There Are More Women in the Porn Biz Than Show Up on Screen

This post also appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

When most people talk about the women in the porn industry, they’re talking about the performers. There’s usually an assumption that all the other people, from the camera crew to the editors to the folks in the offices & warehouses, are men. That’s not the real story, and porn researcher Dr. Chauntelle Anne Tibbals recently published her study Sex Work, Office Work: Women Working Behind the Scenes in the US Adult Film Industry, to offer a look at the experiences of the women behind the scenes in the porn world.


Did you know that only 1200 of the estimated 6000 people who work in southern California’s porn industry are performers? I didn’t, but it makes sense- there’s a lot that goes into making movies. Dr. Chauntelle conducted over 250 hours of ethnographic observations and lots of informal interviews at a company she refers to as “Fascination Films” in the interest of anonymity in order to find out more about who the non-performer women in the porn industry are and what their experiences tell us about sex work in general.

I’m not surprised to find that many of them experience the stigma of sex work, even though they’ve never been paid to have sex. There’s a commonly-held idea that anything associated with sex stains anyone who touches it. And that’s especially true when we’re talking about women- many of my female sex education colleagues have experienced similar things, although it’s usually to a lesser degree.


As most folks know, opportunities happen the most when you know someone on the inside. That’s true in every industry, which is why so many people spend all that time on networking. And there can be even more emphasis on interpersonal connections in the porn industry, largely because the stigma associated with it has shaped a very tight network. The fact that the LA porn world is geographically closely-knit also encourages a close network.

I suspect that there’s also a screening mechanism in place- it’s easier to hire from within because you know that you’re working with someone who isn’t going to freak out about the products or the industry. Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way women enter the business, and Dr. Chauntelle describes how some women got their foot in the door, too. In fact, at Fascination Films, there has more employment and advancement opportunity for some women than they might expect in the mainstream business world. Or, as Dr. Chauntelle puts it:

The adult film industry network contributes to a different (gendered) workplace experience than that described by both Acker (1990) and human capital theory (Becker, 1962; Mincer, 1958). Rather than being pressed into a (masculine) standardized mould where worker potential is determined only by hours logged and degrees attained, women workers at Fascination Films are afforded a measure of occupational opportunity and advancement that allows for uniquely gendered lived experiences. Given that Fascination Films represents many other typical aspects of the adult film industry, it stands to reason that other organizations in the same industry may engage this network in a similar fashion. (page 19)

There’s a fantastic section on the history of women in the porn industry which anyone who’s genuinely interested in porn (as compared to the folks who avoid anything that might conflict with their preconceived notions) will get a lot from.

Since this paper focused on one company, so I’d love to know about the experiences of women at other companies. It’d be interesting to know how much this research reflects one company’s culture versus a larger trend. And I’d also like to know how many of the 4800 people in the industry who aren’t performers are women. But there’s only so much time one researcher can do. Are there any grad students out there who are looking for a topic? 🙂

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Sarah Elspeth Patterson says:

    Interesting post. I wonder if you think it’s a recent trend in the last 10-20 years, and what that might indicate. At Babeland, we recently had a panel of guests – screenwriter, director, and star – from An Open Invitation: A Real Swingers’ Party in San Francisco, talking about the emergence of female-driven plot lines and female-directed films. I myself wonder if this is in some ways another form of marketing to an emerging audience, or if it’s also an indication that there are more women behind the scenes, making it happen. Curious about your thoughts.

    Either way, thanks for the info!

    http://blog.babeland.com

  2. Charlie says:

    I think it’s a combination of both.

    Without wanting to fall into the gender essentialist trap of “this is what women want,” there are some general trends. Better storylines, sex scenes that are relevant to the story, connection and passion between partners, etc. Candida Royalle got the ball rolling when she became a director and her success paved the way for the so-called “couples market.” The more porn geared towards women there is, the more women watch porn, which creates the financial incentive in the industry. That encourages more women to get behind the camera, as does the growing list of women directors, most of whom have also been performers. So there’s both more women making porn and more women watching it. Each side of that encourages the other, so they happen in tandem.

    But I don’t know whether the number of women who aren’t directors is also increasing. There have been more women attending the trade shows, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a larger pattern. It’d be interesting to know.

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