I recently spoke to Courtney Ryan from Refinery 29 re occupational trends impacting porn performers and a resulting wage gap between women and men.

You can read Courtney’s entire piece here — “Is There A Wage Gap In The Porn Industry?” (July 19, 2016) — the analysis of which I think is a little short-sighted. But from an outsider’s perspective (her’s), maybe it’s par for the course?

Regardless, my full correspondence with Courtney is below. What do you think?

CR/R29: What do you think are the most common perks of being a porn actor/actress? What about cons?

DrCT: Some of the most obvious perks of being a porn performer seem to be the freedom that comes with being an independent, creative worker and the obvious sexual freedom. The primary con (still) seems to be primarily social – the stigma that comes with sex work, the common misconception that sex work isn’t actually work, etc. So, external social ideas about sex work that impact sex workers. That level of social pressure is intense and significant.


CR/R29: Do you think men or women have the advantage when it comes to career longevity or is it roughly the same? 

DrCT: Women and men performers in “straight” porn have very different paths when it comes to career longevity. Re women, certainly there are “lifers” – as Nina Hartley likes to say – but the vast majority of women come in and out of the industry in a few months to a few years. But for men, because there are so few men who can actually do the work (and because of the gatekeeping power women performers have) it’s actually more difficult for men to get into the industry as performers. Once proven, however, their careers tend to last longer.


CR/R29: Where do most directors come from (are they former actors, crew members, etc.)?

DrCT: There is no way to describe where most directors come from – it’s super diverse. Just like performers come from all walks of life, so do directors.


CR/R29: Since you’ve spent some time on film sets, how many people would you say are involved in making an adult film? 

DrCT: Crew size totally depends on the budget and nature of the project. Some “crews” are just the person holding the camera (eg for lower-budget POV piece attempting to create an “amateur” aesthetic), others are large. In general, over the past 8 – 10 years, crews have shrunk though as producers have shifted away from big feature projects and/or budgetary constraints have forced producers/directors to make do with less. All of this is tied to shifts in consumer demand and internet piracy. Piracy-based tube sites populated with stolen content that viewers assume is “free” have resulted in many challenges, including making it challenging for producers to recoup their costs, much less make a profit. As consumers continue to participate in exploiting the adult industry this way, this cycle gets more and more intense.


CR/R29: Would you say that most crew members are men or women or is it mixed?

DrCT: Mixed.


CR/R29: Are men penalized for failing to produce a money shot and if so, how? Is there an equivalent for women?

DrCT: In a lot of porn (but not all porn), male cum is considered a necessary hallmark of production. If a guy is hired for such a scene, then he’s generally expected to complete that part of the performance. As such, men may be penalized in the sense that, once a guy performer gets a reputation for not being able to complete his job, he will get hired less. For women, outside of a squirting scene, the performance work is different. In any instance though, if a performer is hired to do X, Y, and/or Z in a scene and they don’t complete the work, they will be hired less frequently. This is no different than the way the labor cycle works in any other occupation though. If you’re hired to carry the mail, design a flier, or teach a class and you don’t complete the work, it will impact your capacity to secure work in the future.


CR/R29: What are some of the costs associated with being a porn star (std screenings, manicures, etc.)?

DrCT: This depends on the performer and also varies by the specific production, but one fixed cost for performers working in “straight” porn is the series of STI tests they must have in order to work. With the exception of performers who are contracted with a specific production company (eg “contract girls” – very few nowadays), all performers must have a test that indicates they are cleared for work that is no more than 14 days old. The industry has been self-monitoring in the way since the late 90s (though the cycle used to be monthly), and performers pay for these tests out of pocket.

wage gap

(pictured: …contributing to the wage gap? image via R29)

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