Despite the pro-sex movement within feminism, the "damaged goods" theory that second wavers postulated about adult film actresses—that they are drug-addicted victims of childhood molestation who have grown up to have psychological problems—is almost universally accepted as fact. But a new study finds that the reverse is true: "In terms of psychological characteristics, porn actresses had higher levels of self-esteem, positive feelings, social support, sexual satisfaction, and spirituality compared to [other women]."
Throughout their careers, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon have been adamantly anti-pornography, which is fine as a personal opinion, but they've stated that it's a "feminist view" that all pornography is rape and institutionalized gender inequality. They've asserted—in their various works like Only Words and Pornography: Men Possessing Women—that all women in pornography were sexually abused as children and that pornography damages all women involved in it. They were incredibly extreme claims, particularly because they didn't have any empirical data to support the assertions.
However, a new study published in the Journal of Sex Research finds porn actresses do not have a higher incidence of childhood sexual abuse and are "not less psychologically healthy" compared to the general public. The study—-which was conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania's Shippensburg State University, Texas Women's University, and Sharon Mitchell, former director of the now-defunct Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation—is the most comprehensive one done on women in the adult entertainment industry to date.
Researchers had 117 female performers answer a series of questions that were then graded against established scales. For example, self-esteem was measured by the Rosenberg self-esteem scale, while "quality of life" was "assessed by the 10 dimensions of quality of life as developed by the World Health Organization."
Perhaps most interesting, the adult film actresses reportedly had higher self-esteem compared to a matched group of women surveyed in a university setting and at the airport. The authors of the study suggested that adult performers' comfort with their naked bodies might contribute to this:
Some evidence of high self-esteem ratings that may be related to the current findings were reported by Herold, Corbesi, and Collins (1994) who found that women who were topless at a beach had higher self-esteem than women who were not topless. Topless women reported a sense of personal freedom, whereas women who were not topless reported embarrassment. Porn actresses are typically nude in their scenes and appear in front of camera crews and audiences who later watch the movies in which they appear. It is likely that low levels of embarrassment are experienced among porn actresses, and being able to be completely naked in front of others might be associated with an elevated self-esteem.
Ultimately, the study found that adult film actresses are happy and healthy, not just by their own standards, but by completely objective measures. So perhaps the second wavers' perceptions of women in adult films, which have been used to condemn the entire industry of pornography, can finally be seen for what they really are: inaccurate and unfair stereotypes embellished to justify their own political views.