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04.28.10

Life After Porn

Former porn star Jenna Jameson’s home life was shattered this week by accusations of physical violence and drug abuse. Sean Macaulay on the rocky transition from adult film to domestic bliss.

Back in 1995, I saw porn star Jenna Jameson when she won the Newcomer of the Year Award at the Friends of X-rated Entertainment Awards (FOXE) in Hollywood. She was fresh-faced and charming, and only on her first set of implants. A writer for The New Yorker was also there that night. He was the only guy wearing a sweater and trying to congratulate Jenna over the noise of the crowd. "You have a very special quality," he shouted.

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"A what?"

"A special quality."

"You want to what? Feel my titties?"

This was the moment when I realized porn and the real world would never be able to live happily ever after.

Fifteen years later, Jenna Jameson is back in the limelight, but for an even less sophisticated reason. After becoming the biggest adult-film actress in the world and then retiring in 2008, she settled into a life of supposed domestic bliss, marrying Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Tito Ortiz and retreating to her house in Huntington Beach, California, where she became a stay-at-home mom.

This week, that life descended into 911 drama after Ortiz was arrested after Jameson accused him of physically abusing her. Team Tito then claimed that Jameson is lying, and furthermore, that she's battling an addiction to OxyContin. Team Jenna is claiming that the only thing James is addicted to is her children. Whatever the truth, one thing is irrefutable: The road to a normal, white-picket-fence life after a career spent in adult entertainment is fraught with perilous detours.

Porn is a fantasy world of quick money whose real price only becomes apparent when you try to return to normality.

The list of porn-star train wrecks with failed exit strategies is long and grim. Colleen Appleby tried to leave the business in 1984 by moving to the desert with a cocaine dealer. When he was sentenced to five years in prison, her parents offered Colleen a ticket back home to Minnesota, but instead she got high and shot herself in the head.

Janine Lindemulder, who shot to porno stardom for her on-screen work with an ice-sculpted dildo in Hidden Obsession, failed in her bid to settle down with custom bike maker (and, now, estranged husband of Sandra Bullock) Jesse James in 2002. The marriage crumbled a year later after Lindemulder attacked him with a plant's pot and allegedly tried to run him over in a car. She moved on to dating a transvestite, lost custody of her son, and was sent to prison last year for tax avoidance.

And more recently, porn actress Marie Carey opted for a season of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew to get her out of the business and help her beat her alcoholism. She emerged, seemingly free of her demons. But, faced with mounting medical bills and a sick mother, caved and took a role in another adult film, Celebrity Pornhab With Dr. Screw.

In the age of Google, can you ever really start afresh from porn and have a normal life? A new documentary, Exxxit: Life After Porn, which hits the festival circuit later this year, explores just this topic. Director Bryce Wagoner interviewed more than 20 adult stars for the film, including industry legends like Randy West, Asia Carrera, and Amber Lynn. What he discovered was that porn is a fantasy world of quick money whose real price only becomes apparent when you try to return to normality.

"We found the men stayed in the business as long as they could and were mostly OK with it," says Wagoner, an amiable Southerner and former teenage bodybuilding champion. "The women who only did it for four to five years were the most jaded and had the toughest lives afterward. Every woman we spoke to—apart from Amber Lynn, who's still going strong—had to reboot their lives at 30 and start over in some small town." Such efforts were made all the more difficult by poverty. "For one reason or another," says Wagoner, "they didn't save any money, or if they did save some money, they'd lost it through some guy."

Wagoner was inspired to make the documentary by the story of Bianca Trump, a bouncy, fresh-faced porn star of the 1990s whose filmography includes features like What Daddy Doesn't Know, Big Boob Frenzy 4, and Nasty Nymphos 22. Despite her success, Trump later fell in with white supremacists, covered herself in tattoos, and served time for kidnapping. After that chaos in her life ended, Wagoner found her settled quietly in Washington state. "Prison changed her for the better, I think," he says. "But she declined to appear on film. She said, 'Nobody recognizes me anymore and I'm OK with that.'"

Such is the case with many former porn stars, but trying to live in anonymity isn't easy. "We found many stories where people tried to move on only for their neighbors to find out that they once made a bunch of dirty movies," says Wagoner. "One guy couldn't coach his son's Little League team anymore. One woman lost her real-estate job and then got diagnosed with lymphoma the following month. John Leslie [a male porn star for 30 years] lives up in Mill Valley, near San Francisco, which is a really nice area. He's an artist, a chef, a very cultured guy. His wife is a therapist. A serious professional. But some neighbors found out about his past and they wouldn't let him babysit."

Jameson's case is different because she wasn't seeking total anonymity in her post-porn life. But her chances of finding domestic stability were probably below average given her struggles with many of the personal issues that are so common in the industry. She lost her mother to cancer when she was 2, and was raped by four men in her early teens. She had tremendous rage at her police officer father, who was an archetypal distant authority figure. (They have since reconciled.) In her 2004 memoir, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, she talks about her battle with heroin addiction and her crippling body-image issues. "I have very bad insecurity about my body," she wrote in her diary, at age 15. "I feel there is something wrong with it. I hate being seen naked."

Wagoner, though, dismisses notions that only damaged people enter the porn industry. "A lot of these people are smart, educated, well-adjusted. They get into it simply because they can make more money, and faster than if they were training to be a nurse. But it's a Faustian pact. If you enter the business with something deeply unresolved in your psyche, it's not going to cure it. It's like [porn historian] Luke Ford says in the film: 'You want the roll in the hay, but then afterward you want to burn the sheets.'"

My life after porn was a lot less turbulent than most because my career lasted all of one day. Back in 1995, I worked as an extra for $50 on Deep Throat III: The Quest. (It turned out that the quest was for narrative coherence.) Filming was shockingly banal and industrial. It was just like any movie set with all the hanging around and unspoken hierarchies, except the final scene happened to be a daisy-chain orgy with a guy masturbating in a chicken suit.

The day gave me stark insight into this strange, parallel world to Hollywood, where performers thrive off the illicitness while secretly yearning for mainstream acceptance. The inverted nature of porn was crystallized for me the day that a bridal magazine was unearthed from under a sofa cushion in one of the dressing-room trailers. The actresses all reacted like embarrassed teenage boys caught with a copy of Hustler. "It's not mine… Don't look at me… I don't read that fluff…"

Sex with six strangers was not the thing to be ashamed of—it was true love, a white wedding, and a house in the suburbs.

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Sean Macaulay was the L.A. movie critic for The London Times from 1999 to 2007. He has also written for Punch, British GQ, and The Mail on Sunday. He was most recently creative consultant on the award-winning documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil .