Can People Truly Leave the Porn Industry?

Via Shutterstock

When sex workers’ work is put on such a large platform, they become celebrities within the realm of erotica and pornography. Although porn actors and actresses are the subjects of fantasy for viewers, viewers often forget that these people are human beings. Even adult film actors who choose to leave the industry have a hard time shaking off the stigma they faced while working in pornography.

Dallas-based porn actress Rachel Starr has been making adult films for almost 13 years. She credits her ability to operate her work as a proprietorship as the reason she’s been able to stay afloat for so long. She notes that while everyone has their reasons for leaving the porn industry, treating your work like any other job is key to survival.

“[Why people leave] is really subjective to them,” Starr says. “But if I had to guess, it’s either because one, they just wanted out, and the adult film industry didn’t work for them and they found something else. Or, the industry chewed them up and spit them out, and they couldn’t make it a sustainable business. I’ve personally survived because I treat it like a business. I wouldn’t be doing it unless I was getting paid to do it. I’m definitely not doing any free stuff.”

Today, people consume porn via several different platforms. Starr has been able to keep up with them all. She estimates that she works for about 10 to 12 hours per day, and although she’s not always making video clips on a daily basis, she takes time to interact with her six million social media followers, streaming live on cam sites, responding to texts via texting platforms and maintaining her OnlyFans page.

“The porn industry has evolved since I started,” Starr says. “I started in February of 2007. DVDs were still a big thing, and it was just kind of getting into that internet niche market, with streaming and downloading and all of that. I’m definitely more of an internet girl, but when I got in, DVDs were still very relevant.”

The reasons people choose to enter the porn industry are different. In the case of 25-year-old John Doe*, he decided to make a video while in college, as a means of making extra money.

“I was taking 19 hours at school and driving two hours a day and had zero time for an actual job and had no money,” Doe* recalls.

Doe* later decided to quit making porn after people from his hometown had discovered a solo video he had made and shared it with his family and peers.

“I was mortified,” Doe* recalls “I felt like my life was ending. I felt like all of the people I once knew would think that the person they saw online was actually me. I had told several close friends in confidence that I had done a random video to make some extra cash, and they all thought nothing of it.”

As Doe* notes, porn viewers often conflate an actor or actress’ porn persona with their real-life personality. Starr compares this phenomenon to fans meeting their favorite fictional heroes.

“It’s almost like we’re cartoon characters and that we’re not human beings,” Starr says. “We’re human beings first, and then we choose to create a character that we act out in a role for people’s entertainment. But we’re human beings first, and I think that gets lost a lot. It’s like a kid who’s a Mickey Mouse fan and they go to Disneyworld, and they see a person in a costume. To that kid, that’s Mickey Mouse. There’s no human inside there, that’s just someone they’ve been watching on TV. I don’t think people do it on purpose, but I think subconsciously, people don’t realize that they are doing the exact same thing to us as sex workers, especially ones that are filmed.”

Earlier last year, Starr launched a podcast called “The Rachel Starr Podcast.” In the second episode, she revealed her legal name, a moment she describes as one of the most empowering of her career.

“I mean, people had figured out what my real name was,” Starr says, “but I finally publicly came out and was like, ‘Yes, my stage name is Rachel Starr and yes, my real name is Brandy.’ And that was, one, very liberating for me, but I think it was really huge for other people because it made it easier to not objectify me, knowing that other name.”

Although Doe’s* porn name was different from that of his legal name, he admits that building a name for oneself in the industry is ideal for those who want to survive in it.

“The industry exploits actors with zero name for themselves,” Doe* says. “If they were per se, a Rachel Starr or Lana Rhoades, we wouldn’t be having this situation. But a person just trying to make a little extra money one or two times — they exploit everything that they can make money off of, but they will only pay you the bare minimum in doing so.”

Doe* admits that he fell into a deep depression after his family and peers discovered his tape.

“I was unstable and slightly suicidal for the first month,” Doe* recalls. “It took about four months to gain enough confidence to truly own what I had done. It took me a year before I was confident enough to joke about it with my friends and new people. I still don’t tell women about it when I’m getting to know them until I am so close to them that it wouldn’t sway their judgment away from wanting to get to know me. Relationships are so difficult when you add the dynamic that your significant other did solo porn when they were young.”

Even when one decides to leave the porn industry, their life can still be difficult in ways one can’t even imagine.

“What I hear is that even though they get out of the porn industry, society still judges them, and still treats them as lesser, because they were once sex workers,” Starr says.

Starr notes that Chase Bank will shut down one’s account if the bank discovers that they do sex work. She also notes occasions in which she has been discriminated against. When she first moved into her house, she hired Lambert Landscape Company to do her landscaping, only to be refused service.

“I was ready to cut them a check for almost $30,000 to do my landscape architecture when I moved into my house,” Starr recalls. “I had my check in hand, and I was like ‘let’s go.’ They contacted me…and told me that they were refusing service. And I was thinking ‘Why? What’s going on?’”

Starr later learned that the owner of the company had run a background check on her and that they refused service to her because her work wasn’t in line with the company’s ethics.

My thought was, ‘First of all, you’re planting grass, and trees and shrubbery,’” Starr recalls. “‘Why would you need to run a background check on me in the first place? What does that have to do with my landscape?’”

Starr adds that she has also been refused service one time when she was trying to get her hair done.

“The girl goes off in the back to mix the colors, and she comes back and she goes, ‘You have to leave,’” Starr recalls. “And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I thought it was a joke. I honestly started laughing. And she was like ‘No, you have to go. We can’t do your service.’ And I was like ‘Why?’ and the girl looked me dead in the eye and said ‘We don’t want to be a part of maintaining your look that you need to do adult movies.’ My jaw hit the floor. Mind you, this was in front of other customers. Everyone could hear the whole conversation.”

As the age-old adage goes, when you post something on the internet, it’s on there forever. Such is the case for former porn actors and actresses who find that making old images and videos disappear is hard.

“Just because you retire, four or five years down the road, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to recognize you,” Starr says, “Also, [the porn industry] repurposes scenes. There are scenes that I filmed in 2008, but they will re-edit them and release them as if I just did them. And most fans can’t tell the difference. They don’t know that I filmed that in 2008. They think I just filmed that. So say a girl retires, they can continue to repurpose her scenes because they own the rights to that scene, forever. They can repurpose it as long as they want.”

Since leaving the porn industry, Doe* has become part-owner of a family operated business. Although he hit a rough patch between now and then, he credits his friends and family as being his biggest supporters.

“I have had situations in my career where people outside of our organization try to blackmail, try to threaten, try to expose, and we don’t let them,” Doe* says. “‘We own it. We know that I made a mistake and that isn’t a representation of myself. Luckily I have a great support network that I’ve surrounded myself with.”

While it may be a fantasy world, Starr reminds us that pornography, whether it be with oneself or between other consenting adults, is as ethical as any other field.

“The porn industry is a highly regulated and governed industry,” Starr says. “We have OSHA that overlooks us, we have strict health protocols that we have to follow with STD testing. We pay our taxes, we’re not doing anything illegal. When I turn in my tax return, it’s very blatant that I’m an adult actress, and that’s what I do.”

*indicates a name-change to protect identity

UNT Alumnus | 26 | Lover of music, food, baseball, dogs and world cultures | Curator of incredibly dope playlists

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store