Frank, I respectfully disagree. While there are certainly many women who enjoy their work in the sex industry, a small percentage of whom might be considered “big earners,” the sex industry continues to be a place where women are often exploited. There are women who are forced into the sex industry against their will, though they probably represent a small percentage of those who work in porn. Then there is the regular old exploitation that occurs on any industry with freelance workers and little oversight. The women do the work, and then don’t get paid, or get paid less than agreed. In the film industry, I imagine there are many unpaid auditions and free samples associated with getting any role.
I know less about the porn industry than I do dancers and prostitutes, so I googled to find out what kinds of earnings a woman in the porn industry could expect. While one source states that a woman can a pretty outrageous amount of money, looking at the breakdowns of most sources seem to make it look like a college kid who words a few weekends a month is going to make a hell of a lot more money than mom and dad are going to send her, but that a mother of three who has to pay rent, car payments, babysitters, and household expenses, is hardly going to make ends meet.
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.
Given that the porn star who I know best (Annie Sprinkle) made only 200 films in her almost 40 years in the sex industry, and given a woman is going to make an average of what looks like about $1000, that does not look like serious lifetime earnings.
I’ve worked with quite a few (immigrant) sex workers who are aging out of the industry. Maybe at the peak of her career, she brought home $40,000 or $50,000 annual of (mostly) untaxed income. At 35 or 38 she’s got a kid in high school and 2 in junior high, and no matter how many hours she works, she can’t bring in $20,000 anymore. She lives in an NYC outer boro, speaks English as her second language, and lives with her three kids in a modest, two bedroom, 800 square foot apartment that cost her $800 a month at the peek or her career, but now costs her $1400 per month. Out of desperation because of her declining earnings, she gets a minimum wage entry level position as a cashier, bringing home $250 a week. She can’t even pay her rent on that. She wants to get her GED, but her reading level in English is about 3rd grade level. She wants help putting together a resume, but even a simple job application asks her questions that she cannot honestly answer if she is looking for a job outside of the sex industry. She has no savings. She hasn’t been paying into social security, so even if there is any left for you and me, she’s not going to get any.
Yeah, maybe she should have planned better. Maybe she should have though this all through when she was 24 and bringing in a good income. But the sex industry doesn’t exactly prepare its workers to think long term. Annie Sprinkle used to run workshops for sex workers, teaching them to save an get an education on the side while they were at the peek of their careers in the sex industry, but most sex workers don’t have access to those resources.
So what does she do at 38? She can’t raise her kids on minimum wage. And other than moving onto becoming a madam or a drug trafficker, there is really not much out there that is going to keep her and her kids in that 800 square foot apartment.
Is it exploitation? Maybe. But it is certainly a broken system. It is a system that does not serve the women who populate the industry.
(I see that a video was posted while I was writing. I haven't watched it yet.)