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It's Really Hard for Male Porn Stars, More So If They're Relying on ED Meds

Aug 14 2015 9:00 PM
It's Really Hard for Male Porn Stars, More So If They're Relying on ED Meds

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Thanks to Viagra, Cialis, and steroids injected directly into the penis, much more is expected from today's male porn stars—and their health is paying the price.

When I arrive on the set of popular alternative porn hub Burning Angel, male performer Chad Alva is chugging a bottle of Muscle Milk: a thick, white liquid that resembles semen.

"Everyone has their pre-scene tricks," Alva tells me in between sips, smiling sheepishly. "I think Muscle Milk helps." The shake--which contains cane sugar, sunflower oil, and whey protein and is marketed as a pre- and post-workout snack--is supposed to help Alva produce thick, white porn star ejaculate. This is the equivalent of choosing to carbo-load pasta rather than slam a syringe of steroids the night before the Olympics. When you're a man in the porn world, you have two options: Bank on the hope of Muscle Milk, or turn to pharmaceuticals like Viagra, Cialis, or designer penis steroids like Caverject, the last of which you must mainline directly into your dick. Staying rock hard and armed with a heroic load is the most important moment of the shoot, and it just cannot be faked.

"If a scene can not be completed, 98% of the time, it's because of the man having wood problems," Alva tells me. "Everything else you can work around, but you can not work around that."

Six years ago, while on tour with his old metalcore band Dead to Fall, Alva stayed at the house of a female porn performer from Long Beach. She invited him to do his first scene the next evening with her. It went so well that the company said he should come back and work with them anytime he was in Los Angeles. After a few years of casual work, Alva packed up for California to pursue porn, a dream he'd had since he was a 12-year-old living in Minneapolis.

Alva's scene today is a simple fuck scene, vaginal and anal, just him and a Las Vegas-based newcomer named Axis Evol. There is no dialogue, save for little quips from Axis--"yes, yes, yes, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me"--and Alva's murmurs are quiet. They fuck for about 45 minutes, escalating from oral to pussy to anal, only stopping a few times to switch up positions or add more lube. The producer sits slumped on a plastic chair, scrolling through her phone, right across from the bed, shouting out instructions, "Slap her tits! More! Tell her what you want to do!" Performers meander around the warehouse waiting for their turns in makeup, stopping to watch the live sex show for a few minutes before snapping a few iPhone pics and moving on.

When it's time for the big finale, everything is relying on Alva. Axis's orgasm can be acted through a series of screams and moans plus coconut-scented lubricant, but you can't simulate cum shooting out of a penis. For a moment, Alva struggles; they need to stop while he jerks off to get back in the headspace. Once hard, he pops it back in Axis, and they try again.

It takes a while. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth, between jerking off and fucking Axis. The set is tense, and I feel for Alva, who has been fucking for nearly an hour already. No one but me seems phased. After 15 minutes, Alva finally produces his big finish, cum all over the tits. Everyone acknowledges a job well done and starts to clean up to prepare for the next scene.

Each performer I talk to tells me that almost every man in the adult industry has used some form of erectile dysfunction drug to get through scenes, no matter what their age. "At first, I thought it was absurd that I'd need to take such a thing," a retired, 28-year-old contract performer named Danny Wylde tells me days later. "I mean, I was 19 years old. Impotence wasn't an issue for me."

Wylde remembers the first time he "failed" a scene by losing his erection. Porn was his easy moneymaker in college, and he did not want to give it up--even when the lights, camera, lack of intimacy, and rock-hard erection expectations were getting in the way. Another performer hooked him up with a physician who wrote scripts for adult performers. He tried every pill and landed on Cialis. Everything went well for a while; he signed as a contract performer (an extremely rare accomplishment for a man in straight porn). But then, a few short months into his contract, he failed two scenes in a row--even with the Cialis.

"I freaked out, because I was focused on school," Wylde says. "I needed the money, and I didn't know what else to do. So I asked around a bit about these injections I'd heard about. Someone recommended me to a urologist who prescribed me something called Bi-Mix, a compound of papaverine and phentolamine that comes in a little vial, like a liquid steroid."

Bi-Mix, like the more popular brand-name injection Caverject, functions independently of the brain. The injections give men erections that last 5-15 minutes and require no stimulation from the nervous system. You can be fucking someone who repulses you and still have the hardest boner of your life.

Wylde injected Bi-Mix into his penis for the next several months of scenes, and it worked--he was erect no matter what. But even at an incredibly low dosage, the duration of his erections was unpredictable; sometimes it would take way too long to go flaccid. One night he went to sleep with an erection that would not go down and woke up in extreme pain. He had to go to the emergency room, where doctors drained the blood with a giant needle.

"It was horrible and terrifying, and I promised myself that I'd never do it again," says Wylde. "Over the course of my career, I primarily stuck to Cialis and did my best, but when I was extraordinarily stressed out from other things going on in my life, I would renew my Bi-Mix prescription so that I wouldn't fail at work." He soon developed a tolerance to Cialis.

Wylde ended his eight-year career when he ended up in the ER for priapism for a third time. The doctors warned him he was at high risk for losing the ability to achieve a natural erection ever again. "Porn wasn't worth that," Wylde says. "So I quit."

Alva tells me he used to buy Viagra illegally because getting a script was much more expensive, sometimes $35 per pill.

"You can't really call [them] erectile dysfunction drugs when it comes to porn, that's the first thing," says Conner Habib, a gay porn performer and the vice president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), a recognized nonprofit that protects performers' rights, affects changes in legislation, and assists anyone trying to leave the industry. "They are used for a certain type of function, which is a lasting erection while a bunch of people stand around you. The biggest challenge [for male performers] is the physically compromising positions. Erections are based on blood flow. It's like trying to keep a hard-on while running on a treadmill."

Habib doesn't rely on pills for his scenes. He thinks injections can make performers too mechanical--the shot "petrifies your dick." While pills simply (and safely) amp up sexual desires you already have to get your body turned on, Habib's philosophy is that if men could do scenes without Viagra in the 80s, then so can he. (Sildenafil, the generic drug sold as Viagra, was accidentally discovered in 1991 when researchers were working on a heart medication.) However, as turnover demands rapidly increase, producers lose patience; time is money. (What realm of the arts, from music to journalism, has this technological change not affected?) One can only assume there are no public statistics about ED drug usage in male talent because of stigma and stereotyping. "I feel like it's the equivalent of steroids in professional sports," Wylde says. "You're not necessarily supposed to be doing them, but to compete on the same level as everyone else, you basically have to."

Many performers get their drugs illegally, or at least in private, and there's a prevailing notion that "real men" shouldn't need assistance to sustain their erections. When viewers realize porn performers are using behind-the-scenes tricks, on-screen sex becomes way less sexy.

Unlike female performers who, if they play their cards right, can make billions starring in big-budget porn movies, hosting Playboy TV, and spearheading their own brands, men don't have the same potential for star power and commercial success. James Deen is the exception, not the rule. Dan Miller, a senior editor at XBIZ, a source for porn industry news, told me over email that "female performers earn more on a per-scene basis." While both male and female talent can exceed six figures in annual income, there are many more women earning in that range. "In today's porn economy, it's plausible that an in-demand freelance performer could stand to make more than one who's under an exclusive contract, but again, it depends on many factors," Miller wrote. Speaking with adult performers, I've noticed that while contract performers look down on freelance talent and vice versa, both groups consider it an extremely rare accomplishment for a straight male performer to land a big-budget contract. Brazzers star Keiran Lee is the company's only male performer on contract. His penis is insured for $1 million.

If you ask a man who watches straight porn why he needs to see a man in the scene, why lesbian porn does not interest him, he will tell you: dick identity. He needs to imagine himself, but not too much of himself. This creates a paradox: The woman is still the focus, but cocks remain essential for the average male viewer. Perhaps men are undervalued in the porn industry because masculine lust has generally been viewed as surplus, dispensable. "There is something about the tremor between men and women's sexuality in this culture," says Habib. "For a long time, men have been told to pursue it, and women have been hold to withhold it."

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