5 Things We Should All Stop Thinking About Porn Stars

When I was a kid, adults around me used to scoff at the mention of porn stars, as if they were a lower class of human beings. A teacher at my high school actually used women in the adult entertainment industry, alongside strippers and prostitutes, as warnings. She said that, if we "went down the wrong path," we would end up like them, wasted away and disgraceful. To people like my her, female porn stars are unintelligent, damaged, and immoral women. Although I've personally separated myself from such judgments years ago, our society still shames female porn stars on a regular basis.

Porn is a booming industry — it grosses billions of dollars a year, 70 percent of men admit to watching it on the regular, and almost a third of women watch porn every week — but too many people still view the women who star in it with contempt, no matter how often they get off to their bodies. Meanwhile, men who tape themselves having sex are championed as heroes or bachelors, while the women are labeled "sluts." After Ray J and Kim Kardashian's sex tape was released, he actually got a song produced and released called "I Hit It First," yet Kim is still being slut-shamed today for her choice to participate in that same home video. It's a horrendous double standard that just makes even more room for society to police what women choose to do with their bodies and their time.

Bustle spoke with Sara Benincasa, comedian, feminist, and author of Real Artists Have Day Jobs , who has a few friends who either currently work in the porn industry or have in the past. She says, "Understandably, not everyone who does sex work is out and proud about it. There is a lot of stigma attached to it. But it seems to me that we ought to get rid of the assumption that every woman who works in porn is there against her will, or to feed a drug habit, or to work out some deep seated issues related to her father."

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to say that the porn industry is all puppies and rainbows. It has its dark sides. Some women still report being psychologically and physically abused on the job. Others have been ripped off financially. However, these experiences aren't true for everyone, and it definitely doesn't mean all women in the porn industry should be collectively disgraced for their sex work. Besides, our country is starting to change its mind about sex work in general. Last year, 44 percent of Americans thought sex work should be legalized, up from 38 percent in 2012. It's time to start changing the way we think about the individuals in this industry as well.

Here are five things we should all stop thinking about porn stars.

1. That They're Not Very Smart

Look around and you can see that the most successful women in the industry are no fools. For example, 24-year-old Carter Cruise was a college student who chose to leave university in order to pursue a career in the adult industry. She's since been nominated for nine Adult Video News (AVN) awards. Ex-porn star Asia Carrera is a member of the high-IQ society Mensa. There's also Tasha Reign, performer, director, and founder of TashaReign.com, who was a student at UCLA before her porn career. When asked in a recent interview with the Guardian what the biggest misconception about female porn stars is, she said, "That they're uneducated. I'm very confident with how smart I am and how much I love my job." Benincasa adds that her friends in porn "are all very, very smart people."

College enrollment and IQ levels aren't the only indications that a human being is intelligent, though. Whether or not porn stars have credentials that are considered respectable by the mainstream, it still isn't anybody's place to immediately assume they're brainless just because they use their bodies to express their sexuality on camera. When this myth gets passed around, we fall into the dangerous trap of believing that smarts and sex are mutually exclusive, when that couldn't be farther from the truth.

2. That They Must Struggle With Alcohol & Drug Addiction

It's common for people to think that porn stars are only doing this because it's the quickest way to earn cash and get their next fix. I remember various adults in my childhood days instructing my friends and me that only the most desperate people, like heroine addicts, would consider participating in pornography. Wrong again.

In the documentary After Porn Ends, Tiffany Millions, an ex porn star and a mother who now works as a bounty hunter, spoke up about her time in the adult industry. She said that she took her job very seriously, and didn't party, drink alcohol, or do any drugs. She treated it like most of us treat our day jobs. Many other women who are still in the industry say the same. They work just as hard as anyone else, and they avoid substance abuse because, like the rest of working Americans, they don't want to compromise their career.

"Not all of these women who come in here are broken or drug addicts or horribly abused or forced against their will," says Bree Mills, a 34 year old porn star and director, in her interview with the Guardian. Studies show that female porn stars use drugs more often than the average woman, but it's generally linked to a higher use of marijuana. Experts believe this is simply connected to the personality of the person who enters the industry.

3. That All The Work They Do Is Controlled By Men

Former UCLA student and actor/director Tasha Reign said in her interview with the Guardian that "the porn industry is 100 percent ahead of any other industry when it comes to women in power." She admits that there are exceptions to the rule, but generally, she says porn is a business that respects women's opinions, supports them in roles of leadership, and discriminates a lot less than other media companies. At the AVN awards this year, five out of 15 nominees for best director were women. Compare that to the 2016 Oscars, in which no women were even given a nominee nod.

"[Porn] is a place where women can sometimes take control... by working their way up to producing and directing their own stuff," Benincasa agrees. There's even a history of women taking charge of the porn industry back when women hardly ever had agency in the workforce. Chauntelle Tibbals, sociologist and author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment , told the Huffington Post that women have been behind the scenes of the porn industry, creating and calling the shots, since the 1970s.

Popular opinion might be that pornography is entirely run by horny guys, but the facts show otherwise. Actually, some of the very porn stars our society shames are excellent role models who are paving the way for other females to be pioneers in a successful industry. Bree Mills founded her own all-female porn studio called Girlsway after making a splash as a director for award-winning company Gamma Entertainment. Burning Angel is an alternative porn site that was founded 14 years ago by Joanna Angel, a veteran in the industry who has recently been inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame.

"Sex work has long been something that can prove lucrative for women. It is indeed the world's oldest profession. So why get upset if somebody chooses to perform on camera? If you don't like it, you don't have to watch it," Benincasa says.

4. That They Are Highly Insecure Or "Damaged Goods"

It infuriates me when people say that the only women who show off their naked bodies are the most insecure ones. Kim Kardashian got a lot of similar feedback when she posted her last nudie on Twitter and trolls accused her of not being a good role model for young girls. It's a ridiculous claim that needs to be laid to rest, especially because research has proven the opposite to be true.

In a study called "Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis," researchers found that female performers in the adult entertainment industry have higher self-esteem, positive feelings, sexual satisfaction, and social support than women with the same age, martial status, and ethnicity who aren't in porn. Co-authors Christian L. Hart, Texas Woman's University professor, and former porn actress Sharon Mitchell also found that these women were actually more concerned about contracting STDs than their counterparts. (A UCLA study from 2014 says 23.7 percent of adult porn stars have contracted chlamydia or gonorrhea at least once, but it's not clear whether this has happened on or off the job.)

All in all, this research showed how unfair it is to merely assume that all porn stars are "damaged goods." It would be wrong to think that female porn stars are all wounded souls trying to assert their worth by having sex in front of the camera.

5. That They Were All Forced Into The Job

Unfortunately, there are certainly women in the porn industry who have been forced into the job. Somewhere between 14,500 and 17,500 women are trafficked into the United States every year for sex work purposes, and the U.S. State of Department estimates that 80 percent of these individuals are forced into commercial sex trade, such as pornography. This is both illegal and disgusting.

But we would be wrong to think this is always the case for porn stars, because countless women have the made the conscious decision to be actors and/or directors in the porn industry, even when they had other choices at their feet. The female porn stars Benincasa knows were "not coerced into this business. They chose it. They had other options. But this presented the best money, and for some of them I think it was fun and exciting before it became a job like any other job."

Stoya, the 28-year-old porn star and author, told the Huffington Post she made the conscious decision to start doing erotic photoshoots and things organically evolved from there. "I was a personal assistant for a guerrilla marketer in Philadelphia at the time. And in my free time I would go and people would pay me to take pictures of me." Although she says she has since seen some shady sides of the porn industry, she still chooses to work in it — and genuinely enjoys what she does.

It's almost like our society wants to believe that every woman in porn was put there against her own free will, because it's too frightening to imagine a woman would actually want other people to watch her have sex.

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