Pornography as an Advertisement for Prostitution

In the indispensable G2 section of the Guardian, Louis Theroux describes how free pornography on the Internet has largely destroyed the pornographic movie industry. An actress’ fee for doing a hard-core porn scene used to be around $3,000. It has now dropped to $1,000 for big name performers and much less for unknowns. Theroux comments on how some women adapt:

It’s an open secret in the porn world that many female performers are supplementing their income by “hooking on the side”. It’s also called “doing privates”, as in private bookings. The official industry line is that it’s dangerous (because clients aren’t tested the way performers are) and irresponsible (because the women could then infect the closed community of professional performers). But the women can make far more money having sex behind closed doors than doing it on film and, in fact, the practice is widespread. For many female performers nowadays, the movies are merely a sideline, a kind of advertising for their real business of prostitution.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

21 thoughts on “Pornography as an Advertisement for Prostitution”

  1. The headline is a little misleading. When I first read it, I expected some kind of convoluted argument that pornography advertises the overall business of prostitution This is more of a standard marketing tactic, the same way that (generally unprofitable to the artist) sales of music CDs and downloaded tracks serve as advertising for the concerts and merch that make the real money, or how op-eds and tv appearances by up-and-coming pundits act as advertisements for the private speechmaking gigs and consultancies or residencies.

  2. So what is the status of their IP protection. Are they not enforceable, too expensive to enforce, or do they just not want to enforce them? Ditto for musicians.

  3. Paul, I expected the same actually. Then again, the title is exactly what the article is about. We just had different expectations.

    “Do those who use porn not, perhaps, owe it a little something? Should those who download it not be ready to pass on a little cash incentive to the business?”

    I taught a class at UCLA about how internet piracy was disrupting the music industry and different business models the industry might adopt to survive. Time to dust off the old PowerPoint presentations, replace “music industry” with “adult film industry,” and head into Porn valley.

  4. Sorry, the Internet was not the only cause of the demise of the pornography industry.

    First, laws against selling pornography became both looser and more strict at the same time. They became looser because the boundaries of what constituted obscene material expanded and it became more difficult to get criminal convictions. However, the laws with respect to zoning and the ability of communities to use zoning to do away with retail outlets reduced the number of retail outlets and the number of regional distributors.

    Second, the DVD itself was a driving force in the decline of the industry. The DVD’s immediate predecessor, the VHS tape, got people used to seeing porn. (Remember the mom and pop video stores, most of which had an adult section?) However, VHS tapes were fairly expensive to produce and they had a very limited lifespan due to the degradation of the tape and the breakdown of the springs and wheels inside. Once a DVD is produced, it has a virtually unlimited life. Thus, the cost of purchase went down but, at the retailer/regional distributor level, the marginal profit also fell.

    Third, the costs of production also went down. In the areas where most porn is produced, one can rent state of the art equipment by the day for a relatively minimal cost.

    Fourth, the widespread acceptance of the porn industry meant that the cost of possible arrest simply disappeared. Thus, more businessmen and women came into the production end of the business since they no longer faced the “cost” of arrest, community embarrassment, etc.

    Fifth, yes, the Internet was a major contributing factor. No longer was it necessary to produce and carry inventory. And, there is a lot of free stuff around. But, even before the Internet, the boom in the porno industry was destined to turn into a bust.

  5. I for one never thought there was much difference between the two. There is a tiny window of reality that might allow for someone to make real art that was also porn, and of course, this could only be made by actors who weren’t being paid for the sex, but only for the acting. And I’m not sure there would be any sex, as a result, if the person were a real actor. (So, maybe it couldn’t really exist.) Or, people who were narcissists could make their own, starring themselves. (That might happen more often and would be fine with me, assuming consenting adults and blah blah blah.)

    But in practice, I think this does not happen. Since I have never wanted to give money to people who oppress other people, I’m pretty much totally ignorant on this subject, and I don’t miss it.

    What makes me very sad though is this idea now that going to a prostitute is ethical, or at least neutral, and socially acceptable. Like it’s just another market good. I know there have always been people who thought that way, but I used to be sure I didn’t know any of them. Now I’m not.

    This is a very depressing post.

    1. Oops, I meant to say “exhibitionists,” not narcissists. Though I guess they might go together. I have no problem with either, much.

      In fact, I believe the Supremes were also very much in error when they said dancing naked (for money) had no inherent artistic value. (I forget what case that was.) Bodies can be beautiful.

      It’s the money and the coercion I don’t like. Dancing naked doesn’t necessarily harm someone, whereas having sex for money will, inevitably, imo. Both of them, actually.

      1. I don’t think that is what SCOTUS said. Recreational dancing in a dance hall has been held to be not protected by the First Amendment. (City of Dallas v. Stanglin, 490 U.S. 19, 25 (1989)) In Barnes v. Glen Theatre, 501 U.S. 560 (1991), Justice Souter said that there is no inherent expressive value in the mere state of being unclothed. Dancing in the nude, however, can convey a message — most commonly a celebration of sexuality. (Double entendre intended):

        “But dancing as a performance directed to an actual or hypothetical audience gives expression at least to generalized emotion or feeling, and where the dancer is nude or nearly so the feeling expressed, in the absence of some contrary clue, is eroticism, carrying an endorsement of erotic experience. Such is the expressive content of the dances described in the record.” <i<Id., at 581. SCOTUS has consistently recognized that since Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim in 1982, although nude dancing may occupy “the outer perimeters” of First Amendment protection.

        I am skeptical that willing adults having sex for money behind closed doors (absent duress or coercion) will “inevitably” harm the participants, as breaking the act down into its component parts will serve to illustrate. Common experience indicates that prostitution most often involves a male buyer and a female seller. Heterosexual coupling does not inevitably result in harm. Neither does the gratuitous transfer of money from a man to a woman. Where, then, is the “inevitable” harm from combining the two practices?

        1. Thanks for looking up those opinions. I had thought the Supremes had completely pooh-poohed the artistic value of nude dancing but perhaps I remembered it wrong. That is good news. (Of course, I still think our obscenity tradition is backwards, since it punishes the depiction of sex but not violence. I believe that was a recent video game case. Pretty crazy.)

          The inevitable harm is to a person’s humanity and dignity. Both of them. And no, it can’t be proved logically so I won’t bother trying. I don’t live in that world and there isn’t enough tea in China! Best of luck to you.

  6. Somebody notify Lily Ledbetter! Here is an industry where one sex is being paid only a quarter as much!

  7. Stockbrokers are still around, years after online broker-dealers started giving away trades for a dollar. Surely pornstars are just as cunning, if not smarter.

    1. I know nothing about prostitution, but know a little about “free” trades. They’re not free. You might only pay a dollar, but you essentially lose the right to the securities in your account. The broker gets to rehypothecate them, for a healthy stream of fees. That’s how it makes its money.

      Supposedly, this rehypothecation is collateralized. And maybe it is. But at most, the broker has a bunch of collateral in custody, rather than your securities. You’re paying a price, even if you don’t know it.

      1. In addition

        a) many of those cheap-trade deals are come-ons, which vanish fairly soon after you park your securities with that broker
        b) employment and service levels in the retail brokerage levels have in fact plummeted.

  8. “Free pornography on the Internet” isn’t free, of course. Someone is paying, if not the viewer.

    When porn was distributed via physical media, it made sense to produce it in the same country as it was to be consumed in. The mom and pop video stores with their back rooms created Porn Valley. But now that porn is distributed electronically, it can be produced anywhere. Eastern Europe is, I believe, a major center. Porn Valley has been off-shored.

  9. There’s also been an explosion of amateur porn, owing to both to its becoming socially acceptable as well as technological ease. Millions of couples worldwide can now upload themselves.

    But I think we may be heading for a considerable revolution in ideas about pornography. The line between erotic and pornographic, artistic and libidinous has never been so blurred. Kids are growing up in a very explicit sexual environment. Sex seems to be less taboobthan ever.

    1. If truly self-made and owned, I would have no problem with porn. Chris Y’s link below, though, claims most of it is not really amateur. I’m just saying.

      Eli, what do you think of the idea that the more porn people watch, the less sex they have? Maybe these children will accidentally end up celibate! Which would be sad.

    1. Interesting. But I can’t see how this – “now the industry that trades in the debasement and degradation of women is being taken seriously by Wall Street, the media and the political establishment.” – would surprise anyone. Our so-called elites are wrong about so many things these days, this doesn’t even rate an eyebrow raise.

  10. It’s worth noting that this is basically the least objectionable form of prostitution- it’s high end, the women are generally in control, it doesn’t involve sex trafficking, and it isn’t contributing to urban blight.

    If you are prohibiting this, you basically have a problem with women controlling their own bodies.

    1. Nice try. If you can find me one of these women and it turns out she *didn’t* have an abusive childhood or mental health issues, and has other decent employment options, then *maybe* you’d have the beginning of an argument.

      I recognize that there are probably a few women and men who really are much more highly sexualized — to the point of desiring sex with random strangers, who are the kind of people who pay for sex — and yes, those people are “a kind” – and don’t mind being objectified, but I see no evidence for thinking there are more than a few. For example, how many women have you personally met who truly thought about sex the way many men claim to? I’d be surprised if you have even a few.

      And bear in mind, people don’t tell the truth about unpleasant facts. If you think abuse isn’t widespread, it’s just because the people in your life don’t tell you about it. Why would they?

      As for “control” over women’s bodies, I am against the enforcing of laws against prostitution on the backs of the purveyors. Whereas, I’m fine with huge civil fines for the johns. Ideally, there would just be coops I guess, for people who really want to do this for a living. (Who knows, maybe I’m wrong and there are more uninhibited people than I think.) In that context I guess I wouldn’t put this at the top of my agenda for crimefighting. But, I think your assumption about who goes into prostitution is mostly wrong.

      And in any case, I will still think johns are sleazebags. Not someone with whom one would socialize. Not someone who could be considered respectable.

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