Thorne in Your Side
21 and Over Please
This week Axel Braun announced a new policy for all his films: he will not work with any performer under the age of 21. This is an extremely bold move in an industry where the concept of when a performer is "ready" has been batted around for decades.
Legally, the age of consent for sex in California is 18. With the majority of adult films shot in California, this has become the defacto minmum age for a performer to consent to having sex on camera. Like most age limits, this one is fairly arbirary, it's a legal line that is supposed to separate the adolecents from the adults.
I've been covering the adult space for well over a decade. First as an adult section in DVD Talk and then as this spin off site XCritic. I've had a front row seat to see the career arcs of many porn stars, from Tera Patrick, Jenna Jameson, Sasha Grey, Kayden Kross, Stoya.... You name them, I can remember when they first started shooting. And while many of these performers have acheived some great sucess, the ride there isn't always smooth.
The adult industry is a tough one, many people think it's just having sex in front of a camera, how hard can that be? But it's much, much more. Sex scenes in porns aren't often shot in real time, and a good director could shoot the same scene for hours and hours and hours. While some scenes that are shot go well, some don't and the chemistry that seemed to be there at the start of a film may not be there when you are performing. Bad scenes happen, and when they do they can be a rough experience. Also, you try taking something like sex and make it work. There's a reason why some performers don't do certain things on screen, it's not too hold out for money, it's to save SOMETHING for their personal lives.
Then there's the whole issue of disease. While performers are tested on a regular basis, there's still a concern that the person you are working with my become another patient zero for something. This fear may not be based in reality, but it's there with or without condoms.
Being a porn star does afford you some amazing opportunities: there was a time when almost every major UFC fighter was dating a porn star. Some porn stars get the red carpet treatment and the velvet rope is quickly raised for them. Many, however struggle. They start hoping to be the next big starlet, but may find themselvs working with sketchy producers and doing things they never really wanted to do.
Being a famous porn star is great, but it's not the same fame that mainstream performers enjoy. There's almost an implied sense that you are willing to have sex with anyone, and so fans often hold this misconception. This of course is made worse by a segment of the performing population who moonlight as escorts.
The adult entertainment industry is a business and so there are real issues of managing money, making sure you get paid and not being taken advantage of by booking agents or "friends" who offer to help along the way. Some performers inherit men we call "suitcase pimps", who carry the starlet's bag and all the money that goes into it. Sometimes a performer has no one else to blame than themselves as a wad of cash can often mean designer shoes and clothes, who wouldn't want to indulge in that?
While there are fewer and fewer contract performers out there, the adult industry is a business with fairly complex contracts. Some performers sign away all their rights to everything and anything related to their performing. Historically some contract performers even signed their screen name over to companies who told them what they could and couldn't do outside performing in their films. There are also very real copyright and use clauses as well as assumption of risk that your average 18 year old couldn't possibly fathom, let alone negotiate. It's intimidating for an 18 year old to get on a phone with a lawyer let alone understand what they are signing.
Then there are the drugs. Porn Stars have access to a party lifestyle which often is filled with guys who are all too happy to share what they brought with them. What guy wouldn't want to boast he did Molly or blow or heck even meth with a porn star. It's a notch in their belt, and for many starlets it's a free stream of easy to get drugs that turns into something worse. I also don't want to put the blame here on fans, porn stars are just as open to peer pressure as anyone else and so there's a fair amount of drug abuse that happens among "friends".
Don't get me wrong, the porn star lifestyle isn't dramatically different from the music industry lifestyle, or the feature film lifestyle. This blog post isn't an attempt to condemn a lifestyle. It's aimed to show how complex a working environment all this is. Now imagine everything I've mentioned and be an 18 year old. Think back to when you were 18, do you think you could have handled all this? Probably not.
The truth is that when a performer (and I use the term performer as this applies to both men and women), is actually mature enough to handle all this, the adult industry can be an entirely different experience. If you look at the careers of Stormy Daniels, Jessica Drake, Kayden Kross, Jenna Haze, Dana Vespoli, Joanna Angel - all women who in their late 20's - early 30's began to build lives, businesses and brands that extend beyond just performing. Many of these performers have real business including their own toy lines, web sites, books and films. Some started young and went through the hellfire of inexperience to get where they are, I'm sure all of them wish they were older and more mature when they first started.
The adult industry can be a spring board to other things and many adult performers find vibrant second careers that either compliment what they do in porn or ultimately supplant it. But what 18 year old is thinking about three to five years from now, heck even a year from now? The unfortunate career span of a porn star can be just as short as a professional athlete and without real planning and maturity, it can also be a real train wreck.
The adult industry can simultaneously be a horrible and wonderful place. There are a lot of pitfalls that need to be navigated and some real adult decisions that performers need to make to be happy, healthy and successful. It's too complex, too potentially harmful for someone who is only 18 years old. The three years between 18 and 21 are massive. It's the difference between just out of highschool and someone who has had a few years to try out their adulthood in the world.
I applaud Axel Braun for being the first major adult producer to draw the line in the sand and say he'll only work with performers 21+. I encourage other producers to follow suit. This isn't something we need a law for or legislation around. If all the major producers make it their policy to only work with performers 21+ and up this will change the industry. Sure there will always be fringe producers who care less the age of their performers, as long as they are over 18. But if the core of the industry moves in the right direction, it will send a very clear message to young performers that 18 is simply TOO YOUNG. And that any dream they may have of performing for a major studio would have to wait till they are 21.
The past few years have been rough in the adult industry, I won't even touch on all the piracy issues and tube sites, but I fundamentally think that this business still has a tremendous amount to offer. I think it's time for the adult industry to think better of itself, be better and adopt SELF IMPOSED rules to raise the standard of the work we all do. The adult entertainment industry is vital to a happy society, we provide not just entertainment, but a product that brings real pleasure to people. Adult Entertainment is often educational, providing models of adult sex which can be emulated by the inexperienced or uniformed. It's also a spring board for our society to discuss important issues that relate to sex, something as a society that is important.
When you look at the history of entertainment, porn has played a vital role in being an innovative leader. VHS beat Betamax because of porn. DVDs found traction because of porn. And the discussion of sex happened in our culture because of porn. The Adult industry may have had a tough few years, but it's time for it to show its leadership. It's time for the adult industry to band together and set codes of conduct and rules of work that it voluntarily follows. This kind of leadership provides a strong counterpoint when external forces want to regulate porn (like the asinine Measure B). Imagine what kind of message it sends to mainstream entertainment when adult says 18 is just too young. This is after all an Adult Industry and it's time we all agree to work with people who are fully adults.