Acting in pornography is tough work and needs to be properly paid. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty
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What porn actors don’t talk about

Having sex in front of cameras is tough work. We need to discuss how much actors should be paid for it.

Working in pornography means talking about – and doing, filming, distributing and marketing – things that frequently go undiscussed in public. Adult performers share sexual tastes and boundaries with each other in extreme detail before performing a scene, sometimes mere moments after initially meeting. And whether we’re at a public appearance or have just disclosed our job to a new acquaintance on a train, strangers often react to our documented physical and sexual openness as though it gives them a rare safe space to confess; to ask their unanswered questions about sex and to air their secrets and shames.

In stark contrast to all this discussion of bodies and sexuality, one thing we rarely talk about openly is pay. Which makes us a lot like many other workers.

This is not to say that we don’t whisper about our rates – about who pays what for which sorts of scenes, what working conditions are like on their sets and what non-monetary compensation we’ve been offered or have deemed acceptable. It’s just that we do this whispering furtively or in private, and sometimes give each other wildly inaccurate figures.

A well-known performer who had her heyday in the late 2000s once told me that her rate for a double penetration scene was $12,000. I’d just started performing and was under exclusive contract with a single studio – a situation much more like being a direct employee than an independent ­contractor – and had no experience with agencies or booking my own freelance gigs to check this figure against.

Her rate seemed plausible, though – ­being penetrated by two male-bodied people at the same time, one in the anus and one in the vagina, certainly seemed to carry a higher risk of mechanical trauma. Double penetration scenes were rare, as were performers willing to be the receptive partner in them, and rarity tends to add value in any market.

So, when I decided that I wanted to perform in a double penetration scene and the owners of the studio I was with asked how much I wanted to be paid for it, I told them I wanted $12,000. We settled in the middle. Years later it turned out that the performer who had set my expectations so exorbitantly high was actually paid 12 – or possibly 14 – hundred dollars for those sorts of scenes.

In this case, the lack of transparency around rates and my belief in an outrageous lie worked in my favour. And, as one of the rare occasions in which a performer got the much better end of a deal, it makes for a cackle-inducing story when I’m with my peers.

Much more frequently the lack of transparency regarding pay leads to newer performers undervaluing themselves and their work. This can make it difficult for an individual performer eventually to raise their rates to the standard range, and also often upsets the whole pay scale. If Susie Starr is just as subjectively attractive and objectively popular as Whitney Luv and does it for $400, Whitney’s standard $800 rate starts to seem less reasonable.

Capitalism, near as I can tell, involves a lot of companies trying to get as much out of a worker as they can for as little pay as possible. In these relationships, the worker should aim for the most pay they can get for the least work. There’s a very important emphasis on “can get”, though, because a luxuriously high rate does absolutely no good if no one is able or willing to pay it.

Including myself, there were ten perfor­mers in the film I funded and directed last year called Graphic Depictions. Only one was booked through an agency and the fee for booking through their agent was an additional $100 after their rate. I did not pay myself for the two scenes I performed in with partners or my ­non-fluid-exchanging masturbation performance in the first scene, because that would have been silly.

We paid $4,500 to performers with penises, which averages out at $750 per male performer per scene; while $4,200 went to performers with vulvas, three of whom identify as female and one who is gender-neutral, which is $1,050 each.

Why do performers get paid this much? There’s a cost of doing business that includes transportation to the set (sometimes from a different city, or even state or country), an insane level of personal grooming, and STI testing fees, which range from $155 to $210.

Having sex in front of cameras is still highly stigmatised work, and negatively ­affects employment options later in life. Even with testing and/or barrier protection, there is still a small, managed risk of blood-borne pathogen transmission and a larger risk of chlamydia and gonorrhoea – which, if acquired, are easy to treat but still mean costly regimens of antibiotics as well as missed bookings.

There is also that risk of mechanical injuries, which, though rare, may require hospitalisation and, again, mean a performer can’t work for some amount of time. Not to mention the repetitive strain injuries that accumulate over the course of a career from having sex for extended periods of time in positions that avoid blocking the light and camera.

In freelance writing – the only other profession I’m familiar with – the physical stakes are much lower but the expected number of rounds of editing and the now assumed work of driving traffic to a piece once published need to be factored in, as does any beneficial prestige of having written for a certain publication.

Every job has its own scale of standard rates and its own complex system of extra bits of cost, risk and value which must be ­navigated. To me, the most glaringly obvious way of arming workers to attain appropriate pay is to drag all of these numbers and factors out into the sunshine and discuss them openly. 

Stoya is an adult performer. She tweets at: @stoya

This article first appeared in the 27 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Saying the Unsayable

ED THOMPSON / LUZ / EYEVINE
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"We’ve got things in common": why one of the EDL's original members quit

An early supporter of the group, painter-decorator Darren Carroll has had death threats since he left. But why did he change his mind about the English Defence League?

Darren Carroll is a slight man with bright blue eyes and an urgent need for redemption. A painter-decorator in his fifties, he has lived in Luton his whole life. He was one of the original members of the English Defence League (EDL), the far-right street movement founded by Carroll’s nephew Tommy Robinson.

Recently, things haven’t been easy. Four months before our meeting at a café near Luton Airport Parkway Station, Carroll had a minor stroke that affected his speech and vision. It was the delayed fallout from an attack in a pub across the road, his local. A stranger, who seemed to know a lot about him, started a conversation. “He showed me his arm. It was tattooed. There was a little bit of white skin left on the whole sleeve,” says Carroll. “He said, ‘Look at that.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘White is right.’ I said, ‘Nah, mate, I know exactly where you’re coming from. There’s nothing wrong with being white but there’s nothing right with it.’”

The man pretended to leave the pub, then walked back in and hit Carroll hard on the back of the head with his forearm. Afterwards, Carroll suffered persistent headaches. It caused a blood clot that set off the stroke. When we met, he had mostly recovered but was still unable to work.

It was not the first attack. Carroll has also had his front door kicked in. He and his children have received death threats. “This is since speaking up,” he says. “Not leaving – that’s different.”

Carroll looks uncomfortable when we discuss the early days of the EDL. “It was an organic thing,” he says. “Lots of people were involved at the very beginning for different reasons. Personally, I was not happy with the way the town was being run on a political level. Looking back, I was disenfranchised from mainstream politics.”

Luton has the dubious distinction of being a centre of both far-right and Islamist extremism. The EDL began here in 2009, in response to a demonstration organised by Anjem Choudary’s now banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was a reaction against an army regiment marching in Luton.

A counterprotest led to arrests and the EDL was born, with sometimes violent neo-fascist street protests spreading across the country. Robinson insisted from the outset that the EDL was not racist, but only “against the rise of radical Islam”. Carroll says it was local difficulties, rather than national issues such as immigration, that unsettled and motivated him – and he didn’t articulate the core problem as racism against white people, not even to himself. The EDL has never had a formal membership, but the think tank Demos estimated that there were between 25,000 and 35,000 active members in 2011, a loose coalition of football hooligans and far-right activists. Today, the numbers are much reduced.

Carroll’s family was closely involved and it was a while before he realised that the EDL was an extremist, racist group. He describes being at a demo in Birmingham soon after the first protest. “I looked at the other lads there and I didn’t like them. They didn’t smell right for me, as far as integrity goes. I thought, ‘I don’t want this.’” Carroll’s parents are Irish and he considers himself the child of immigrants.

It took several months for him to extricate himself from the group and stop attending demonstrations. “It’s a relationship breaker, so you’ve got to accept that things are broken for ever.” On building sites, he was known as the EDL guy. Work dried up.

Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”

Carroll did so after seeing a Facebook post by a local activist, Dawood Masood. Masood had shared a video of an imam in Leicester speaking about terrorist violence, with a message saying that any EDL members were welcome to get in touch. Carroll met him and others from the Muslim community and they discussed ways to make Luton better. He told them that he wasn’t interested in religion, but invited them to what he considers his church: Luton Town FC.

“I had the idea it’s about setting precedents, because you never know who or what that affects,” he says. “I just thought, if I’m seen going to the football with them, it’s going to break a big piece of ice.”

As the EDL evolved largely from a football subculture, this was a bold step. They went to the match. “He’s Luton born and bred and he certainly don’t need his hand held. But I made him as comfortable as possible. Luton scored and he’s jumping up and down, loving it. At that point, I thought: ‘This is really Luton harmony. He’s cheering for the same thing and I’m cheering for the same thing. We’re both happy together at this moment in time. We’ve got things in common.’”

They have been to many matches since, Masood bringing his kids, Carroll his grandkids. Carroll has had a few threatening calls but remains undeterred. “The working-class Muslim lads are working-class Muslim lads. They’ve got all the same problems and social issues as us white, working-class people. It’s not just me or us. It’s everyone.” 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage