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porn starlet

PornHub has a grand vision, a vision of a man and a woman having sex on camera just as they reach the edge of space and feel the grasp of our planet’s gravity loosen for half an hour. It’s a vision that’s been proposed to the only company that may have been willing to do it in 2008 and was promptly shot down, but PornHub was undeterred and started a crowdfunding campaign to bring zero gravity porn to the horny masses. Considering the challenges of sex without the help of gravity would be extremely amusing to watch, and if humans want to live in space, we’ll need to learn how to have sex on a spacecraft, I have no doubt this vision will be brought to life. Just not for PornHub, and not right now. No one is sending passengers into suborbital space and it’s simply not practical for the first commercial passengers to be a porn crew since no one from the crew will want to invest time in blocking, timing, and the necessary rehearsals. Just getting a few tourists floating around the cabin at the Karman line is going to be difficult enough as it is.

Now, a few dozen flights in, when the mechanics of the flights are settled and the crews can get more ambitious with their missions, this idea can actually work. Of course the problem for even the most accomplished and capable porn star would be the difficulty of getting an erection after the redistribution of fluids in zero gravity, and trying to actually maintain a position for cinematic intercourse when the slightest push will send them bouncing around the cabin. And there a lots of questions about how the money shot would be executed as well as whether 30 minutes can be enough to get a decent video, or whether multiple flights would be required. Perhaps they’d be interested in hiring Zero G to wrap their heads around the necessary blocking and physical limitations. None of these challenges are insurmountable, mind you, and they could actually do science a solid and perform research that would never be funded otherwise.

But again, this is a little premature. (Make your own jokes, I refuse.) We need to get people into suborbital space reliably in the first place, and then to orbital hotels where they could shoot just about anything and everything they’d want. Don’t get me wrong PornHub, although I know your porn business is your own real concern in this, you’re actually helping humanity in the long run, and your efforts to shoot naked people putting things into their own or others’ bodies could one day help start a family on the Moon or Mars. And really, your only problem here is being five to ten years ahead of your time. Though maybe you can also make your pitch a little less obvious as to its commercial value and a put in some things regarding advancing human understanding of sex beyond our planet, really sell it as an experiment, get in depth interviews with some blow by blow, and thrust by thrust commentary, and really advertise them when you try this again in probably six years or so when we have this whole commercial suborbital flight figured out.

[ illustration: porn starlet Ariana Marie ]

intense blue eye

It’s a frequent societal stereotype that women in porn must have been sexually abused as kids, otherwise they would never go into this line of work. You can hear it from social conservatives in their dire warnings about porn addiction and from feminists who find all porn to be merely an exploitation of women for the enjoyment of men, alike. So one would think that to put the idea of the typical porn star as dealing with molestation or abuse through hypersexuality to rest, all one would have to do is have them take a survey, right? It seems fairly straightforward and it’s just what one study has done. After a survey administered to 177 women being tested between their videos, it found that 36% report being molested as children. If that sounds rather high, a control group of women who presumably had nothing to do with pornography reported a stunning 29% rate of sexual abuse. Basically, when taking the small sample sizes into account, it looks like the stereotype is wrong and women in porn are not predominantly survivors of molestation.

Oddly, note that according to the surveys, nearly a third of all women have been molested and often cited numbers say that anywhere between 20% to 40% of women have experienced some sort of sexual abuse as children. That’s disturbing to say the least, but the matter if also rather problematic because nearly all of these studies are relying on self-reporting on surveys given to convenience samples of women, which is science jargon for "asking whoever’s first available to fill out the questionnaire." This could easily produce a skew because the samples are not a truly random slice of the population but more homogenous demographic groups and the answers will reflect experiences typical for their group as well as their interpretation of what it means to have been sexually abused. Some groups of women may report a very low incidence of abuse during one study and a totally different group would report a very high one in a later one. And while a sample of women will consider a particular episode in a gray area during their childhood to be abuse, others would have forgotten and never reported it, or considered odd but not abusive.

So what does all this mean? It means that this study is certainly not definitive and could well be skewed, especially because women in porn know that people are eager to stereotype them into their image of what a female porn starlet should be: a hapless victim degrading herself because she was denied a proper childhood and now suffers from self-esteem issues that manifest as an over-active sex drive. When they’re doing self-selection and self-reporting, a bias simply could not be ruled out. And this, as well as the comments on the results of this study on news sites, is the other result from this study I find extremely disturbing. There really seem to be people who want female porn stars to be "damaged" so they can rationalize their choice to have sex on film as something only a person who "has issues" would do. And I’ll bet cash money that those exact same people commenting on how those poor abused dears whose father figures had boundary problems would go on to watch porn with those poor abused women. It’s not just a few weirdos watching it; only social media use exceeds online porn viewing. And not by much at that.

There’s something fundamentally unhealthy and downright bipolar in how we view porn and sex in general here in the U.S., and even this small study and the issues it raises gives us a peek at that. We cannot be a society that promotes unrealistic, self-indulgent piety and prudishness, just as we also can’t demand that everyone must embrace every sexual position, arrangement, kink, and relationship with nothing less than an orgasmic grin. This is absolutely a case in which the golden median is not a fallacy but a good approach. Humans are wired for sex. We enjoy it, we enjoy watching it, entire areas of our brain are dedicated to lust and encouraging us to find new mates, and all this enjoyment evolved to coax us into reproduction. To stigmatize natural urges and demean those who we end up watching doing the very things we said only "damaged" people do, fueling an industry that pays them for doing them in the process to the tune of billions per year, is hypocritical at best. And it’s especially bad when it’s done for irrational reasons like the wholehearted embrace of cold, haughty, snobby prudishness as the social norm…

See: Griffith, J., et al. (2012). Pornography actresses: an assessment of the damaged goods hypothesis Journal of Sex Research, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2012.719168

If you’ve been following academic news, you might’ve heard of a bizarre mess which is slowly trying to unravel itself at the University of New Mexico. The story itself reads like a classic case study in what not to do if you’re a professor, regardless of whether you’re teaching graduate courses or undergrads. If you have a position of authority over a group of people, you should not be partying with them, you should not be encouraging them to work as phone sex operators, you should keep your own phone sex side job out of the classroom, and under no circumstances should you ever pose in sexually explicit pictures with one of your students. And yet, English professor Lisa Chavez did all of the above. After an investigation, she did admit to a lack of good judgment to a university committee and quit her side job. And yet the scandal apparently still goes on because it seems that even in the new millennium people can’t stop getting appalled over anything that even remotely implies sex.

Now, it may be that if Chavez was so interested in sex and sexuality, and wanted to see what was out there in terms of S&M aficionados, she could’ve become a sex researcher, a very real occupation and one that would certainly let her explore whatever sexual topics she wanted within an academic setting. I know people who do this for a living and are absolutely fascinated with the psychology of sexuality, struggling to imagine their work focusing on anything other than the realm of complex interpersonal relationships created by sex. A university with a medical school and a social sciences curriculum would’ve certainly accommodated her interests. But as it stands, she acted inappropriately by bringing her sexual inquiries into the classroom and involving some of her students in her side job. Again, a classic case of terrible judgment and letting one’s libido call the shots without taking the time to think things through, but what prompted me to write about this story in the first place was the annoying and vexing matter of what started the investigation into her personal life: a classic, prudish, shocked letter from anonymous, “concerned parents” on an administrator’s desk.

What the hell do concerned parents have to do with graduate school? Grad school students are adults and all of us are legally old enough to enter into contracts, make our own decisions, and the vast majority of us have to hold down jobs to feed ourselves and pay the rent. And if some grad students choose to make their living in the world of phone sex, that’s their right and no one can talk down to them about “ethics and morals,” or how a job waiting tables or washing dishes is more dignified than a little dirty talk in the evening. In case like this, the appeal to “morals” is usually a mix of envy (phone sex operators make far more than waitresses because they practice a very specialized skill), and a hypocritical attempt to look down at those having fun with their work for fulfilling desires we don’t want to acknowledge, something that happens with all those working in every field of adult entertainment. And the noxious politics and pseudo-morality dramas in Chavez’s case are just a very awkward and clumsy repeat of just about every sexual non-scandal out there, made worse by the fact that the professor at the center of this scandal doesn’t seem to know how to properly handle herself.

She and her students had every legal right to take on phone sex jobs if it made them happy, pose for as many sexually charged pictures as they wanted, and talk dirty in their own, personal time to their hearts’ content. As far as we should be concerned, the only thing they did inappropriately was to mix their studies and their work across the student-professor divide. And come to think of it, I bet that if they all worked as IT consultants or as writers for the same magazines, there would be no letter from anyone and the whole arrangement would have never been exposed, even though it would be just as inappropriate. But since they chose to work in the world of adult services, they had to get hit by an anonymous letter from pious cowards and gossips who acted more like children than mature, serious adults who understand that after puberty, we all have certain needs, wants, and urges, and as long as we don’t interfere with the lives and welfare of others, we should be free to pursue them on our own time. And it astounds me that today, people turn simple ethical conflicts and poor judgment into full blown scandals just because these violations have anything to do with the word “sex”.

In the past, I’ve tackled a number of topics about sex and sexuality from abstinence-only sex education, to the use of adult entertainment as a handy villain for aspiring conservative politicians. However, one point that I’ve yet to address is a very common and misleading term in the arsenal of morality crusaders. Porn addiction. It’s a real problem being misused by opponents of the adult film industry to cast their products in the same light as drugs and legal vices that usually exist in a judicial gray zone, legal only under very restrictive conditions or only in certain places due to pressure from highly opinionated interest groups. And it’s a very real problem. But how bad is it? Is it true that pornography is more addictive than crack cocaine and can drive people crazy?

bondageShort answer? There’s no factual basis behind these ideas and those espousing them usually base their statements on personal opinions or cherry-picked anecdotal examples, not on an actual body of peer-reviewed work. To be fair, we have to note that few studies dealing with human sexuality get funded unless they have some direct relationship with HIV or AIDS. Figuring out how adult films can trigger some sort of addiction or if the addiction is a sign of the person’s existing predisposition to go overboard with anything pleasurable, just isn’t a high priority for agencies that give out research grants. And that alone might give us a hint that the problem isn’t nearly as bad as we’re told.

Unfortunately for us, almost anything we enjoy could become addictive. From alcohol, to tanning, to shopping, whatever stimulates our pleasure centers can be done in excess and eventually become an addiction in the clinical sense of the word. When someone is truly addicted, it means that the compulsion to smoke or watch porn is so strong, there is no choice but to do it, even if he needs to work, sleep or return an urgent phone call. Classifying addiction isn’t an easy task which is why it’s done by experts who monitor patients over a long period of time. This is why we have to take to take the claims of surging addiction rates presented by squads of moral crusaders with a heavy pinch of salt. Rather than refer to professionals with PhDs in psychology, they tend to self-diagnose suspected addicts and parade them as casualties of the embodiment of carnal evil that is adult entertainment.

Let’s keep in mind that morality groups view the act of watching porn itself as a terribly, horribly wrong. So for them, anyone who watches porn on a regular basis, even casually and only when it doesn’t interfere with the demands of the outside world, is a strong candidate for addiction. Coupled with the accusations that porn is the main culprit of rape, homosexuality, divorce, sexism, pedophilia, teen pregnancy, STDs as well as snow storms, hurricanes and type Ia supernovae frequently recited at events that present all human sexuality as filthy and immoral while denigrating contraception, the morality crusaders’ unreasonable and ill-informed standards are designed to create a sense of crushing guilt which encourages false confessions of porn and sexual addiction. For groups that don’t understand moderation and are vehemently hostile to any expression of sexuality with which they don’t personally agree, it’s impossible to accurately diagnose porn addiction and all their claims have to be held as highly suspect and drastically overstated.

An old axiom says that the people who appear the most prudish are much more likely to have a secret porn stash in their closet. Yeah, so what, we hear a lot of axioms and they’re not necessarily true. How do you prove it? An online marketing expert curious about porn purchases in the United States took anonymous receipts from one of the top ten porn sites and matched the associated zip codes to states and the political attitudes of the consumers living in them. His conclusions? Red states do indeed consume more porn.

painting of a woman

Purchasing subscriptions to porn sites is relatively uniform across the country but there are a few noticeable differences on a state level. We’re talking about just a few people per 1,000 per a given state. And we’re also talking about purchasing subscriptions from 2006 to 2008 with no accounting for the vast amount of free porn floating all across the web. Nevertheless, the New Scientist write-up notes that 8 out of the top 10 porn consuming states handed their electoral votes to John McCain and 6 of the bottom 10 voted for Obama. Additionally, people who would agree with statements associated with socially conservative agendas had 3.6 more purchases per 1,000 state residents than those who did not.

So there seems to be a very slight correlation between conservatives and a higher rate of porn purchasing and the study itself also offers other little gems. For example, urban areas are said to buy more subscriptions until they hit a certain population density. Marriage and divorce are factors that tend to lower the amount of subscriptions bought by 0.65% and 0.28% respectively. Also, interestingly enough, younger and college educated residents tend to buy more porn at the same time as graduate degrees reduce porn purchases. But again, this is all purchases. It’s one thing to measure how much people spend on porn if that was the only way to access these entertainment services. We could make the argument that tech savvy porn hunters could skew the results of this study if we account for their use of free adult sites.

To bolster this study’s validity, it would be nice to look at the traffic patterns of a cross section of both subscription and free adult entertainment sites as well. Analytical software that counts all the views, unique visitors and tracks their geographic locations could be used to figure the location of a visitor on a state level. Using IP addresses, one could even dig down to a city level, but the farther down you try to go, the less accuracy you have due to the way IPs are assigned. If you’re sitting in NYC but the proxy you use to access the internet goes through New Jersey, a statistical chart would show you as coming from the state with which that proxy is associated. However, these cases are a small percentage of visitors and you’re usually going to have a very good idea about which state’s residents are accessing a site most often.

When traffic and purchase data are combined, we might get a very different picture or confirm the study’s findings. It could very well be that red states not only buy the most porn, they also surf for the most porn. Another scenario is that red states buy more porn while blue states are surfing for more free porn. Or free sites could be the great equalizer and balance out the porn subscriptions of red states with the free adult content visited by blue states…

See: Benjamin Edelman (2009). Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23 (1), 209-220 DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.1.209