Friday, 23 November 2012

Are Porn Stars Happier?

Women who appear in porn are happier than other women, enjoy sex more - and have lots more of it.

So says a new paper with the pulls-no-punches title of Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis


Researchers James Griffith and colleagues sampled 177 American adult actresses, and an equal number of other women of the same age, gender and relationship status. The results were pretty clear: the actresses said they started having sex earlier; had far more partners with an average of 75 vs. 5 in their lifetime (and that's not including on camera).

They were a lot more likely to be bisexual (67% vs 7%!), enjoyed sex more, and reported slightly higher levels of sexual satisfaction, happiness and self-esteem.

On the other hand, they were more worried about STDs and took more drugs (50% had tried ecstasy, 40% cocaine and 27% methamphetamine.)

Finally - and the authors emphasize this - they were no more likely than other women to have suffered childhood sexual abuse. They're not 'damaged goods' as that horrible phrase has it.

So. Well. This study is clearly going to become a hot potato, or rather a political football in The Great Porn Debate, so let's take a calm look at it.

In any survey the fundamental question is - are the respondents representative examples? Or were the porn actresses who filled out the questionnaire atypically happy? Were the comparison women unusually miserable?

We really have no way of knowing. The controls were recruited from a university and an airport, which is pretty sensible although it might introduce some bias. The actresses came via adverts placed in an L.A. clinic specifically for the adult movie industry, the now-defunct AIMHF. That seems like a selective sample - but the clinic reportedly catered to most, if not all, stars in LA because all performers had to get monthly HIV tests there.

Ultimately, though, we don't know how representative they were.

Next up, it was all self-report. So the reports might have been wrong. However, that's a feature of all survey studies, especially those about such things as happiness. It's hard to see a way around this. It's also not clear what bias it would introduce into the results. It could be that the porn actresses were motivated to exaggerate their happiness in a bid to defend their industry, which I suspect will be a common criticism - but that assumes they're happy enough with it to want to defend it, so it's somewhat circular.

Finally, and most importantly in my view, L.A. porn stars are not your average pornstars. The American professional adult movie industry is the biggest, most regulated, and most 'mainstream' in the world. Sadly elsewhere the degree of exploitation, coercion, poverty and abuse among people who end up in porn is a lot higher.

Basically, I can't see anything obviously wrong with this study as far as it goes, but all it shows is that American porn actresses are in fairly good shape. Most women in porn, however, are not American.

ResearchBlogging.orgGriffith JD, Mitchell S, Hart CL, Adams LT, and Gu LL (2012). Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis. Journal of sex research PMID: 23167939

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body? I dunnoooooo.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Perhaps cognitive dissonance could at least partially explain the results. If I was a prostitute I probably would reason to myself that the money and whatever other benefits there may be make it worth it.

Animelee said...

It most likely stems from this, no? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20732903

Anezon said...

I think this rather nicely follows on from the previous blog post about open access to MRI data.

I want to see the raw data. I want to run my own stats on it. I would want to convince myself that no hidden agendas are being served here and I can produce the same result that the authors did.

That won't solve a sampling or participant self-reporting issues. But it would remove any hint of author bias.

Joe_Jones said...

Interpretation is all.

Perhaps some people who really have had traumatic childhood experiences (i.e. are potential "damaged goods") overcompensate as adults by exhibiting behaviours that are more extreme in order to generate feelings of pleasure and, indirectly, "happiness".

It's a philosophy problem. Is the qualia of happiness of a porn star the same as a control subject?

Anonymous said...

I have a particular critique about the control group.

Most of the people I know in Universities lead highly busy, stressful and under appreciated lives. Airport travellers and workers are also often under considerable stress and strain. Neither control group is typical of the general population.

It would therefore not be surprising to find the happiness ratings of the two control groups was significantly less than that of the general population.

Whether that, in turn, is higher or lower than the porn actresses is a moot point.

Sigrun said...

According to a Swedish network for persons with experience from the sex industry, PRIS, a connection between previous sexual abuse and prostitution is taboo amongst active prostitutes. They don't want to be regarded as victims. It may also be so in this study.

What about the drug abuse? Do happy people really need more drugs?

Is a lot of sex partners a sign of happiness? Why didn't the reseachers ask about boy friends, husbands or long term relationships?

Peter Prevos said...

The level of drug use is a strong confounding variable and could be part of the chain of causality.
By the way, I hate Captcha. It makes me doubt my humanity.

nerkul said...

You would probably find similar results with prostitutes. They're as happy and well-adjusted as any random sample, but a lot of people would be furious to know that.

Neuroskeptic said...

Sigrun: They did ask about relationship status: it was single 44%, long term relationship 22%, married 15%, divorced/seperated 19%.

That's for women aged 26 on average but range 18 to 50.

I don't know how that compares to the general population... The comparison women were picked to match them so they were identical on that measure.

Julia said...

"It could be that the porn actresses were motivated to exaggerate their happiness in a bid to defend their industry, which I suspect will be a common criticism - but that assumes they're happy enough with it to want to defend it, so it's somewhat circular."

I think this is a legitimate criticism of the study. The study does not argue porn stars are as happy as other women, it argues they are happier than other women. Therefore, if changing the stereotypes of their industry motivates them to exaggerate their happiness, then it calls the assertion that they are actually happier than other women into question.

Eric Charles said...

Weird hypotheses.

I suspect that life for the average porn STAR is much like the life of other performers. If you do basically the same routine every night for a few years in a row, it is probably because you like doing it. The survey methods would, in general, be less likely to capture the views of people who try making porn a few times and don't like it.

It would be equally unsurprising to find out that professional magicians were happier than the average schmoe. One would also, presumably, find that they had tried magic with more people, from a younger age, then members of a random sample. Ditto stand-up comics, jugglers, singers, Broadway actors, dancers, etc.

As Neuroskeptic points out, the survey was done in LA, in the context of a highly regulated, long-established industry. Once porn becomes "a job", the reported results seem pretty likely.

The Original Neuropicker said...

Totally agreed with Eric. This nails most of the studies on "special groups" like this right on the head in my opinion. It's an interesting question but you can't answer it with a box standard random control group.

Neuroskeptic said...

Eric: You've made a good point there that I didn't have space to go into which is that people in a job will generally be happy with it because only the people happy with it job stay...

When you put it like that, it seems fairly trivial.

But the question is whether porn actress is a 'job' like that- as opposed to a pathological behaviour that people only end up doing because of coercion or past abuses.

That's the whole point of contention

Neuroskeptic said...

P.S. And my view is that in the US and maybe a couple of other places, porn is a job, but elsewhere in the world it is probably pathological more often than not...

Ivana Fulli MD said...

Nitpicker,

Studying a given population is fine, to my mind, and you can even decide in your study protocol to compare the long term health and happiness of those who "make a career» on a given job (porn actresses or civil servant psychiatrists or whatever job) and those who quit the field quickly

- in addition to the control group-

You have to compare several groups of several duration on the job and of course age not to exclude the premature deaths from the study.


But if you want to be serious about that issue, you need to do a sound epidemiological study.
NB: The de facto housing segregation in the USA makes it very easy there to find a sound control group for serious reserchers by the place the family lived at birth time of the USA born and raised porn actresses.

Of course you will need a lot of time of careful and honest and humble research workers since the housing segregation in the USA is made of precise little territories.

That kind of studies could tell useful things and , as usual with good epidemiological studies, the results might be surprising. I might discover that indeed being porn actresses had helped most of them to be happier than the control group.

Juliano Assanjo said...

Now we know the greatest research towards publicity, porno. So, if we mix this with fMRI, we'll do great,

porno brain mapping.

Boooom

Note: Why the study haven't investigated porno actors? Say no to stereotypism.

Ivana Fulli MD said...

neuroskeptic,

I understand you are in a crusade for open data and very rightly so.

Still, it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to produce honest results and one should be allow to tell it to Anezon!

Anonymous said...

No fooling, I was actually one of Dr Griffith's students. He is a seriously cool guy, but he really respects the data. He saw something where a lot of people made an assumption without data and just wanted to find out the truth and collect that data. When he first collected the data, it was the single biggest example of data on porn stars in the world. I know I probably won't convince you of this but in my opinion of him he has no bias. All about the data.

Anonymous said...

The question of whether the control group is representative is critical. Something like 29% reported childhood sexual abuse, which, compared to porn stars, 36%, was not significantly different. But if the control had mimicked population rates (20-25%), that result likely would have been significant.

Unknown said...

"Most women in porn, however, are not American."

Citation?

Peter G Werner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neuroskeptic said...

Hmm, fair point, I don't have any citation and I just assumed that was true. Because while the US porn industry is big, I find it hard to believe it can account for the majority of porn stars, there must be lots of 'amateur' participants (especially nowadays) from all over the place. I don't think it would be possible to measure that, so maybe I'm wrong.

Nettie Collis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neuroskeptic said...

Nettie: Very interesting, thanks for the comment. What you say about trauma and the pathologization of post-trauma lives is something I've been worrying about myself...it's a bit of a taboo topic but I hope to write on it soon.

Nettie Collis said...

Thank you Neuroskeptic

When you do write about this I would be very interested in reading your opinion - alert me if you can.

I work in the field of complex needs and cpome across this all the time. I am also a survivor.

Nettie Collis said...

PS Why taboo?

Neuroskeptic said...

Why taboo? Well - I'm just imagining this, having never been in such a debate - but if you say "Abuse doesn't mean your entire life is ruined", you'll get accused of minimizing the dangers of abuse, cruelly ignoring the plight of the victims etc?

Neuroskeptic said...

I'm thinking especially of child sexual abuse; it seems that whenever someone is convicted of child sex abuse (or child porn possession) in the UK, the judge always says something to the effect of 'you've ruined the victims' entire lives'.

I always think: yes, they've suffered terribly, but you're making that worse by decreeing that they'll never recover (and implicitly, that if they did recover, the original crime would be less serious).


Sigrun said...

My impression is that different victim/abuse discourses coexist in today's society. One discourse is an anti-victim discourse ,  which doesn't permit people to be traumatized.  Also in the (mental) health care many people experience that it is not allowed to be a victim. The result is that many children have to suffer abuse also when they receive "help" from professionals.

Nettie Collis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nettie Collis said...

Apologies for taking you off topic!

Sigrun said...

People experience trauma diffently. I have been very traumatized all my adulf life after the abuse I experienced at least a hundred times from the age of three or younger and until I was a teenager (and I also had to live together with the perpetrators). But I never feel that this puts any blame on me. Of course it's hell to live without hope, but it's not my fault that my therapists didn't want to work with my trauma. I did what I could for myself.

Black Book doc said...

Just to put that study into perspective:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/porn-producers-threaten-to-flee-la-after-condom-law-passes-8297020.html

Porn producers are threatening to quit filming in Los Angeles after voters approved a measure requiring adult-movie actors to wear condoms during shoots to protect them from sexually transmitted diseases.

The industry asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to delay implementing Measure B, which also mandates that producers acquire public health permits.

Anonymous said...

i think the FACT that women get stds twice as easy as men do (1 in 4 women has herpes of some sort) is why its deemed wrong for them to be promiscuous. that and the FACT that women give life makes its strange that they would put themselves in a situation to have kids with someone on the job who will never be a father. but many women nowadays have kids and herpes from someone they didnt even like that much. they just didnt want to be alone and took the easy way out.

get in line for the ferris wheel. oh just be patient and you'll get your turn to ride!

ive met a pornstar and read some of their twitter accounts. they seem pretty stupid and i cant even imagine how many and what types of stds they have. 1 famous pornstar quit because she was afraid herpes would spread to her eyes. apparently she already had it everywhere else you can get it.

Anonymous said...

read some stories on anal tearing and pornstars. were any of those tragic porn war heroes questioned in this study?

im actually jealous of pornstars. im not selfish enough to embarrass my family and sabotage my body/temple with mulitple std's. when i was clueless and using mushrooms in high school maybe i would have done it. but im not 17 and clueless anymore.