Shame. It is one of the most destructive weapons in our verbal and emotional arsenal, taught to us at a very young age. Pre-teens and teens have to navigate a land-mind-filled field of the judgment of personal and moral choices and options that gives all who cross it (and everyone does) scars to varying degrees.

But, what about porn stars? There is an assumption made by many of the general public that porn stars feel no shame because of what they have chosen to do with their lives. This is simply wrong. Older actresses like Nina Hartley come across as naturally comfortable, confident, and unashamed in themselves because they put in the time,  effort, and willingness to learn, and be open to all.  Many porn stars feel shame, judgment, and regret like everyone else, but it takes years for them to come to terms with their bodies and their choices. Their images are not solely their own. 

porn stars
Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash

Shame is a universal feeling

The indoctrination that the naked human form is shameful and should be covered starts at a young age and tends to follow most well into adulthood. Body image is the very first thing a potential porn star has critiqued. They go into the interviews knowing that they will be required to strip naked and possibly show off their skills. For most people, this goes against everything they’ve been taught.

Criticisms ranging from “your boobs are too asymmetrical” to “you don’t have enough ass” are heard by male and female performers. That is why most performers start their careers in much smaller roles, and once a little money starts coming in, they start going to the gym daily, saving up for a boob job, and adding to or modifying their bodies, all in an attempt to be the next Bonny Rotten or Bo Sinn. The choice for enhancements, alterations, or whatever people choose to call them all stem from believing that what the agents have told them is wrong about their bodies must be made more aesthetically pleasing, or they won’t be able to make it.

The proof is in the number of breast implants that happen every year for both men and women in the porn industry. Yes, there is porn for every body type, but to make it as a “Porn Star,” both men and women have to have a hyper-idealized body naturally like Katie Morgan or Tommy Pistol.  Actors get caught up in their own heads like everyone else, and this can lead to other problems.

Performance anxiety is the number one killer of a porn shoot, and all performers experience it. Why – because fear is one of the most basic human emotions, and shame goes hand in hand with it. Young women want to give performances like Stoya, who orgasms fairly easily and whose whole body flushes when she does. Men want to be endowed like Lexington Steele and have his stamina, taking on two to three women at a time.

porn stars
Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash

Once again, these two people are not typical, but they certainly didn’t start that way. Porn stars have to learn that during sex, human bodies do a lot of weird things, like queefing, and that it is perfectly natural. They also had to learn different partners like different things and that just because you like to cuckold someone doesn’t mean you should be ashamed of it. They also had to learn to accept the things they cannot change.

Standard human bodies also don’t respond the way we want them to all the time. Heavier porn actors can’t always get into the positions consumers like to see. Petite actors aren’t always comfortable with much taller actors because the power dynamics and the physics can’t always be made to work. Problems like erectile dysfunction are common and can be overcome with a pill most of the time.

When it can’t, that leaves the male performer ashamed of his masculinity and sexuality, plus the guilt of not doing the job he was hired to do. Whoever they are paired with also tends to take on some of the responsibility as well. Placing the blame and shame on themselves with thoughts of “I’m not sexy enough,” or “I’m not pretty enough,” or simply “I’m not good enough.” And paraphrasing a psychologist, “It takes thousands of You are beautiful, just the way you are,” to get over one perceived negative comment such as, “That’s a big ass.” It can take years to get past this stage, and some never do. 

What happens after porn ends? Sadly, some turn to or continue taking drugs and alcohol to numb themselves. That is their coping mechanism. Annie Sprinkle, Lorelei Lee, and many others have gotten advanced degrees and college degrees and either continue to work in porn or move on in their chosen fields. They also have children and families. But, are they ashamed? 

Former porn actors, especially those who made more than just a few movies, will always have their past come back to be the present topic of conversation. No one wants their children to discover that mommy or daddy used to be in porn by seeing them in a bukkake scene on the internet. No one wants to be harassed by coworkers, congregation members, friends, or family because of a past career option they chose.

The best way for readers to truly understand what happens to former performers is to watch the three-part series After Porn Ends. The movies allow former stars to explain what life was like then and now. They show the viewers that porn actors are very real people with the same hopes and fears we all have, and what their choice to do porn has cost them and rewarded them.

Do porn stars feel shame? Yes, some do. Should they, though? In the age of body positivity and sexual acceptance and freedom, the answer is a resounding no. Yet, everyday young women and men attempt to join the ranks of the elite in porn, knowing that they will be judged by people who do not know them and that whether they mean to or not, will shame them.