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DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

Drug Use in the Sex Industry


University of Rhode Island
Amelia L. Davis
11.20.14

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

As seen by the 42 million prostitutes worldwide (Lubin 2012) and the 11,000
hard-core porn films released annually (ABC News), the sex industry is both expansive
and expanding. In the United States of America alone, porn is a $10,000,000,000
industry. That makes it bigger than the National Football League, National Basketball
League, and Major League Baseball combined. Prominent American conglomerations
earn millions in revenue every year from the sex industry by funneling adult movies to
their clients. Names like General Motors (through their subsidiary, DirectTV), AOL
Time Warner, and Marriott are foremost among them, though this income is
conveniently left out of public revenue reports (ABC News). Is it ethical for these socalled All-American companies to be making money off of exploited women and
youths? As former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop states, [this is] an industry that is
making billions of dollars a year, is spreading to cable television and the internet, and
yet their employees are considered to be throwaway people. [...] Even the people who
enjoy looking at pornography really despise the people theyre watching, and they have
no sense of protection for them (ABC News). Though Americans have no official caste
system, sex workers are considered the lowest class. They are comprised of exploited
youths, the poverty stricken, and drug users. While youths can learn and grow, poverty
and drugs trap sex workers in an almost unbreakable circle of use and abuse. The
purpose of this paper is to examine this cycle of drug use in the sex industry.
Often the first step in the cycle, addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain
reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry (American Society of Addiction
Medicine). It can lead to diagnosable biological, psychological, social, and spiritual
symptoms, due to neurotransmission dysfunction and interactions within the reward

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

structures of the brain. Motivational hierarchies, which amongst other things control
physiological and emotional needs, are altered and replaced by addictive behaviors.
These neurotransmission dysfunctions can be triggered by external cues which manifest
as cravings and/or engagement in the addictive behaviors. Characterized by the
inability to consistently abstain, the re-wired frontal cortex impairs judgement and
impulse control. A dysfunctional frontal cortex will also present itself in as problems
deferring gratification, even in the face of many adverse consequences. Addiction of all
types carries with it a persistent risk of relapse, even after long periods of abstinence
(ASAM). Recovery is a process, with abstaining as the goal. However, if healthy selfcare habits do not replace the addictive habits, there is a high risk of an addictive
substance being replaced by another addictive substance or behavior. For example, a
smoker might turn to compulsive gum chewing, an alcoholic might turn to marijuana
and a sex worker might turn from heroin to crack cocaine.
For some, addiction is caught in the early stages. Treatment programs are
followed, and the patient will spend years in successful recovery. Unfortunately, that is
only the best case scenario. Addiction can cause a preoccupation with substance use
coupled with an inability to realistically evaluate the positive and negative consequences
that are associated with that use. Often, addicts will attribute the problems in their life
with causes other than their addiction. Even when those problems are identified,
addicts will find it incredibly difficult to take action. This inability only furthers the
cycle as it becomes harder and harder to do so. The behaviors of an addict can include
excessive use of the substance with the development of a tolerance, or a necessity to use
more of the substance in order to achieve the same effect, and is often paired with both
desire for and unsuccessful attempts at behavioral control. This can result in overdose,

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

leading to hospitalization, death, or long-term impairment. The behaviors of an addict


can also include excessive time lost in the use of and recovering from the substance.
With only so many hours in a day, addicts are often unable to hold down a job or
maintain schooling (ASAM). This leads to an obvious conclusion, poverty and/or
homelessness. Along with the inability to correctly assess the source of their problems,
addicts will turn again to substance use to cope with uncomfortable living conditions.
Now lacking social support and any financial means, addicts will turn to petty crime,
selling drugs, and sex work.
Sex work is a form of deviant sexual behavior based on the traditional
stigmatization of sex work [which] highlights the ways in which actors are subjected to
social control and discriminatory treatment (Weitzer 2009). There are three main
theoretical perspectives: the oppression paradigm, the empowerment paradigm, and the
polymorphous paradigm (Weitzer 2009). The oppression paradigm states that the sex
industry is actually an expression of societys patriarchal gender relations. More radical
theories hold that exploitation, subjugation, and violence against women are intrinsic
to and ineradicable from sex work (Weitzer 2009). This applies to all forms of sex
work: indoor and outdoor prostitution, pornography, and stripping. Theorists in this
field claim, as well, that most or all sex workers were physically or sexually abused as
children; entered the trade as adolescents, around 13-14 years of age; were tricked or
forced into the trade by pimps or traffickers, use or are addicted to drugs; experience
routine violence from customers; labor under abysmal working conditions; and
desperately want to exit the sex trade (Weitzer 2009). While some of these claims may
be true, there is a distinct lack of ability to truly generalize them to the entire
population. The opposite of the oppression paradigm, the empowerment paradigm

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

theorizes sex work as a positive influence in the populations lives. This paradigm gives
an optimistic approach to the industry, stating that sex work may enhance a persons
socioeconomic status and provide greater control over ones working conditions than
many traditional jobs (Weitzer 2009). While oppression theorists highlight the most
tragic cases, empowerment theorists focus on success stories that show how sex work
can be both monetarily profitable and esteem-enhancing. The third paradigm, the
polymorphous model, is the most flexible of the three. It takes into account the
complexity of the various structural conditions that can lead to uneven distribution of
agency, subordination, and job satisfaction (Weitzer 2009). For the purpose of this
paper, to review drug use in the sex industry, we will focus mostly on the oppression
paradigm, as drug addicted sex workers fall into this category.
This type of sex work is called survival sex: the selling of ones body for things
deemed necessary to survive; food, shelter, petty cash, and drugs (Weitzer 2009).
Survival sex workers are almost always street prostitutes, and are easily coerced by
pimps and drug dealers through their addictions. Sex workers who appear to be drug
users are often denied indoor sex work, due to their higher prevalence of diseases passed
from intravenous drug use. Open, street-based, low-status markets become the only
ones available, and they often overlay drug markets. Pimps and drug dealers use drugs
and addiction as a tool to control their products, with drugs so readily available
escalating drug use is virtually guaranteed (Cusick 2006).
In a study of female sex workers in Tijuana, the largest drug trafficking city in
Mexico, and Cd. Juarez, the majority of the female sex workers entered prostitution out
of economic necessity. Some had come from failed relationships, some from intolerable
working conditions at maquiladoras (assembly factories that use low wages to attract

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

foreign contracts), and some solely as victims of addiction. Like many others in similar
situations, all of these women are given methamphetamine and cocaine, alone or
coupled with injected heroin as a method of control by their pimps (Strathdee, Philbin,
Semple, Pu, Orozovich, Martinez, Lozada, Fraga, de la Torre, Staines, Magis-Rodriguez,
Patterson 2011). Runaways are also at high risk of entering outdoor prostitution from
economic motives: mostly young adolescents or children in a new locale with no
resources or social support: easy prey for pimps and sex-trafficking gangs. Together
with extreme poverty and being pimped-out into outdoor prostitution, addiction creates
a cycle that can be nearly impossible to break. With increased risk for abuse and
exploitation by pimps and vulnerable to being assaulted, robbed, raped, or killed on the
streets (Cusick 2006), this is a potentially lethal combination.
In fact, prostitute females are 60 to 100 times more likely to be the victim of
homicide than are non-prostitute females (Salfati, James, Ferguson 2008). On
November 3, 2014, two sex workers were found dead in a ninth floor apartment in Hong
Kong. The first, Jesse Lorena Ruri, was 30 years old and died of knife wounds to the
throat and buttocks. The body of Sumarti Ningsih was later found bound with rope,
wrapped in a carpet, in a suitcase on the perpetrators balcony. These two women were
sex workers who roamed the streets around the flat where they were found, picking up
clients from the bars and clubs. Police found cocaine in the flat, and Jesse tested
positive. Her friends said they knew that she used, but had no idea that it had led her to
prostitution to support her habit (Rossington). This story will be repeated over and over
this year alone: lured to prostitution by survival and trapped by drugs, addict prostitutes
are in the highest-risk category (Ferguson, Bender, Xie, Thompson, Pollio 2000).

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

In Chatsworth, California, where 85% of the worlds adult content is produced,


drug use is rampant. Porn stars binge on ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, xanax, valium,
vicodin, and alcohol. Ex porn star Jersey Jaxin explains that, guys are punching you in
the face. You get ripped. Your insides can come out of you. Its never ending. Youre
viewed as an object - not as a human with a spirit. People do drugs because they cant
deal with the way theyre being treated (CovenantEyes). The stories of ex-porn stars are
as endless as they are tragic. Early in 2013, porn superstar Jenna Presley retired after a
seven year career. Lured into porn at the age of 18 after stripping underage at a club in
Santa Barbara, Jenna soon turned to drugs. Not only does [porn] leave you feeling
drained, but I had to start finding ways to be able to do the scenes, because I was so
robotic. [...] I was like a rubber Barbie doll. I had no emotions. I was plastic. Jenna,
like many others, turned to drugs: first cocain, and then heroin. Her spiral of self
destruction grew, and she underwent several failed suicide attempts (LifeSite). Jenna is
not alone. One male porn star says on his blog on January 28, 2008:
Drugs are a major, major problem in my business. Anyone who says
otherwise is lying to you. I cant tell you the number of girls who have
disappeared and dropped out of the business because of their drug problems.
It is unbelievably sad to think about, and seeing some of them fall into a
downward spiral hurts me more than others. But I think we all can agree
that a huge majority of drug users will never change unless they get
professional help. I have seen all manner of drugs on set, at parties, in cars,
everywhere. If I had to guess, I would put marijuana use at 90 percent of ALL
people involved in the industry (performers, directors, crew, agents, drivers,
owners, office workers, etc.). I have been on a set where a girl has passed out

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

during a sex scene with me (she was abusing oxycontin). Just recently a girl
overdosed on GHB (a party drug that is a clear odorless drug that doesnt
mix well with alcohol) on set. I have seen a girl win a prestigious American
Video Network Award, not show up to accept the award, and then fall into
the throes of drug use that caused her to lose at least 50 pounds and drop off
the face of the earth. Why is drug use so prevalent in our business? Well, lets
figure that out. First of all, remember that the business is populated largely
with girls aged 18-21. And the majority of those girls are uneducated (many
havent graduated high school). Add to that the fact that many come into the
business because they have no money and are working at menial jobs like fast
food places. So you have young girls who are uneducated with very little
money entering the business. Once they are in the business, they are now
making ten thousand dollars a month and working maybe 5 hours a day 1015 days a month. There are predators out there that can smell these girls and
prey on them like sharks. Young, uneducated girls with lots of money, lots of
free time, and very little supervision. This is a really bad equation (unless you
are a drug dealer of course). (Covenant Eyes)
The supply of porn star testimony is overwhelming. There are books written about the
subjects, and documentaries made. However, for the time being at least, it seems like
the pornography industry and the drug industry are inseparable.
In 1973, the California Occupational Safety and Health Act was instituted. This
law was passed to protect all California men and women by giving authorities the right
to enforce safe and healthy working conditions, which includes sex workers like Jenna
and Jersey. However, at the present moment these laws are being both blatantly

DRUG USE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY

ignored and danced around. In the instance that these laws are not being disregarded,
due to the lower status of the people in question, loopholes are being used to make adult
film companies not liable for the protection of their employees. In fact, these companies
are labelling their workers as individually contracted, instead of actual employees, which
takes away all of their rights to health care and protection from abuse (Covenant Eyes).
There is one often overlooked category of sex workers that also suffer from drug
abuse: male performers. Drawn to pornography for money and fame, drug abuse led
Danny Wylde to the emergency room, at risk for losing his penis. While female
performers commonly abuse painkillers and heroin to cope with stress and abuse, male
performers abuse prescription erectile dysfunction medication in order to do their jobs.
Male performers can cost their company upwards of $50,000 in production costs if they
cant become erect, maintain erection, and summon it on demand for the day on set.
This is called a failed scene (Clark-Flory), and can mean the end of a performers
career. Wylde states, your sole job is to have an erection and get it done quickly so that
everyone can go home on time, [...] you need to be a machine. [...] I just dont think
most men have an experience where basically you meet somebody and youre supposed
to engage in some sexual encounter with them without perhaps having any attraction to
that person and perhaps without that person having any interest in you (Clark-Flory).
Physical addiction to erectile dysfunction drugs is uncommon, but even after ending up
in the hospital Wylde continued to turn to erectile dysfunction drugs for comfort during
times of stress. I used it on several occasions during times where I just felt stressed out
in my life and was having a hard time doing my job. [...] I went back to it and then I
would have these really lengthy erections after work and it scared me and I would try to
stop and would, usually for months to a year, and then at the end, the last year or two I

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was basically just using Cialis, but more frequently and using more of them per scene
(Clark-Flory). While the use of erectile dysfunction medication as directed is relatively
safe, the pressures of professional sex can lead to misuse and cause priapism. Priapism
is a condition where blood becomes trapped in the penis, through drug use or other
causes, and is unable to drain. The only option for treatment is the use of a large syringe
to drain the blood from the erect penis. Without treatment priapism can lead to
permanent erectile dysfunction, a harsh cost for a few years in porn.
Drugs in the sex industry effect every participant. Whether its the female
prostitute trapped by her addiction or the customer who gets an injection-related
disease, drug use, abuse, and addiction has no boundaries. In an industry thats growing
steadily, fed by consumers and large conglomerates, drug use and abuse is growing as
well. Unprotected by Californian laws, sex workers are turning to drugs to cope with
psychological stresses induced by the unfavorable conditions in which they work
(Young, Boyd, Hubbel 2000). This applies to indoor and outdoor prostitution, as well as
male and female pornograpy performers. In a cycle of drug use and poverty, many sex
workers are preyed upon by pimps and drug dealers who use their circumstances to
control them. These men and women will use an addiction or create an addiction to
control their victims. Unable to break free because of the pathology of addiction, these
sex workers are trapped into selling their bodies and enduring abuse after abuse. Soon,
their captors become the only source of the drugs they need both to cope with their
psychological pain and to stave off sometimes deadly withdrawal symptoms, and the
cycle continues.

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References
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Definition of Addiction. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2014.
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2014.
Ferguson, K., Bender, K., Thompson, S., Xie, B., & Pollio, D. (n.d.). Correlates of StreetSurvival Behaviors in Homeless Young Adults in Four U.S. Cities. American
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Lubin, G. (2012, January 17). There Are 42 Million Prostitutes In The World, And Here's
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Rossington, B. (2014, November 3). Rurik Jutting Hong Kong sex murder case:
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Salfati, C., James, A., & Ferguson, L. (n.d.). Prostitute Homicides: A Descriptive Study.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 505-543.

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Strathdee, S., Philbin, M., Semple, S., Pu, M., Orozovich, P., Martinez, G., ... Staines, H.
(n.d.). Correlates Of Injection Drug Use Among Female Sex Workers In Two
MexicoU.S. Border Cities. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 132-140.
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