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Where Have All the Male Porn Stars Gone?

Aaron Thompson doesn’t really care how you describe his line of work. “I guess I’m technically a dick for hire,” says the 35-year-old porn performer, who goes by the screen name Small Hands. (Yes, he has noticeably small hands.) He’s also fine with “lucky son of a bitch,” since the former bartender and graphic designer only ended up in porn because his wife, Joanna Angel, is an actress, producer and director. The only job description that make him wince is “porn star.”

“I'm definitely not a star,” Thompson says. “I would never call myself that. I can’t imagine anyone would, at least not these days. It’s hard for a guy to come into the business and become a star. Do they even exist anymore?”
They do, but male porn stars in 2018—at least in straight porn—are all seasoned vets, guys in their 40s or older, like Manuel Ferrara, Peter North, Rocco Siffredi, Tommy Gunn, Evan Stone and Mick Blue. The only legitimate post-20th century male porn star is James Deen, who’s 31. But after multiple rape allegations (which as of publication remain allegations), Deen doesn’t have the same star power he once did. By contrast, new female stars are popping up every year—Else Jean, Mia Malkova, Tori Black, Faye Reagan, Christy Mack, to name just a few—and they’re all under 30.

For a compelling example of just how small the pool of male porn stars really is, consider the Adult Video News Awards, the so-called “Oscars of porn”. Over the past decade, nine different women have won the top acting prize, “Female Performer of the Year” whereas the same four guys—Evan Stone, Manuel Ferrara, James Deen and Mick Blue—have taken home the “Male Performer” category. At 40, Blue has won the AVN’s top honor for the last three years, and while flattered by the recognition, he doesn’t believe it’s made any real difference to his career. “Porn sales aren’t driven by awards,” he says.

The most obvious explanation for the dearth of new male porn stars is that it’s no longer a financially lucrative career. “The top reason why men are in porn is for the money,” says James Griffith, a psychologist at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania who studied the reasons both men and women gravitate to adult sex work. The typical payment range for a single porn scene—including the dialogue (“Hello, I have your pizza delivery”) and the sex—is about $500 for male performers, says Eric Masterson, a former porn director and performer who now works as an agent for OC Modeling, a talent agency for the adult industry. “Top performers can make $800 to $1,000 per scene, depending on their popularity,” he says, and that amount hasn’t changed much in the past decade. 

Let’s break down the math: A male performer with a proven track record might get booked for five or six scenes a month, and that’s during a busy month. If he’s an A-list talent and makes $1,000 a scene, that comes to roughly $6,000 a month, or $72,000 a year. The average household income is $73,298, according to the United States Census Bureau. A male porn “star” makes about $3,000 less than an elementary public school teacher in Los Angeles earns in an average year, and the teacher gets benefits, retirement packages, job security, summers off and the confidence of knowing that when he goes out in public, he won’t be recognized by some sneering stranger who says, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from my favorite gangbang video?”

But that’s if you’re lucky enough to be a performer with enough name recognition to get equal billing with your female counterparts. “Male talent is usually one of the smallest line items in the budget,” says Alex Hawkins, the vice president of adult website xHamster. Typical per-scenes rates are $1,500 for women and just $400 for men. Even the makeup artists—who make around $500 per shoot—are better compensated.

Duplicating the Ron Jeremy sexual swagger isn’t so easy for men who came of age in an era of toned-down masculinity and checking your privilege.
It may explain the appeal of “gay-for-pay” porn, in which hetero performers can allegedly make big money for having homosexual sex on camera, up to $5,000 per scene. But as it turns out, those paydays may be exaggerated. Only fan favorites like Brent Corrigan and Carter Dane make the four-digit salaries, and everybody else—including the gay-for-pay actors—make the same as straight porn performers, in the $500-a-scene range.

Despite the lousy pay, men are expected to do more than ever. Shy Love, a 21-year vet of the adult industry who’s worked as an actress, director and talent agent, remembers when the only requirement for a male performer was to get erect on cue. “It didn’t matter what you looked like,” she says. “You could be repulsive, but if your cock got hard when the cameras started rolling, you were a star.” Now, thanks to ED drugs like Viagra, a dependable erection is unremarkable, so an actor with aspirations for a lasting career has to bring something more to the table. “He has to be attractive,” says Love. “That never used to be a requirement before. He also has to be able to act. Producers are looking for Abercrombie & Fitch models with Marlon Brando acting chops. Oh, and he has to have an enormous schlong. Eight-and-a-half inches or bigger. You used to be able to get away with an average-sized penis, but not anymore. Everybody needs a monster cock. It’s never been less easy for men trying to get a job in porn.”

For fledgling porn stars who think they have potential but need direction, there are insiders willing to help. Nicola Lafleur, a producer for Quebec, Canada-based adult studio Pegas Productions, has offered workshops for men with porn dreams without the formal training. For just $149, aspiring woodsmen can attend a full-day retreat, where they’re given hands-on guidance in the “61 qualities” needed to be successful in porn, including choosing a porn name, professionalism and attitude, expressiveness on the set, and “forbidden actions (or don’ts)”. Lafleur says he’s only hired two regular actors from his workshops despite hundreds of applicants. “I believe it is hard to find a real alpha male nowadays in the Generation Y and the millennials,” he says. A great leading man in porn needs to be overtly macho, sometimes even comically so. (Think the male lead in… well, every porn you’ve ever seen.) As Lafleur has witnessed from too many well-meaning but underwhelming students, duplicating the Ron Jeremy, “I know I look ridiculous but I don’t care” sexual swagger isn’t so easy for men who came of age in an era of toned-down masculinity and checking your privilege.

The problem isn’t as simple as millennials not wanting to look foolish. Porn starlet Kayden Kross, 31, says that many young men in porn—or at least the ones she’s worked with—struggle with “extreme sensitivity.” She’s had two male co-stars walk off a set “because my hair was bothering them,” she says. “They didn’t want my hair touching their skin. If I wanted to touch them at all, it had to be in a very specific, choreographed way. It’s exhausting.”

Kross wishes there were more porn actors like her boyfriend, 41-year-old Manuel Ferrara, who she says is part of the “pre-Viagra old guard.” One of her favorite stories about Ferrara involves him showing up at a suburban house for a shoot and being greeted by a “little old lady who made him some hot cocoa,” Kross says. The crew eventually arrived, and he learned that the old lady was his partner for the sex scene. To make matters worse, the old lady had a dog, who nipped at Ferrara’s ankles during filming and “took a shit next to the bed while he and the old lady were fucking,” Kross says. “He could smell it and it was horrible, but he kept going. That's what it means to be a porn star. A porn star doesn't whine when somebody's hair is touching his chest in a weird way. He has sex with an old lady while a dog is pooping next to his head, and he finishes the fucking scene because he's a professional.”

We may not have a male porn actor shortage—certainly nothing on par with Japan, where there are apparently “only 70 male porn stars to 10,000 women,” and the number of male porn stars “is less than that of Bengal tigers,” according to Ken Shimizuw, one of the country's top performers. But numbers are down, if only because today's male talent isn't always up to the task.

You've got to make yourself indispensable. Hard cocks aren’t special anymore. Anyone can do that.
Blue, the sole man included in 2016’s CNBC porn power list, “The Dirty Dozen: Porn's biggest stars”, is sympathetic to young actors trying to break into the business, but not enough to hire them. “I'd always cast somebody who has more experience, no question,” he says. “The amount of money you save by not taking the risk with new guys who don’t know what they’re doing, it’s huge. I’d rather pay a few hundred more for somebody with a track record, because I know they wouldn’t waste my time, and I’d save money in the long run.” 

Thompson, however, still believes there’s a place in the porn industry for the men who aren’t handsome or talented or dependable or hung enough to be superstars. Somebody has to do the “blowbangs,” he says, the group sex scenes “with one girl and fifteen guys. I’ve done those jobs and they’re terrible. You’re jerking off for two hours and maybe getting a blowjob for two minutes in 30 second intervals. There’s nothing in the world more humbling than being guy number 14 in a blowbang video.” There may never be another porn star of a caliber like John Holmes or Ron Jeremy, but there’ll always be a place for a guy who doesn’t mind spending a day “hanging out with all the boys, jacking off in some warehouse and hoping to keep your dick hard so you can get paid,” Thompson says. “If that’s your idea of a career, well hell, come on out to Hollywood and give it your best shot.”

Thompson says he has no illusions of becoming the next marquee male porn star. He’s not even sure how much longer he wants to be performing in front of the camera. “I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on,” he says. “I’m an art director and I do all post-production for our company, Burning Angel. I edit and do color correction and write original music and do the CG and the trailers and the title art.” Thompson might very well be the next Ron Jeremy, but circa 2018 rather than 1978. 

“It’s not just about what you do in front of the camera anymore,” he says. “You've got to make yourself indispensable. Hard cocks aren’t special anymore. Anyone can do that. But me, I’m trying to prove that I’m a one-man machine.”

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