A pornographic actor (or actress for female), or porn star, is a person who performs sex acts in film that is usually characterized as a pornographic film. Pornographic films tend to be made in a number of distinct pornographic subgenres and attempt to present a sexual fantasy and the actors selected for a particular role are primarily selected on their ability to create or fit that fantasy. Pornographic films are characterized as either "softcore", which does not contain depictions of sexual penetration or "extreme fetishism", and "hardcore", which can contain depictions of penetration or extreme fetishism, or both. The genres and sexual intensity of films is mainly determined by demand. Depending on the genre of the film, the on-screen appearance, age, and physical features of the main actors and their ability to create the sexual mood of the film is of critical importance. Most actors specialize in certain genres, such as lesbian sex, bondage, strap-on sex, anal sex, double penetration, semen swallowing, teenage women, interracial or MILFs. Irrespective of the genre, most actors are required to appear nude in pornographic films.
In pornographic films directed at a heterosexual male viewer, the primary focus is on the women in them, who are mostly selected on their on-screen appearance or physical appeal and for their willingness and ability to perform the required sex acts.
The pornography industry in the United States was the first to develop its own movie star system, especially for commercial reasons. In other countries, the "star" system is not common, with most actors being amateurs. Most performers use a pseudonym and strive to maintain off-screen anonymity. A number of pornographic actors and actresses have written autobiographies. It is very rare for pornographic actors and actresses to cross over to the mainstream film industry. Some also work as strippers at strip clubs.
Exceptional performance of pornographic actors and actresses is recognized in the AVN Awards, XRCO Awards and XBIZ Awards. The AVN Awards are movie awards sponsored and presented by the American adult video industry trade magazine AVN (Adult Video News). They are called the "Oscars of porn". The AVN Awards are divided into nearly 100 categories, some of which are analogous to industry awards offered in other film and video genres, and others that are specific to pornographic/erotic film and video. The XRCO Awards are given by the X-Rated Critics Organization annually. The Venus Awards are presented each year in Berlin as part of the Venus Berlin trade fair.
The number of pornographic film actors who have worked in the United States can be indicated by number of actors tested by Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM). When in 2011 its patient database was leaked it contained details of over 12,000 pornographic actors that it had tested since 1998. As of 2011, it was reported that roughly 1,200–1,500 performers were working in California's "Porn Valley".
Production of risqué films commenced with the start of photography. "Moving pictures" that featured nudity were popular in "penny arcades" of the early 1900s which had hand-cranked films and rotoscope (Holmes-style Stereoscope) glasses. These penny arcade attractions featured topless women, full frontal nudity, and even sexual coupling.
Production of erotic films commenced almost immediately after the invention of the motion picture. The first erotic film was the 7-minute 1899 film Le Coucher de la Mariée directed by Frenchman Albert Kirchner (under the name "Léar") which had Louise Willy performing a bathroom striptease. Other French filmmakers also started making this type of risqué films, showing women disrobing. The Pathé brothers supplied the demand throughout Europe. In Austria, Johann Schwarzer produced 52 erotic productions between 1906 and 1911, each of which contained young local women fully nude, to provide an alternative local source to the French productions.
Performers in these early productions were usually uncredited or used pseudonyms to avoid legal sanction and social disapprobation. The use of pseudonyms is the norm in the industry; pornographic film actors maintained a low profile, using pseudonyms to maintain a level of anonymity, while others performed uncredited. The use of pseudonyms has remained a tradition in the industry, and actors would perform under a number of pseudonyms, depending on the genre of film, or changed a pseudonym when the previous one ceased to be a draw card. Arguably the first pornstar to become a household name was Linda Lovelace (a pseudonym) from the United States, who starred in the 1972 feature Deep Throat. It was Casey Donovan who starred in the very first mainstream pornographic hit, Boys in the Sand, in 1971, nearly a year before Deep Throat. The success of Deep Throat, which grossed millions of dollars worldwide, that encouraged the ascension of more such stars and the production of more such films. Examples include Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door), Gloria Leonard (The Opening of Misty Beethoven), Georgina Spelvin (The Devil in Miss Jones), and Bambi Woods (Debbie Does Dallas).
The 1970s have been called The Golden Age of Porn, a time when pornographic films were shown in public theaters and accepted (or at least tolerated) for public consumption. This "golden age" lasted from the 1970s through the late-70s or early 1980s. Sex films of this era had specific storylines, plots, and promotional budgets. Performers became celebrities. Such performers include Peter Berlin, John Holmes, Ginger Lynn Allen, Porsche Lynn, Desireé Cousteau, Juliet Anderson ("Aunt Peg"), Lisa De Leeuw, Veronica Hart, Nina Hartley, Harry Reems, Seka, Annette Haven and Amber Lynn.
In Europe, many of the current and recent pornographic actresses and actors come from the so-called pornographic bloc countries, such as Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. In France, Katsuni and Yasmine Lafitte are well known. In Switzerland, Will Steiger is well known. In Mexico, Maritza Mendez and Silvia Loret have become famous in recent years. In Italy, the Swedish Marina Lothar rose to prominence in the early 1980s, as well as Moana Pozzi, Ilona Staller (Cicciolina), Lilli Carati, and Barbarella.
Most pornographic films are directed at a heterosexual male viewer, and the primary focus and most on-screen time is on the women in them. Pornographic films attempt to present a sexual fantasy and actresses are selected on their ability to create or fit that fantasy. Many times the fantasy can be an actress' physical features and appearance, such as figure, breast size, hair style, ethnicity, as well as on her willingness and expertise in performing particular sex acts. Actresses are required to present a positive attitude to on-screen sexual performance with all sex acts being presented as enjoyable and joyfully entered into. Actresses are usually presented as always being available and willing to engage in any sex acts that their on-screen partner, as the proxy of the viewer, wishes.
Depending on the genre of a film, the on-screen appearance and physical features of the main actors and their ability to create the sexual mood of the film is of critical importance. Most actors specialize in certain genres, such as lesbian sex, bondage, strap-on sex, anal sex, double penetration, semen swallowing, teenage women, interracial or MILFs. Sex acts may be simulated or unsimulated. Irrespective of the genre, most actors are required to appear nude in pornographic films.
The pornography industry in the United States has developed a star system, especially for commercial reasons, and promotes name recognition for actresses. In other countries, the star system is not common, with most actors remaining amateurs and some remain uncredited. Most pornographic film actresses do not have any name recognition and are usually not selected on their acting ability. Most actors use pseudonyms for their acting roles, some more than one.
The on-screen appearance of the female actors is of critical importance. They are usually in the high range of physical attractiveness, and commonly in their 20s or into their 30s. Actors with bruises, scars, birth marks or other blemishes are usually avoided. There is a preference in the industry for large breasted actresses and some film studios encourage their actresses to have breast implants, and offer to pay for the procedure.
According to actor-turned-director Jonathan Morgan, "The girls could be graded like A, B and C. The A is the chick on the boxcover. She has the power. So she'll show up late or not at all. 99.9% of them do that." Less successful actresses are more likely to perform more extreme acts such as "double-anal". If an actress is willing to perform more extreme acts she will receive more offers of work. Older or less attractive actresses are more likely to perform such acts in order to get work. According to Morgan, "Some girls are used up in nine months or a year. An 18-year-old, sweet young thing, signs with an agency, makes five films in her first week. Five directors, five actors, five times five: she gets phone calls. A hundred movies in four months. She's not a fresh face any more. Her price slips and she stops getting phone calls. Then it's, 'Okay, will you do anal? Will you do gangbangs?' Then they're used up. They can't even get a phone call. The market forces of this industry use them up."
Conversely, some performers are not unhappy with their job, while still noting that "a performer's pleasure is not of primary importance" and that "porn sex is not the same as private sex". Furthermore, there is a contrary opinion stating that porn production is not necessarily unethical or degrading. According to Lynn Comella, a women's studies professor at UNLV, presenting demeaning practices as representative of the entire porn industry is "akin to talking about Hollywood while only referencing spaghetti Westerns."
While the primary focus of heterosexual sex films are the women in them, who are mostly selected for their on-screen appearance, there is a definite focus on the male performers who are able to fulfill the desires of the male watching audience as their on-screen proxies. Most male performers in heterosexual pornography are generally selected less for their looks than for their sexual prowess, namely their ability to do three things: achieve an erection while on a busy and sometimes pressuring film set, maintain that erection while performing on camera, and then ejaculate on cue. In the past an actor's inability to maintain an erection or being subject to premature ejaculation could make the difference between a film turning a profit or a loss. However this problem has been solved by the use of Viagra. If an actor loses his erection, filming is forced to stop for about 45 minutes whilst the drug takes effect. Using Viagra can make the actor's face noticeably flushed, give him a headache, and make it difficult to ejaculate. According to director John Stagliano, using Viagra means "You also lose a dimension." "The guy's fucking without being aroused."
Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, Peter North, and Rocco Siffredi are considered by AVN as the top male performers of all time. Adding to his fame, Ron Jeremy has been a staple in the industry since the 1970s and has become something of a cultural icon.
Most male performers in heterosexual porn are paid less than their female counterparts. Ron Jeremy has commented on the pay scale of women and men in the sex film industry: in 2003 "Girls can easily make 100-250k per year, plus stuff on the side like strip shows and appearances. The average male makes $40,000 a year." and in 2008, "The average guy gets $300 to $400 a scene, or $100 to $200 if he's new. A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year."
In 2011, the manager of Capri Anderson said, "A contract girl will only shoot for one company, she won’t shoot for anyone else. Most actresses in the adult industry are free agents – they’ll shoot for anyone. Most contract girls make $60,000 a year. In one year, a contract girl will shoot, on average, four movies and each movie takes about two or three weeks to shoot."
Some state that gay male porn generally pays men much more than heterosexual porn. Men who identify themselves as heterosexual but perform in gay pornography are said to do gay-for-pay (notably Wolf Hudson). This means they perform in gay movies only for the paycheck.
According to producer Seymore Butts, who runs his own sex-film recruitment agency, as well as producing sex films; "depending on draw, female performers who perform in both straight and lesbian porn earn more than those who do just heterosexual scenes usually make about US$200–800 while those who only do oral sex (blow job) usually only make about US$100–300 for the scene". It was also noted in an interview conducted by Local10 news of Florida that individuals were offered $700 for sexual intercourse while shooting a scene of the popular series Bang Bus in 2004. According to Videobox, a porn website, actresses make these rates: Blowjobs: $200–$400; Straight sex: $400–$1,200; Anal sex: $900–$1,500; Double Penetration: $1,200–$1,600; Double anal: $2,000. For more unusual fetishes, women generally get 15% extra.
In 2001, actress Chloe said of pay-rates; "In Gonzo, you're paid not by the picture, but by the scene. So it's girl-girl: $700, plus $100 for an anal toy. Boy-girl: $900. Anal: $1,100. Solo: $500. DP: $1,500."
Additionally, besides appearing in films, porn stars often make money from endorsements and appearance fees. For instance, in 2010, some night clubs were paying female porn stars and Playboy Playmates to appear there to act as draws for the general public; Jesse Jane was reported to have been paid between $5,000 to $10,000 for one appearance by a Chicago club.
Because pornographic film making involves unsimulated sex, usually without condoms (barebacking), pornographic actors are particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. In a paper written by the LA Board of Public Health, officials claimed that among 825 performers screened in 2000–2001, 7.7% of females and 5.5% of males had chlamydia, and 2% overall had gonorrhea. These rates are much higher than in patients visiting family planning clinics, where chlamydia and gonorrhea rates were 4.0% and 0.7%, respectively. Between January 2003 and March 2005, approximately 976 performers were reported with 1,153 positive STD test results. Of the 1,153 positive test results, 722 (62.6%) were chlamydia, 355 (30.8%) were gonorrhea, and 126 (10.9%) were coinfections with chlamydia and gonorrhea. Less is known about the prevalence and risk of transmission of other STDs such as syphilis, herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B or C, trichomonal infection, or diseases transmitted through the fecal–oral route. The data collection of LA public health was criticized by pornographic industry sources on the grounds that most of those testing positive had never made a pornographic film, and were in fact being excluded from pornographic film acting until they had treated their STDs. Non-treatable STDs like HSV represent a difficult case: according to actress Chloe, "After you've been in this business for a while, you have herpes. Everyone has herpes."
The high rate of STDs in the pornographic film industry started to change in 1998 when major pornographic film producers started implementing a regular periodic testing program for pornographic film actors. In the 1980s, there was an outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the pornographic film industry and a number of deaths of actors and this led to the creation of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM), which helped set up a voluntary standard in the United States pornographic film industry where pornographic film actors are tested for HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea every 30 days, and hepatitis, syphilis and HSV twice a year. AIM claims that this program has reduced the rate of STDs among pornographic film actors to 20% that of the general population. These claims have been criticized by various public health authorities.
Media and press coverage
With some notable or occasional exceptions, pornographic actors are not generally reported on by mainstream media. As a result, specialized publications (or trade journals) emerged to serve as a source of information about the industry, its business dealings, trends and forecasts, as well as its personnel. Two of the predominant media outlets are Adult Video News and the X-Rated Business Journal known as XBIZ.
The industry also has its own version of the popular entertainment industry database website IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. Called the Internet Adult Film Database (IAFD) the site lists adult film productions dating back to the 1970s, the performers in those films, and the associated directors.
A number of pornographic actors and actresses have written autobiographies, including the following:
- Celia Blanco – Secretos de una pornostar (2005) (in Spanish)
- Jerry Butler – Raw Talent (1990, ISBN 087975625X)
- Marilyn Chambers – My Story (1975, ISBN 0446798274)
- Christy Canyon – Lights, Camera, SEX! (2005, ISBN 0972747001)
- Jenna Jameson – How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (2005)
- Ron Jeremy – The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz (2006, ISBN 0060840838)
- Traci Lords – Traci Lords: Underneath It All (2003)
- Linda Lovelace – Inside Linda Lovelace (1974), The Intimate Diary of Linda Lovelace (1974), Ordeal (1980), and Out of Bondage (1986)
- Shelley Lubben – Truth Behind the Fantasy of Porn: The Greatest Illusion on Earth (2010, ISBN 9781453860076)
- Monica Mayhem – Absolute Mayhem: Secret Confessions of a Porn Star (2010, ISBN 1616080914)
- Tera Patrick – Sinner Takes All: A Memoir of Love and Porn (2009, ISBN 1592405223)
- Harry Reems – Here Comes Harry Reems! (1975, ISBN 0523004591)
- Rocco Siffredi – Io, Rocco (2006, ISBN 8804559950) (in Italian)
- Annie Sprinkle – Annie Sprinkle: Post-Porn Modernist (1991)
- Ilona Staller – Per amore e per forza (2007) (in Italian)
- Sunset Thomas – Anatomy of an Adult Film (2009, ISBN 1935444204)
- Kelly Trump – Porno – Ein Star packt aus (2005) (in German)