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May. 4 2010 - 1:00 pm | 4,039 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Where porn stars come from

Jenna Jameson (in pink dress) just before the ...

Jenna Jameson, Image via Wikipedia

It seems people continue to be confused as to why some people grow up to become porn stars.

Do porn stars get into the business because they were abused?

Do people in porn like what they do, or are they just pretending?

Is porn empowering or not?

After having spent some time on porn sets over the years and interviewed various porn stars along the way, I have found that most adult performers came from one of five types of personal backgrounds and/or personal histories.

1) They were abused. This is not always the case. It is not primarily the case. But many of those with whom I spoke had abuse in their personal histories. They were molested as children. They were sexually assaulted as teenagers. They were physically abused by their caretakers and/or significant others. One starlet’s father shot and killed her mother and then himself in front of her when she was a toddler. Another actress was removed by authorities from the family home as a child after her mentally unstable mother, whom she described as “crazier than a shithouse rat,” was unable to care for her. Jenna Jameson has made public that she was gang-raped as a teen. Abuse stories are not uncommon.

2) They were raised in a strict household. Among those who end up working in front of the camera in the adult movie industry, more than a few, I found, were brought up in homes that were extremely strict or highly regimented. In “Porn Valley,” it is not uncommon to encounter those who were brought up in military families or raised in deeply religious homes. One male porn star was the son of a police officer. Growing up, another actress wasn’t allowed to watch TV for religious reasons. Porn as a career may serve as a later-stage form of rebellion against the still-psychologically-present looming specter of over-controlling parents.

3) They were a victim of trauma. In addition to sexual assault and physical and/or psychological abuse, I found a small but not insignificant number of performers who had experienced some type of trauma as children or young adults. One actress’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. After the incident, the actress recounted to me, she stated it was as if “all the bad in” her sister, who, at the time, was the “black sheep” of the family, “flew out of her and right into me.” I met two female adult performers who experienced some type of vaginal trauma as youths. One had injured her genitalia on the playground while playing on the monkey bars. The other had a physiological vaginal problem that sent her to the hospital.

4) They self-describe as “over-sexed” at a young age. Some porn stars state they felt sexual from a young age. This phenomenon exists independent of any abuse history in some cases. A starlet may have dreamed of being in Playboy at age six or dressed provocatively, began wearing makeup, and danced suggestively in front of others at a young age. Some male performers reported having been devirginized at a young age — 12 or 13, or as young as 9 or 10 — not infrequently by an older female and sometimes by a babysitter or other caretaker without the knowledge of the parent.

5) They came from completely normal backgrounds. This is more common than some may think. Many porn stars have absolutely nothing in their personal histories that would indicate that they would grow up to have sex on camera for a living. That they ended up in porn was mere serendipity. They had a friend, they needed the money, and there they were. Their significant other “turned them out,” and off they went. They love sex, they saw this as an opportunity, and so this.

To suggest that those few porn stars who speak out for or against the business of making porn movies on the TV shows that average Americans watch for a kinky peek inside this still-taboo industry are indicative of the adult film industry at large is simply wrong. Pundits are not representative. They are commodified talking heads. While the personal backgrounds of porn performers aren’t always pretty, they are diverse, in their own ways, and any attempt to distill porn into one true thing is bound to fail, for why some of us spend our lives having sex in porn movies is surely beyond the comprehension of any black-and-white understanding.


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  1. collapse expand

    I’m personally curious to see a comparison of, say, the percentage of pornstars who survived some form of abuse, and the percentage of secretaries (or doctors, or architects, or whoever) with a similar background. Given the alarming prevalence of abuse (especially in the lives of women), it wouldn’t surprise me if those numbers are closer than one might think.

  2. collapse expand

    Given the unrespectability of pornography in most polite society, it should come as no surprise that many porn actors come to their professions only after making peace with turning their backs on polite society for any number of reasons. I applaud their decision! I have commented on similar articles in the past and am used to having scorn pored down on me, so I’ll write it again: pornography is a legitimate business catering to a legitimate demand!

  3. collapse expand

    No one ever seems to (publicly) say the truth about porn stars—they’re sad and degraded—even if they don’t admit it to themselves.

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    I'm a freelance journalist, blogger, photographer, and creator of TheWarProject.com. I've written for Newsweek, Details, Harper's Bazaar, The Daily Beast, Radar Online, Variety, Salon, Slate, Wired News, The New York Post, The LA Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Vancouver Sun, The San Francisco Examiner Magazine, Playboy.com, and many other publications. I've appeared on CNN, Fox News, "Politically Incorrect," and NPR. Currently, I'm working on a novel. My email is susannahbreslin at earthlink dot net.

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