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03.18.13

Blood, Sweat and Sex: My Hard Life in Porn

The performers may look like they're in ecstasy, but the physical pain and endurance that goes into sex for the camera would make an NFL linebacker weep. By Aurora Snow

Portrait of me in the middle of a typical porn scene: Sweat drips down my face, my overworked legs are wobbly, my jaw might ache from being open too long while my neck burns from being twisted into an awkward angle.

Being an adult performer is not easy money, as the preachers like to say. It’s a little like being a high-risk professional athlete—stamina is required. While everyone is entitled to love or hate “skin flicks,” I think most people harbor misconceptions about the work. Remember that pornography is shot with the viewer in mind. In the summer there is no air-conditioning on the set (too noisy) and it’s not always, or even often, glamorous.

Like many other adult actresses, my first few scenes, which were shot in May of 2000, were the stereotypical easy-money kind: some regular vaginal sex where I played the wide-eyed innocent guided by the seasoned male. Fresh meat sells well—the roughing-up came later. 

Over time the “new girl” scenes no longer appealed to consumers, who want to see diversification from steadily working performers, and scenes that progressively up the ante. Over the last decade this process has gained momentum—girls that enter porn in 2013 have to be ready for extreme acts earlier on in their careers. Because of this acceleration, there is about to be a generation of porn performers who have spent the majority of their years in porn doing extreme sex acts. I am one of them. I’ve smiled through gonzo scenes, but afterward often went home sick, curled up in a ball and physically nauseated. There is always a price to pay; the kind of damage we’ve inflicted on our bodies won’t catch up with us for years. Hopefully it won’t be lasting, but we’ll be the first generation of adult actresses to know.

Adult actresses are prone to internal tears the way an athlete might be at risk for injuring a tendon. No amount of stretching can prepare you for what will happen on an adult set if things go wrong. No one likes to talk about injuries (porn-girl etiquette), so it’s hard to pinpoint how frequently they occur. Injuries are not routine, as far as I know, but several of us, myself included, have experienced their fair share. My first on-set injury happened with a rapacious male performer who held little regard for my body and slammed into me like a rag doll. It was the first time I’d been torn; the director suggested we use extra lube and keep going. (On days like that a tube of Neosporin became my best friend after work). It was excruciating, but the show must go on. No one gets paid if it doesn’t.

A rising performer, Amy Brooke, entered the adult business in 2009, and has already garnered the AVN award for “most outrageous sex scene.” With over 200 films under her belt, Brooke is aware of the chances she takes dedicating herself to her fans’ entertainment. “Your body can’t take doing that every single day—it might break or start prolapsing.” Strenuous scenes can take a toll on the body over time, thus limiting a career to a certain number of years. Sensitive flesh is pounded raw, and muscles are stretched to their limits. In this line of work a girl cannot work every day; she needs “recovery” days. Fortunately I’ve been lucky, but I know others who have been injured from the same sorts of scenes. It’s a high-risk, high-dollar job. Taking it in the booty makes it even higher, paying fifty percent more on average than vaginal sex.

On some days a tube of Neosporin became my best friend after work.

Though less injury prone, men in porn don’t have it easy either. Men face the embarrassment of not being able to do their jobs—performance issues can lead to a very long day. Not all male performers are attracted to the women they work with, nor can they always perform with robotic consistency (hence the modest-sized pool of male talent) and all in front of an audience. If a male performer is only flying at half-mast, he may have to spend more time trying to get ready than actually performing. Fluffers are a myth, girls are rarely on set to prep the male talent (though some women have been known to act as personal fluffers for their boyfriends). Knowing that the entire crew is watching him fail only makes things worse. I’ve seen cameramen who live to double as performers and eagerly await moments like these. Thanks to the debut of Pfizer’s little blue pill in 1998, performance issues are less common than they use to be. Though most don’t admit it publicly, I believe the majority of men in porn use a prescription performance enhancer; it’s a tool of the trade.

Iconic adult actress Kristina Rose has appeared in over 400 movies and earned several awards for her peak performances. Rose knows this occupation isn’t without repercussions, and feels there is a give and take to her job. “Porn is easy in that I don’t have to wake up every morning at 6 a.m. and get ready to go to work and that I have the luxury of having days off during the week, but porn does affect everything in my life. It is a harder job than you think, you have to watch out for STDs and deal with all different kinds of people. It also affects your personal life.” Despite the industry’s self-regulated testing, STDs remain a workplace hazard.

And, while the money is good, it’s not great. Not the sort of money that mainstream celebrities can count on. The long-lasting social repercussions, along with the wear and tear on the body  aren’t accompanied by the payday that a professional athlete received. Adult actresses earn a flat scene rate. No residuals, no hourly pay, and certainly no overtime—a girl earns the same amount of money for a three-hour day as she does for a two-hour day on set. And performers in the adult industry generally do not collect unemployment or workman’s comp. Producers offer no healthcare or retirement accounts. We are considered independent contractors, which producers interpret to mean: if anything bad happens, it’s on you.

Adult performers might have one of the most divisive jobs in America. Being in the adult business carries a stigma that will follow a person for the rest of their life, and it can affect your ability to pursue another career in the future.

Yet the job is not without its redeeming qualities and unique experiences. There is no judgment within porn—it can be an outlet for sexual fantasies, helping those with a fetish feel accepted and less outcast. The movies we make can get a soldier through a long deployment, help a married couple spice up their love life, or provide an unconventional tutorial about sex. The good pay for relatively infrequent hours worked, not to mention the fame and the loyal fan following, create opportunities to have a voice in our community. Sex doesn’t just sell porn, it sells movies, advertisements and most of what we buy, and the adult industry fills a need within our culture. Whether or not you indulge in this form of entertainment, take a moment to consider the hard work (words not often associated with porn) that went into to creating it. It’s not the easy payday so many assume it is.