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What It Really Costs (and Pays) to Be a Porn Performer Today

By April 26, 2019 No Comments
5 minute read.

We’ve all heard porn justified by the same old cliches—it helped a college student pay tuition, it’s a way to live a glamorous lifestyle, performers do it because they like sex. As it so often is in life, though, the reality is a little more complicated.

The truth is, according to Business Insiderporn performers are making less money than ever—and this is from a report that’s 5 years old, so in all likelihood, they’re making even less than they were in 2012. Most performers have to participate in ever-more extreme and mentally and physically damaging scenes just to make ends meet in an industry that they’re often boxed into staying in. It’s a trend that’s holding true throughout the industry, and it’s only getting worse.

Watch: Former Performer Rachel Marie Oberlin Talk About Life After Leaving Porn

The price of pirating porn, and the toll it takes on production

Once upon a time, porn used to be a lucrative industry for everyone involved. Explicit magazines were reliable profit machines. Film directors lived like big-time celebrities. The well-known performers were multi-millionaires. But that’s all changed, like almost everything else, since the internet became the major player in the porn industry.

Related: How Does The Porn Industry Actually Make Money Today?

The ways in which the internet has made porn less profitable are diverse: so-called tube sites rely heavily on pirated content, which means studios don’t make as much money as they used to, which means performers don’t make as much as they used to. See the domino effect?

To cover some background, the biggest player in the porn industry by a mile is MindGeek, whose branches include PornHub, RedTube and YouPorn (among other huge players in the industry like Playboy), and a dozen other brands. While MindGeek began with pirated videos from content creators, within the past few years it’s begun to purchase those videos. While that sounds like a positive move against piracy, their model has been called a “vampire ecosystem” because the tubes are the ones who benefit.

For example, the producers create videos for the sole purpose of being uploaded to free sites and MindGeek makes a much higher return off of the ads that don’t direct to anyone involved in the video’s production. It’s a situation where the producers’ rates are kept low, but at the same time, they’d shrivel without the help of a tube.

Studios can take legal action against tube sites, but that takes time and costs money, and ultimately isn’t often worth the effort. More performers are embracing subscription-based models, in which they film their own scenes and sell them on a membership/subscription basis, but this often only works for bigger-name stars, leaving less-recognized performers to work with studios in the hope of making it big.

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Pain pays more

The proliferation of accessible porn has had another unintended consequence. As profits have fallen, performers are under more pressure to film more extreme acts because they pay more. To put it briefly, pain pays. A scene featuring extreme and violent acts can earn a performer from $1,200 to $2,400, while a “standard” scene might get a performer $800 or less. It’s easy to see, then, how a performer could end up acting in more and more extreme scenes, even if they aren’t comfortable doing so, and even if a chunk of their paycheck goes into paying medical bills as a result.

Related: Ex-Porn Performer/Radio Host Lisa Ann Talks Extreme Abuse Of New Performers

Increasingly, there’s no such thing as a “regular” performer—there are those who take on more and more violent and extreme scenes and survive, probably for a few years if they’re lucky, and there are those who don’t, and find themselves on the fringes of the industry with no way out and very few other options. This cycle feeds the demand for increasingly abusive and extreme scenes, creating a climate in which each scene needs to be more extreme than the last if it’s going to be profitable for directors, studios, and performers.

Building out a resume to include the more extreme stuff can be more lucrative, but once a performer says “yes” to doing an abusive or violent scene once, they’ve set the precedent for future scenes that set the bar into more and more extreme territory. It’s almost impossible for a performer’s body to keep up with the demand, and often just as difficult mentally and emotionally.

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A Cycle You Can’t Escape

It’s not too difficult to understand how a performer could get sucked in, especially when they’re young and trying to make a name for them self in some way. The bonafide “stars,” those at the very top of the industry who have the ability to choose the scenes they do and build a business outside of the industry, can make more than $350,000 a year. On the other end, the “average” female performer (women generally make more than men) these days might take home $50,000, and are often responsible for much of their own travel, makeup, marketing, and other job-related expenses.

So with those other expenses factored in, if they’re shooting multiple scenes a week, it is actually thousands less.

Related: Ex-Porn Star Confesses Hardships Of Life After Leaving The Industry (VIDEO)

According to Rashida Jones, the producer and director of the Netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted,

“The pay can be $800, $1,000 a shoot, but they still have to pay for hair and nails and makeup and travel and clothes—plus, they’re trying to live in a lavish way, so it ends up not being cost-effective. It’s not worth it. Then you have to make further negotiations with yourself, like, ‘Will I do torture porn? Will I do fetish porn? Will I do…forced blowjobs?’ and things that you never expected to do.”

Pushed To The Extreme

There are plenty of reports documenting performers who start doing porn because of the promise of fame and fortune, or because they’re tricked, coerced, or forced into it. Increasingly often, performers have to resort to escorting or prostitution to make ends meet. That’s a dramatic difference from the industry of 15 or 20 years ago.

It’s 2018, and the pressure to profit has only increased, and that’s changed the industry in a way that’s causing real and lasting physical and emotional damage to the people that get caught in the cycle of increasing violence and abuse.

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