we need some porn research

I’ve been inspired lately and I’ve been reading a lot of articles and blogs about porn. The first thing that I have to say is that many of them seem to be written by people with very little actual information about the industry. I’ve been with Good Vibrations for 12 years now, and I’ve learned quite a bit about the porn world, so I can say with some authority that it’s much more complex than most of the portrayals of it would let you know.

There are plenty of anti-porn folks out there who make lots of sweeping statements about the experiences of women in porn. Of course, they almost always ignore the experiences of men in porn and the existence of gay porn, which they justify by saying that their focus is on the experiences of women. Which is all well and good, although I’d suggest that they need to coin a new term to describe what they’re talking about since the word “porn” actually refers to a larger phenomenon than the one that they discuss.

What I find most frustrating about their discourse is that they don’t usually include the voices of women who are actually in the business. Instead, they’ll tell talk about what they think these women experience and present it as fact rather than interpretation. Or they’ll interview someone in the biz and then misrepresent what they said. (Check out Ernest Greene’s report on how this happened to Joanna Angel.)

Given how many women there are/have been in the business, I’m surprised that they can’t find a few who are willing to be interviewed. Granted, someone currently working in the biz might be unwilling to speak up since it might make it harder to find work but there are plenty of former porn folks who don’t have that concern. Whatever the motivation for not including the voices of these women in their research, it certainly makes it questionable.

On the other hand, there are the women who make porn and genuinely enjoy it. Sasha Grey, Madison Young, Lorelei Lee, Joanna Angel, to name a few of the current folks and there are plenty of folks who no longer show up in movies but enjoyed their careers. But while these women can stand up and tell us that their experiences are different from the caricature that anti-porn folks present, we don’t have any real way of knowing whether positive experiences are common or rare. Please note- I am not questioning the authenticity of these women’s stories. I’m simply wondering how many women are in this group, as compared to the number of women in porn.

What’s missing from both sides of this is any real data about the experiences of women in porn. We have anecdotes, but the plural of anecdotes is not data. This is especially important to remember because people are prone to “confirmation bias,” which is the tendency to interpret new information in ways that confirm preconceptions and avoid or ignore information that contradicts our beliefs. The best tool that we have for overcoming confirmation bias is the scientific method since it gives us ways to minimize the effects of our biases. (For a great read on confirmation bias and other pitfalls of how people process information , check out the book Mistakes Were Made.)

Every now and then, a grad student approaches me and asks if I have suggestions for a research project. So here’s what I’d like to see: a qualitative analysis of the experiences of women in porn. I’d suggest using Grounded Theory since it’s a well-validated method that lets the interpretation emerge from the data. It requires that the researcher make their biases explicit as a way to limit how they influence the process and allows the voices of the people being studied to drive the project.

This is an ideal topic for a dissertation and it would finally give us some real information about the experiences of women in porn. That would make it easy to follow up with some quantitative analysis to discover how many women have which sorts of experiences.

I don’t see this as likely to happen, though. It can be really difficult to study anything about sex or porn, what with the lack of academic and financial support. Plus, there are people who have built their careers on each side of this debate and it seems to me that many of them would resist any research that might question their stance. Unfortunately, what that leaves us with is propaganda masquerading as science and lies that pretend to be journalism.

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