“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?