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A pornographic actor/actress or a porn star is a person who appears in pornographic films. Most actors appear nude in films (usually filmed in explicit sexual genres). Most genres have specialists who achieve most of their recognition in a specific niche market such as lesbian sex, bondage, strap-on sex, anal sex, double penetration, semen swallowing, teenage women, or MILF.

Some legal jurisdictions consider commercial pornography a form of prostitution, though most commercial sex film performers do not regard themselves as prostitutes for various reasons, but rather as artists. Most notably these performers are not paid directly by their sexual partners for the sex, but both are paid through a studio.


Many performers had appeared in various sex films since the beginning of photography. Many so-called "penny arcade" of the early 1900s had early hand-cranked films and "rotoscope" (Holmes-style Stereoscope) glasses that featured "racy" pictures of women, mostly in topless pictures, though a few actually showed women in full frontal nudity with fewer still showing them in actual sexual couplings. Performers in these early photograph and film recordings usually chose to remain anonymous due to social pressure and legal sanctions against open sexual actions.

Common wisdom holds that the first generally acknowledged porn star with specific (stage) name recognition was Linda Lovelace from the United States, who starred in the 1972 feature Deep Throat. However, Casey Donovan, star of the first mainstream pornographic hit Boys in the Sand in 1971, achieved name recognition nearly a year before Deep Throat debuted. The success of Deep Throat, which grossed hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide, spawned a slew of other films and pornographic film stars such as Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door), Gloria Leonard (The Opening of Misty Beethoven), Georgina Spelvin (The Devil in Miss Jones), and Bambi Woods (Debbie Does Dallas).

This era has been termed by some to be The Golden Age of Porn when porn films were being shown in public theaters and thus accepted for public consumption or at least tolerated for such. This time frame lasted until the late 1970s, with some saying the early 1980s, whereby these sex films had specific story-plots and promotional budgets and the performers became notable. Such legendary performers of this era include Peter Berlin, John Holmes, Ginger Lynn Allen, Porsche Lynn, Desiree Cousteau, Juliet Anderson ("Aunt Peg"), Lisa De Leeuw, Veronica Hart, Nina Hartley, Harry Reems, Seka, and Amber Lynn.

The ability for people to view adult movies in the privacy of their own homes, owing to the popularity of the VCR (and later DVD) created a new adult market that exceeded the scope of the previous theatre centric era. Additionally, the prevalence of the Internet served as a catalyst for the increased sale of pornography.

Some state that the production values of adult films have decidedly declined in the attempt to create a constant amount of new films to fulfill the ever increasing demand. Others argue that sex films are merely being more true to their source as some have stated that people only watch these films in order to see these performers have sex.

There are hundreds of adult film companies today, releasing tens of thousands of directly recorded-on-video with minimal sets, including so-called web cam recordings annually, with thousands of people working on both sides of the camera to meet the demand for these films.

Legal challenges

Attempts were made in the 1970s to outlaw pornography in the United Statesmarker by prosecuting porn stars for prostitution. The courts in California were where the case was initially made, and stopped short of advancing the case to the United States Supreme Courtmarker for a final decision. It was this decision and acceptance to let stand whereby the California Court made a legal distinction in the case of People v. Freeman between someone who took part in a sexual relationship for money (prostitution) versus someone who takes on the act of merely portraying role where a sexual relationship was engaged in on-screen act as part of their acting performance. It is this specific legal distinction between pornography and prostitution in California law that has allowed California to become the porn center of the United States.

At present, no other state in the United States has either implemented or accepted this legal distinction between commercial pornography performers versus prostitutes as shown in the Florida case where sex film maker Clinton Raymond McCowen, aka "Ray Guhn", was indicted on charges of "soliciting and engaging in prostitution" for his creation of pornography films which included "McCowen and his associates recruited up to 100 local men and women to participate in group sex scenes, the affidavit says." The distinction that California has in its legal determination in the Freeman decision is usually denied in most states' local prostitution laws, which do not specifically exclude performers from such inclusion.

In some cases, some states have ratified their local state laws for inclusion to prevent California's Freeman decision to be applied to actors who are paid a fee for sexual actions within their state borders. One example is the state of Texasmarker whose prostitution law specifically states:

An offense is established under Subsection (a)(1) whether the actor is to receive or pay a fee. An offense is established under Subsection (a)(2) whether the actor solicits a person to hire him or offers to hire the person solicited.

Female performers

According to actor-turned-director Jonathan Morgan, "The girls could be graded like A, B and C. The A is the chick on the boxcover. She has the power. So she'll show up late or not at all. 99.9% of them do that." Less successful actresses are more likely to perform more extreme acts such as 'double-anal'. If an actress is willing to perform more extreme acts she will receive more offers of work. Older or less attractive actresses are more likely to perform such acts in order to get work. According to Morgan, "Some girls are used in nine months or a year. An 18-year-old, sweet young thing, signs with an agency, makes five films in her first week. Five directors, five actors, five times five: she gets phone calls. A hundred movies in four months. She's not a fresh face any more. Her price slips and she stops getting phone calls. Then it's, 'Okay, will you do anal? Will you do gangbangs?' Then they're used up. They can't even get a phone call. The market forces of this industry use them up."

Some film studios encourage their actresses to have breast implants, and offer to pay for the procedure.

Male performers

While the primary focus of heterosexual sex films are the women in them, who are mostly selected for their on-screen appearance, there is a definite focus on the male performers who are able to fulfill the desires of the male watching audience as their on-screen proxies. Most male performers in heterosexual pornography are generally selected less for their looks than for their sexual prowess, namely their ability to do three things: achieve an erection while on a busy film set, maintain that erection while performing on camera, and then ejaculate on cue. In the past an actors' inability to maintain an erection could make the difference between a film turning a profit or a loss. However this problem has been solved by the use of Viagra. If an actor loses his erection, filming is forced to stop for about 45 minutes whilst the drug takes effect. Using Viagra can make the actor's face noticeably flushed, give him a headache, and make it difficult to ejaculate. According to director John Stagliano, using Viagra means "You also lose a dimension." "The guy's fucking without being aroused."

Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, and Rocco Siffredi are considered by AVN as the top male performers of all time. Adding to his fame, Ron Jeremy has been a staple in the industry since the 1970s and has become something of a cultural icon..

Pay rates

Most male performers in straight porn are paid less than their female costars. Ron Jeremy has commented on the pay scale of women and men of the sex film industry: "The average guy gets $300 to $400 a scene, or $100 to $200 if he's new. A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year. "Girls can easily make 100K-250K per year, plus stuff on the side like strip shows and appearances. The average guy makes $40,000 a year."

Some state that gay male porn generally pays men much more than heterosexual porn; a number of male performers, including Peter North , have appeared in both heterosexual and gay pornography. Ostensibly, men who perform in gay pornography but identify themselves as heterosexual, most notably Wolf Hudson, are said to do gay-for-pay, that is, perform in gay movies only for the paycheck, not because of any personal attraction they have to other men.

According to notable 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 normal sex (Boy/Girl) 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: 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.

In 2001 actress Chloe said of pay-rates; "In Gonzo, you're paid not by the picture, but by the scene. So it's girl-girl: $700, plus $100 for an anal toy. Boy-girl: $900. Anal: $1,100. Solo: $500. DP: $1,500."

Pornographic actors and STDs

Because of the nature of their work, usually involving sex without condoms, pornographic actors are particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. Data suggest that pornographic actors have a higher rate of STDs (except for HIV) than the general American population. Among 825 performers screened in 2000–2001, 7.7% of females and 5.5% of males had chlamydia, and 2% overall had gonorrhea. These rates are much higher than in patients visiting family planning clinics, where chlamydia and gonorrhea rates were 4.0% and 0.7%, respectively.... Between January 2003 and March 2005, approximately 976 performers were reported with 1,153 positive STD test results. Of the 1,153 positive test results, 722 (62.6 %) were chlamydia, 355 (30.8%) were gonorrhea, and 126 (10.9%) were coinfections with chlamydia and gonorrhea. Less is known about the prevalence and risk of transmission of other STDs such as syphilis, herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B or C, trichomonal infection, or diseases transmitted through the fecal–oral route. According to actress Chloe, "After you've been in this business for a while, you have herpes. Everyone has herpes."

In the 1980s, an outbreak of HIV led to a number of deaths of erotic actors and actresses, including John Holmes, Wade Nichols, Marc Stevens, Al Parker. This led to the creation of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, which helped set up a voluntary standard in the U.S. adult film industry where erotic actors are tested for HIV every 30 days. All sexual contact is logged, and positive test results lead to all sexual contacts for the last three to six months being contacted and re-tested. The use of condoms became standard in films featuring homosexual anal sex. Thanks to accurate and mandatory medical tests HIV cases are nowadays extremely rare in the pornographic industry. Nevertheless, a few cases were reported.

In 1997, John Stagliano tested positive for HIV. He contracted the virus recreationally after having unprotected anal sex with a Brazilian transsexual in Rio de Janeiromarker.

In 1998, a second outbreak occurred. Sharon Mitchell, Director of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, announced on April 30, that Marc Wallice was HIV-positive. Wallice's career was effectively over, with rumors and speculation that he also infected several actresses, including Brooke Ashley, Tricia Devereaux, Caroline, Jordan McKnight, Barbara Doll, and Kimberly Jade. He denies the rumors, but they continue to resonate with many in the business; he had been caught with a fake AIDS certificate only months before the scandal broke.

In 1999, another male performer tested HIV positive.

In 2004, a male performer, Darren James, tested positive for HIV; after engaging in a scene in the video "Split That Booty 2" in Rio de Janeiromarker. By the end of the month it was discovered that three actresses who had worked with James shortly after his return to the United States (two of whom were involved in the same production) had also become infected with the virus. These were Canadian newcomer Lara Roxx, Miss Arroyo, and Czech-born Jessica Dee. Viral load tests showed that James was "Patient Zero". Following the release of this information the heterosexual porn industry voluntarily reduced their workload for the next 30 days, as various contacts with both individuals, as well as others within the industry, re-evaluated and expanded upon their original programs dealing with this possibility.

In June 2009, an unidentified female performer was announced as having tested positive for HIV. After that announcement was made, Los Angeles County officials announced that there had been 16 previously unpublicized cases of HIV involving adult film performers which had not been publicized since the 2004 Darren James, and that a total of 16 men and 5 women who worked in the adult film industry performers contracted HIV between 2004 and 2008. though officials later backtracked by stating that the agency did not know whether any of those people were performers. Sharon Mitchell, co-founder of the clinic that did the testing, has said that these people were either non-performers or aspiring actors who tested positive. While there have been calls in the aftermath to mandate condom-only sex, consensus in the industry currently appears to supports the existing format.



  1. Second wave: Feminism and porns golden age. Radical Society Oct 2002 by Loren Glass
  2. Ron Jeremy: Penetrating society since '78
  3. Jeremy spoke in class today: An exclusive interview with porn movie legend, Ron Jeremy
  4. 'The Bigger the Better' (1984)
  6. A rough trade | By genre | Books
  7. Marc Wallice, Marc Wallice Porn Star DVD Movies and VHS Video Films at
  8. HIV scare hits US porn industry | World news | The Observer

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