Former stars explain how porn screwed up their lives

Former stars explain how porn screwed up their lives

CultureMarch 27, 2017 By Isabelle Kohn

Nina* sits by the phone, anxiously awaiting a call back from the ad agency she recently applied to.

With her degree and prior experience, the 28-year-old account supervisor is overqualified, but she's been having some trouble getting a job recently. She's not sure if it's because she has a preexisting condition that makes insuring her expensive for employers, or the more likely option: because she's done porn.

A few years back, she'd tried camming on the site LiveJasmin, hoping it would put a dent in her massive student loan debt. Her performance was nothing major or spectacular — she'd masturbated on camera a couple times, blown a guy, and, most impactfully, had a threesome with that same guy and a mutual friend. After she found the revenue to be too modest, she stopped and put the experience past her, thinking the probability of being recognized for such a short, non-memorable stint was so small that it didn't merit constant psychic stress and paranoia.

Problem is, she did get recognized. A coworker at her old job brazenly walked up to her after a meeting and asked, "Hey aren't you that threesome girl from the cam site?"

Things didn't go so well after that. She was let go without a explanation — "We just feel like your talents would better be suited somewhere else." — and was left to fend for herself without unemployment thanks to an obscure California law that says you can be terminated without benefits due to misconduct outside work.

Worse, there was no legal protection for her. Unfortunately, according to adult entertainment lawyer Michael Fattorosi, employee discrimination cases involving sex workers are usually “very, very difficult to win." There are no specific protections for sex workers under current discrimination legislation, meaning that firing someone because they blew a dude in front of a camera 3 years ago is as fine and dandy as firing them because they pissed in your desk drawer. As Fattorosi says, it's “not like saying we’re letting you go because you’re black or Jewish or you wear a turban. Those things are not a result of a life choice you make, and being a sex worker is.”

Yet ironically, even though you can be fired for doing porn, you can also be fired for not telling your employer about it. According to an article by Salon, "the employer could argue that the employee had been hired under false pretenses, leading the court to side in their favor." So, what then? Are you just supposed to list "Webcam Slut" under "Assistant Manager at Arby's"? It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.

“At every job you apply for you will either have to disclose your background, and chance not even getting a shot at an interview, or hide your past and prove yourself, hoping when the truth comes out you will be kept on,” says Cindi Loftus, the editor of porn website Luke Is Back and a 20-year industry vet while speaking with Salon in the same article.

After talking to Nina and hearing her story, I couldn't help but wonder: how frequently does this happen? I watch porn constantly and I never remember a single performer unless they're Asa Akira-level famous. How is it that other people latch on to a porn performer's image so much? And does appearing in even the most benign, amateur video really stand that much of a chance at ruining your life?

Well, if you go by what the news has reported recently, it would certainly seem to. The list of porn performers blacklisted by their professional communities reads like an endless scroll. 

Stacie Halas, a middle school teacher who struggled with depression and got into porn to take care of her family, was famously fired for her porn past. Same thing happened to Julia Pink, Kevin Hogan and Tera Myers, none of which were particularly famous or recognizable. Shawn Loftis was a high school substitute teacher who was fired, then reinstated after it came out that he was also a globe-trotting gay porn sensation. Roman Ragazzi worked for the Israeli government before his porn career was discovered — he committed suicide shortly thereafter.

It's not just porn performers who work with children or the government, though. Gauge, a much more well-known actress had an even more frustrating experience — after a satisfying and profitable four years in the industry, she decided to quit and go to school to become a surgical tech. She graduated at the top of her class and did twice the amount of required hours she needed to, showing an extraordinary amount of work ethic and knowledge, but once her identity was revealed, no one would hire her. Frustrated, she went to school again — first criminal justice school and then makeup school, never able to land a position. Eventually, she had to return to porn. By then, she was so fed up with trying to get by in the real world that she felt it was that, or nothing — that's how much society bites into people who (gasp) have sex on camera.

“I ended up just getting so fed up with the way I was being treated,” she told Salon the week after she announced her comeback. “I have a family now, and if I’ve exhausted all my avenues and the only thing left is the adult industry, then I’m just like, well, look, I’ve tried this and I’ve tried that, year after year after year. It’s 2013. I’ve been going to school since 2007 … what else am I supposed to do?”

And then, of course, there's Belle Knox. She was bullied, harassed and slut-shamed at Duke University by people who thought that the abominable sin of doing porn was infinitely more shameful than say, the multiple high-profile rape cases reported at the university that same year. (However, to her credit, Knox was able to make light of her shaming and turn it into a pretty cool amount of professional success).

It's not just your career that porn can damage, though. Your relationships can also be at risk. And although luckily none of the actors I spoke to have had their friends, familys or lovers cut them off after finding out what they did for money, plenty of people have been sidelined by the people they love over their job choice.

"My dad won't talk to me," Nicky Hunstman told Jezebel in a 2015 article. "My aunt steps out of any family picture I'm in. It hurts." Her boyfriend of two months dumped her because his fragile ego couldn't take her being gawked at by other men.

"That's okay, I guess he wasn't the right guy," she said. "I'd give this up if I really did meet the right guy."

Question is whether the "right guy" would be one that recognized her from porn ... or one that just hasn't yet. Either way, many performers feel burdened by the weight of what they did, whether or not they understand other people's outrage at it or not.

"The internet is forever," Nina tells me as she checks her missed calls. "It doesn't matter if you're Ron Jeremy or someone who stripped on a webcam once 10 years ago, what you did is out there and it will stay that way."

It's true — even if you contact the site where your video lives and ask them to take it down, the likelihood that your video exists elsewhere is extremely high. It's a whack-a-mole world out there, and there's virtually nothing stopping someone from either legally downloading or stealing a video and posting it on their own platform.

"People call me and ask me to take things down," Spike Goldberg, the CEO of Homegrown Video (one of the most successful amateur video companies in the business) told Jezebel. "And I say, sure, of course, I'll take it down, but it's on the internet. It won't ever disappear."

Even for the performers whose lives haven't been laid to waste by their porn careers, the constant fear that it will is pervasive.

"I feel like I'm on borrowed time," Brad*, an actor who worked extensively in the field of deception porn — scripted scenes where girls must "prove themselves" before they're booked for various modeling or acting gigs — tells me. "I don't have the most unique face or look, so I haven't been spotted yet, but every time I feel someone looking at me for longer than what's normal, I immediately think I've been found out."

Thankfully for Brad, he doesn't work in an industry where it would really matter if he was. He's covered in tattoos, has his own high-end men's magazine, plays music, rides motorcycles all day, is pushing 45 years-old, and lives in fairly sex-positive L.A. Generally, that lifestyle spells an "I don't give a shit" attitude that I can definitely sense as we talk on the phone. "I think if people knew, they might like me more," he jokes.

Vicky*, a friend of Brad's who's shot with him before, doesn't have it so easy. She's still shooting BDSM-flavored scenes and currently works as a professional dominatrix, something she's not exactly keen on revealing to the architecture firm where she works.

"I don't know that I'd get fired for it," she explains. "I have a pretty progressive work environment. But, I definitely worry that people would start to see me in a less-than-professional light, which could really affect my career. I'm thankful to have such a supportive community in the BDSM world who would take care of me if anything happened and I lost my job or damaged my reputation, but still ... I can't imagine it would be good if they knew."

Why is that, though? Who actually cares if their HR rep blew a dude on YouPorn once? After all, our society seems to have a lot more sympathy for people who've done much worse things than fuck on screen. Paula Deen, a documented racist, was supported on her little "comeback tour" she did in 2015. R. Kelly, Chris Brown and Sean Penn are still have jobs, even after doing things that were much more harmful, and illegal, than consensually sticking a finger in someone's butt on a porn tube site. College athletes are constantly let off the hook for rapes because they "have so much to give."

The simplest, and most obvious answer, is, of course, that sex still makes people uncomfortable — a hell of a lot more uncomfortable than violence, murder and war, three things that are portrayed on TV as exciting, normal, and even-character affirming. Sex-work is also still seen as a dirty job; something people are either coerced into doing, or forced to thanks to some dire, tragic circumstance or history of abuse. Porn stars, according to cultural lore, are nothing more than abuse survivors who took a wrong turn and aren't sure how to be functional people with real jobs quite yet.

The reality is anything but. According to a stereotype-shattering study published in the Journal of Sex Research, porn performers suffer just as much abuse as the general population — about 36 and 29 percent respectively, not a big enough difference to be considered statistically significant. So, the idea that sex workers and porn actors are all just wayward rape victims lost in the wind can fuck right off. And how about the vast majority of sex workers and porn performers who weren't abused? They're just people, like you and me, who needed some money, liked to fuck, and thought it would be fun and profitable to combine them.

Pretty much the only way for a porn performer to safeguard themselves against the kind of sexual discomfort and discrimination that can actually affect their futures is to get into the industry later in life. Karen Lauren, who's been doing adult films for nearly two decades, got into the industry at 49. Kelly Shibari, who's 43, got into porn at age 34, after she'd already had two careers. At that point, she couldn't really ruin her careers, as they'd fizzled out on their own. She was also old enough, at that age, for her loved ones to be less disappointed in the future she'd chosen for herself than they might have been had she been younger.

"It was fine," Shibari told Jezebel when asked how her mother took the news that she'd decided to get into porn. "She told me that if I were 18 she would have done much more to discourage me. But I was 34, I'd been to college, I'd done everything I was expected to do. I was an adult."

"It's not something she would have wished for, of course," she continued. "But she's proud of me."

It would be nice to say that pride is the primary emotion we feel for the people we jack off to, but ... even in 2017, with all our so-called progressive beliefs about sex and the sheer volume of porn performers out there that would hopefully dilute one's chances of being recognized, we're still pretty far off from that. Until we reach a higher plane of existence where we can see porn performers as healthy people who've done nothing more offensive than enact their sexuality in front of a camera, porn will continue to have a way more destructive effect on people's lives than it needs to.