The Naked Truth about Self-Esteem?

About a week ago a curious story began to make the media rounds. Apparently porn stars’ lives aren’t nearly the mess they are often presumed to be. Instead, the news cycle declared, they display greater self-esteem and deeper “spirituality” than the average woman. These were two of the findings from a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, a fair journal in which yours truly has appeared a few times.

I skimmed the actual article, which is interesting. Despite some misgivings with their comparison sample, the science seems OK, although I couldn’t tell from the published article what “spirituality” actually meant or how it was measured. (Something tells me it’s not a measure of church attendance…).

No, what’s wrong is the interpretation of the results as largely constituting good news, which is what the authors did (to an extent) and the media built upon.

But the results themselves reveal plenty of dysfunction. Here are some quotes from the article itself:

…porn actresses were approximately 3 to 9 times more likely to have tried each of…10 drugs.

…porn actresses have tried many more different types of drugs compared to the matched sample.

On average, porn actresses had more sexual partners in one year than a typical woman has in a lifetime. (My note: these are not work-related partners.)

While there may have been “no difference” statistically between porn stars and the comparison sample on their self-reported frequency of “childhood sexual abuse,” the sad stat here is the frequencies themselves: 36% of the former and 29% of the latter said yes when asked if they’d ever experienced such abuse. It’s a higher overall self-report than the 11% cited among 18-39-year-old women in the population-based New Family Structures Study. (NOTE: they posed the question a bit differently than I did, and question wording matters, as does sampling strategy.) But let me get this straight: about 30-35 percent of these women report being abused sexually as children, and the most important story for public consumption is that there is “no difference” between the two samples?

And as for their greater self-esteem…

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.

Huh. Go figure. Who knew that getting naked in front of a camera is all it takes to generate self-esteem among young women? And I thought sexting photos was a bad idea!

Seriously, though, I didn’t interpret the article as telling us good news about porn stars’ lives. And yet that’s what the headlines proclaimed.

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  • mike88

    With all due respect to porn stars ( a profession with its own challenges, no doubt), perhaps it is not so much “high self-esteem” as “shamelessness”

    Come to think of it, aren’t they similar things i.e an immunity to the criticisms/opinions of others?

  • Kristina D

    Interesting. Perhaps it isn’t mortal things like sex, money, power, etc that binds us to God…but the desire to know something bigger than ourselves.

    Maybe the reach of God doesn’t extend to the bedroom– but to the moral obligation we have to each other to be decent humans.

    It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs

  • Thomas R

    Although it says the ages ranged from “18-50″ they indicated the average was 26, which I think could mean those over 35 are maybe rarer. That plus drug use makes me wonder if the negatives wouldn’t have hit most of them yet. (Drug use probably is fun for people for awhile. And in fairness I’d be willing to say this of boxers too. The ones who seem just great and happy now, might not be doing so well in retirement)

  • M

    Interesting. Is this the Huff and Puff Post or the Hefner Post?!?
    On a less frivolous note, I want to see statistical research showing how many of the women in porn are actually male-to-female transsexuals, both pre- and post-operative and in between. I think this would tell us a lot about porn and about whether ‘self-esteem’ here just means narcissism.
    It might also direct us to the taboo question of how many ‘women’ in porn chose that occupation freely if naively. Some pro-trans websites admit that some MTFs willingly go into prostitution (sorry, ‘the sex industry’). Frankly porn is prostitution of a kind, so there’s no reason not to ask the question I’ve just asked.


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