And the ensuing fallout is raising interesting questions about our acceptance of female sexuality.
It all started when Duke Freshman Thomas Bagley spotted a girl in a pornographic film that looked a lot like his classmate. She admitted that that was her and swore him to secrecy; he then spilled the details at his next fraternity rush event.
Sadly and predictably, the response ranged from people publicly tweeting about how they wanted to bang the Duke freshman porn star:
"I found out a girl in our freshman class is a pornstar. I've now made it my goal to fuck her before I graduate." - Duke University
— Collegefession™ (@collegefession) February 8, 2014
To anonymous posters on CollegiateACB claiming that she doesn't deserve privacy, respect, or even protection from rape because of her profession ("She should've known what she was getting into" is a common excuse). A sampling below:
As a result, the outed porn star, sat down for an interview with the Duke Chronicle, giving some interesting soundbites about the financial security and sexual empowerment that her job gives her:
On Duke's $60,000 tuition:
At a private, top-10 university like Duke where the full cost of attendance is steadily creeping to $60,000 a year, Lauren said she turns to the adult film industry to help supplement her financial aid.
On why seemingly more respectable professions, like waitressing, are out:
"I worked as a waitress as a job for a year in high school and not only did it interfere with my school where I was barely sleeping and wasn't doing my work, but also I was making $400 a month after taxes. I felt like I was being degraded and treated like s—t. My boss was horrible to me," Lauren said. "For people to tell me that doing porn and having sex, which I love, is more degrading than being a waitress and being somebody's servant and picking up after somebody and being treated like a lesser, second-class citizen, that literally makes no sense. To be perfectly honest, I felt more degraded in a minimum wage, blue-collar, low paying, service job than I ever did doing porn."
Duke's repressive sexual culture:
"I feel like girls at Duke have to hide their sexuality. We're caught in this virgin-whore dichotomy," she said. "Gender norms are very intense here and I feel like that's particularly carried out by frats. I think that being a woman at Duke is extremely difficult. I think that being a sexual woman at Duke is extremely difficult."
And how porn gives her the opportunity express that sexuality:
"I have always been a very sexual person, and I'm also bisexual, but I haven't ever felt really welcome," said Lauren. "But when I'm in Pornland, I feel at home. This is where I'm meant to be, with these people who love sex and are comfortable about it."
Yet she has continued getting messages shaming her or asking for sex. "Reputable" websites even offer snide comments about how she could possibly expect privacy when she's given on-campus interviews and been invited into the university's classrooms to lecture on her experience. This all proves her point about the virgin-whore dichotomy, not just at Duke, but in America in general. This phenomenon also played out when high schooler Robert Marucci faced bullying and was allegedly expelled, then merely suspended, for starring in gay porn this past January. Both of these cases seem to show how unacceptable it is for someone to participate in porn, especially if they are still students of a certain age who refuse to apologize for engaging in this type of sex work.
In Lauren's case, the backlash threatens to obscure legitimate concerns about the porn industry. She herself has hit back at the Duke Chronicle for calling her "naive" when she asserts that the porn industry is not coercive, or when the writer observed that she "showed off" an iPad and other items, supposedly purchased from her earnings in the adult filmmaking industry. To their credit, the Chronicle has responded by standing by their article, but also decrying the treatment Lauren has gotten from her community:
Lauren's story has brought important questions—about sex work, feminism and the perils of the Internet—to light. But mostly, this story smacks of an all-too-familiar sexism at Duke. Porn actress or not, Lauren should never have experienced vicious name-calling, strangers' sexual claims to her body or the threat of sexual violence. No woman deserves such treatment, and yet too many Duke women experience it every day.
Exactly. People can be critical of porn and the exploitation that occurs in such an industry all they want, but they should do so by affording its participants respect for their perspective and their basic humanity.
Image via Getty.