Created by men, and for men, pornography has historically treated its female stars as props—puppets without strings. Out of the hundreds and thousands of women who’ve entered this male-dominated business, few have achieved enough success to dictate their own careers. And to achieve career longevity, the word “no” (though always a choice, technically) was to be used sparingly. A woman’s power to choose, to film the kind of scenes that make your eyes bug out—knowing she could say no but doesn’t—ties into the fantasy: she wants it. Whether porn victimizes or empowers women may always be debatable, but in today’s emerging market there’s a much stronger argument for empowerment via entrepreneurship.
“When you shoot for studios, you get that big check at the end of the day after your scene. It’s great for quick money but I can make more than just that paycheck from one scene shooting for myself,” says award-winning adult star Cindy Starfall.
Though she continues to work with other XXX studios, Starfall’s focus has shifted to creating and owning her own content, and promoting it on social media. To further increase her revenue streams, Starfall recently launched Cindy’s Flix, a personalized video-on-demand site, to sell directly to fans without going through the standard intermediary clip seller, such as ManyVids or Clips4Sale. “Once you become your own boss, make your own money, you don’t have to depend on studios for paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have to do things you don’t want to or aren’t comfortable doing on camera,” says Starfall. “It gives you more control over your career, instead of being pushed into doing things.”
Adult actress Jillian Janson says she enjoys being her own boss, but also appreciates the exposure she gets from working with big-name companies. “When it comes to longevity you can do shoots and work, but to stay in for a long time we need to become our own editors, our own advertisers and marketers. We have to learn how to do all these things you don’t realize go into productions,” says Janson, who uses a variety of platforms to sell sexy text messages, custom videos, and a naughty version of her social-media feed via OnlyFans.com.
Learning how to diversify and sell her own content outside of a bigger-name company offered Janson a safety net of sorts. “If I’m on set everyday, and I’m being fucked all day, I’m sore, I’m exhausted, maybe I need a couple of days off but I have to pay rent, so I need to make sure I’m always doing something,” says Janson. “There was a time I couldn’t feature dance, or be on set, and uploading to Onlyfans and SextPanther was how I made rent the next month.”
As independent contractors in a high-risk occupation with no sick days or any other paid time off, performers risk finding themselves in a feast-or-famine workflow—hence being pressured into meeting company demands for scenes they may otherwise turn down. As entrepreneurial performers create passive and active income streams, those dynamics are shifting, pulling performers further away from obligatory scene work.
Reigning AVN Female Performer of the Year Angela White is an anomaly, reaching the pinnacle of her career 15 years in—a stage when most performers are fading away. Thanks to her business acumen, White can plan on reaping the financial rewards of her labor well into the future alongside the companies who’ve hired her. Porn rarely pays royalties, but owning your own product does. White runs her own production company while also creating exclusive content for her fans and membership site.
“It’s important for performers to create an environment where they don’t necessarily have to always be on set to make money. Having passive revenue streams means you can plan for times when you might be ill and can’t actively perform,” says White. “It empowers performers financially but also empowers performers to make more choices about the kind of content they want to create and perform in.”
In the early years of her career, Ariana Marie focused on filming for the traditional porn companies, but as the platforms to distribute and market content directly to fans emerged, filming for other companies became less lucrative than investing in herself. Filming her own content, promoting it and building out her brand is a 24/7 job that sometimes requires a team effort from Marie and her business partner/hubby, Jack. Together they discuss their business model, along with daily and weekly schedules for filming, editing and content release.
Part of that brand-building means maintaining status and recognition within the industry, which is why Marie continues to work with other production companies. “I have offers to come out to L.A. for work, but I can make more money staying home,” says Marie. “It’s tricky because I want to maintain my name in the industry and the companies still have people that are buying from them, driving traffic.”
Jack believes there’s an evolving business model in these types of trade-offs Marie faces, and discusses the possibilities of shared content deals, which may prove beneficial to both performers and companies, making it more of a partnership.
By enjoying a lucrative career from home with the occasional trip to porn valley, Marie doesn’t have to worry about the outrageous demands of certain directors. She doesn’t have to ask herself the same questions again, like, “Do I make this company happy even though physically and mentally I’m not okay? Do I just go in there and shoot the scene or do I put my foot down and say, ‘NO, I’m not going?”
Running her own business and selling directly to fans has given Marie the power to say no, and to choose who she works with and how. “I feel better about creating my own content,” says Marie. “I’m in control of how much I work and what kind of scenes I’m doing, and that feels good.”