This Is What it’s Really Like to Work in Porn by Aurora Snow @FortuneMagazine February 5, 2016, 10:40 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Linkedin Share icons Everyone knows porn stars love to fornicate, and it is this unquenchable desire for sex that coaxes hordes of young women into the world of adult entertainment. At least that’s the fantasy; that’s what fans, consumers, and even some industry insiders want to believe. It’s a façade. Adult performers promote or, at the very least, acquiesce to these myths to market themselves as a profitable product to production companies. After my decade-long career in the adult film industry, I can say that, as with any job, working in porn has its good days and bad. It’s something you can dread or love. Any given workday can be physically demanding, mentally draining, awkward, or embarrassing. Recent allegations against porn star James Deen have brought to the fore questions about the adult film industry’s day-to-day business practices. Deen, who claims the allegations are false, was publicly accused of (but never charged with) various forms of assault from female co-stars who claim they were subjected to violent on-set behavior. To some, it’s not Deen’s alleged behavior that’s surprising. On the contrary, many are befuddled that the human equivalent of a Fleshlight could possibly not want to engage in violent, extreme, or painful sex acts on camera. Between Reality and Fantasy Whether a porn career spans 15 years or 15 minutes, performers face a lifetime of potential negative consequences. Most conceal their real identities with stage names, and they create alter egos to match those names. When I showed up on set as Aurora Snow, my demeanor changed. The Aurora I crafted was a bubbly airhead with confidence and sexual prowess. As just me, well, Amber was the opposite. Think of it as method acting, but you’re playing the same character film after film. “We’re just like mainstream actors, except [for] the sex,” says Dani Daniels, adult actress and creator of ilovedanidaniels.com. “If Brad Pitt played a serial rapist, would you believe he was one in real life? Well, I’m not a blackmailing doctor, or a horny eighteen-year-old schoolgirl, or a sex addict. I just play one on TV.” As an actress and director, Daniels recognizes the importance of drawing lines between reality and fantasy, especially when on set with other performers. “The director will call cut and I’ll baby wipe my cheek off and we’ll go back to talking about his wife and what paint colors they picked out for the new house. Shower, hugs, I go home to my family, he goes home to his. That’s normal.” An Actor Prepares An adult film set is a uniquely employed workplace. Here, employees are required to be nude. It calls for full physical contact among coworkers that, at times, may call for choking, slapping, hitting, maybe hair pulling, and intrusive bodily acts. It can be messy, degrading, or empowering work, which makes this particular work environment especially difficult to navigate. Performances aside, workers have to contend with other expectations. Actors and actresses are expected to provide their own wardrobe. Women arrive on set with a suitcase full of lingerie, outfits, and whatever else the director requests. Reusing the same outfit for several scenes is frowned upon, though we’ve all done it. Bringing new wardrobe to set is strongly encouraged and almost always on the performer’s dime. Just like any other job, punctuality and preparation are necessary for long-term success. Showing up for work two or three hours late won’t get a performer fired, but word spreads quickly. And this occupation doesn’t have defined shifts. A day’s work can be anywhere from three to 22 hours long, depending on the scene. And forget about anything resembling cancellation fees. If a scene is called off, not only does no one get paid, the companies lose money on location rental and kill fees. Male performers have their own unique set of challenges. “Every man is on penis pill supplements or injects,” says Immoral Productions owner Dan Leal, who also directs and performs in scenes. “You have to be, and any guy who says he isn’t is lying. In the real world, you don’t have sex for this long; that’s the reality.” Quite often, male performers will perform several roles on set, in addition to creating their own companies or pursuing directing deals. Wearing several hats reduces the amount of people you need to pay. It also allows for greater control. Similar to professional athletes, male performers must develop a routine. While performing, men must focus on timing, where the camera is, and what angle might be best for the camera, not necessarily what feels good. “When we’re shooting live, I’m looking up at the monitor every couple of minutes to see what we need next,” says Leal. “Imagine you’re in bed and looking at flashcards.” Health and Safety: You’re on Your Own When it comes to STD testing, many in the adult industry abide by an honor system and get screened once every two weeks, as recommended. But performers who refuse to shoulder the expense for such frequent testing aren’t necessarily put out of work. Some directors and companies are willing to look the other way when it comes to slightly expired STD tests, leaving it up to performers to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, not all performers bother to swap test results before shooting a scene, especially when they have previously worked together. I’ve had more than a few directors and co-stars try to persuade me to disregard an expired test. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You know me, we’ve worked together a dozen times, I’m good for it.” I once refused to work with a major studio’s contracted performer because his STD test had expired. The studio never hired me again. In the mostly self-regulated world of adult films, there are few clear rules of conduct and even fewer consequences for bad behavior. Performer treatment has a lot to do with the employer. Ideally, as in other job fields, one can find employers committed to creating a professional and caring work environment. “Hollywood uses stuntmen for a reason. You don’t typically see someone damaging a movie star. But … anyone who performs in the porn industry is a stuntman or stunt woman of some sort,” says Glenn King, owner of meanbitches.com. “At the same time, while you are trying to create realism, you still have to put safety into your stunt. It’s a difficult line to find.” When King is directing a scene, he might need to be hands-on with the women he hires, whether that’s helping them apply oil or repositioning their bodies. “You have to maintain a certain level of professionalism,” says King, who holds that adult sets should always feel like a safe work environment. Caring about how people are treated on set—whether there is bottled water, food, hand sanitizer, or baby wipes—goes a long way. Respecting performers, even if they don’t yet respect themselves, helps too. The adult film industry is a transient business that appeals to young women, some of whom are on their own for the first time. Actress Summer Brielle says she has evolved during her time in the business, going from timid to frank. “Often times, a young girl hasn’t grown into her own womanhood, sexuality, or independence. So she’s having to deal with all of this at once.” Brielle says that one of the biggest misconceptions about adult performers is that they are highly promiscuous. “We are very open to sexual ideas but want to go home to something that has some sort of connection,” she says. “We are tested so often, it would be disastrous and irresponsible to be promiscuous in real life.” The daily grind of a porn star is less exciting than the hype. It’s a fragmented business with a revolving door of disposable performers. There are no seminars or universities churning out pornographers, and there aren’t many resources for newbie performers. Making money consistently while creating adult entertainment that pushes boundaries, enough to interest paying consumers, is an exercise of trial and error. Enter at your own risk.