Digital piracy, file sharing, and the non-erasable nature of the internet means that anyone with computer access can have as much porn as they want, whenever they want it, for free. But, despite the seemingly anonymous nature of the billions of photos and video clips online, there is still a large industry of hard-working performers who rely on paying customers to make a living. Danny Wylde covers life in the mainstream porn world, with additions by indie porn model Furry Girl.

Porn or "obscenity"? There is no real legal definition of obscenity in America, so the only thing pornographers have is the vague and highly subjective "Miller Test" was established in 1973 by the US Supreme Court in Miller v California. The Miller Test says that a work is obscene if an average person would find the work to appeal to a "prurient interest," whether the work is "patently offensive," and if the work "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." This arbitrary definition means that when the government wants to put a company out of business, they indict them in a conservative part of the country where a jury is most likely to be offended, such as Utah or Kentucky.

History

As long as there has been means by which we could produce imagery, there have been people using those means to make porn, from prehistoric cave art to early photographs. Advances in technologies have meant that sexually explicit materials have been made increasingly affordable and available to a wider range of viewers. From the invention of the printing press to the digital camera, porn and technology have an intertwined history, and people still debate which one really drives the other.

The history of modern in the States porn begins in the 1970s as X-rated feature films came to theaters, alongside the rise of big porn magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. 1972's mafia-backed Deep Throat brought explicit porn to Americans as a full-length film, going on to be one of the top-grossing movies of the decade. The 1980s saw the rise of cheaper production using video, and in the 1990s, porn became even more widely distributed thanks to the internet. Today, most American porn is made in California, where its Supreme Court decided in 1988 that paying performers to have sex on camera is legal protected speech, and not prostitution. No other state has handed down such a ruling, though porn continues to be produced around the country.

The work

To understand what most porn performers do, or how most porn operates, it is sometimes necessary to remove one's immediate associations with sex. Because porn is not sex in the traditional sense of the word – at least not in the way most people think about it. The primary goal of the performer is not intimacy, pleasure, connection, or fantasy fulfillment, though these are all byproducts of the porn experience – at least some of the time. On a fundamental level, the performer works to exploit his/her body for the entertainment of others in exchange for money.


Performers must fill out paperwork before each sex scene. This includes at least one of the following: a model release, W-9, and 2257 compliance form required by the government to document that each performer is of legal age.

The analogy to a professional athlete is most fitting: One assumes the professional football player enjoys the sport. Further, one assumes he's good at it. But love for the game is not the driving factor in the professional athlete's career. He must compete under pressure and excel under any given circumstance. Because the coach, the spectator, the sponsors, etc... - none of them care whether he is in the mood to play, whether his feet hurt, or if his head is out of the game. They want a performance. And they want to see him win. The porn consumer also wants a performance. But to deliver it, a performer must do more than just have sex. Like most professionals, a porn performer is expected to wake up, shower, shave, and arrive to work at an expected time. A performer may take an enema to clean out his/her bowels if expected to participate in anal sex, and men may take an erectile dysfunction drug to ensure a stronger erection once on set.

Once paperwork is completed and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) test results have been shared, it is most common to move on to the sex scene. Many productions take still photographs of each sexual position prior to shooting video. This is to streamline the production work-flow, as most lighting setups differ for still photography and video. Some productions require “set-ups,” or acting pieces, as preludes to the sex. These can be as short as several minutes, or they can take hours to film. It is for this reason that a performer's work day can last anywhere from two-to-twelve hours, or more. No unions currently exist in the adult industry, so working hours are not regulated. However, once the sex scene begins, the filmed duration generally lasts no longer than twenty-to-forty minutes (if everything goes as planned).

Upon completion of the typical sex scene, the male performer ejaculates somewhere on the female's body or face (or on another guy if it is a gay production). Due to the pressure put on the male to ejaculate on cue, the end of sex scenes are often “set up.” This allows ample time for the male performer to masturbate until he is ready for climax. Once he is about to ejaculate, he alerts the video crew and the process is filmed. Afterwards, another series of still photographs are taken. (In recent years, Cetaphil soap and other “fake cum” concoctions have replaced actual semen in many of the photographs.) After the sex scene, the performers are handed baby wipes and paper towels, and usually given the option to shower.

Labor, legal, and other issues

Aside from the actual work day, porn performers do have further obligations, responsibilities, and costs similar to running any business.

Performers are required to test for STIs at least once every thirty days. Industry clinics do provide discounted services, however the cost is currently put on the performer. Such clinics charge around $130 for HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia testing. Should a performer test positive for gonorrhea and/or chlamydia, one must also pay for the antibiotics and retesting.

Due to the lack of unionization, other medical costs are also put on performers. Given that many performers work without health insurance, medical treatments are often paid for in full. Aside from STIs, female performers are susceptible to frequent yeast infections and cases of bacterial vaginosis – both of which require medical attention. Male performers bear the expense of erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals to aid in the maintenance of long erections on high-pressure sets.


Porn isn't just the mainstream LA industry! Among the very first porn sites on the web were those created by swingers, such as Jen N Dave's Homepage, which is still online today. As the technology to produce porn has become increasingly affordable, a wide variety of people have jumped at the chance to make porn on their own terms. Today, there are independent porn companies around the country, often featuring body types, gender expressions, and fetishes not commonly seen in mainstream porn.

Performers are expected to provide their own wardrobe for most shoots. However, this typically affects female performers to a greater degree. For example, a director may not want to shoot a girl in a certain dress or bra-and-underwear-combination if she's worn it in another production. Though many variations of porn exist, the mainstream performer must often adhere to a set of physical standards that include frequent tanning, manicures/pedicures, hair appointments, gym memberships, supplements, and fitness regimes. For some performers, breast augmentation, Botox, plastic surgery, and other cosmetic processes add to their expenses.

The typical performer is represented by an agency, which takes anywhere from ten to twenty percent of their income. If the performer does not own a car, the agency may provide transportation – but at an additional cost. If the performer is visiting from out-of-town, the agency may provide lodging at a “model house” - also at an additional cost to the performer.

One of the more controversial matters facing the contemporary adult performer is that of barrier protection (condoms, dental dams, gloves, etc). The majority of heterosexual porn productions do not use barrier protection, but rely on frequent testing to curb the spread of STIs. This practice is most often attributed to the claim that condom use in “straight porn” reduces sales. However, some more practical issues have been raised. Many performers are allergic to certain forms of barrier protection – like latex. Male performers often have trouble maintaining long-term erections while wearing condoms. And due to the extended frequency and duration of porn sex, barrier protection can lead to greater frequency of vaginal and anal abrasions. For the above stated reasons – and perhaps more – some performers prefer not to use barrier protection at work. However, some performers express the desire to use further protection, but fear that such a request would bar them from working with many adult companies.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) recently fined several production companies, such as Hustler, for failing “to provide condoms or other protective equipment” for performers. Cal-OSHA spokesperson, Krisann Chasarik, told AVN magazine, “We have opened an investigation into Hustler Video... after we looked into a complaint by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation [for] ... claims that the blood-borne pathogen standard was being violated.” This standard has been in place since the late 1990's, but most adult productions have been operating outside its boundaries for over a decade.

That is, until the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) made a complaint against the industry in late 2009. AHF is the primary advocate for barrier protection in the adult industry and responsible for putting pressure on Cal-OSHA to investigate and penalize production companies that do not adhere to the same workplace laws that require nurses to wear protective gear. However, many adult industry professionals fear that Cal-OSHA's requirements will have overall negative economic effects on the California-based porn industry and drive many productions “underground” (i.e. make them illegal). Such a scenario could put performers at greater risk both legally and in terms of their health.

Condoms? Testing? Heterosexual porn industry standards require that all performers are tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and/or HIV at least once every thirty days in order to continue working, and condoms are not generally used. The gay side of the industry does not mandate testing, although many companies are beginning to require this practice. Condoms are standard, though, save for a small "bareback" niche.

Adult Industry Medical (AIM) healthcare - the primary clinic to serve the adult industry for over a decade - recently shut down in part due to mounting legal costs resulting from its litigation with Cal-OSHA. There is currently no industry-specific health clinic in operation in Los Angeles. Some adult industry professionals suggest that this comes as a result of anti-porn legislation disguised as workplace safety concern.

In June of 2011, a meeting was held with a Cal-OSHA advisory committee in Los Angeles, California. Upwards of seventy adult performers attended the meeting and unanimously voiced their opposition to barrier protection mandates. A new draft of the law was discussed in which some compromises may be made, such as non-barrier-protected oral sex. However, adult industry professionals still maintained the position that they do not want Cal-OSHA's involvement and prefer the right to choose whether or not to have barrier-protected sex on camera. Meetings are currently underway between industry professionals and the Free Speech Coalition as to how to deal with the situation. Adult performers - if willing to work together - may have an impact on how the decision is reached.

 

Common myths and misconceptions

Myth: The only things that could drive someone to appear in porn are abuse and/or addiction.
Fact: The rise of free amateur porn tube sites in the last few years has cut into the professional industry. Average people all over the country have seized upon the chance to create and share homemade porn without a motivation of compensation. Just because you could never see yourself willingly appearing in porn, it doesn't mean that it's not a valid choice for others.

Myth: If performers are only doing porn because they need the money, then it's not truly consensual.
Fact: The vast majority of people in any industry would not do their jobs if there was no economic motivator pushing them to work. Would you go to work every day if you were not being paid to do so?

Myth: Okay, but what about the case of a truly desperate person - say, facing an eviction - who has no other options than to grudgingly do a porn shoot? Some people don't have many choices, and the evil of pornography exploits that.
Fact: Is it better for poor people to have no choices at all than to have choices that offend (predominantly middle and upper class) religious and feminist campaigners? It is not your place to tell others that it's better they become homeless or go hungry than to make a choice that you find distasteful.

Myth: Porn makes men rape and abuse women.
Fact: Anti-sex worker activists focus on this false argument because they can (offensively) paint anyone who refutes it as "pro-rape." Despite the angry shouts and baseless beliefs, there has never been any actual peer-reviewed research that suggests that porn-viewing causes sexual violence. In fact, many studies, conducted all around the world as well as in America, have shown that an increased access to pornography is consistently correlated with lower rates of sex crimes. (See Milton Diamond's international porn study, Anthony D'Amato's "Porn Up, Rape Down," or Todd D. Kendall's "Pornography, Rape, and the Internet" PDF.)

Myth: Porn objectifies women as sex objects, and fails to appreciate them as whole people.
Fact: Leaving aside the fact that porn also features men and transgender performers, it needs to be understood that the "objectification" complaint is not made by performers themselves, but by people who like to be offended on our behalf. Our chosen job is to be sexy and sexually entertaining. Non-sex work occupations aren't attacked as "objectifying" the people in them, even though a typical patron of restaurant or taxi probably doesn't intimately care about the "true selves" of their chef or taxi driver that day. You don't see picket lines in front of clothing stores with signs that read, "Stop the exploitation of women! This business objectifies women as one-dimensional retail clerks!" To say that "being objectified" as a sex worker is somehow vastly different than "being objectified" in any other occupation is about the accuser's personal issues with sex, not the way we all view workers as their jobs while they're on the clock.

Myth: Some performers get cosmetic surgery, which is unnatural, and therefore, wrong.
Fact: People with all types of careers choose to augment their bodies and their skill sets to make more money, such as a football player training all day until he's sore, or a secretary going back to school to get an MBA. If your job is based on looking a certain way, it's no surprise that you would put in effort to keep up that look as a means of career maintenance and advancement.

Myth: It's just not okay for women to use their bodies to make money.
Fact: This is an argument commonly used by intellectuals who forget that, outside of upper and middle class life, many people use their bodies to make a living. (Almost all serious injuries and deaths on the job in America are casualties suffered by men in "body-using" fields such as construction, logging, fishing, agriculture, and heavy machinery operation.) The inherently class-based arguments against use of the body for profit supposes both the speaker and the audiences consider themselves "too good" to perform work that involves physical effort.