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For the first time, a massive data set of 10,000 porn stars has been
extracted from the world’s largest database of adult films and
performers. I’ve spent the last six months analyzing it to discover the
truth about what the average performer looks like, what they do on film,
and how their role has evolved over the last forty years.‘Without any mental deliberation, picture the average female porn
star. Just let her spring into your mind’s eye looking however she
looks. Can you see her?’
I had bumped into a friend who I’d not seen
in a while and this was the first question I asked him. He didn’t
realise at the time that I’d been in self-imposed smutty exile for an
untold number of weeks, working on the largest study of porn stars ever
undertaken, and now I was out and eager to spread the news.
‘Erm, yeah, I suppose,’ he said.
‘What does she look like?’ I asked, struggling to hide my smile.
he replied by saying ‘a blonde with big boobs’, I must admit I relished
the opportunity to lean in, let the grin spread across my tired face,
and say ‘That’s what everyone says. And in fact, it’s wrong’.‘Oh,’ he said, after I explained how I knew
what the average porn star actually looks like, as well as what her name
probably is, how many films she’s most likely done and the probability
of her having a tattoo or body piercing.
‘So you’ve spent all this time watching hundreds of porn movies?’
I said. ‘I’ve spent all this time analysing the demographic profiles
and filmographies of ten thousand adult performers. There is a difference.’
‘I see’, he then said. ‘And how, dare I ask, does one go about doing that?’I can’t recall how I first heard about
the Internet Adult Film Database—the self-proclaimed ‘premier resource
for information about the American porn community on the web’, but for
the longest time I knew I wanted to plunder its treasure trove of juicy
information. It holds the records of over 120,000 porn films and 115,000
adult performers and is the adult equivalent of the Internet Movie
Database. In a nutshell, if you’re a fan of porn or porn stars and want
to look up almost anything to do with either—whether it’s the release
date of Dude, I Banged Your Mother 6, or the first time Courtney Cummz had sex on film with a black man—you go to IAFD.com.
The database started out as a labour of love for Dutchman Peter Van
Aarle, who in 1981 began keeping records on index cards about the porn
films he watched in his home town’s adult cinema. By 1999, he’d teamed
up with other X-rated record keepers to form IAFD—a
place where a handful of international contributors compile masses of
information on porn stars and their films, while site visitors are
welcome to submit corrections and suggestions—the Wikipedia of porn, if
you will. In 2011, it was visited by 20 million people1, one of whom was me.Fast forward a year and I’d found a way to (somewhat nefariously, but
with honourable intentions) extract thousands of records from the
database. Now the treasure trove was split wide open and reams of
information was spilling forth into my Excel spreadsheets—names of
performers, their heights and weights, their races, the sex acts they
perform on film…everything. Finally I was able to scrutinize adult
performers in a way no man, despite regular attempts to do so, had ever
managed before, and find out once and for all which stereotypes about
porn stars are true, which are bogus, and what these men and women have
been doing for the last forty years. The results of my analysis, apart
from the article you’re reading now, are the biggest infographic I’ve
ever created (definitely check out it out if you’d like a colourful
overview of every single result) and a pretty comprehensive report on
the whole endeavour, both of which you can see at the bottom of this page.
Now, on with the show.
A brunette with a B-cup named Nikki
Here’s what a typical porn star’s record looks like in the IAFD
database. My data set combined 10,000 of these—7,000 female and 3,000
male. By filtering and averaging the metrics I’ve highlighted on the
image, I got the facts and figures you’ll read throughout the rest of
The average male and female performer are the same height as the average American man and woman: 5’10″ and 5’5″ respectively.2
However, porn stars are quite a bit lighter. At 117 lbs, the average
female performer is a considerable 48 lbs under the national average for
women, and the average male, at 167.5 lbs, weighs 27 lbs less than the
national average for men. So, just how were these porn stars’ weights
determined when they were typed, probably with one hand, into
IAFD’s data is culled from various sources,
including performers’ modelling profiles and the information they give
during interviews in the porn films themselves.3 So presumably at some point the heaviest woman in my sample, who weighs 719 lbs (about the same as two giant pandas),4 and the lightest woman, who weighs 10 times less, at 74 lbs (the same as the average American 10-year-old girl)5, mentioned their weights, and an owl-eared fan heard them and rushed to the database to pop them in.
I thought that maybe if the women are overestimating how light they
are, they might also be a bit too generous when reporting their
measurements. It turns out they probably aren’t though, because the most
common bra size for a female porn star is a surprisingly handleable 34B.
Not double-D, not even a D. Double-D actually came in 4th, behind B, C
and D. The most common set of measurements for the women was 34–24-34.
So, if the average female porn star is a 5’5″ woman who weighs 117lbs
and has B-cup breasts, what colour is her hair? Blonde, presumably, if
my friends’ guesses were anything to go by.
Apparently not. Dark-haired porn stars outnumber blonde ones almost 2-to-1.
Of course, the vast majority of the fair-haired performers dye their hair, because only 5% of Americans are naturally blonde,5
but the fact that most female porn stars don’t choose the blonde
bombshell look is interesting, I think. The notion of most porn stars
being busty blondes (as opposed to brunettes with B-cups) must either be
a carryover from a cultural stereotype (that the most sexually
adventurous and available women are blonde with big breasts), or an
indication that when someone thinks of the average porn star, the vision
they see is an amalgam of a few of the most famous adult models, who do
fit the busty blonde mold: Jenna Jameson, for instance.
We’re slowly building the image of the true average female porn star.
So what colour is her skin? I chose quite an elaborate method to
showcase the breakdown of female porn stars’ races: 5,000 of their
each extracted from their IAFD profiles, arranged in a colour wheel to
show the proportion of each race in the porn star population.
Behold: the colour of porn. Click to view the expanded version.
In actual fact, the proportions of each race match the general
American population almost exactly, despite the fact that race is still
heavily fetishized in porn. Many women hold out on when they do their
first ‘interracial’ scenes until the time and money are right, and
interracial scenes are given their own category at industry
Apart from differences in the average heights and weights of
performers, race seemed to make pretty much no difference to any of the
other averaged stats. For instance, the data shows that the average age
of a woman when she gets into porn is 22 years old—and it has been for
the last 40 years—and that’s the case for all women, regardless of race.
Men have been progressively getting into the business at a younger age,
though: in the 1970s their average debut age was 29, but now it’s 24.
Porn stars of both genders have also been progressively retiring
earlier: in the ‘70s, men stayed in porn for an average of twelve years,
and women for nine. Now men on average quit after four years, and women
More basic than the question of how long performers stay in the
business, is how they reach it in the first place. 90% of legal American
porn is produced in California’s San Fernando Valley.6 So from which of the other forty-nine American states are young women flocking to get there?
As you can see from the top ten rankings by state (enlarge the image
above), there’s a conspicuous absence of porn stars who hail from the
West-to-Mid-West part of the country. California, on the other hand, is
the birthplace of one-third of all female porn stars—that is, if the
birthplaces porn stars’ claim as their own are in fact accurate. I can
imagine a lot of women, even when specifically asked where they grew up,
would prefer to declare that they are from California because that’s
where they’re now based, than hint at where their family and friends
probably still live. Or maybe the convenience of being on Porn Valley’s
doorstep is enough of an incentive to explain why the vast majority of
performers are true Cali girls.
When I analyzed 5,000 reviews of escorts,
I worked out that the most common name for a woman working in the sex
industry in the U.K. (on the escorting side of it, anyway) is Chloe. I
was therefore pretty excited to find out what the most common porn star
names are, given that these too are self-selected pseudonyms. Do adult
performers use the classic ‘combine your first pet’s name with the
street you grew up on’ method? (Pud Rutland—at your service!) Or is
there another method to the creation of their alter-egos?
Nikki Lee and David Lee—the most common first and last names of porn
stars. A nice coincidence that they share the same last name. It means
if these hypothetical hedonists were to marry, a name change wouldn’t
Lee is only the 24th most common last name in the U.S.,7
which suggests that porn stars choose their stage names strategically.
Veteran performer Annie Sprinkle (not her real name) had this to say on
the topic in an interview last year:
“The big trend was doing a takeoff on celebrity names like
Angelina or Jennifer, but that came in the ’80s and ’90s. Many girls
take on celebrity names, funny names, super-explicit names, elegant
classy names, or girl-next-door like ‘Sunny Leone.’ But all of these
names imply sexual fantasies.” 8
Indeed, female porn stars definitely seem to choose last names that
evoke notions of femininity, sexiness and sweetness (Love, Star, Rose),
while men go for stronger, more masculine ones (Steel and Stone). Arnold
M. Zwicky, Professor of Linguistics at Stanford, confirms my suspicion
in some of his lecture notes: ‘[performers’] choices are very far from a
random sampling of…names current in the United States, or of current
American family names.9
The two remaining jigsaw pieces when building the visual image of the average porn star, based on the information IAFD
has to offer, are tattoos and body piercings. It turns out porn stars
of both genders have more of each than an average person of the same age
in the general population. 43% of porn stars have a body piercing (13%
more than average) and 45.5% have at least one piece of body art—9.5%
more than average.10
We now have our average porn stars: Nikki and David. They’re of
normal height, but both weigh less than the national average. Nikki has
smaller breasts than you might expect and she’s a brunette. She got into
the business aged 22 and is originally from California—or at least,
that’s where she now lives. David got into the industry aged 24.
There’s more to them than their appearances, though. They’re porn stars for a reason—what they do on film.
‘Let’s talk about sexy, baby. Let’s talk about D.A.P.’Sometimes when I hear people railing against porn, declaring it as
the downfall of society, a poison infecting masculine minds and
demeaning female ones, I wonder what kind of porn they’re talking about.
To me, porn seems a lot like sport. I don’t mean the sex in it looks
like a sporting activity (maybe it sometimes does, but that’s a separate
point), but rather that there are as many types of sex in porn as there
are forms of sport. Take synchronised swimming. This could be seen as
lesbian porn, or ‘solo scenes’, in which women casually masturbate for
your viewing pleasure. Next consider a vigorous game of badminton: this
might be your standard boy-girl scene. Pretty vanilla stuff, with maybe a
dose of anal sex thrown in if the match is really heated. How about a
gory mixed martial arts fight? That would be comparable to a 10-man
midget gangbang, maybe. They’re all sports, all types of sexual
activity, but they differ wildly in who’s involved and what they’re
doing with, or to, each other.
So when I hear somebody claim that porn is ‘degrading’, I can’t help
but ask: which porn? Is an anal scene involving three men and one woman
more or less degrading than a scene in which three women have sex with
strap-ons? How about a solo scene in which a woman appears alone? And if
they’re equally degrading because they’re all part of a the same
industry, is homemade porn that couples sell on their own personal
websites part of the same monster? Much like sport, or violence in
films, or cruelty to animals, I don’t think you can really drill down
into the topic on an intellectually respectable level until you’ve
strictly defined your terms.
Female porn stars dictate the type of sex they have by listing in
their modelling profiles the acts they’re willing to perform on camera.
Notice that the two women above differ in what they’re up for. The
lady on the right is pretty diverse while the one on the left is a bit
These terms and acronyms are used by industry insiders, like agents,
performers and directors, to decide what kind of sex happens in scenes
(with the more ‘out there’ ones paying considerably more)11, and they’re also used by fans of porn to keep track of what their favourite stars are doing on film.
IAFD lists the sex acts each performer does
in a film next to the scene credit in their profile. By stripping out
these terms into a separate spreadsheet, I was able to get a really good
idea about how many women do certain sex acts at least once in
There are probably enough percentages there to write five other
articles, but the anal sex one is particularly interesting, because
unlike some of the others (fisting, I’m looking at you), anal sex is an
act that gets talked about a lot in ‘real life’. Porn is often blamed
for warping men’s minds and making them believe that anal sex is better
than vaginal sex, or that all women should do it. So, how does the 62% of female porn stars do an anal scene at least once stat compare to the non-porn, real life equivalent?
Well, in 1992 a large national survey reported that only 16% of women aged 18–24 had tried anal sex.12 By 2010, another major survey, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, reported that the percentage of women who had tried anal by age 24 had risen to 32%,13
and one third of those had done it within the last month. So anal sex
appears to be growing in popularity both in and out of porn—whether
there’s a causal relationship there, it’s tough to say. Women in porn
have been doing anal sex sooner over the last few decades though. I
noticed that in the 1980s, they waited about two years after getting
into the business before they did anal on camera; these days it’s more
like six months.
I’m getting a little butt-heavy now, I know. So let’s give breasts a
chance. To compare the popularity of butts versus boobs in porn, I
created two lists of synonyms: one for asses, one for breasts.
I then searched the IAFD database to see
what number of film titles contained each word from the lists (making
sure to not include films referencing anal sex in the butt count).
Here’s the volume of each graphed over the last 20 years.
It looks like the asses have it, although in 1995 butts and boobs almost converged—statistically, I mean.
I used the same method to also investigate which female sex roles have been most popular in porn titles.
Teens really wipe the floor with the rest, although one could argue
that many of the other roles could be teen-aged (well, 18 or 19, in
legal porn). MILFs (Mothers I’d like to Fuck) coming in second place
surprised me. They seem to offset the youth of the teens quite a bit—or
do they? Just how old is the average woman who appears in a MILF-themed
porn flick? Well, I found out by sampling 100 movies from the database
and viewing the profiles of the women who starred in them. The average
age of a MILF in porn is thirty-three. 20% of the ‘MILFs’ were 20–25 years old, 7% were over 40, and 4% were over 50.
I wasn’t sure what to think about that result, so I looked up the
average age of a first time mother in America. In 2006 is was 25 years
old (22.6 in Mississippi).14
So porn, for all its ludicrous film titles and laughable plots, isn’t
completely unreasonable when it comes to the casting of fuckable
It’s nice to see wife coming in third place, too, especially
for fans of the institution of marriage. Unfortunately, on further
investigation, I discovered that without exception every film title
containing the word wife revolved around the concept of a man having sex with a spouse who wasn’t his own. Never mind.
The concept of selectivity in sex acts doesn’t apply to men in porn.
They either do boy/girl scenes or they don’t. Everything else is up for
grabs (and they do it for about a third of the women’s pay). Another big
difference between men and women who do porn is the ratio of each that
regularly gets booked to do scenes. A relatively small pool of male
stars, who are known as top woodsmen, get booked to do a large majority
of films. I noticed two results from my analysis that back up
First, of the 100 most prolific porn stars of all time (that is, the
ones who have starred in the most films), 96 are men. Next, the ten most
prolific male performers, on average, have slept on-screen with 1,013
different women each (45 a year for an average career length of 22.4
years). Whereas the ten most prolific women on average have slept with
148 different men (8 a year for an average career length of 17.7 years).
Nina Hartley, for instance, who made her porn debut in 1984 and has
starred in more porn flicks than any other woman on earth (938), has
slept with 199 different men on film. Tom Byron, on the other hand, who
has more film credits than any other man (2,549), and who made his debut
only two years earlier than Hartley, has slept with over five times
more people of the opposite gender than her: 1,127 different women. Men
in porn—in an almost absurd parody of the masculine stereotype—really
It’s not easy for a man to break into porn and join the ranks of the
top woodsmen, mind you. To do it, you usually have to bring a woman into
the industry, or know a guy who knows a guy. It’s much easier for women
to get into the skin business. However, according to some
anti-pornography websites, the majority of women who try porn get the
hell out of it right away.
“Most girls who enter the porn industry do one video and quit. The
experience is so painful, horrifying, embarrassing, humiliating for
them that they never do it again.”
- Luke Ford (former pornography gossip columnist), speaking on CBS News.
That quote appears thousands of times on Google, used by people who
believe porn is the devil’s work to get their message across: it’s
horrible and hurts women. But is the statistic it mentions even true? Do
the majority (over 50%) of women who try porn leave it after doing one
film because it’s so completely soul-destroying?
Using my data set I knew I could find out. The actual number of
single film quitters is between 10% and 30%. It’s difficult to settle on
an exact figure, because it differs depending on how you sample the
women, but one thing’s for sure: most women don’t quit after one film—in
fact, the majority (at least 53%) do three or more. So, to update the
quote with the facts, do most women do three films and then quit because
the experience is so humiliating and painful? Perhaps. Or maybe they
just don’t like it and stop.
Questions like why men and women get into porn, why they get out of
it, and if they’re psychologically different to non-porn people, are
beyond the scope of my analysis. Other people have tried to find out
though. A recent, well-publicised study that surveyed female porn stars,
concluded that they appear to have higher levels of self-esteem, social
support and sexual satisfaction than the average woman, as well as a
higher chance of being bi-sexual and having tried 10 different types of
the case, the IAFD’s goal of cataloguing porn stars will go on, even if
my time scrutinizing them is—at least in this capacity—over.
* * *
Well, actually, not quite. I’d built up a pretty good mental picture
of the average female porn star, but what does Nikki Lee actually look
like? She doesn’t look like anything of course, because she is a
combination of 7,000 women. But maybe mixing the appearances of ten of
the most popular women in porn16 would come close to giving her a face. Here she is.
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