd, The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography (Ignatius Press, 2017).

[xiii] Tracy L. Tylka and Ashley M. Kroon Van Diest, ‘You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not Be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women’, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39.1 (2015), 67–84 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784>.

[xiv] Susan Faludi, Stiffed: Betrayal of the Modern Man (Random House, 2011).

[xv] Faludi.

[xvi] Raymond, Hughes, and Gomez.

[xvii] Raymond, Hughes, and Gomez.

[xviii] Faludi.

[xix] Raymond, Hughes, and Gomez.

[xx] Catharine A. MacKinnon, ‘Pornography as Trafficking’, Mich. J. Int’l L., 26 (2004), 993.

[xxi] MacKinnon.