Lovely Linda

Deep Throat made her a star. Then she revealed that she had been forced to appear in the film by her abusive husband - and became the heroine of the anti-porn lobby. But the Linda Lovelace story isn't quite that simple, says Petra Boynton

Deep Throat, as most people - certainly most men - know, is a movie about a woman whose clitoris is in the back of her throat. Brilliantly, of course, this means that to obtain sexual satisfaction she needs to perform oral sex on men. No need for any awkward fiddling down below for Linda Lovelace, its star.

When Deep Throat was released in 1972, it caused a sensation. The film was seen as groundbreaking as (unusually for porn films) it had a semblance of a plot, and was shown in mainstream cinemas. People who would never have been caught dead in a porn cinema flocked to see it, and a film made for £15,000 ended up grossing £500m and counting. Even certain members of the women's movement welcomed the film as sexually liberating. And everyone wanted to know about its star.

Linda, a slight, dark-haired prostitute turned porn actor, appeared on chatshows, endorsed sex products, featured in Playboy, and wrote a book; all the while maintaining that she was highly sexed - a nymphomaniac in fact. The press, public, and porn industry loved her. She became the world's first porn star.

But it wasn't long before the buzz around Deep Throat and Linda Lovelace began to take on a rather sinister tone. Sex manuals began teaching women that they should learn to "deep throat" their partner in order to please him. Some even endorsed a training programme in which women pushed their fingers down their throat while suppressing their gagging reflex, in order to perfect their deep-throating skills. As with much contemporary sex advice for women, the message was that you have to learn to like it, just like Linda.

And then, in 1980, she revealed that she had learned to like and do things, not for money or pleasure, but because her very survival depended on it. In her autobiography, Ordeal, written under the name Linda Marchiano, she said that she had been an unwilling participant in the film and the subsequent publicity campaign, and that she was not the sex maniac she had been made out to be, and although the movie grossed millions, she had not seen a penny of it. Worse still, she had been beaten and humiliated by her first husband and manager, Chuck Traynor, who had forced her at the point of a gun to perform sexual acts - including her porn appearances, and prostitution.

And so Linda was reborn, this time as the heroine of the growing anti-pornography movement. She went about the country talking to women's groups and giving evidence to congressional committees investigating pornography.

But once again, all was not quite as simple as it seemed. Sadly, as with so many women in the sex industry, Linda was never really listened to. The world's first porn star was effectively hijacked by elements of the anti-porn movement. She ended up endorsing statements, books and films she didn't necessarily agree with; latterly her words were used and misrepresented by groups supposedly helping sex workers.

Ordeal was held up by anti-pornography groups as a guide to the evils of the sex industry, and it appeared on the recommended reading lists of several UK and US anti-porn groups, where readers with little or no experience of the industry could learn what it was "really like" to be a porn star. The groups regularly quoted from the book, in debates, protest flyers, and even in academic texts, to show how her life was threatened to ensure her cooperation in Deep Throat.

Katherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and Diana Russell in particular used Linda's testimony to suggest that all women in porn could expect to be forced into prostitution or raped at gunpoint. This meant we did not get to hear about the women doing sex work who had experiences that were positive, or even mundane. All porn was bad, and here was Linda to prove it.

Delighted by the fame of its new supporter, the anti-pornography lobby conveniently overlooked the fact that Linda's testimony was one of a battered wife, not a critique of the sex industry. Linda was encouraged to campaign against porn, but most of her problems were to do with an abusive partner. It is worth noting that while the abuse Linda suffered was horrific, in Ordeal she notes that the only time she was treated respectfully and professionally was when she was making Deep Throat. It was outside of this setting that her then husband abused and harmed her.

Those in the porn industry chose to overlook this as any negative publicity detracted from Lovelace the sex star, and so they are on some level culpable. But that doesn't excuse the claims of the anti-porn camp that the negative experiences Linda suffered were solely due to the sex industry, rather than an abusive husband.

Of course there is more to Linda - who was born Linda Boreman - than these twin roles of nympho and victim, and the fact that she was used and abused by both the porn industry and the anti-porn industry. So often those who work with sex workers hear them talking about the fact that being a sex worker is only a part of what they do; cliched as it may sound, they are also mothers, sisters, lovers, housewives, or whatever it may be. Well, it was true of Linda too. When she died on Monday, aged just 53, from injuries sustained in a road accident, she left behind two children and her second husband, Larry Marchiano.

They divorced five years ago, after 22 years of marriage, but were still "the best of friends", and he and the children, now both adults, were there when she was taken off her life support machine. "Everyone might know her as something else, but we knew her as mom and as Linda," said Larry.

Despite her notoriety, and despite being dogged by ill-health from dodgy breast implants and a tainted blood transfusion (which led to hepatitis and then chronic liver problems), Linda had put together some semblance of a normal life.

So how should we remember her? Linda brought porn out into the open, where everyone could get a good look at it. Without her we wouldn't know what we know today about the sex industry, and although she may not have approved, her appearance in and criticisms of porn have led to women making porn by and for each other, in improved working conditions (the most famous is Candida Royalle, who is currently celebrating 10 years of making erotic movies for women).

There is so much to say about Linda, but we should remember her for her two most radical actions. First, she wrote a compelling book about spousal abuse at a time when people were not paying attention to domestic violence. And second, she was a survivor - a woman who escaped an abusive marriage, who coped with the emotional and physical scars it left, who managed to form a happy relationship and raise a family, and coped with serious health problems.

And we should remember Linda in her own voice. In 1997 she said: "I look in the mirror and I look the happiest I've ever looked in my entire life. I'm not ashamed of my past or sad about it. And what people might think of me, well, that's not real. I look in the mirror and I know that I've survived."

· Dr Petra Boynton is a psychologist specialising in sex, media and relationships.

Petra Boynto

The GuardianTramp

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