Pay for your porn

Sex on Tuesday

My friend looked exhausted. She was staying with me for a few days and had just finished shooting for Insex. Wrapping herself in a fuzzy blanket and pulling a mug of tea to her chest, she started to talk about her work day. Electra Rayne had spent nine hours in a warehouse in San Francisco shooting as a submissive in a BDSM scene (five of those hours were active shooting time) and came home shivering but happy with her compensation. The shivers, she said, are from the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to hours of stimulation and physical exertion. She was paid for the day and, if the company can see that enough viewers enjoy her content, she’ll be invited to return for future shoots.

Electra is a sweet, slightly nerdy Northwestern undergraduate student majoring in linguistics and physics, as well as a hopeful UC Berkeley transfer student. To her, working in porn is “something between performance and a really tedious office job.” While the cameras are rolling, she plays up any pain or pleasure, and most of the time, she’s already on the edge of her boundaries. At the same time, she keeps a mental tally of just how many minutes are left in the scene, how many spankings or shocks are left to go (she mostly works in bondage-themed porn), and how damn uncomfortable the hard floor feels on her knees.

Then the cameras stop, someone comes over to readjust a set piece and move her hair, her adrenaline levels drop, and suddenly her body starts to shake from exertion and cold. When they’re finished shooting a scene, she takes a 20-30 minute break next to the space heater set up for performers, drinks tea and waits for the camera operators and stage handlers to finish the next scene’s setup.

After post-production, Insex will post the film on their website for about $15 to $20. If the video gets lots of views, the studio is much more likely to invite Electra back for more shoots. If, however, the video is downloaded and then uploaded to a tube site by anyone other than the studio, those responsible for rehiring Electra will be unaware of the interest in her videos. Not only is this harmful to both the studio and the performer’s revenue, but often, the video is illegally uploaded to the tube site by a third party. The third party then gets paid per download by the tube site, which is able to pay them from the revenue they generate through ads. This third party is blatantly stealing potential profit from both studios and the performers and yet, many of us watch the porn they make available to us through exploitation.

Ironically, many people who watch porn for free, especially the pseudo-socially-conscious types so prevalent around Berkeley, think critically of how the other luxury items in their life are made available to them. Many would scoff at the overpriced, trendy new clothing items in places such as Urban Outfitters (who are well known to profit off outsourced, underpaid workers) — after all, nobody wants to be the one supporting The Man who exploits the underprivileged. But watching pirated porn for free is doing just that. It’s like going into a clothing factory, admiring the products and then gleefully taking them from the workers sans pay.

Fortunately, porn has an equivalent to thrifting that doesn’t involve shady tube sites. Sites such as Insex, Kink and Crashpad often have free previews of films available for fapping that still allow them to track interest in performers, even if the full-length film isn’t purchased. Performers also often sell short clips on sites such as ClipVia, Clips4Sale or on their official performer sites that have a significantly smaller price tag than a full-length film.

When viewers choose to navigate through a tube site, they’re hurting their own chances of being able to enjoy comparable content in the future. Not paying for porn makes it markedly more difficult for studios to operate and pay their employees and contractors. If and when these studios are run out of town, the only porn available will be amateur porn — basically porn’s version of Youtube karaoke videos.

Some studios have started to think creatively about generating revenue by hosting live shows — a streaming event where viewers are able to interact with the shoot by sending in requests via instant messaging. During the usually one- to two-hour show, the performers are unable to take breaks or readjust offscreen. Not only is this extremely physically taxing, it also requires a level of expertise only acquired through years of performance, making the industry more difficult to enter into as a new performer.

Porn is a luxury item. The massive amount of entitlement surrounding access to free porn is appalling but not surprising. We live in a society that routinely undervalues and feels inherently deserving of feminized labor (for example: sexual labor, domestic labor, emotional labor, etc.). Hence, many who are otherwise critical of the products they consume, don’t think to examine the source of their sexual entertainment.

This same entitlement often leads porn consumers to forget that the people behind the performance are people such as Electra. People who have rents that need to be paid every month, who need to buy groceries, cat food, medicine or, as in Electra’s case, an education.

Trixie Mehraban writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].

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