Perceptions of Female Pornography Stars

By Polk, Roselyn K.; Cowan, Gloria | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Perceptions of Female Pornography Stars


Polk, Roselyn K., Cowan, Gloria, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


ABSTRACT: Both pro-pornography and anti-pornography advocates have used the attributed characteristics and motivations of women working in pornography to justify their political stands. What are the beliefs about and stereotypes of pornography stars? Are they seen as actors or as prostitutes having sex for money? This study investigated college students' stereotypes of female pornography stars relative to those of female movie stars, prostitutes, and women in general. The sample consisted of 160 female and 99 male college student volunteers. Participants gave percentage estimates on traits, behaviours, and work-related motivations of members of the four groups. Across all measures, pornography stars were seen as between movie stars (and women in general) and prostitutes, more negatively than movie stars and women in general, but more positively than prostitutes. Attitudes toward the harm of pornography and the importance of free speech were related to stereotypes of pornography stars.

Key words: Pornography Attitudes towards pornography Pornography stars

An important aspect of understanding people's attitudes toward pornography involves their perception of the women who act in pornographic films. Both pro-pornography and anti-pornography factions have used the attributed motivations of the women performing in this medium to justify their stand on pornography. The purpose of this study was to examine college students' stereotypes about pornography actresses in relation to those about movie stars, prostitutes, and women in general. Are the women in pornography devalued and stigmatized as a result of their participation in this medium? Additionally, are actresses who work in pornography viewed as similar in motivation and attributes to prostitutes or to movie stars who do not work in pornography?

One frequently debated question about pornography is whether pornography is harmful, and if it is harmful, whom it harms. Those who seek to assert that pornography is harmless (e.g., Strossen, 1995) argue that women in pornography would not be in this type of business if they didn't like what they were doing, and that women participate voluntarily. Those opposed to pornography (e.g., Cole, 1987; MacKinnon, 1987; 1993) claim that women in pornography are coerced or have negative past experiences, such as having been a drug addict, a victim of sexual abuse, or a runaway. MacKinnon (1993, p. 20) has asserted that "all pornography is made under conditions of inequality based on sex, overwhelmingly by poor, desperate, homeless, pimped women who were sexually abused as children" (p. 20).

Stereotyping is a cognitive process that justifies social and political attitudes, and attitudes about pornography are no exception. Female actors in X-rated films may be labelled by some as promiscuous, coerced, drug addicted, immoral, and runaways. Others portray women in pornography as no different from other women. In using the motivation of individual women as a basis for condemning or absolving pornography of harm, we not only apply social labels, but we also justify political stands.

Those who believe that pornography is harmless, and that those who act in it do so voluntarily, rely on anecdotal evidence to support their position. They choose to justify pornography by using the female pornography stars' motivation, and point to those women who choose to act strictly for the money and because they enjoy the sex. Like those claiming coercion is the motivation of women involved in pornography, most use the reports from journalists who have talked with individual actors such as Angel, a successful Black female pornography star (Campbell, 1990), and Savannah, "a long time actress" (Wilkenson, 1994), rather than use scientific research findings. In her 1995 book Defending Pornography, ACLU president Strossen cites other pornography stars who have proclaimed their positive experiences in pornography, and their own, and "many" other women's, voluntary involvement. …

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