Rise and Grind: A Look at the Side Hustles of Porn Stars

According to a new study, porn stars often look to the gig economy to extend their careers and make ends meet. We talked to the lead researcher to find out what types of side jobs this often entails.

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Sep 22 2016, 7:29pm

Image by Simone Becchetti via Stocksy

Like a reality TV star who capitalizes on a show's high ratings to sell her own brand of low-cal margarita mixers, a new study published in the most recent Porn Studies journal suggests that porn stars use the scenes they appear in as marketing tools to find success in other ventures.

According to "A Scene Is Just A Marketing Tool: Alternative Income Stream In Porn's Gig Economy" by USC women's studies professor Heather Berg, the lousy monetary structure of porn has made side-hustles essential to the economic survival of porn stars.

In interviews with over 80 porn performers, Berg discovered that "for all but the most popular performers (and then usually for only a short term), there are simply not enough film performance gigs to sustain an income," leading performers to monetize the more "quotidian moments of their lives."

Read more: Why Gay Porn Stars Keep Dying

To pad out their lackluster income, porn stars labor in "satellite industries"—including, of course, strip clubs. But what was surprising to Berg were some of the more unique methods employed by porn stars to extend the reach of their brands—like soliciting online gifts via Amazon wish lists, offering paid telephone calls and texts, and auctioning their used lingerie to fans who craved their scents.

Porn studios typically force performers to pay for their own underwear so selling them was a kind of creative resistance.

"The lingerie phenomenon was the most interesting to me," Berg told Broadly. "Porn studios typically force performers to pay for their own underwear so selling them was a kind of creative resistance."

The most desirable passive income, of course, is to have your genitalia made into a dildo or Fleshlight and reap a share of the profits. But for most porn stars, this dream remains elusive: Copyrighting your junk requires a level of fame only known to a few of the industry's most successful.

Twitter, though, provides a gatekeeper-free method for porn stars to extend their brand reach. It's also the ideal platform for exposing wry perspectives on one's working life and fighting back against misconceptions. ("Everyone is tweeting me about Mulan but... You know I'm not an actress, right? I only do acting when I can get assfucked at the end," the porn star Asa Akira recently tweeted.) "Self-branding on social media is both work in itself and something that makes other forms of work possible," Berg said.

Webcamming, too, is seen as a way to monetize a star's goods, especially if their body doesn't fit into what porn studios have designated as "sexy." In her study, Berg talked to a performer named Raylene who stopped getting hired on shoots after she gained a lot of weight. She ended up hopping on the webcam and making more money that way. "I was able to work alone, in my house, during school hours, and then, you know, have the rest of the evening with my child," she explained to Berg.

Finding alternative streams of income has been important to stars ever since the Golden Age of Porn fizzled out. Long gone are the stratospheric box office returns from mainstream porno films like "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones." Despite what anti-porn activists may claim about the lucrativeness of the industry today, porn stars typically can't even get studios to pay for their own healthcare, let alone wardrobe.

Some high profile porn stars like Kayden Kross blame the industry's less-than-cushy budgets on the rise of porn sharing sites like PornHub. "In order to stay profitable [...] studios have mostly survived on drastic budget cuts [...]. Production days very commonly run 12 to 16 hours, and many crew jobs have been cut to make a budget work. What is left is often a single person holding a camera in his own house, with performers who are working below their rate," Kross told IB Times earlier this year. Kross and other stars have banded together on a campaign called #PayForYourPorn, urging consumers to recognize the financial value of all those Internet-assisted orgasms.

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According to a report by CNBC, porn star salaries range from $500 to $1,500 for ultra famous male porn stars. Female stars, on the other hand, get paid anywhere from $800 to $1,000 for "traditional" heterosexual sex scenes. That number leaps to $1,500 for superstars and can dip as low as $300 for actresses with a "bad reputation." The labor is also taxing and turnover is high. "Porn is an industry that regularly chews up and spits out performers," the report reads.

Attempting to resist burnout is a big reason why porn stars turn to other gigs, which could increase the longevity of a career. But just as today's mainstream gig economy favors the white, cisgendered and middle class, so do the freelancing opportunities for porn stars: Stripping joints, for example, are typically just as sizeist and racist as the porn industry.

The good news is that there are other income streams that are a lot more democratic. "Some workers, particularly women, who fall outside those traditional boundaries can still make a ton of money in escorting and cam work," Berg said, adding that the range of looks mainstream porn companies believe they can sell is "much narrower than what people actually desire."

For all the problems with trying to eke out a living by doing a million different things, at least the gig economy could upend the porn world's top-down status quo. "Not to get too Marxist, but it's basically allowing performers to take control of the means of production," Berg said.