Is There A Mental Health Crisis In The Porn Industry?

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Sex is everywhere. Whether you’re scrolling down your newsfeed, watching Love Island, or binging on Game of Thrones, it seems that more often than not we’re face-to-face (or face-to-screen) with naked bodies – primarily female ones.

While explicit sexual content is now something that most of us are more than used to – a state of mind no doubt accelerated by free and easily accessible porn sites like Pornhub (cheers, pal) – the recent number of deaths of those working within the porn industry should make us pay more attention to the people behind and participating in this prolific – and often mentally taxing – business.

Florence, Italy - May 2, 2011: Youporn.com, PornHub.com and Megaporn.com web site on lcd screen. The three site are the most famous porn streaming website on the web for erotic content.

23-year old adult performer Olivia Lau, who had the stage name of Olivia Voltaire, was found dead at a rehab facility in California on 18th January, making her the fifth porn star to pass away within the past three months. Since November, performers Lau, August Ames, 23, Olivia Nova, 20, Yuri Luv, 31, and retired performer Shyla Stylez, 35, have all died either from suicide or an overdose.

With such a worrying trend seemingly taking hold of the business, it begs the question of whether the deaths of these young women are just coincidences, or if they’re perhaps a sign that the porn industry is inherently flawed, unable to sufficiently support their performers’ mental health.

Stigma

Sex on laptop computer. Pornography

The stigma associated with sex work has been cited by members within the porn industry as a contributing factor to the deaths. Performers are not only faced with harassment in real life, but also suffer extensive abuse online – partly resulting from the pressure performers are under to engage with their audiences on social media platforms.

Following Lau’s overdose, the Adult Performer Advocacy (APAC), claimed that the reproach many porn stars endure has a clear detrimental effect on their mental health:

Compounding that with the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the pursuit of mental health support, we see the intersectional challenges that our community faces.

The sex negativity, violence, and harassment performers face online and in real life is condemnable. We ask that out community practice compassion, sympathy, and empathy with one another because there is so much outside of our industry working against us.”

You only have to take a quick glance at the comments concerning former porn star and Pornhub’s most searched name, Mia Khalifa – who was actually only in the industry for three months before she became disillusioned – to evidence that the stigma and harassment faced by adult performers can be brutal.

Harassment is also said to have contributed towards Ames’ suicide in December last year. After refusing to participate in a film involving a man who had previously performed in gay porn, Ames’ husband has spoken of the extensive online bullying his wife faced:

Bullying took her life. If harassment had not occurred, she would be alive today.”

my eyelashes weigh more than I do☕️🎩

A post shared by August Ames (@msmaplefever) on

With members of the industry claiming that the way they’re treated makes them feel like “second-class citizens”, it seems as though the porn industry should be taking steps to safeguard the well-being of their adult performers.

Physical health

Blood sample for sexually transmitted infection (STI) test

Not only are porn stars subjected to substantial mental strains as a result of their careers, but the physical toll that their profession takes on their bodies can also be extensive.

Considering that Nova’s autopsy showed that she was suffering from a urinary tract infection turned septic and that her entire body was covered in bruises, many have been wondering whether or not porn stars are receiving the appropriate education in regards to UTIs and their symptoms, and if not, whether this is something that the porn industry is responsible for.

You don’t have to be an avid porn-watcher to know that condoms and dental dams are rarely seen when performers are getting down to it. Even chick-flicks demonstrate a distinct lack of protection, suggesting that condoms are considered too unsexy to subject viewers to – because you know what is sexy? Chlamydia, apparently.

Alongside the increased risk of infection, adult performers are also met with a growing pressure to participate in “rough” sex scenes.

In the days of accessible and free porn (again, thanks Pornhub), and a saturation of people trying to make it in the industry, performers feel as though subjecting themselves to uncomfortable and extreme situations is the only way that they can make a living – a fact that is bound to take its physical and mental toll.

What do porn stars think?

Two sexy young women

Proving that the porn industry could be doing more is the fact that porn performers themselves have been lamenting the seemingly endemic mental health problems within the business.

Performer Amber Lynn stated, “We are in a crisis in the adult industry. It’s almost becoming like an epidemic” , while secretary of the APAC, Kelly Pierce, has cited the lack of support as a particular concern.

Pierce tweeted that the porn industry is complicit in performers’ mental health struggles, claiming that they “ignore performers w/ drug problems” and “brush sexual abuse and sexual misconduct to an entertainer under the rug”.

Pierce’s comments regarding sexual misconduct are especially salient in light of recent campaigns within the entertainment industry to try and raise awareness against sexual abuse, such as #Time’sUp and #MeToo.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 20: Eva Longoria (L) and Scarlett Johansson (R) at the 2018 Women's March Los Angeles at Pershing Square on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images)

With the spotlight firmly on Hollywood to sort out what increasingly seems to be the prolific and prevalent practice of sexual misconduct, shouldn’t the porn industry follow suit and seek to take steps to protect their performers?

Many may feel that sexual “banter” is part and parcel of the porn career path, but adult performers deserve the same workplace safety as other professions and should be able to follow their career without feeling pressured or intimidated. A working climate that tolerates sexual misconduct is not an atmosphere that will produce happy, healthy, and supported workers.

What can be done?

Hand holding phone, porn application icon on touchscreen.

With the apparent failure of the porn industry to support them, it seems like performers have been taking it upon themselves to help each other.

Performer and director Nikki Hearts told Rolling Stone that she and her wife, Leigh Raven, have taken the steps to open their home to other performers who are in need of assistance:

Female performers are suffering because we’re not being taken care of by the industry that we give everything to.”

There’s no person saying, ‘What you’re dealing with is really difficult mentally, it’s taking a toll on you.”

While it may be the case that the deaths of Lau, Stylez, Luv, Ames, and Nova are simply an unfortunate coincidence, the conditions that have been perpetrating the suicides, the drug addiction, and the physical and mental difficulties suggest that there is certainly more that the porn industry can do to protect its participators.

What the porn industry needs first and foremost is a frank and open discussion concerning mental health.

The UK’s Samaritans helpline is 116 1253

Images via Twitter / iStock / Instagram / Getty Images / Pornhub

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