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Since the Great Recession, the adult movie industry has struggled to make a comeback. Widespread digital piracy and a host of other challenges have forced the business of making porn to reinvent itself in new ways that will net bigger profits.
Here, women in porn -- those in front of and behind the camera -- talk about how they make ends meet in today's porn landscape. It ruined the fantasy. Jessa is 20 and a porn star. She has very long, very straight, very blonde hair, and she is wearing a thin gold chain with tiny gold crosses hanging from it, artfully ripped jeans, a white leather motorcycle jacket, and sky-high pink sparkly heels. We're sitting at the Digital Playground booth at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, and all around us, the aisles are filled with people who have come from across the country and around the world to get as close as physically possible to porn stars like her.
These days, sustaining a career in the adult movie industry isn't as easy as it used to be , and some porn stars double as escorts in their spare time to increase their income. Jessa may be young, but she is keenly aware that her value as a porn star in the 21st century lies not in what she shares but in what she withholds. Her boyfriend, Barrett Blade, a veteran porn star and director, has advised her that holding herself back -- say, refusing to do certain things on camera -- will increase her value in the long run and provide her with a sustainable career.
Other starlets haven't been so savvy. Piracy spreads their images across the internet as fast as they're released, saturating the market and sapping interest among consumers who demand the new new thing. In a side room across from a courtyard in which people are smoking, a panel titled "The Feminist Porn Mystique" is underway. The panelists include porn veteran Nina Hartley, actress and director Dana Vespoli, and Stormy Daniels, a buxom blonde Wicked Pictures contract performer, screenwriter, and director from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who arrives 15 minutes late in a scarlet dress to scattered applause.
What is feminist porn? That remains unclear. Several of the panelists describe themselves as feminists; for others, a feminist porn production is more focused on "sexual agency" and erotic authenticity, plausible story lines and diverse body types. Down the hall, Jessica Drake sweeps into the convention with a reality TV crew trailing her like a pack of anxious dogs. As she greets fans, tugs at the hem of her purple lace mini-dress, and confers with her publicist, a camera records her every move, a microphone hovers overhead.