Tag Archives: media: pornography

Secrets of the Internet Adult Film Database

John Millward, a self-described “ideas detective,” has done something intriguing.  He cracked the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD) and used a sample of 10,000 porn stars to tell a story about porn.  Here are some of his findings.


The average female porn star, he discovered, was 5’5″ and weighed 117 pounds.  She doesn’t have a double-D bra size; she’s a 34B.  And she’s not blonde:


She’s also not disproportionately white.  Millward found that the racial breakdown among porn actresses somewhat matched U.S. population demographics:

    Race                             % of actresses                     % of the population

  • White                            70.5                                       78.1
  • Black                              14.0                                       13.1
  • Latina                              9.3                                       16.7
  • Asian                               5.2                                         5.0
  • American Indian        no data                                        1.2


The average woman begins her career at 22.  This has been unchanged for the last 40 years.  The average age for men was 29 in the ’70s, but it’s dropped to 24.  Careers were longer in the ’70s.  Men quite after 12 years, women after nine.  Today men quit, on average, after four years and women after three.


Interestingly, success for male porn stars is much more concentrated than for female.  There are fewer of them (70% of all porn stars are women) and they’re less interchanged.  Millward reports that 96 of the most prolific porn stars of all time — measured by number of films — are men.  Women, on average, do fewer films each.  Just over half (53%) do three or more.


The IAFD records all of the sex acts that actors do on film.  Accordingly to Millward’s analysis, this is what actresses do:


And here are the roles they play:


Wives in porn, by the way, are not typically having sex with their husbands.

For more data porn, visit Millward’s site.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

From Manly to Sexy: The History of the High Heel

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Why do women wear high heels?  Because men did.

Men were the first sex to don the shoe. They were adopted by the European aristocracy of the 1600s as a signal of status.  The logic was: only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear.  (Interestingly, this was the same logic that encouraged footbinding in China.)

Women started wearing heels as a way of trying to appropriate masculine power.  In the BBC article on the topic, Elizabeth Semmelhack, who curates a shoe museum, explains:

In the 1630s you had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits…

They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel — it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits.

The lower classes also began to wear high heels, as fashions typically filter down from elite.

How did the elite respond to imitation from “lesser” people: women and workers?  First, the heels worn by the elite became increasingly high in order to maintain upper class distinction.  And, second, heels were differentiated into two types: fat and skinny. Fat heels were for men, skinny for women.

This is a beautiful illustration of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class distinction.  Bourdieu argued that aesthetic choices function as markers of class difference.  Accordingly, the elite will take action to present themselves differently than non-elites, choosing different clothing, food, decor, etc.  Expensive prices help keep certain things the province of elites, allowing them to signify their power; but imitation is inevitable.  Once something no longer effectively differentiates the rich from the rest, the rich will drop it.  This, I argue elsewhere, is why some people care about counterfeit purses (because it’s not about the quality, it’s about the distinction).

Eventually men quit wearing heels because their association with women tainted their power as a status symbol for men.  (This, by the way, is exactly what happened with cheerleading, originally exclusively for men).  With the Enlightenment, which emphasized rationality (i.e., practical footwear), everyone quit wearing high heels.

What brought heels back for women? Pornography.  Mid-nineteenth century pornographers began posing female nudes in high heels, and the rest is history.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

What Makes a Body Obscene?

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011. Originally cross-posted at Ms.


The cover of this month’s Dossier Journal magazine has caused a great stir.  In a matter of a few hours, five readers — Andrew, Jessica B., anthropology professor Kristina Kilgroveartist Thomas Gokey, and my brilliant colleague, music professor David Kasunic — all sent in a link.  Here’s what all the fuss is about:


The model is a man named Andrej Pejic, with hair and make-up usually seen only on women, sliding his shirt off his back.  Some might say that he is gender-ambiguous and the image deliberately blurs gender; are we seeing a chest or small breasts?  It is not immediately apparent.

Both Barnes & Noble and Borders “bagged” the magazine, like they do pornographic ones, such that one can see the title of the magazine but the rest of the cover is hidden.  Barnes and Noble said that the magazine came that way, representatives for Dossier say that the bookstore “chains” required them to do it (source).  Non-ambiguously-male chests pepper most magazine racks, but this man’s chest hints at boobs.  And so he goes under.

What’s going on?

Explaining why it is legal for men to be shirtless in public but illegal for women to do the same, most Americans would probably refer to the fact that women have breasts and men have chests.  Breasts, after all, are… these things. They incite us, disgust us, send us into grabby fits.  They’re just so there.  They force us to contend with them; they’re bouncy or flat or pointy or pendulous and sometimes they’re plain missing!  They demand their individuality!  Why won’t they obey some sort of law and order!

Much better to contain those babies.

Chests… well they do have those haunting nipples… but they’re just less unruly, right? Not a threat to public order at all.

So, there you have it.  Men have chests and women have breasts and that’s why topless women are indecent.

Of course it’s not that straightforward.

It’s not true that women have breasts and men have chests. Many men have chests that look a bit or even a lot like breasts (there is a thriving cosmetic surgery industry around this fact).  Meanwhile, many women are essentially “flat chested,” while the bustiness of others is an illusion created by silicone or salt water.  Is it really breasts that must be covered?  Clearly not. All women’s bodies are targeted by the law, and men’s bodies are given a pass, breasty or chesty as they may be.


Unless that man’s gender is ambiguous; unless he does just enough femininity to make his body suspect.  Indeed, the treatment of the Dossier coverreveals that the social and legislative ban on public breasts rests on a jiggly foundation.  It’s not simply that breasts are considered pornographic.  It’s that we’re afraid of women and femininity and female bodies and, if a man looks feminine enough, he becomes, by default, obscene.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Are Kids Watching Internet Porn?

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

The introduction of the internet has made pornography more easily available than any time in modern history.  Responding to this development, some have worried that adolescents are looking at and watching porn, and plenty of it.

Is this true?

Drawing on a telephone survey of 1,500 youth, Janis Wolak and colleagues present some data giving us a clue.  They find that less than half (42%) of 10- to 17-year-old internet users had seen online pornography in the last year.  Most of them that had, further, had not sought it out.  The majority (66%) had come across the pornography by accident (e.g., they had entered a porn site without meaning to, been emailed an explicit image, or seen a pop up).

The image below shows unwanted and wanted exposure to pornography for boys as they age.  Only 1% of the boys 10- to 11-years-old had sought out pornography, by 12-13 about one in ten have done so, and by 16-17 over 1/3rd have (38%).  Unwanted pornography is a problem for boys of all ages. Seventeen percent of boys 10-11 encountered unwanted porn and this number increased as the boys aged.

Few girls seek out pornography: 2% of 10- 11-year-olds had sought out pornography, rising to 8% by 16-17.  Girls have the same problem with unwanted exposure to pornography; it happens about as frequently as it does for boys among 10- 13-year-olds and even more often among 14- 17-year-olds.

So there’s some data.  Whether it justifies the hand-wringing is for you to debate in the comments.

Source: Wolak, Janis, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor. 2007. Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users. Pediatrics 119, 2: 247-257.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cindy Gallop on how Porn is Shaping Our Sex Lives

In this 10-minute video, Cindy Gallop argues that young men are getting a false sex education from pornography. The average age that kids first view porn is 11-years-old and, by the time that boys are men, they have learned to imitate the kind of sex that they see in pornography. She argues that this effect — the way that porn is shaping our actual sexual behavior — is the greatest impact of technology on human behavior. Period.

Not opposed to porn, Gallop nevertheless believes that we need a counterpoint to porn so that we get a more diverse set of messages about sexuality (not dissimilar to the argument I make about hook up culture).

In service of her message, Gallop also has a TED Talk, a short book, and a website, Make Love Not Porn, with some great content.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Ejaculation Imagery by Sephora

Authors are increasingly arguing that mainstream culture has been “pornified” (see, for example, the books Pornified and The Porning of America).  In other words, what used to be considered pornographic is now disseminated widely as simply advertising or entertainment and both verbal and visual references to pornography in popular culture are increasingly common.   In this vein, we have a collection of posts featuring ejaculation imagery (visual references to the “cum shot”), and I thought an ad recently submitted by one of my students, Breiana Caldwell, as well as readers Scatx and Xander, was a good opportunity to remind readers of this pervasive trope:


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cultural Proliferation and Boob Inflation

Lindsey V., who recently sent in the excellent film clip in which “scientists” “tested” gendered battle gear, also sent us a link to images showing that the breast size of two video game characters — “Ivy” from “Soul Caliber” and, to a lesser extent, Lara Croft from “Tomb Raider” — have increased over time (source).


Lara Croft:

What might drive their ever-inflating breasts?

Speaking in terms of advertising, Sut Jhally wrote that advertisers must:

…now worry about clutter and noise. That is, how do you make your ads stand out from the [5,000] commercial impressions that people are exposed to [every day].  So if you’re Pepsi, you’re not just competing with Coke anymore. You’re competing with every other advertiser who wants our attention. As advertising takes over more and more space in the culture, the job of the individual advertiser gets harder and harder.

Martin Barron and Michael Kimmel make a similar argument about the rise of “extreme” and violent sexual acts in pornography.  The increase in the sheer amount of porn that emerged with the Internet has created a competitive market in which “sexual victimization of women is a currency” (p. 350).  You have to get noticed somehow.

So, insofar as this boob inflation is a trend, we may be able to explain it, at least in part, with the greater number of cultural products.  Proliferation creates conditions in which each one has to up the ante to “stand out” against the “clutter and noise.”


  • Barron, M., & Kimmel, M.S. (2010).  Sexual violence in three pornographic media. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 161-169.
  • Jhally, S. (2000). Advertising at the edge of the apocalypse. In Anderson, R., & Strate, L., Eds. Critical studies in media commercialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 27-39.

Thanks also to Caroline Heldman; I borrowed some of the text in this post from a forthcoming co-authored essay.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Pre-Photoshopped Playboy Photos (Definitely NSFW!)

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a post by Irin Carmon at Jezebel about Playboy memorabilia up for auction, including images of centerfolds with editorial comments for the Photoshopper to fix various problematic aspects of the photos. The marked-up images gives us a peek into the process of creating a centerfold, as well as the scrutiny applied to literally every aspect of the models’ bodies, which are found wanting in a dizzying array of ways, with their blatant imperfections resulting from being actual living humans.

This one includes instructions to fix her large pores and soften her laugh lines (see the top left):

The rest of these images are *definitely* Not  Safe for Work, so beware: