Our porn double standard: Bree Olson slut-shamed after leaving adult industry while James Deen gets more work than ever

The former Charlie Sheen “goddess” faces "sex worker stigma"—while accused rapist Deen‘s popularity flourishes

Published March 25, 2016 7:52PM (EDT)

 Bree Olson  (flipchip/LasVegasVegas via Wikimedia Commons)
Bree Olson (flipchip/LasVegasVegas via Wikimedia Commons)

“When I go out I feel as if I’m wearing ‘slut’ across my forehead,” says ex-porn actress and former Charlie Sheen “goddess” Bree Olson in a new video, part of the Real Women, Real Stories YouTube video series. Her stark description of the ways she’s been slut shamed and shunned by society because of her former career in porn are chilling.

Olsen, who has also dabbled in comedy after leaving porn, breaks down in tears in the video when asked how she’d like to be treated, because she’s so used to being seen as a pariah. “I have really gotten to the point where there are days to weeks at a time where I don’t leave my house because I don’t feel like facing the world of what has been created out there for me,” she says in the video. “I get so disappointed when I go out and I meet a new friend and it turns out they don’t want to be my friend anymore…People treat me as if I am a pedophile. They don’t treat me like an ex sex worker. They treat me like I would somehow be damaging to children.” She says that she gave up making $30,000 to $60,000 a month, and could make $20,000 in a week if she returned to porn, but she’s now looking to find work and a life away from the porn industry.

She also posted today on her Twitter account and Facebook page, along with screenshots of Reddit message boards about nurses losing their jobs because of involvement in the adult industry, that “Every time I consider going back to school, I Google sex workers experience and am so discouraged. Back to the drawing board.” For a taste of just how harsh the wrath Olson is describing is, one of the first responses to her Facebook post read: “Should have looked into it a bit better before you chose the quick cash taking dicks. Sorry, but thats how the world works... stop fishing for sympathy...your not worthy”

Olson elaborated on the ways she’s been barred from mainstream society, socially and professionally, in an essay at The Daily Dot, writing, ”People look at me as if I am the same as a sex offender. They look at me as though I am less than in every way, and they assume the absolute worst in every way. I had never realized how progressive my mind was and how scared people were of sexuality until this. I also realized I could never go back and be a nurse or a teacher, or work for any company really that can fire me under morality clauses for making customers feel ‘uncomfortable’ because of who I am.”

On Twitter, Olson received support from porn stars such as jessica drake, who thanked her for not denouncing the porn industry as a whole—even though Olson has warned young women not to go into porn in light of her experiences—but instead, blamed the sexist, judgmental ways she’s been treated.

This is an important distinction, one that has gotten lost in translation for some media outlets, such as The Hollywood Gossip. It’s not that, as their headline puts it, Olson “regrets her career choice,” but that she’s lamenting the way she will seemingly be negatively judged by her porn past for the rest of her life.

Olson’s story echoes what adult performer Gauge told Salon in 2013 about her attempts to get work outside the porn industry. While working in a hospital as a surgical tech, she was recognized and bore the brunt of her coworkers’ simultaneous fascination and disdain. Gauge said, “Everybody wanted me in their room, but they started treating me like shit. They made me feel like I was contaminating everything.”

In contrast, male porn star James Deen, who’s been accused of rape by ex-girlfriend Stoya and eight other women (and called a “sadist” by Olson), is even more popular these days, according to Vocativ, which said that searches for him on an adult movie site spiked in December 2015, the month following the accusations and that 7 more films (45 vs. 38) were released in the 100 days following the first allegation than the 100 days prior to it. Deen also won two AVN Awards earlier this year at the prestigious industry ceremony and, after a hiatus from social media, is back posting on Twitter and Instagram as if the allegations never happened. As porn performer Zak Smith wrote in an insightful piece about Deen’s longevity at Medium, “Deen was less predator than parasite — he played a long game — and a porn world where justice could only come from fingers pointed by Toris, Bonnies, Nickis, Ambers, Ashleys and Lilys no-one takes seriously was a perfect host. Deen’s popularity gave him power.”

The sex work stigma Olson is facing as a former porn star is part of a larger worldview that equates a woman taking her clothes off—for money or pleasure—as an erasure of her status as a human being worthy of respect. We see this every time Kim Kardashian or the rest of her family are mentioned—in the specious “they’re only famous because of Kim’s sex tape” argument—or when a teacher is fired for having nude photos on her personal cell phone and a student exposes them. It’s the same sentiment that makes slut-shaming Melania Trump in a recent political ad somehow seem acceptable. A scantily clad woman, a nude woman or a woman in porn are all treated with similar levels of scorn. Although the ante is upped for porn stars and sex workers, it’s still coming from the same place: a desire to relegate women to status of purely being sex objects, rather than women with full lives that extend beyond their most risqué action.

That Deen, who’s been accused of multiple crimes, has a thriving career, despite being ditched by porn companies like Kink.com and Evil Angel, while Olson, whose work was done legally, feels like she can’t leave her house, tells a lot about how sexism plays into our ideas about sex workers. Yet while women bear the brunt of our culture’s hatred of those working in porn, men can also be held to similar levels of judgment. Case in point: in 2009, a Fort Myers Beach town manager was fired because his wife was a porn star.

As long as we allow ourselves to sit in moral judgment of the likes of not just Olson and other former or current porn stars or sex workers, but anyone who’s dabbled in the sex industry, whatever the reason, we will still maintain this false, destructive social hierarchy. Part of why Deen has been able to coast on his fame is that too many people equate porn with violence, which erases the actual harm Deen’s been accused of. Porn consumers need to put the health and safety of the workers in the industry ahead of their fandom, and more porn companies need to take a stand, even if it costs them money in the short run.

All that being said, it’s also important to look at how Olson’s story is being framed. While she is the one on camera exposing her pain and suffering, the way it’s been edited and presented is also telling its own story, one seemingly at odds with Olson’s point of view. On the Real Women, Real Stories Facebook page, the post with her video opens with this sentence: “Many believe the widespread fairy tale that #women enjoy making porn #movies but in reality there are no happy endings for the women of porn.” The series’ creator, Matan Uziel, has written at The Huffington Post that “each episode focuses on a woman who has overcome subjugation and stigmatization in her given profession.”

We can simultaneously care about the working conditions for women who both choose to work in porn and those who do so out of economic necessity and about women like Olson who’ve either left the porn industry or are looking to leave it. It’s not an either/or proposition, and by stating, no pun intended, that there’s “no happy endings for the women of porn,” the project is setting Olson up as an object of pity, despite the fact that Uziel also wrote, “It is important to say, that despite the obstacles that they have faced, the women featured in our miniseries are not victims; they are heroines.” By buying into the lie that no women enjoy making porn, Real Women, Real Stories has lost the opportunity to truly advocate for more options for women contemplating leaving the adult industry.

We’ll only change how porn stars, current, former and future, are perceived and treated, if we don’t look down on them simply by the nature of their profession and making sweeping assumptions about their motivations, just as we’ll only take the rape allegations against Deen seriously if we stop conflating consensual porn and consensual rough sex with assault or brushing off the widespread accusations. Regardless of the paternalistic motivations behind the video, Olson’s words offer us a chance to reflect on how we treat the people behind our porn, and why there mere act of having sex on camera is cause for social and professional ostracization. One can only hope that Olson’s neighbors and community also take her words to heart.

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Adult Film Industry Bree Olson Charlie Sheen James Deen Sex Work Sexism