Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Pornography Actors: A Qualitative Analysis of Motivations and Dislikes

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Pornography Actors: A Qualitative Analysis of Motivations and Dislikes

Article excerpt

Issues regarding the production and consumption of pornographic materials continue to be an intensely debated social topic. As with most controversial topics, there are fervent advocates on both sides of the debate regarding the effects or non-effects of pornography on the viewers, as well as the actors and actresses who appear in adult films. Women involved in the adult entertainment industry are typically of more interest than men because anti-pornography advocates have focused on the effects of pornography as it relates to women. For example, some writers (e.g., Dworkin, 1989; MacKinnon, 1993) have asserted that female porn actresses are in desperate conditions and are coerced into participation. Another view is that pornography is used by men as a guide to hate and abuse women (Jeffreys, 1988). Thus, the controversy regarding pornography has largely focused on women as victims and men as the perpetrators both within and outside of the pornography industry.

It is common to use the assumed motivational, psychological, and behavioral characteristics of individuals in the adult entertainment industry as a foundation for judging the many facets of pornography. Evans-DeCicco and Cowan (2001) demonstrated that negative views regarding pornography are associated with negative perceptions of the performers who act in X-rated films. What is known about actors in the adult entertainment industry largely remains speculative at best because the actual characteristics of porn actors have not been reported and the majority of the available reports focused on porn actresses (e.g., Campbell, 1990; Gittler, 1999; Lovelace, 1980; Strossen, 1995; Wilkenson, 1994), and was anecdotal in nature. Data on the characteristics of male actors in the pornography industry are very limited, but nevertheless are important because they are a necessary component in the production of adult films. In essence, it is of interest to examine the views of pornography actors to determine if they were motivated to become porn actors for exploitative purposes and if they think the adult entertainment industry is exploitative in nature.

One question that has plagued researchers is to determine why someone would become involved as an actor in the pornography industry. Evans-DeCicco and Cowan (2001) examined attitudes toward porn actors and actresses comparing across gender. One finding reported in the study suggested that the assumed motivations for pursuing a career in pornography for porn actors ranked in descending order were the money, liking the work, fulfilling a fantasy, sexual liberation, lack of employment opportunities, and coercion. Although this was an interesting finding, the results were based on public perceptions of why individuals would pursue a career in pornography. The main obstacle that has deterred researchers has been gaining access to this population (e.g., Abromovich, 2005), as pornography is an industry that is generally not open to outsiders. Several case studies (Faludi, 1999; Stoller & Levine, 1993), however, have reported that pornography actors were not accepting of social norms, lacked employment opportunities, and came from backgrounds involving childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The most extensive research on porn actors, to date, was completed by Abbott (2000), who conducted interviews with 19 male actors. Abbott's study focused on the motivations associated with entering and staying in the adult entertainment industry. Based on her interviews, reasons for choosing a career as a porn actor included money, fame/glamour, freedom/independence, opportunity/sociability, and having sex. Although she provided an important step in understanding this group, the sample size was fairly small, which restricted generalizations. The frequency of responses remain unknown, thus one was unable to rank the importance of various motivators, and domains other than motivation were not explored.

At present, there is very little known about the actual characteristics of porn actors because there has been only one study that has been conducted on this difficult-to-access group of individuals. What is known about porn actors, beyond the motivations for entering the industry based on 19 actors, is speculation. The present study expands the work of Abbott (2000) and fills a gap in the literature by asking a larger group of male porn actors their motivations for entering the adult entertainment industry and dislikes regarding their work.



The participants in this study consisted of 105 male performers in the adult entertainment industry. Individuals were classified as pornography actors if they were paid to work as an actor on at least one X-rated movie in which they participated in a sexual act. Male porn workers were an average of 35 years old (range from 19-59), with a mean of 5.2 years in the adult entertainment industry (range from 1 month--29 years). The majority of participants were heterosexual (92%) and the rest of the sample were bisexual (8%). In terms of marital status, the majority were single (45%), followed by married (16%), single but in a serious relationship (15%), divorced (14%), separated (8%), and widowed (2%). In terms of ethnicity, the majority reported being Caucasian (60%) while the second highest category was African-American (17%), followed by other (10%), Hispanic (9%), and Asian (4%).

Data from the pornography actors were collected via convenience sampling at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) located in Los Angeles, CA. AIM is a non-profit organization that has been serving the health needs of sex workers and individuals in the adult entertainment industry since 1998. AIM provides a variety of services including HIV and STD testing, psychiatric testing, individual and group counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, information/access to more than 50 support groups. AIM provides services to approximately 1,200 individuals on a monthly basis and maintains an HIV database that allows producers to confirm that actors are compliant with the industry's testing program which requires performers to have documented negative results for a PCR/DNA test within the last 28 days. Participation was strictly on a voluntary basis and as an incentive, individuals who completed the survey instrument had their name put in a lottery to win one of two prizes of $300 of free testing available from AIM.


Participants completed a survey asking questions regarding demographic information (i.e., gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, and sexual orientation), why they chose to become involved in the adult entertainment industry, and what they disliked about the adult entertainment industry. Responses were provided in a written format.


Data collection from the pornography actors occurred for four months in 2006. When individuals visited the clinic, flyers detailing the study that mentioned the incentive at the reception desk were available to view when all clients checked in upon arrival at AIM. Staff at the reception area encouraged individuals to participate and referred all interested parties to the chief medical officer. Participants were first provided with a consent form and ensured that there was no way to match their identity with their responses. The chief medical officer provided further details of the study, administered the questionnaire, and answered any questions regarding the study.

This study used a discovery-oriented qualitative methodology (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) consisting of two parts. The first step was to develop categories that emerged from participant responses and the second step involved an analysis of the frequency of responses across those categories across each question. The research team consisted of four judges, two auditors, and a research consultant. All four judges, two females and two males, were advanced psychology students. The auditors consisted of psychology graduate students; one female and one male. The research consultant was a female psychology faculty member. No members of the research team were involved in the data collection or the study in any other way.

The first step was the development of a coding scheme. For each question, 50 responses were randomly selected and given to each judge. The judges independently coded the written responses to each of the questions (i.e., identified concepts). Each of the judges began reviewing the data by engaging in a line-by-line analysis (Straus & Corbin, 1998). There were cases where individual responses were commonly assigned to multiple codes, as some responses contained multiple concepts. Each judge then met with another judge, forming a dyad to compare, contrast, and refine the codes. Then, both dyads of judges met with the research consultant to generate an initial coding system which consisted of a list of all codes that emerged from the randomly selected responses. The judges discussed the codes and arrived at consensual agreement about the most appropriate codes that captured the essences of the data, and the final coding scheme (i.e., different categories) served as a conceptual framework to organize the data (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

After the coding scheme was developed, analysis of all of the data was initiated. Each judge was given all of the responses. Each judge coded each response assigning codes to individual responses, then met with the other judge in their dyad to reach consensus about the coding. Judges coded the data using the existing coding scheme while expanding the coding scheme. All four judges then met with the research consultant to discuss and reach consensus about the coding. These findings were then presented to the auditors. The auditors noted inconsistencies (e.g., same response being assigned different codes) and aspects of the coding system that lacked clarity (e.g., meaning of a particular code). The four judges then began another iteration of refining the categories and made consensual decisions in response to feedback from the auditors. The auditors were used to increase the validity of the study results by serving to triangulate the data analytic procedure of the four judges throughout the research process (Hill, et al., 1997). Through the process of developing the categories, the research team was able to ensure that no new themes emerged from the data and that the categories were representative of the experiences of all the participants in the study.


After categories were developed and the frequencies of responses across categories were totaled, we examined the data. Nine categories were developed regarding motivations for becoming a porn actor and eight categories regarding dislikes of the industry. See Table 1 for the frequencies and percentages across categories for motivations and dislikes. It should be noted that participants could have indicated several categories, thus the frequencies could add up to more than the sample size. Each respondent provided an average of 1.67 responses for motivations and 1.41 responses for dislikes.

Motivations to Enter the Adult Entertainment Industry

Money and sex were the two most frequent motivations for entering the pornography industry as an actor and the responses for these two categories were provided in a very straightforward manner as the majority of the participants simply indicated "money" or "sex." Some of the other responses across categories were less obvious and shed light on factors other than money and sex that are important motivators for entering the industry. For example, the category "social/networking" emerged as the third most important motivator with nearly one in four men indicating it as a reason for entering the pornography industry. One performer summarized this category by responding, "When I met the people, they were so friendly and I knew immediately that I found my calling and a new group of friends that would accept me for who I am." (Age 35, two years in the industry.) It was clear from the responses that actors identified social factors as being important so that new or existing friendships could begin or grow. The adult entertainment industry is a very cohesive community and many individuals who work together are supportive and accepting of their co-workers, who are also their friends. This has obvious appeal for those entering the industry because they are readily accepted by other like-minded individuals who share a similar lifestyle.

Approximately 21% of the sample indicated that they entered the industry with some degree of curiosity/chance, which was an unexpected finding. Some respondents indicated that they somehow came across the profession and had an opportunity to try it and did so without later regret. For example, one actor indicated, "I got into the biz totally by chance. I don't think I would even be doing this unless I happened to meet this guy in a bar one night who happened to be a producer" (Age 41, 11 years in the industry). Based on the responses, it seems that one out of five males in the sample did not plan on becoming a porn actor, but perhaps some interest in pornography and an opportunity was presented. About the same percentage (20%) of respondents listed fun or adventure as a motivator. The majority of these responses indicated that the work seemed like it would be fun and it was a way to fulfill fantasies by having the opportunity to have sex with many different women.

Approximately 14% of the participants indicated that they entered the porn industry because of lack of other employment opportunities. This was distinct from the "money" category because individuals in this category indicated some type of financial hardship. Several reported that they had recently lost their jobs, some were unemployed for longer periods of time, and a few reported increasing debts that needed to be paid. In addition, there were several participants (<5%) that reported artistic expression, freedom, and revenge as motivating reasons for choosing a career in pornography.

Dislikes regarding Work in the Adult Entertainment Industry

The second question explored negative aspects of the adult entertainment industry experienced by male performers. The general category of "people" was the most frequent response by an overwhelming number, with approximately 56% of the men indicating that interacting with others in the industry was the most negative aspect of the work. The negative category of "people" seemed to identify two groups of individuals; the majority of responses represented negative views of management in the form of directors, producers, and agents as depicted by one actor who responded, "The greed of the producers is going to kill the industry" (Age 37, five years in the industry). The second subset of the "people" category represented the co-workers or general views of those in the industry. Many of these responses identified attitudes and egos as being difficult to deal with within their work environment, such as this quote, "Everybody has an agenda that's hidden and all the liars, weirdoes, thieves, and gossipers that go with it" (Age 34, five years in the industry).

The second and third most frequent responses of negative aspects of the pornography industry was that of politics and work environment with just over 15% of respondents indicating each of those categories. Coding for politics was straightforward as the typical response was simply "politics." Work environment was more variable as actors discussed some of the conditions under which they worked. For example, one performer specified, "Some of the locations that we shoot are disgusting" (Age 25, two years in the industry). Thus, the topics under the work environment category indicated dissatisfaction with the places and conditions in which scenes were shot. Some of the productions are considered low budget and may take place in motel rooms, warehouses, and similar locations in order to keep production costs at a minimum. As such, they may not offer an ideal setting in which to have sex from the perspective of the performers.

One predictable dislike reported by approximately 14% of the men was that of sexually transmitted diseases. Participants reported that higher pay results from not using condoms, thus there may be pressures not to use them. Although actors in the professional ranks are required to get tested once a month, there is still the risk of infection, and this is considered to be a serious job hazard. Co-workers may have sexual relationships outside of the industry or work with foreign or pro-amateur productions where testing is not as rigorous or perhaps non-existent, thus there is an ongoing risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Another aversive factor reported by approximately 12% of the men was a lack of job opportunities. Specifically, there were complaints of being paid less than women although having the more difficult performance role, not being paid enough, not having enough work because the pool of male performers is increasing as of late, and lack of benefits, insurance, and a union.

One of the main arguments against pornography is that of exploitation. Nearly 10% of the respondents seemed to agree with this assertion. It should be noted that none of the respondents indicated that they were exploited, although they observed others being exploited. About half of the participants who identified "exploitation" specifically indicated that women were being exploited whereas the other half did not specify, so one cannot infer whether they were referring to either or both genders. One actor indicated, "I sometimes think its exploitation and I really don't feel especially proud at the end of the day" (Age 30, five years in the industry). Specific examples of exploitation included pressuring actresses into doing scenes or performing acts they might have reservations about doing and not having choices with regard to who one will have sex with. The pressure seems to occur in the form of economic threat, such that if they do not perform a particular act with a particular person, there may be a fear of being labeled as a "difficult-to-work-with" actor, which might limit the number of job opportunities in the future.

The final two categories of negative elements within the pornography industry are that of drugs and social stigmatization. Actors complained of working with actresses who are high during a scene but indicated that it is difficult to avoid because of the expectations to live a particular lifestyle which often involves attending parties and other social events. Lastly, several men indicated that being part of a "deviant" profession is related to negative societal views of them.


The present study examined the responses of 105 men on questions regarding motivations for becoming an actor in the adult entertainment industry and dislikes of their work. Research on male porn actors is very limited and these findings provide insight into some characteristics of a very difficult to access group of individuals. Prior researchers have indicated that gaining access to this population would be helpful in examining stereotypes regarding this group of sex workers (Abromovich, 2005; Evans-DeCicco & Cowan, 2001) although it has proven difficult. Difficulty in accessing this population was exemplified by Stoller (1991), who attempted to conduct an ethnographic investigation of the pornographic industry but was unable to find any male actors willing to talk with him.

A persistent societal question asks, "Why would someone enter the porn industry?" The current study identified nine factors that served as reasons why men entered the adult entertainment industry and provided an ordering so that one may infer the importance of the various motivating factors, offering some degree of support for both studies (Abbott 2000; Evans-DeCicco & Cowan 2001) that previously investigated this topic. There were certainly some overlapping categories with money, social aspects, and having sex, being in both lists. Two of these categories of motivations are fairly intuitive because people work in order to get paid and many men might regard a profession of having sex with women as appealing. It could be assumed that men in this sample may place a high level of importance on the attribute of sexual behavior because it is a large part of their professional lives. Because engaging in sexual intercourse is the primary function of the actors, it is not surprising that it ranks high as a motivation for this sample. The social/networking category may be related to the pornography industry being a very insular and supportive group (Abbott, 2000). Actors spend most of their professional and private time associating with co-workers from within the industry who are like-minded on topics such as sexual attitudes and practices that would be considered deviant in mainstream society. Interestingly, two new categories of curiosity/chance and fun/adventure emerged with the present dataset as top five motivations. The fun/adventure category is understandable because certain men may find having sex with different women as fun and having various experiences and fulfilling sexual fantasies might certainly be viewed as adventurous. The curiosity/chance dimension, however, is less intuitive although it was a somewhat prevalent response. Approximately one out of five men in the sample indicated that they became a porn actor because they were curious or had no particular reason. This motivational aspect would certainly be interesting to further explore to determine how one becomes a porn actor by chance. Participants in the Evans-DeCicco and Cowan (2001) study believed that lack of employment opportunities and coercion were among the top six reasons why men would be motivated to become involved in the pornography industry. This study provided support for the lack of employment opportunities category, although no support was found for coercion. Again, the lack of employment opportunities is not a surprising category given the fact that unemployment and underemployment is an issue of great concern among many individuals. The categories with the least frequent responses (i.e., artistic expression, freedom, and revenge) provide depth to understanding men's motivations and demonstrate that not all reasons for becoming a porn star are simple and straightforward.

Examination of the nine categories suggests that seven of the motivation factors may be regarded as positive or neutral (i.e., money, sex, social, curiosity/chance, fun/adventure, artistic expression, and freedom) whereas two might be regarded as negative (i.e., lack of career opportunities and revenge). So, there are now data showing why men enter the adult entertainment industry and an ordering to those factors. Some of the categories with the highest frequencies for the question regarding motivations were fairly predictable based on the Evans-DeCicco and Cowan (2001) and Abbott (2000) studies. Examination of the negative aspects of work as a porn actor was less predictable because much of the operation of pornography production is largely unknown to those outside of the industry.

Previous research has not investigated negative aspects associated with working as a porn actor from the perspective of current performers. The three most frequent categories (i.e., people, politics, and work environment) might be viewed as being negative aspects of many different types of professions and does not seem unique to pornography. In other professions, employees may have difficulty working with staff, co-workers, and management; politics are often evident in hiring decisions, salaries, and promotions, and businesses often try to reduce costs in order to save money, resulting in poorer work conditions. Other categories are also common in professions. For example, the national unemployment rate in the United States is around 10% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010), drugs are used in the workplace, (e.g., Frome, 2006), and other sex worker occupations have social stigmas (e.g., Thompson, Harred, & Burks, 2003). One of the main claims against pornography is that it is exploitative, particularly toward women. Approximately 10% of the participants indicated that they believed exploitation occurs, most often with new actresses, which is similar to percentages of other professions that have cited exploitation (Tomaskovic-Devy & Skaggs, 1999). One category, however, concern regarding STDs, may be more specific to the pornography industry. For porn actors, contracting an STD could result in less work, the termination of their careers, serious health problems, or even death. In fact, it was surprising to us that a higher number of participants did not provide a response in the STD category.

Although this study provides useful information on a unique population, several shortcomings should be pointed out. First, the question regarding the motivation for entering the industry was asked in a retrospective manner. In other words, all of the participants are current pornography actors and their responses to dislikes are from present day views, whereas their recollections of why they entered the profession ranged from one month to 29 years. So, it is quite possible that retrospective interference may have occurred with some of these memories. Second, all of the participants in the current sample have worked in heterosexual scenes. There is an all gay male pornography industry that exists and those men may have different responses from the current sample. Third, the participants were men who agreed to complete the survey while in the waiting room at AIM, most often to receive their monthly STD test. Random selection was not possible, thus convenience sampling was also a limiting factor. Pornography actor participation rate was unknown because the population is unknown. This is due to the fact that AIM is one of dozens of facilities where individuals may be tested in Los Angeles County. The chief medical officer indicated there were approximately 1,200 tests conducted on a monthly basis and at the time of the study, there was not a single registry where performers had to be licensed, so there is no accurate way to calculate how many performers there are at a given time. Thus, it is certainly possible that there was a self-selection bias and generalizations to the entire industry and to the actors performing in the all gay productions should be made with caution.

This study represents a significant stride forward in gaining a better understanding of men who act in the adult entertainment industry. Up to this point, what was known about this interesting group of men was speculative. A better understanding of the participants in the adult entertainment industry may offer valuable information which can be used to make better informed decisions at an individual and societal level. According to Evans-DeCicco and Cowan (2001), society does tend to judge pornography based on the perceived characteristics and motivations of individuals in the adult entertainment industry. A more effective way of evaluating the pornography industry may be to separate it into two domains; one to examine the effects that it has on viewers, and the other to assess the personality, behavioral, and motivational variables of the actors who perform in it.

Author Note: James D. Griffith and Lea T. Adams, Department of Psychology, Shippensburg University; Christian L. Hart, Department of Psychology, Texas Woman's University; Sharon Mitchell, Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, Los Angeles, CA; Randy Forbes, Bekah Phares, Ashley Finkenbinder, and Alex Kruger, Department of Psychology, Shippensburg University.


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James D. Griffith and Lea T. Adams

Shippensburg University

Christian L. Hart

Texas Woman's University

Sharon Mitchell

Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation

Alex Kruger, Bekah Phares, Randy Forbes, and Ashley Finkenbinder

Shippensburg University

Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Dr. James D. Griffith, Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, FSC-Psychology, Shippensburg, PA 17257. Email:

TABLE 1 Frequencies and Percentages of Responses across Categories
of Motivations and Dislikes

                      Motivations                 Dislikes

Category              Freq.   %     Category            Freq.   %

Money                 45      43    People              59      56
Sex                   38      36    Politics            18      17
Social/Networking     24      23    Work Environment    17      16
Curiosity/Chance      22      21    STDs                15      14
Fun/Adventure         21      20    Job Opportunities   13      12
Lack of Career Opp.   15      14    Exploitation        10      10
Artistic Expression    4       4    Drugs                9       9
Freedom                4       4    Social Stigma        7       7
Revenge                2       2

Note. Frequencies can add up more than N and percentages can add up
more than 100% because participants could have indicated multiple
reasons as motivations.
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