Porn Stars Can't Leave the Industry, and Here's Why

Sexuality in the United States is a disaster. It's a bad mix of altered media images, broken systems of sex education, arguments over sexual orientation, pervasive sexual assaults, contraceptive inequities, rapey lyrics, sexualized toddlers, and whatever falls out of MTV.

Also: porn. We can't forget porn.

Pornography is huge in the United States. It is consumed and created at record levels. The adult entertainment industry grosses billions each year. 70% of American men watch pornography at least once a month, and 20% of men admit to watching it in the office. Porn is pervasive in American culture, yet there remains a huge stigma against porn performers. It may be acceptable to watch porn, but it's certainly not acceptable to make it.

No one knows this better than the women who attempt to leave successful careers in the adult entertainment industry. Some performers retire when they reach a certain age, while others leave to pursue a career with more stability. But there are also large numbers of women who stop working in the porn industry because of its systematic abuse of performers.

Many ex-porn performers have recounted stories of physical and psychological abuse. The physical abuse takes many forms, including forced sodomy, assault, and transmissions of sexually transmitted infections. Similarly, women recount being ignored while yelling for help. Ex-porn star Shelley Lubben is an anti-pornography activist who works with the Pink Cross, a nonprofit organization that promotes healing from porn. In a 2012 interview Lubbin stated the industry "does not care about performers' health."

In light of these allegations of abuse, it is particularly disturbing that ex-porn performers face enormous difficulties reentering the workforce. Similar to the difficulties faced by felons after leaving prison, ex-performers are always running from their past. Recently Gauge, a well-known performer who entered the business at 18, has spoken openly about her struggle to work outside the industry. After Gauge stopped performing, she tried a several careers, but they all ended the same. She explained, "Every single time I was discriminated against, somebody would recognize me, it'd be a big fit thrown." As a result, Gauge was forced to change jobs multiple times.

Gauge's story is very common and is one of the reasons that so many performers stick with or return to porn. Employment law in most states does not outlaw termination on the basis of moral character or employment history. Though it is likely the discrimination of female performers is linked to American sexual double standards for men and women, ex-performers would probably not win a lawsuit for sex discrimination. As a result, porn has become a one-way ticket with no options to return home. It is a sad conundrum in a culture sexualizes youth and prizes young naked bodies.

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Caitlin Bancroft

is an abortion rights activist. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Saint Louis University and is pursuing her J.D. at The George Washington University Law School. When she's not yelling at her textbooks, she likes to swim and take part in the capital’s vibrant feminist scene. You can share her never-ceasing pro-choice outrage on libertytochoose.tumblr.com.

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