The smut lover’s guide to why you should stop paying for porn

woman watching porn

Let’s talk about porn, politics and hypocrisy. Stay with me, and I promise you’ll get a bunch of fun, filthy links at the end.

It all started a few days ago, when I was heavily criticized for three lines in my 570-plus pages magnum opus on BDSM – which were kink-unrelated to boot. The subject was online porn: I had suggested to stop supporting pay-for-porn enterprises, and when someone read that paragraph all hell broke loose.

«You are a bad person because only sex-negative people can be against the liberating beauty of pornography; you are part of The System with your censorship of free, alternative expression; you are enabling The Establishment because you won’t accept a happier vision of bodies, relationships, sexuality and whatnot. And of course you hate women because feminist porn – not to mention you are a thief if you watch stuff without paying for it.» Or something like that, just way more convoluted and verbose. Which probably says a lot about the attackers, but let’s not go there. I’d rather take the opportunity to explain why, in my opinion, you should really stop paying for commercial porn – if you ever did that.

If you’ve ever read me you should know I am far from being a conservative or sex-negative person, of course. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. But I can see why somebody might have seen that paragraph out of context and interpreted it as the source of all evil. To understand why, let’s take a moment to look at the prevailing narrative within a certain cultural circle.

According to it, pornography has always been a source of sex awareness and therefore of self-awareness; historically, it has been the propulsive force behind many revolutions small and large – since exposing people to the pleasures of the flesh and to alternative ways of conceiving physical satisfaction fractures censorship, which like all forms of ignorance is the foundation of soul-crushing power enterprises like most religions, totalitarian regimes and patriarchy.
Not only that. Porn is also great because it allows women and minorities an unparalleled route to quick riches and personal empowerment. And it has been proved to defuse sexually violent tendencies by, well, redirecting them into harmless jack-off sessions. What’s not to love there? Given this philosophy, it is clear why anyone speaking against the porn industry must be a pretty awful person.

Only… well, not really. Let me explain.

fetish porn star

First of all, I do subscribe to most of the above vision myself. Even to the part about female empowerment, although I find it very sad that any category of people should see their sexuality as their main social value. If you ask me, I’d rather see it as a personal treasure, as a source of joy that you sure can share if you wish to, as the icing on the cake, but not as a marketable skill – much less the primary one. On the other hand, I also know that said vision misses a large and important part of the full picture, which often is far from ideal.

Case in point, what some people forget to realize is that the intellectual purity of every philosophy is inevitably affected by real world constraints – and in this instance the change is definitely brutal.

Let’s start with a simple observation: the pornography industry is dead, and it has long been. When it comes to the subject, many arguments are based on the idea of a multi-billion field with filthy rich superstars making movies in lavish locations. After all, who hasn’t heard the success stories of people like Jenna Jameson or Rocco Siffredi?
Fact is, they already were the fortunate latecomers to the golden era of porn of the 1980s. While the incomes remained rather impressive overall, the industry itself has since grown and fragmented so much that its players had to find ever more specialized niches just to stay afloat. They tried increasingly bizarre novelties to differentiate themselves from their competitors and they did greatly contribute to the innovation of various sectors including video technology, online communication and marketing – but it was just not enough. The current frontier is virtual reality porn (which is the real driver for the VR headsets market, just like homemade porn made Polaroid instant cameras a success and smut rental was behind the VHS videotapes leadership, to make a few examples), and yet even Kink.com, the last studio giant, was recently forced to cease production due to dwindling revenues.

gay porn set

In other words, pornography as it is still commonly represented by the media and by those vocal, self-righteous and subsidy-hunting anti-smut crusaders is but a quaint memory. Today, the closest thing to those large productions of the past are Axel Braun’s erotic parodies of blockbuster franchises, also sold as special collectors’ editions containing two movies: one is expunged of the actual porn scenes, and is highly sought after by geeks since it usually features costumes and storylines closer than the official studio reimaginings of the original material beloved by fans. Peddling to a different demographic than your intended audience should be evidence enough of how the market is struggling. This means, of course, less money for everyone involved – and especially for the actors. Who have always been screwed in more than one sense. Let’s see how much they actually earn according to a rather reliable 2016 CNBC exposé:

Talent Salary
Female performer, man/woman scene $300-$1,500
Female performer, all-woman scene $700-$1,200
Male Performer $500-$1,500
Director $1,000-$3,000
Cameraperson $500-$700
Sound Technician $300-$400
Production Assistant $100-$250
Writers $250-$400
Still photographers $500
Makeup artists $500

If you are now thinking that the three uppermost lines don’t look that bad after all, I’d like to bring to your attention the last one. A makeup artist can earn more than the person taking one for the team – but that’s not even the point. That would be how the above table refers to top-tier North American actresses and actors, who then pay taxes and their agent’s fee on those sums. And how the upper prices are for very extreme acts, not for a nice fluffy ride. And how those earnings are for talents in their prime: the figures go rapidly down as the age goes up, but even 18-year old newcomers are more prone to obsolescence than your smartphone; their first anal scene may be paid full, for example, but the second is already devalued almost by half since the novelty is forever gone. And how non-US productions usually work on much tighter budgets. And how there are lots of shady companies and agents who just scam their aspiring stars leaving them with next to no money. All of this, of course, without even considering the social stigma associated with the profession, the physical toll and the practical difficulties adult movie stars face in their everyday lives. So, how do most of them really support themselves, then?

ready to swallow

In these times, the reality of the job is about making underpaid videos that everyone knows will end up on “tube” websites for free anyway. The clips will hopefully work as cheap, viral advertising for the performer’s skills – allowing them to actually cash on escort work, “private sessions” with fans, stripping and dancing in clubs, selling used panties and other fetish items online, and whatever other hustles they can run. For as long as they can, before ending up – if everything goes well – as anonymous suburban nobodies who, often, can barely get by.

And that’s not their fault. The “damaged goods hypothesis” of people going into porn because of past trauma, inadequacy, lack of education or other issues has long been proved wrong: the problem lies in the industry itself. Literally for centuries, the directors, photographers, publishers, producers and even the sellers of pornography got rich while their expendable and interchangeable “stars” pocketed just the crumbs of the fat pie. The current market situation just exacerbated the issue.
And this is why I have come to the belief that such a toxic industry deserves a final mercy killing in the form of not financially supporting it. Especially because there are much better alternatives. For the users, who can already access infinite free content, but particularly for the performers.

Remember when the economy was excitedly called “new economy”? Shedding all the self-important words, the idea was as simple as it was disruptive: computers and the Internet finally allowed to cut off the middle men in most businesses – and with time it became apparent how many layers of useless intermediaries there were between creators and their customers. It was the late Nineties, and most of us took our sweet time to realize what it really meant. I, for one, foolishly waited until 2013 to take back the publishing rights to my books and go indie with them – earning though this change more than twice I was used to while being able to cut the street prices six or sevenfold, thus reaching a wider audience. Well, the kicker is that all of this also applies to porn.

male porn star

The progress of technology cuts both ways if you know how to harness it. So, if you still want to have a career as an adult performer, all you really need is a digital camera, an Internet connection and a modicum of IT and marketing savvy. Loading your promotional clips on free porn sites will give you just as much exposure as any “studio” would, but you won’t have to be anyone’s bitch. Watermarking them with the address of your (maybe outsourced) online shop will forever bring in customers wishing to pay premium for the full videos. Sure, you’ll soon find out it takes real effort and that you’ll need to invest money and lots of time into it, but such a business can satisfy your entrepreneurial knack and you will retain control of your image, working hours and conditions. And it gets even better.

Remember the initial critique? Well, if you really are in it for that, you can do the whole empowerment thing and keep up the good political and philosophical fight in an even smarter way – while holding on to a less risky, socially-approved job that actually gives a reliable pay and even goes toward building your retirement fund. If such things still exist, anyway. But seriously: ditch the improbable dreams of getting rich with smut already and just do it for fun. What’s so bad in doing not-for-profit sexual things?

In this age when even festival-inducted films feature the rickety production values of a high school stage play, your lunch money will suffice to fund your shocking statement before society. Or… you can just join the armies of exhibitionists who simply put their escapades online for free, for the thrill of being watched by millions of strangers and of giving them pleasure – that’s a no less noble goal.
And what about getting into serious activism instead? It’s way more demanding than fucking on video for money, but it generally turns out to be more effective toward world progress. Just saying. 

So yeah, I guess this was a rant against the hypocrisy of a certain kind of misinformed armchair heralds of sexual freedom and of a desperately self-serving industry.
I have enjoyed way too much pornography over the years not to appreciate the simple, primal pleasure it can bring – especially if it is smart, provocatively original, intellectually challenging or confounding, shockingly extreme, bizarre or just downright silly. Of course I love porn just as much as you, and I have frequently and gladly paid truly obscene sums to support the heartfelt efforts of independent projects. What I cannot stand is just the exploitative machine behind commercial, cookie-cutter smut, nor the fools who pose as artists when they are only really trying to monetize their narcissism instead of getting a more banal occupation.

So, what about we all come down from our respective soapboxes now and we get back to make the world a better place for everyone?  

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