Lana Rhoades is glowing, and it’s not just because of her highlight. On June 1, the former adult film star and current podcaster announced on Instagram that she’s pregnant. After uploading a simple picture of red flowers and a sonogram, followers learned about the happy news, including the baby’s due date (the baby will be a Capricorn, if you’re interested).
While this is an exciting moment in her life, immediately following her post, Rhoades was bombarded with what she described as “disrespectful” and “sexist” comments, including speculation about who the father was, declarations that the child will have a terrible life because their mother did porn, and crude comparisons between Lana’s impending delivery and a waterslide. Unfortunately, these kinds of comments aren’t new for Rhoades — and that’s the problem.
Quick to stand up for herself, Rhoades posted a Grazia UK article on Instagram a few days later which called out our inability to reconcile sexual agency and motherhood, and the larger issue of misogyny toward female sex workers. In the caption, Rhoades wrote, “we live in a world where misogyny & sexism is not only accepted but praised.” She continued to say, “young vulnerable wom[e]n are taken advantage of everyday by trafficking & sex industries alike. It is not a joke or a mockery. This type of behavior should be shunned by society.”
For Rhoades, the internet’s reaction to her pregnancy is part of a larger trend of dismissing women’s voices, especially those who are sex workers.
For as long as I have known about Rhoades, she has spoken out about the misconceptions women in the sex work industry face, including stereotypes about hypersexuality and the inability to have normative relationships. After her brief but successful time working in porn from 2016-2017, Rhoades experienced firsthand the depths of misogyny on and offline, and the comments about her pregnancy are just the latest example. For Rhoades, the internet’s reaction to her pregnancy is part of a larger trend of dismissing women’s voices, especially those who are sex workers.
Since leaving the adult film industry, Rhoades has pivoted to social media. She has amassed almost 16 million followers on Instagram and 1.5 million followers on Twitter, accumulating millions of dollars in the process. Just by using her platform, Rhoades challenges assumptions made about her and other people who have done sex work. For example, in between her posts calling out internet trolls and misogyny, Rhoades uploaded selfies and brand partnership announcements, showing her supporters that she’s unbothered and reminding us that she’s a full person, something which hateful commenters forget.
If you want to hear directly from Rhoades, she co-hosts the 3 Girls 1 Kitchen podcast with friends Olivia Davis and Alexa Adams. At the end of their most recent episode, Rhoades explained that she has been hearing a lot of commenters say they feel bad for her child, and said, “I have one thing to say to that: I feel bad for you. You clearly had a terrible mom, who raised a son that talks like that to women.” Rhoades is totally right — no one has the right to comment on her life, pregnancy, or sexuality, especially not random men on the internet. Anyone who does reflects a real problem we’re facing: misogynistic attacks on female sex workers.
Involvement in porn doesn’t call into question these actresses’ morality, or have any bearing on how they will be as partners, parents, or people.
Rhoades is not the only former sex worker standing up for her community. Mia Khalifa, who also formerly worked in porn, has become a social media sensation. She uses her platform to talk about how porn impacted her life, problems within the industry, and other social justice issues. This is just one reason why the systemic silencing of sex workers needs to end; the actual problems they face are otherwise not heard or addressed. Rhoades and Khalifa have spoken out about the emotional toll that came from their porn careers and about being pressured into doing scenes that weren’t right for them. Meanwhile, they try to live normal lives and advocate for change, they are subject to online attacks from people who want to frighten them back into silence.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but Rhoades and Khalifa — and all sex workers, former or current — should both be treated with respect and dignity. Their involvement in porn doesn’t call into question their morality, or have any bearing on how they will be as partners, parents, or people. Beyond that, the two are not just women who used to work in porn (just as none of us are just what we do for a living). Rhoades is a hardworking entrepreneur and soon-to-be mother; Khalifa is an activist and wife. Both remind us of the work we need to do as a society and point out that some men on the internet seriously need to get lives.
While Rhoades and Khalifa face a disproportionate amount of public scrutiny due to their internet popularity, they also have the ability to speak up and find supporters. As influencers, Rhoades and Khalifa have made names for themselves and have fan bases. They also both worked in porn, which is just one job within the sex work industry. There are still countless sex workers who remain nameless and who have yet to be heard, and misogyny, racism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia all stand in the way of this and have implications that extend beyond the internet.
By learning more about sex work and interrogating our own assumptions about the industry, we can begin to undo the framework that currently villainizes, silences, and incarcerates individuals based on involvement with the sex industry.
For example, a 2015 report by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 79.1% of transgender sex workers surveyed had interacted with law enforcement, compared to 51.6% of non-sex worker respondents. Of the different demographics the study identified, Black and Black Multicultural people reported the highest level of interaction, reaching 87.3%. Over 50% of sex workers reported being somewhat or very uncomfortable seeking help from the police, meaning that this avenue is an unavailable resource for many sex workers when they do experience harassment and misogyny. Not only that, but 64.1% of respondents reported mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement, with 12.9% reporting physical abuse and 9.2% reporting sexual abuse.
These statistics may seem unrelated to Rhoades’s own experiences at first glance, but the way that we talk online bolsters a culture that demonizes sex workers and disproportionately attacks BIPOC and transgender sex workers. By learning more about sex work and interrogating our own assumptions about the industry, we can begin to undo the framework that currently villainizes, silences, and incarcerates individuals based on involvement with the sex industry.
Rhoades is optimistic. On June 9, she tweeted, “the way men are allowed to talk to/about wom[e]n online is disgusting, and often praised for. I Can’t wait till “misogyny” is something they can be canceled for..” Hopefully the feminist war Rhoades is waging is intersectional. As people like Rhoades and Khalifa continue to share parts of themselves with the internet, they are bringing greater awareness about the porn industry and sex work and we are moving closer to a world that doesn’t tolerate the way they are treated.
If you want to learn more about organizations that advocate for sex workers, you can visit the websites of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, Sex Workers Project, Desiree Alliance, and Red Umbrella Project for more information.
Fitzgerald, E., et. al. (2015). Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade. National Trangender Discrimination Survey.