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Culture of Shame: What Duke’s First-Year Porn Star Says About Us

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March 13, 2014

There have been about a million posts about Belle Knox, the Duke first-year and self-proclaimed porn star, over the past couple of weeks.  From the apparently shocking news that there is a current porn star actually pursuing her education (!!) to the immediate and incessant slut-shaming and double standards, to the conversations around porn consumers and producers, to Stoya’s beautiful and eloquent piece on sex-workers and privacy in the New York Times, it would seem that there is not much left to add to this conversation.  But I feel the need to add a few of my own words to all of this.

Part of the critique against Knox inevitably comes from the fact that she is relatively young.  At eighteen years old, her work in the porn industry is entirely legal and yet again and again I read that she is too young to make such a serious life choice, that she should do other kinds of work with her body besides sex (like waitressing), and, even more infuriatingly, that her parents should be ashamed.  

I’m angry because many of these critiques come from those who want teens who encounter unintended pregnancies to carry them to term, unwillingly.  They also want to deny young people contraception and comprehensive sex-ed.  The vilification of Knox is part of a larger national trend of demonizing young people who take control over their bodies and their sexuality, who know what they want and who make choices for their bodies and themselves without shame.

In an interview with her school’s newspaper, Knox admitted, “I feel angry. I feel victimized. I feel harassed. I feel hated. I feel discriminated against.  At Duke, I can’t be who I want to be. I really wish I could just do porn and pay for my college and not get shit from people and just be respected as a human being, but clearly that’s not going to happen.”

Knox deserves to be respected as a human being regardless of her sexual choices or how she pays for her education or her age. She deserves to be respected and supported through her personal and professional choices, just like all young people.  Our sex-negative culture of shame must be stopped and we must stop living in a fantasy world where sex should be shamefully ignored or repressed. Instead, I want us to live in a country where every young person is supported through their sexual decisions with respect, compassion, and comprehensive education.

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