“If porn is as bad as you say it is, why does anyone still work in porn?”

This is a common response to anti-porn advocates who argue that pornography is sexually violent, the visual celebration of rape and a perverse glorification of the degradation of women and girls.

There are, of course, many answers to this question: Some women are desperate for money; many, if not most, have been sexually abused; still others have been deceived into thinking that the porn business is a glamorous and sexy business (the mainstreaming of Playboy and the increasing crossover of porn stars into other entertainment industries has certainly contributed to that).

But to find out what women experience inside the porn industry firsthand, I decided to call someone who’d been through it herself: Shelley Lubben.

 

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Shelley Lubben was a porn star in the 1990s, having entered the industry as a prostitute at a very young age. The “sexual exploitation industries,” as Dr. Mary Anne Layden refers to the various aspects of the sex business, soon began to take their toll.

“It’s a vicious circle [being] a sex worker, because you’re stripping, taxi dancing, and you just get burned out in prostitution,” Lubben told me. “After prostitution I got burned out, and I was lied to that I would be safe from STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and I would make all this money. I was a single parent, so what the heck, might as well do sex on camera. But it was completely and utterly the worst, darkest thing I’ve ever been involved in.”

For starters, Lubben had assumed that unlike in prostitution, where many of the johns didn’t want to use condoms, the porn industry would at least keep her safe from STDs. It didn’t—and that’s because, as Lubben tells it, the entire porn industry to rife with them.

“We didn’t use condoms in porn,” she said bluntly. “There’s no condoms allowed, so we’re forced to do unprotected sex—and I can’t tell you how many people alter their tests. Just last year, they had 4 HIV cases, a high bunch out of a very small group of people…we know that most of the porn stars have had an STD at one time or another, and they estimate between 66% to 99% have herpes. They don’t test for herpes, so all these people are involved with rampant STDs.

“Even the LA Public Health Department shows they’ve been monitoring and they came up with thousands and thousands [of cases] of chlamydia and gonorrhea. They’re the highest group in California to have that many STDs. So when people click [on porn], they’re contributing to sex trafficking, they’re contributing to STDs, they’re contributing to people who are mostly alcohol to drug addicts. Now I’m speaking of the majority. Not every porn star’s a drug addict, but the majority of them are. And I can’t tell you, when I went through recovery, I had PTSD. I had all kinds of disorders, serious traumas.”

It’s a story I have read time and time again in my research on the porn industry, so I had to ask: why did she get involved in the sexual exploitation industries in the first place?

“Well I’d been sexually abused at nine years old by a teenage boy and his sister,” Shelley Lubben replied. “So I experienced very shocking heterosexual and homosexual activity at a very young age, and at the same time I was raised by the television – I was allowed to watch R-rated movies, horror movies, movies with sexual content, so I learned about love and sex from abuse and from basically parental neglect, because they would just allow us to watch these things.

“And then as I got older, I was rebelling because my dad was not very involved in my life, and I began to look for sex with boys because the boys would say they loved me. So it was this cycle that I felt in my head that I’m loved if I have sex with a person. My dad kicked me out on the street for being rebellious, and I ended up in San Fernando, LA, which is Porn Valley, and a pimp lured me in, and I was very naïve. No, I was rebellious, I was not naïve. He lured me in for 35 dollars, and then he… you know, I had to escape from him physically, because he became very abusive, and then a Madame found me, and it just spiraled on.”

Once she was embedded, Lubben felt trapped in a cycle of degradation and destruction.

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