pornstarmoney

What Male Porn Stars Do to Make Ends Meet

It’s hard times for a working stiff who’s off camera six months out of the year

When Mick Blue, one of porn’s biggest male stars, first came to the U.S. from his native Austria in 2004, America’s adult industry was thriving. Although consumers have long had insatiable cravings for porn, the anonymity and accessibility of digital commerce, a field that porn world techies helped to shape from the ground up, made it easier than ever for massive new audiences to find and buy whatever porn scratched their itch. It was an age, as Blue recalls it, when “companies put out whatever — and made a lot of money.”

But the internet giveth and the internet taketh. Within a decade of Blue’s American debut he watched the mainstream porn industry slowly buckle under pressure from another new digital innovation: free porn. This led to, as Blue put it, a tech takeover of the industry, fundamentally changing its economic model from one built on studios, membership subscriptions and DVD sales to one built on tube sites that “know how to generate and utilize traffic in making money — selling ads and all that kind of stuff.” Many companies couldn’t keep up with this economic shock and went under, while the remaining studios started to tighten their belts, cutting down on big studio shoots and productions.  

There’s been a fair amount of reporting on this shakeup in recent years, and especially on how the collapse of old studios and flight of paying customers has affected female porn stars, long the public face of the industry. With more competition than ever for big studio gigs, all but a few dozen of the most in-demand stars are shooting far less content than they used to for stagnant wages at best. (Performers with a good reputation for professionalism, a solid stage presence and a loyal fan base can rake in $1,000 to $1,500 per scene and more for special content like a first anal scene — the same rates they got 10 years ago. Meanwhile, struggling performers can reportedly take gigs with low-end or disreputable producers for as low as $200.)

As a result, most women have shifted from relying on studio shoots for about 90 percent of their income, to selling self-produced clips and/or creating Patreon-like fan clubs for loyal followers. Many also sell access to premium, explicit Snapchat handles, their used panties or other trinkets and opportunities to go on dates with them as escorts. And that’s just scratching the surface of the endless potential hustles a performer can rustle up. As the performer-producer Savana Styles once told me, “scenes aren’t even half of the job now.”  

Yet for all the coverage on the changing porn industry and how women are rolling with it, there’s been almost no coverage on how male porn stars, like Blue, have experienced and navigated this monumental transformation. As such, I recently reached out to more than a dozen active male talents — some of them big names with long careers, like Blue, and some of them niche or fresher faces — to hear about how they hack out a living in the modern pornscape. (I only looked at how men hack it in hetero porn and not gay male porn, as these two sectors, despite many similarities, often manifest significantly different cultures and business logics.)   

The first thing performers stress about the challenges of navigating a career as a male porn star is that it’s always been hard for most men to hack it in the industry. You have to be able to get hard on cue and stay hard for hours on end, explains Ryan Driller, even when working “with someone you don’t have great chemistry with and it’s 120 degrees” on set. Then you need to be able to get off on cue. The advent of erectile dysfunction medication has made it easier for the average guy to get and stay hard, but abusing ED pills and penile injections can lead to priapism, better known as the commercial-forewarned erection that lasts more than four hours. Repeated bouts of priapism can result in permanent damage, or even in the worst-case scenario, penile amputation.

The ex-performer Danny Wylde, who claims he only ever knew two men in porn who didn’t use some kind of erectile assistance, told The Fix that he actually quit porn in 2013 after taking four times the recommended dosage of Cialis to get through a shoot and suffering a 12-hour erection, his third ever bout of priapism, that had to be drained by syringe and hearing from a doctor that he was on the verge of devastating his penile tissue for life.

Porn sex can also be physically challenging: You have to bend yourself at odd angles to cheat out for the camera, and piston pump away longer than most men can last. And porn work can be unforgiving. A faux pas on set early in one’s career, a lack of on-screen presence, or just a few too many bad vibes between you and other cast or crew members and a director or company might want nothing more to do with you. “Young performers have to be perfect with every company they work for,” says Johnny Goodluck, a relatively new talent with two years under his belt, if they want to make it into the big leagues.

“It’s a very hard, cruel business,” says Blue. “Even 10 years ago, there were only a few guys who were consistently reliable,” the A-list, top-tier stars guaranteed to book at least a shoot a day. Even in the halcyon days of the early-to-mid-2000s, top-tier performers made a bit less than their female counterparts, with some earning $1,000-plus for big shoots, but many taking gigs for somewhere between $500 and $900, depending on the scale of the production and their personal reputation. “But we work with more frequency” than our female counterparts, points out Derrick Pierce, a 15-year industry vet, “and for a longer period of time.” (The vast majority of women leave the adult industry within a few months; successful men, meanwhile, have some of the most prolific porn careers.)

Still, in the aughts, it was easier across the board. There were just so many studios shooting content, points out Steve Holmes, a Romanian-German star who broke into the American industry in 2002. Producers would often hire “a lot of B and C level talent,” men without the same stamina or reputation behind them, and take a chance on plenty of fresh faces as well. Many of these newbies took low-paying work, like bit parts in group scenes that paid out just $100 or $200. But they could do plenty of that, and score the occasional windfall working for a major studio in real need of any hard member. Driller recalls getting his start a little over a decade ago with shoots for series like American Bukkake via Craigslist ads that read, “We’ll take 50 guys; get tested and come in, see if you can get hard, and we’ll go from there.”

Today, 15 to 30 absolute top-tier performers, men like Blue and Driller, still get booked for shoots all the time — up to 25 days a month — but for their same old rates because studios have less money to spare. “You get what you pay for,” says the semi-retired star Dick Chibbles, and trying to go with someone cheap or new risks everyone “sitting on set all day listening to excuses as to why a guy’s junk isn’t working,” possibly at the cost of thousands in lost time. “Pro talents all have something we’re known for. Our personalities are all very different,” adds Chibbles. “Producers and directors know the character they’re casting and usually get the right dick for the job.”

They’ll only take a chance on new talent every now and then, says Pierce, “to avoid things becoming stale” and to make sure they have new prospects on the horizon in case one of their regulars falls off the radar for any reason. Even then, new guys usually only get gigs if they have a female co-star to vouch for them, explains Driller.

Still, the veteran dicks aren’t shooting as much either. Holmes, who did two scenes on a good day back when he first came to America, says the studios he shoots with now can’t afford to hire him as often as they’d like; so while he’s still in regular rotation, he makes less money than he used to. (Some men wind up taking more shoots at the lower-end of their rate range these days, too.) Holmes does admit that he’s still comfortable, and for his part, Driller says he doesn’t feel a great personal need to make more than a bare bones livable salary. But lesser-known performers, like Conor Coxxx, a self-described starving musician with a slender frame who wandered into porn in 2012 to try to make a quick buck and initially found loads of work, argue that now “your average male talent is making 50 percent of his income from jobs with production companies.”

To compensate, they often try to use the same money-making tools as their female counterparts — save for escorting. I’ve spoken to or heard of a few of performers in the gay male porn industry who admit to escorting to earn extra income, but no exclusively straight male porn stars will cop to the same thing. This may be because none of them engage in escorting, or it may be because enduring stigmas against this kind of sex work, often viewed as inferior or more dangerous, force many straight porn performers to stay tight-lipped about any work they do in that sector.

But camming, fan clubs, monetized social media and most other sex work side hustles only succeed because women in the industry have massive fan bases willing to support them. As MEL has reported before, some men are devoted to their favorite male hetero porn stars. And as Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition implies, a growing female porn audience — “women now make up 30 percent” of viewers worldwide, he notes — may lead to more dedicated fans for men. But overall, says Alec Helmy of the industry trade publication xBiz, “our impression is that, on average, men earn a fraction of the income of women, be it in porn, clips, camming, merch, etc.”

“A girl camming or running a Fancentro account,” a premium social media service that allows explicit content, Driller believes, “is going to draw 20 times more sign-ups than a guy.”

“There are some exceptions,” notes Coxxx. But these tend to be the top-tier male performers with the biggest names. “There’s a very good chance that top male performers are making more nowadays than they were 10 years ago,” adds Coxxx, because they not only still perform all the time at higher-end rates, but they have more access to profitability through these new platforms.

Struggling male performers can make good money through indie clip production — if they don’t try to draw people in based on their own brands, but instead find a solid niche or fetish to serve, draw on the popularity of women they work with or figure out how to promote their scenes on social media, says Cyrus King, a performer who’s been in the industry since 2006, but who now makes a good chunk of his money on self-made content rather than studio shoots. Indiana Bones, a new male performer, notes that he’s running multiple clip sites aimed at a few different niche fan bases to keep himself afloat. It’s easier now than ever before to break into clip production, adds Lance Hart, a crossover gay and straight porn performer who has been making his own fetish clips since 2010, thanks to the proliferation of easy-to-use, well-known clip marketplaces and point-and-play, high-quality phone cameras. “I make from $20,000 to $30,000 per month from my own productions,” Hart notes, “and about $2,000 to $3,000 per month from paid bookings,” working for $500 to $1,000 per shoot.

In some ways, this is an extension of an old trend for male porn stars: moving into production and other behind-the-scenes gigs to make extra money almost as soon as they get into the industry. (Some have also historically gone into talent management or services — Coxxx, for example, runs an agency, Coxxx Models. He gets 10 inquiries a day from men who want to do porn, he says. Alex Saint, a porn star who often works with his partner, the indie clip queen Larkin Love, provides “personal fitness coaching as it relates to the adult industry.”)

Either way, indie studios and clip producers have been a godsend, if for no other reason than they’re often willing to work with smaller-name male talents, explains Blue, giving struggling stars an outlet. They also can be more forgiving of new talents’ mistakes. When Coxxx started out in the industry in 2012, he got his first gig with a small indie fetish clip outfit in Atlanta: Brainwash Productions. He couldn’t get hard, so they had to cancel the shoot, “but thankfully they called me back for a boy-girl scene the next week and it went really well,” he says. “Luckily for me, there were few male performers in Atlanta,” so he didn’t just get written off.

No matter how accessible filming and distribution is these days, though, Hart acknowledges that not every male performer can hack it as a clip producer. He says that the only reason he’s made it as far with clip sales as he has is that he has an entrepreneurial spirit, and a preternatural ability and willingness to stay up all night chugging coffee and studying analytics to better move his content. “I literally have a spreadsheet to make sure I cover everything,” adds Goodluck. “In a week, I need to shoot two clips, update five content platforms and edit several videos to upload to my website, as well as all the other platforms. I have to make banners, trailers and ads and promote on social media several times a day. This is a far, far cry from 10 years ago, when all you had to do was answer the phone and go perform.”

There’s also the real world. That is, a side hustle or passive revenue stream outside of the industry. “The guys that you see that seem more successful,” says Driller, “you can bet that about 50 percent of their income comes from shooting for studios, and the other 50 percent comes from outside ventures: stocks, property, dispensaries and entrepreneurial endeavors.”

Driller himself has invested his porn money into a healthy stock portfolio and started a food industry venture. Chibbles runs a farm, growing coffee and hops for local companies, as well as day trading; he shoots just 12 days every month now. Even big names like industry superstar Manuel Ferrara have lucrative side gigs; he’s actually a successful and profitable Twitch star now. “If there are other opportunities coming up, money from other places,” says Blue, “of course you’re going to take that opportunity.”

Holmes is a bit of an ever-was-er. Ultimately, he thinks, the last decade hasn’t changed the porn world that much for men. A few top-tier A-lister male stars still dominate the industry while lower-tier performers still struggle to make a living. There’s just a little less cash floating around, and the side hustles available to those looking to fill the gaps are a little different, requiring a little more hustle than they used to. It’s not as radical a transformation as women in the adult space have faced, Pierce argues as well. Yet it’s still a world away from the pornscape folks like Blue and Holmes know, and that once colored popular imaginations about what it must be like to be a guy who gets paid to have sex on camera for a living.