Sex & Relationships

Is There Life After Porn? How Ex-Porn Stars Struggle Thanks to Society's Hang-Ups

It's easy to slam the sex industry without slamming sex as well.

Photo Credit: pathdoc / Shutterstock

A little over a month ago, former adult film star Bree Olson released a video interview detailing the difficulties she has encountered because of her past in porn. She discusses the hardships of transitioning from the porn industry to the mainstream scene and the harassment she has endured, and she ends the video with a warning: “I send a very strong message to young girls: Don’t do porn… You’re just going to have a life of crap in front of you.” A description of the video reads, “In reality there are no happy endings for the women of porn.”

It’s a big decision to get into the porn scene, especially in 2016. Competition is stiff, for one thing, no pun intended. These days, there are more performers than studios that can employ them. Whereas in the past, performers needed location on their side, video technology allows new talent to begin building a brand from anywhere home happens to be. Thanks to the web, content can make its way out into the world with one simple click. And once it’s out there, it stays there. As much as you might hope some ill-considered clip gets buried or lost in the ether, if it's out there someone will find it.

“It is very difficult for talent to erase their past, so to speak," adult industry attorney Corey Silverstein explains. "Talent needs to understand that in this era it is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to wipe themselves off the internet post performance career… They need to realize if their attitude changes 30 years from now, there’s not going to be a DeLorean to jump back into. The bell has been rung. The content exists.”

San Francisco-based performer Siouxsie Q was outed as a porn star after someone from her hometown found one of her videos and leaked it. “My family found out the hard way. It was really unfortunate, and really dramatic for a moment,” though she added, “They’re very supportive now.” In the time since, Siouxsie started a column for SF Weekly titled The Whore Next Door, and recently, she became director of policy and industry relations for the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), a trade association that lobbies on behalf of the adult industry.

Fitness model-turned-performer Kelli Provocateur went through a similar experience of being outed when someone posted her first video on a popular media outlet. Within two days, the video had been viewed over 2 million times. “I didn’t know how to handle it and I did not have the right people around me at the time. So I was scared,” she told AlterNet. “I had people calling me out of everywhere. Everyone started talking. That’s when my family found out.” Around the same time, one of her mentors, an industry veteran, sat her down and said, “Either you’re going to be in it, or you’re not going to be in.” 

Today, the information-sharing craze is in full swing. If someone wants to find you, they probably will. And that’s something people thinking about breaking into the industry will have to stomach. Siouxsie says, “Unless you know that this is something you want to do or be known for doing, for forever, unless you are ready to make this part of your story forever, don’t do it.”

The question is, will the stigma be part of your story as well. Seth Gamble, who has 10 years of experience under his belt, says, “When porn was first really becoming a big thing in the '70s and '80s, when they were really pioneering things, it was about free love. They had to fight their asses off to even make it legal. Things have become a lot more mainstream now and it’s kind of changed what the industry is about.”

If we take a minute to weave through all the drama associated with the industry, we might get back to the point that porn is a symptom of something positive. It's embodiment of society's collective hard-on. The industry came around to help us enjoy the parts of our bodies built for enjoyment. It’s probably the greatest masturbatory aid we have to date. And who really wants to land on the opposite side of masturbation?

“There are still countries out there that do not tolerate sex work, that do not tolerate pornography," says Silverstein. "They have incredibly harsh punishments for choosing to engage in that sort of lifestyle. I can’t speak loudly enough against that. And I don’t want this country to be like that.”

While the First Amendment has prevented some of the more conservative pockets of the country from legislating the industry out of existence (we’re looking at you, Utah), some seem stuck on the idea of exiling the people of porn from the same society that happily consumes it. Those familiar with California’s condom ballot initiative are already aware of the push to require the use of condoms on porn sets across all platforms. In cases where a condom is not visible, the ballot would grant private citizens the right to go after individual performers.

“It opens up the door to extortion and harassment of a predominantly female performer base and small business owners by those outside the industry,” claims Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for Californians Against Worker Harassment and the FSC. He told adult industry news source XBIZ, “This initiative would grant any private citizen of California the power to sue a worker, even an injured worker, in the adult entertainment industry, simply because they don’t agree with how that worker does their job.”

Gamble says, “A lot of people in the business get burnt out on doing this. So much so that they become bitter toward it.”

Olson makes two big claims during her interview. She says that after doing porn, performers are unable to pursue work in the medical field or work with children. In regards to the first, well, both Silverstein and Gamble told me about friends and former performers who are now practicing RNs. The second claim is a bit trickier to tease out. To say that all kids are off limits would be a bit of a stretch. But there is one kid-centered profession that has been known to present problems for past performers: teaching. Silverstein says, “If you're planning on getting into the adult entertainment industry as a performer and you have any desire to later on in your life become a teacher, well, that could be an issue.”

There has been case after case after case of teachers given the ax after their past in porn was uncovered. While federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees, morality clauses and at-will employment can sometimes disguise the real reason for letting someone go.

“The question that comes up is can the teacher really be an effective teacher when the students in the class can go out and very easily find pictures or videos of that individual engaging in sexual activities,” Silverstein explains, adding, “There’s a very thin line between what constitutes a discrimination claim and what constitutes grounds that an employer can terminate an employee pursuant to an employment contract.”

While there are porn performers who either start out as or become troubled souls, the question is why. “I don’t think the job itself fucks people up, I think it’s everything that comes with it," says Gamble. He notes, “There are certain things that are going to be harder to do after getting involved in this industry, but you make decisions in life and you’ve got to deal with them."

Once you get that bit down, you might just have a shot of coming out intact.

“There are plenty of success stories out there of people who got into the adult industry, loved what they did, used their money wisely, saved their money and either went out and started their own businesses or went to school or moved on to other jobs,” says Silverstein.

Siouxsie says, “I’m a natural exhibitionist. Before I was in the sex industry I was touring with rock ’n’ roll bands. The sex industry fits for me.” It might be helpful to remind people that individuals involved in porn are able to dive into it with a sense of agency, and jump out with a sense of pride. Telling their stories could do a lot for the industry, but it could do a lot for those outside of it, too. After all, it’s hard to slam the sex industry without slamming sex as well.

“I love doing adult film work," says Kelli. "I’m a very sexual person. I don’t have anything to hide from anyone. Of course, my life has changed. I’ve had to change my friends… The best advice I can give for anyone who’s considering it is do your research. Really sit down and ask yourself, will I be OK doing this knowing that this will be out there for years and years to come? Can I walk down the street with my head high five years from now? That’s the real, honest question.”

As for Gamble, he says, “The first few people I met in the industry tried to tell me it was like a life sentence. And it does feel like that, I’m not going to lie. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not ashamed of what I do. I can’t be. I couldn’t live with myself. I’m a very logical thinker. I have a good life. I live in California. I get to sleep with beautiful women on a regular basis. At the end of the day, my whole goal in life is to be stable and happy.”

Opponents of the industry have been quick to diagnosis addictions, hang billboards, start social media campaigns, but sexuality is never going away. Pornography is never going away. The drive to stigmatize those working in an industry that many derive enjoyment from says a lot more about the lingering shame around sexuality than any specific dangers of porn. A happy ending to a porn story may not be something everyone has the good fortune to experience, but to blame that on the industry alone seems like a shallow answer to more complicated question. Let’s remember what porn stands for and do our best not to demonize that.

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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