Column: Porn past: Media coverage reveals moral double standards

Maybe you heard about it from Facebook, or had a friend send you a link elsewhere, but odds are you heard about the St. Louis-area teacher who quit her position after revealing she had worked in the porn industry 15 years prior.

It’s the type of story that elicits predictable responses from those who hear it: We’re all captivated that a high school teacher could have such a past, we desire to snicker at raunchy things and, if we’re brazen enough, we desire to head into the Google archives and dig up the raunchy material.

Beyond this, though, we seem to take most of the situation self-evidently. The general assumptions society makes are that working in porn is unequivocally bad, that any history in such an industry should be shamed and dusted under the rug and that if you’ve been a whore once, you’re a whore forever.

It’s disappointing to read or watch news pieces on the ordeal, as it also seems you aren’t exempt from judgmental and stigmatizing language if you’ve ever been a sex worker.

Channel 4/KMOV in St. Louis describes the “porn-star-turned-teacher’s” revelation of her “sexy past” as being the “hot topic” at school that day, and that her “porno-movie past continues to haunt her today.”

While showing a clip of the “X-rated” teacher (whose name I’m deciding not to use, as she’s been through enough) giving a claim to her love of students and teaching, KMOV decides not to subtitle her as what she is (a teacher), but rather labels her as a “Former Adult Film Actress,” a stain which she apparently is never allowed to remove.

The story continues on to describe (with palpable concern) that the legality of working in the adult film industry meant her work would “not show up on a background check,” and she could therefore seek employment as any other applicant would.

This “newsworthy” bit about her background check and references has been a theme in all news pieces I could find on the matter, clearly an issue of grave importance for anyone who loves their kids and their education.

Situations like these anger me because they reveal yet again a society with puritanical double standards regarding its fellow citizens, and a tendency to relegate ourselves to positions of moral policing when we feel outcasts or social transgressives have corrupted our system or, even worse, our children.

Having worked in porn does not affect this woman’s ability to teach, to counsel, to love her job and to love the students she works with, yet we treat her with contempt and judgmental skepticism, as if she was Mary Kay LeTourneau, actively engaging in sexual acts with students.

While we deprive this woman of fundamental teaching abilities and any hope for a “sound moral character,” we are happily and willingly complicit with Charlie Sheen’s public past of regular abuse against women. After all, he’s still “funny,” whether he beat a woman, whether anything like that matters.

At the end of the KMOV news piece, the conclusion is that this is “a lesson she (the teacher) learned the hard way,” shortly thereafter showing a clip of a young female student recounting the lesson she learned: that “when you do stuff when you’re young, it affects you later.”

Ask yourself if you learned a lesson. Does this woman’s past forever restrict her from fairness? Solid employment? Moral dignity? Sanctioned access to children? Or do our stigmatizing lenses preclude us from ever seeing our own faults, our own shortcomings, perhaps even our own mutually regretful pasts? My hope would be for the latter, but maybe I’m just being naïve.

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