I believe pornography is evil, without qualification. The human degradation it exemplifies nauseates me, and I am firmly convinced that people who expose themselves to it harden their hearts, especially toward women, and steadily lose their own sense of human dignity. Because of that, I approached Susannah Breslin’s much-praised reportage on the culture of “Porn Valley” (the San Fernando Valley of southern California, where much professional porn is produced) with great trepidation. I thought I’d start the piece, and see how far I could get.

About halfway through, is the answer, before I gave up last night. Understand, this is not Breslin’s fault. I found her calm, almost clinical description of the things she saw to be brilliantly rendered, and the kind of journalism of which I am utterly incapable. She withheld judgment, and merely described. The details speak for themselves. The opening anecdote on the first of this 10-page report speaks for the whole. I read on this morning, till the end. The piece kind of dissipates, but I’m not sure how else she could have brought it to a conclusion. I defy anyone who sees pornography as something benign to hold that opinion after reading this essay. Please note: though there are no photographs of actual sex in that series, there are a couple of racy shots of, shall we say, pornographic devices, that may be unsafe for viewing at work. Anyway, I found this passage so incredibly heartbreaking:

In the dining room, I sit down with Hunter, who has put on a maroon velour tracksuit. After a two-year stint at the University of Nevada at Reno, where she studied secondary education with the intention of becoming a schoolteacher, and another stint working as a cocktail waitress in a casino, she came to Hollywood.

“I wanted to get out of Vegas, and I wanted to be an actress.” Things didn’t turn out quite the way she’d planned. At the time, she was using, “like, heroin, and Oxycontins, and cocaine–everything.” Instead of taking acting classes and going on auditions, “I jumped right into porn.” She did a few scenes–“I was totally high”–and then met her boyfriend, who helped her kick drugs, and left the business.
A month ago, though, they broke up. That’s when she realized he was her primary means of financial support. Now, she’s back.
In the Valley, porn is her reality. “People say, ‘You don’t really have to do that.’ Well, you really kind of do,” she explains, her voice plaintive, “if you don’t have an education, if you don’t have parents backing you, if you don’t have all those things.” She looks at her hands folded in her lap. “There isn’t another choice. There really isn’t a lot of other choices.”
Today is her second shoot since she returned to porn a week ago. “I don’t do [deleted], and that was really crappy for me. I was acting the whole time.” Jim, she offers, is “nice,” but she really needed the $500. She has student loans, credit card debt, and no car. This is what she’s doing to get by.
“It’s not the most respectable to do, but it’s a phone call, and I have $500,” she asserts. “It lets me know, ‘You’re going to be OK, even if you don’t make enough money at your job, you have this to fall back on.’ I can make my bills. I can get a car. I can do the things I need to do to move forward.” Although, if her friends and family find out, she says, “I would absolutely die.”
Being a porn star isn’t easy. “It’s really weird. Like, at nighttime, I get anxiety about it. Like, I did the other scene, and, last night, as soon it got dark, and I laid in bed, and I was just alone with my thoughts, I felt really guilty and nervous about it.”
She hesitates. “So, you know, it’s, like, I keep praying about it, and, you know, asking to kind of be forgiven, ’cause it is kind of wrong, I think, and it’s very degrading, I think, and it’s just–.”
She’s on the verge of tears. “I need the money that bad. I don’t have a car. I don’t have anything right now. I actually, like–I just need the money.”

Imagine that’s your sister, or your daughter. How do you feel about porn now?

More from Beliefnet and our partners