Performer Advice from Nina Hartley

Oct 24, 2016 | Performers Advice

Hi. Nina Hartley here. If you ever met me when you were new in the business, I likely gave you the “Mother Hen” lecture. This is my attempt to give newbies as many tools as possible to help them have a successful and positive time in adult entertainment in as short a time as possible. After 32+ years in the business and counting, I’ve made all the mistakes. This is what I wish I had known when I started. The list is as follows:

  1. Know why you’re here and own it.
  2. Have a plan for after.
  3. Handle your shit around money. Get professional help if need be. I’m living with the consequences of financial mistakes I made in my Twenties, and it sucks balls.
  4. If you don’t do it at home for free and for fun, I strongly recommend you don’t do it on camera for money.
  5. That goes double for anal.
  6. Really.
  7. Don’t date anyone without a car, a job, and a place to live.
  8. Have a floor price below which you won’t get out of bed.
  9. Take the day off and go to the damn beach. Make memories. Porn’s not going anywhere.
  10. The FIRST time an intimate partner slut shames you or uses your job against you during an argument, they. must. go. now. Do not tolerate this, not for a moment.
  11. Doesn’t matter that it’s hard and it hurts. Do it.
  12. If you have to be high or drunk to work, get another job. It will eat your soul otherwise.
  13. Have a private sex life that’s just for you. No money, no camera. On your terms. This allows you to tolerate the bullshit that comes from having sex for a living.

This post is about the second point: Have a plan for after.

Unless you’re like me, your involvement in porn is not likely to last your working lifetime. Almost to a one, every performer I’ve ever met thought they’d just be here for a while. Earn a little money, pay a few bills, have a few thrills, travel, party a bit, play the star, and then split for their “real” life. They thought they’d marry, have babies and be “normal,” or at least be able to put porn behind them for whatever was next.

It did work out like that for some, and porn was easier to leave back in the days of video. Then, the public could avoid smut if it wanted to. A person had to leave the house to find porn shops or movie theaters. If a woman wanted to quit porn, all she had to do was stop dying her hair, maybe get her breast implants removed, take off the long nails, and she’d be able to slip back into civilian life. Of course, there would be that gap in her resume to explain, but porn was unlikely to come back and bite her in the ass. While the men we know now as the greats of the Golden Age of Porn did spend their entire careers in the movie business, plenty of men did come for a while before fading back into civilian life. Show business life is not for everyone. Some former performers ended up joining churches, working at pizza joints, as skycaps, bellhops, cleaning women, working as vet techs, doing retail and other jobs that don’t have much room for advancement. They may not have liked the drop in (insecure/irregular) pay, but they appreciated the uptick in stability and having a regular schedule, plus no longer having to play the popularity game in order to be noticed or get hired.

Nowadays, that is over. You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: porn is forever. Thanks to the Internet, anyone you’ve ever known can and possibly will see you fuck. There is no going back, and there is no taking it back. When I say, “Have a plan for after,” you and I both know there really is no “after,” even if you keep your clothes on for the rest of your life. What this means now, as I see it, is that it will serve you well to think through what doing porn/building a brand can mean for your future success and security.

Porn is a form of sex work. Legal sex work, to be sure, but sex work all the same. Whether or not you think so, you’re seen by the greater society as a kind of whore, which means many people think they don’t have to respect you as a human being first. Our sex-negative, erotophobic, Puritan-based culture has no respectable place for sex workers or for the important labor they perform. That’s why APAC is so special. In all my years in the industry, this is the first time that performers are seeing themselves as a community, and that’s very heartening.

Back to after. You’re making porn, but you don’t want to work naked on camera forever. What do you do? What can you do? You can take advantage of the flexible scheduling common in porn (even more so since so many of us work from home and use the Internet for our money) and use the work to pay for your schooling. In a few years, you’ll have your degree and no debt. If you’re good with money, you may even have a nest egg. Depending on your interests, your experience in porn can be an advantage in fields such as counseling and therapy (though the requirements to become a licensed therapist are daunting), writing/blogging/toy reviewing, yoga teacher, fitness coach, massage therapist, etc. You can leverage your experience in adult entertainment to branch out into hosting passion parties (sex toy parties) or become a life and sex coach (a growing field that is increasingly competitive). Many women take classes in real estate and use their ability to talk to all sorts of people and put them at ease to become good at selling property instead of their sexual skills.

Others remain in the sex business but slide over into selling/marketing toys and novelties or become a production manager or agent. Some have learned photography and now do weddings, parties, and boudoir photos. One well-known star planned her exit a year in advance when her career was still white-hot because she knew she wanted to do something else. I’ve not known of one other performer who went about planning a mid-career career shift and then follow through with such success. She had a parallel interest in sports and used her sparkling personality, comfort with talking to groups of people, experience as a media personality, and love of the game to make a new life for herself. She is one of the few who have managed to gracefully transition out of porn and into a life of her own choosing.

For the rest of us, not to be too blunt about it, it is a distinct possibility that, despite your best efforts and education, the “real world” will not let you in. You get the certification(s) and get the job, and then someone at work outs you to management, and they feel they must let you go. This, despite the fact that porn is legal and you did nothing wrong and that they may even be a fan. You could fight them in court but that’s expensive and puts you out there for all to judge. It would be a brave, expensive and lonely fight for a good cause, but I don’t recommend it for your mental health. People being outed at a straight job by former porn consumers who recognize them happens more than we’d like to think. We think of porn as normal, but many other people still think of it as deviant, sick, immoral or just plain icky. People who make porn subject themselves to others’ bigotry and ignorance, the effects of which can last a lifetime and even trickle down to a performer’s children.

However it happens, be it by choice or by force majeure, one day you’ll likely be done with porn, or it will be done with you, and you’ll still have to make a living. Think about what skills you can acquire while you’re here that translate to other fields of work or study and work toward that end. Just know what awaits you: other people’s judgment, fear, prejudice, creepy interest, and ignorance. These are the flip side of having fans that love you. While I usually agree with the saying, “What other people think of me is none of my business,” that falls short when they’re in the position to hire or fire you.

As a lifer, I knew there would be no “after” for me. I’m here till I retire, but my career has shifted over time, and I expect it to continue to do so. But you may not want to be here till you’re old, as I do. If so, start planning your exit as best as you can while you have the opportunity to do so.