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Back with a Bang: When Porn Stars Come Out of Retirement

It’s common for porn performers to leave the industry, but it’s also hard for them to stay away. This is what happens when they stage their secondcuming

When Ryan Keely first considered quitting porn in 2011, an initial worry was what others in the industry would think of her decision. “Everyone makes jokes about girls who have retired from porn and then come back,” she tells me between bites of a burrito in her sunny L.A. apartment. “It’s an ongoing joke — like, ‘Okay, is she actually quitting though?’”

Keely stops and shrugs. “They call it the ‘golden handcuffs’ for a reason.”

Ten years after her attempted retirement, Keely now understands why. “It’s fucking hard out there for a former sex worker,” she says, explaining that when ex-performers are honest with employers about their old jobs, they’re often passed over, discriminated against, harassed and even assaulted. Meanwhile, it’s hard to keep their old jobs a secret, putting them in a catch-22 where neither honesty nor tight-lippedness feels safe.  

Initially, Keeley stuck to soft-core girl-girl scenes and chose her work carefully, thinking that opting out of hardcore penetration meant she wouldn’t experience the full stigma of being a “porn star.” But despite her best efforts to keep things tame, Keely faced workplace discrimination at her day job just the same anyway. When she decided to quit porn, she’d saved up a nest egg in case work was slow to develop. Weeks later, she was hit with an enormous tax bill. The nest egg was gone.

Soon thereafter, her health began to rapidly deteriorate. Keely suffers from thoracic outlet syndrome, which compresses the nerves around the lower neck and upper chest. “Thank god I was working at a new media startup at the time, so I had health insurance,” she says. “I underwent three angioplasties on my right arm, and they eventually had to take out my top rib on the right side.” Keely launched a GoFundMe, and her fans sustained her throughout the “hardest years” of her life (though she was out of porn, she remained active on social media and hosted a show for Playboy during her hiatus).

Then, after dipping her toes back into glamor modeling in 2017, Keely received a private request from a client for a girl-girl custom video, which came through a photographer named Dean Capture she’d been working with. After a few years out of the industry, she was “older and thicker,” so she was surprised by the request, but immediately accepted anyway. “You’ve got to get in with the thickness,” she jokes.

Seemingly, the fanbase she built remained loyal — her Twitter account played a key role in maintaining her profile, meaning that demand was still there. “My Twitter account didn’t really grow during my hiatus, but it didn’t dip either,” she says. “Clearly my fans are there for more than just the hardcore sex acts, which I’m so thankful for.” When she did make a comeback, her following crept up again — fans both new and old welcomed her back to the industry.

Through Capture, requests to work for other companies came trickling in. An agent soon reached out to her, essentially cementing her full-time comeback. This time, however, she had a new “fuck-it” attitude. Her hair was newly-chopped, a pragmatic decision to make dealing with the thoracic outlet syndrome surgeries easier. Keely also began shooting boy-girl for the first time, settling into her newfound role as a “curvy MILF.” The porn star stigma she once worried about didn’t bother her any more, either. “I’d already been branded a ‘porn star’ anyway,” she laughs. 

For 32-year-old Serene Siren, the motivation behind her porn comeback was slightly more straightforward. “I just really missed pussy,” she says with a coy smile. Siren’s career began back in 2013, when she shot an erotic scene for Tantra Chair with her then-partner, who was also in the porn industry. “I’d done some modeling before, but I always swore I’d never take off my clothes,” she explains. “It’s a shame really — I had my first son when I was 19, so I had these big, breast-feeding titties!”

Instead, Siren channeled her energy into a (now-deleted) YouTube channel, where she shared “natural beauty” videos alongside exercise clips and child-rearing tips. But when the Tantra Chair shoot came out, her subscribers turned on her, and people started commenting that a porn star wasn’t “qualified” to give them advice. In her eyes, the video with her partner had been “softcore,” yet the stigma still stuck.

Her entry into more hardcore porn was also delayed by a lack of self-esteem, especially in her early 20s. “I knew I wanted to do porn because I’ve always been super sexual,” she says. “But when I entered the porn world in 2013, I felt my worst. Things were falling apart at home.”

Not that it stopped her from having fun, though. “I would be hanging upside down with my legs in the air squirting for the first time ever — I had a fucking great time, and I definitely enjoyed it!” Yet the combination of a breakup with her long-term partner and discrimination from within her family pushed her out of the porn industry just a year or two after she started. “I ended up needing to be a goody-two shoes for the courts when it came to my kids,” she says.

Meanwhile, Siren found work as a yoga teacher and worked at a “cultivation dispensary.” Still an exhibitionist at heart, she streamed a few X-rated cam shows, but what bolstered her more than anything else was just time by herself and with other partners. 

By the time she made a comeback in 2019, she was determined to take the girl-girl scene by storm. “I wanted to come back like a lesbian monster,” she says with a mock roar. To do so, she decided she needed an agent — not an easy feat, no matter how seasoned you are. “I knew I would get rejections and that I wouldn’t be everyone’s number one pick,” she says. “Even with the agency I’m signed with now, I had to convince them to give me a trial, to just put my pictures on their website and see what happened. Now they’re awesome and they get me plenty of work, but I did feel like a salesperson.” Like Keely, she’s also marketed as a MILF these days. 

Of course, a lot has changed over the last decade in porn, much of which has made comebacks like these easier to pull off. The rise of sites like OnlyFans and JustForFans make it simple for stars to shoot and create their own content, and Keely says there’s a broader range of body and sexual diversity than ever before. 

Today, Keely primarily works for herself and calls the shots on her OnlyFans content. And though she credits porn for allowing her to support herself, she also warns younger talent that it might be hard to transition to anything else. “It really is the golden handcuffs,” she repeats solemnly, before flashing a smile. “That’s going to be me. I’m gonna die on that dick!”

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