This is the third post that talks about the information presented in the documentary Hot Girls Wanted. The first one, about how pornography celebrates pedophilia, is here. The second one, about how women are brought into the porn industry, is here. This is not exactly a film review; I have added information from other sources as well. This third post is about the nature and context of the choice to enter the porn industry.
In Hot Girls Wanted, several young women are interviewed over the course of a few months while they are working in the porn industry. There is a lot of focus on two of them in particular, Tressa and Rachel. We meet Tressa and Rachel at the beginning of their porn careers when they are excited and enthusiastic. Over the course of time through more interviews we see their enthusiasm fade as they slowly realize the industry they have entered is not what they thought it would be.
Tressa, Rachel, and the others are living together in the home of their “talent manager,” Riley, and their porn careers begin with some sexy photo shoots and some “teen porn” films that are the gentler kind—no extreme acts or physical abuse just yet. They are out of their parents’ homes for the first time and living on their own with other young adults. They drink and do drugs and generally feel like life is a party.
Rachel: “We’re free right now. The word is in our hands.”
Tressa: “We practically do whatever we wanna do.”
Rachel: “Ever since I came here it’s been all about me. Do I wanna be in my parents’ shoes when I’m their age? No!”
She continues to talk about not wanting to follow the usual route of college, marriage and kids. She wants a more exciting life. She says she’s done SO MUCH SHIT HERE. For example, she’s “chilled in penthouses, been in Lamborghinis, rode on street bikes.”
Both girls say they’re trying to be famous. They think that glamour, fame and money are in their reach. They believe they will stay in the porn industry for many years.
When we get to know Tressa better, we find out that she was desperate to get out of her parents’ house and find excitement and money. She saw an ad on Craigslist for hot girls wanted and she impulsively took off right away. She did not take the time to think about how doing porn would affect her life. She did not consider what would happen when her parents found out. She did not consider that her life in porn would be short and that she would have to return to the conventional, boring workplace afterwards. She did not go on birth control pills. When her mother describes her daughter leaving the house, she snaps her fingers and says “just like that.” Tressa was in the normal developmental stage of life when the young adult is ready to leave home but is still impulsive and unable to think about the long term. As I’ve talked about before, she was also socialized in a porn culture and had learned to accept porn as normal and acceptable.
We see a conversation between Tressa and her mother when she goes back home to visit. Her mother asks her questions about pregnancy and STIs. Tressa says that she’s not on birth control and that it’s okay because the male performers “don’t come inside you.” Even basic sex education teaches that it’s possible to get pregnant even if he “pulls out” due to pre-ejaculate. Another thing to note here is that Tressa is having unprotected sex because that is what sells, and she is not in control over this. If she did not agree to unprotected sex then she wouldn’t get work. This is abuse toward her and she doesn’t see it, her eyes are still just seeing dollar signs, glamour and male approval.
While we’re on the subject of birth control, later in the film another woman, Michelle, says that the male performer came inside her, (from what I can tell, not with her permission), and so she got a Plan B pill to prevent pregnancy. Then she says “Plan B always works I guess. I don’t know.” She doesn’t even know! These girls are not at all prepared for what they’ve gotten into.
All the girls interviewed are eager for male approval. They glow with pride when men tell them they’re hot and they believe it when someone calls them their “favourite porn star.” They are high on this validation, as well as being high on leaving home and making money.
After they have done nude photo shoots and porn scenes featuring standard sex acts, studios have no interest in booking them anymore. The studios are on to the next fresh batch of 18 year olds. In order to keep working, the girls start taking jobs that are more “niche” jobs. In pornography “niche” translates to “abusive.” Rachel does the “Virgin Manipulations” scene which I described here. Tressa does a bondage scene which she describes as follows: “I was strapped together and I was on a bed and it was the same thing— force fucked and hardcore blowjob. No vomit. No vomiting today though. I didn’t eat breakfast so nothing really came out.”
Rachel goes to a job that she is told ahead of time is a blow job but when she gets there it’s a forced blow job—where the girl is choked so that she vomits. Rachel: “I was in California and I had, like, a blow job scene and I was like, for sure, $300 for a blow job scene. That’s nothing. You go there, you don’t even have sex, cool. I go there and he’s like, “It’s a forced blow job” and I’m like “what?” Just one guy. One little camera on a tripod. I don’t…. fuck! I was scared. I was terrified, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I could tell him no. Or the fact that we already recorded 15 minutes of it if I could just fucking leave. Like, then what? Then I understand it, like, that’s how rape victims feel. Like, they feel bad about themselves. But then, that’s where it all comes in like, “Did I really want money that bad?”
This is the point in their “careers” (of only a few months) where they realize that porn is abuse and they are being abused. They learn that they might show up at a job and it turns out it’s much more abusive than they were told ahead of time. They can expect to vomit while they are on the set. They do not feel like they are able to stop or say no if something hurts. They are almost able to see themselves as rape victims but not quite yet. Tressa’s new boyfriend, who actually cares about her as a person, voices his concern about her well-being and makes her realize that porn and prostitution are pretty much the same thing. He gently encourages her to quit.
When Rachel says that she “knows how rape victims feel” what is happening is that she is starting to realize that she has been raped but is not ready to articulate it yet. This is normal for a woman who is being paid for sexual abuse. (Actually, it’s normal for any abused women even if she is not being paid.) Rachel Moran explains this concept in her book Paid For. The section is too long for me to quote here, but from page 106 to 115, in the chapter called Prostitution’s Shame, Violation and Abuse, she describes how hard it is for a woman to name her abuse when she is being paid for it. The money is supposed to make the abuse okay or make the act not abusive. However, as Moran explains, the abuse is still felt and still experienced as abuse even if the woman cannot articulate that it’s abuse. The pain still hurts, the shame is still felt, even if she is holding on to the idea that she is in control. The woman who is having sex acts forced on her and who is made to do things that hurt and that make her vomit is being abused, whether she is paid or not. Money doesn’t make the pain stop hurting.
Tressa gets injured. She gets a Bartholin gland cyst, which is a painful cyst near the vagina caused by the clogging of the gland that makes fluid that wets the genitals during sex. Symptoms of an infected cyst include pain that gets worse and makes it hard to walk, sit, or move around. She has to go to the ER and have it drained by a doctor and she complains of severe pain. The question of money is not mentioned in the film but since she is in the U.S. I assume she would have had to pay out of her own money for the hospital stay. There isn’t any indication she had medical benefits—she was being paid a flat fee for each shoot. There go her earnings.
When Tressa is starting to think about quitting, she says the things making her hesitate to quit are the money and getting to travel.
There is a huge difference between what the girls believe being a porn star is like at the beginning of the film and what they know near the end. At the beginning they have no idea what it’s like to be subject to abusive acts that they cannot control. They have no idea that it will hurt and they will be afraid to say no. They have no idea what it feels like to have to act out an incest/molestation fantasy or a bondage scene. They don’t know what it feels like to have a producer determine what sex acts they will engage in with a complete stranger. They don’t know what the physical injuries are going to feel like. They don’t know they will be forced to vomit on a regular basis. In short, they enter the porn industry having no idea at all what they are getting themselves into. This is absolutely not informed consent.
What the girls are really hoping for when they enter porn is a way out of their parents’ homes and a way to get money, glamour, excitement, validation, and fame. That’s what they’re looking for. They are not looking for abuse. This is not in any way consent to abuse.
They are impulsive and they have been groomed into thinking porn is fun and they have an unrealistic idea of what it is like. To imply that everything is okay because they chose to be there is to completely ignore most of the real situation.
The real situation is that the people making money are the owners of the companies, not the women, and the women are taken advantage of, used and abused and discarded. The women are not in control of what happens to them on the porn set or what happens to the videos and images afterwards. For the rest of their lives, images and video of their sexual abuse will be available for men to jerk off to.
To claim that porn is acceptable because the women agree to do it is to ignore that they did not actually know what they were “agreeing” to ahead of time. It removes male violence and misogyny from the discussion and tells women that they are responsible for their own rapes. It is victim blaming and it is a strategy to minimize the damage that the pornography industry does for the benefit of male consumers and profiteers.