Women Want More Porn, But Aren’t Willing To Pay As Much

Apr 12, 2012
Porn Stars
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The fact that more women than ever before are “consuming” porn doesn’t prove that the industry has become a better place for its female performers, says Hugo Schwyzer. He spoke to several porn performers about the industry today

Call it the porn paradox. At the same time that the mainstream media is finally catching on to the reality that visual erotica isn’t just for men anymore (if it ever was), the women who work in the adult industry are facing tougher times than ever. A changing business model for porn, and the enduring effects of the economic recession have left both established stars and novices struggling. But the biggest problem may be the growing expectation among porn consumers of both sexes that pleasure should always be free.

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The widespread coverage of James Deen (touted as the first major male adult star with crossover acting potential) has drawn public attention to a truth most of us already knew: lots of women watch porn, and not just to make their boyfriends happy. For all his charm, the magnetic Deen is hardly the only reason more and more women are watching porn. The sheer volume of visual erotica—and the rapidly lowered cost of producing it—means more and more content can be made with a female audience in mind.

Though feminist porn isn’t the oxymoron it once was (the seventh annual Feminist Porn Awards take place next month in Toronto), the growing number of women watching (and getting turned on by) porn doesn’t change the reality that much of what’s produced still reflects a male point of view. The fact that more women than ever before are “consuming” porn doesn’t prove that the industry has become a better place for its female performers. Indeed, there’s a lot of evidence that things are getting worse. Fast.

Stars like James Deen may have made a modest fortune in recent years, but their experience is very much the exception. Just like in “civilian” (the standard term for anyone who doesn’t work in the adult business) Hollywood, porn is a pyramid industry; for every Jenna Jameson or Sasha Grey, there are thousands of entertainers trying to make ends meet. Kelly Shibari, who calls herself “the only genuine busty Asian BBW on the ‘net,” runs her own membership site (as do countless other porn performers) and has traditionally made her income from DVD sales. In an interview, she told me that her sales have plunged in recent years as more and more lengthy, quality content becomes available for free online. Several other porn actors with whom I spoke confirmed the same trend.

Unlike the music business, which was permanently transformed by piracy, illegal downloads are not the main factor making it harder for typical performers (who are overwhelming female) to earn a living. As New York magazine reported last year, a handful of entrepreneurs control the major “tube” sites that get the lion’s share of today’s online porn traffic. The sites make their money on advertising and feature extended professional and “amateur” video clips. “Everyone in the industry hoped the customer would watch the short clip and then click through to pay for the full video,” Alana Evans, a 13-year industry veteran, said. “But if the video is more than three minutes long, that’s more than enough time for the user to ‘get off’. It’s a total ‘why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free situation.” Shibari notes that the tube sites exploded in popularity just as a new wave of aspiring stars entered the business, driven by what they assumed was the promise of easy money. What followed was what she calls the “Walmartization of porn: more variety than ever before, cheaper than ever before, with ‘suppliers’ relentlessly undercutting each other’s prices.”

Unable to compete with the essentially free tube sites, many performers have turned to “cam shows”: interactive video performances for paying customers, who can engage in conversation and ask for specific acts. Again, there’s a hierarchy at work; a handful of well-known stars can make thousands of dollars in a single cam show because of their ability to draw in dozens of paying clients at a time. “Most girls are making less than $20 an hour, if you count in prep time,” I was told. Most use proprietary software from companies like Streamate, which provide the platform for “camming” as well as serving as an adult Paypal service. According to Evans, these companies typically take 66 cents out of every dollar a performer earns on his or her webcam.

Despite the high overhead, the appeal of camming is obvious: It allows the performer to set her own price, and to negotiate directly with customers. The problem, of course, is that with what Shibari calls the “growing porn star glut” online, the buyer’s willingness to pay continues to drop. Shibari, Evans, and hairy fetish cam performer Furry Girl all told me about a growing problem of entitlement. “More and more men expect you to be accessible on their timetable and terms,” Shibari said. “There’s more overt disrespect because they’ve been taught they can get it free.”

According to Furry Girl, that entitlement isn’t limited to men. Many of the women watching online porn aren’t just looking at guys like James Deen; there’s nothing revelatory about pointing out the fascination some women—straight, bi, and lesbian—have with female performers. But seem as if they are “even more entitled to freebies than men,” Furry Girl claims, noting that “women are socialized to never have to pay for sex.” As the percentage of female porn consumers rises, several performers told me they expect to face even more difficulty getting paid.

The root of the problem is deeper than either men’s or women’s sense of entitlement. Jessie Nicole, the executive director of Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles told me in a email that the core issue is that sex workers (who include porn performers) simply “are not seen as people…contempt for erotic labor leads to the assumption that we should not be respected, let alone paid, for our work.” As Evans put it, “people who would never steal from anyone else—even record companies—often have no problem trying to rip off porn performers. It’s because they don’t always see us as human.”

The sad irony is that the same forces that have led the porn business to provide so much more female-friendly content have made the lives of women in the industry so much more financially precarious. Call it the porn paradox, or just the calculus of capitalism, but the end result is more options for consumers—and fewer than ever for the erotic laborers who turn them on.

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Carrie
9 years ago

Very interesting article. I’ve always wondered why it is even legal to get free porn. I respect & appreciate adult actor’s work, & that is why I choose to pay for it. My favorite male star is incredible & deserves to be paid!

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