This post is a follow-up to the APAC panel on taking a break from porn. It originally appears on Conner Habib’s site and will be modified to appear in APAC’s permanent resources for performers.
One of the most common – and offensive – questions that porn performers get from viewers is, “what are you going to do after this?” It’s as if porn star can’t exist, be looked at and wished upon, without viewers imagining that same star collapsing. Or perhaps better said, some fans have trouble meeting porn stars without expressing their anxieties of having watched. Another way of saying, “What will you do after this” is “I’ll stop watching you some day!” or “One day you won’t be desirable anymore!”
It’s just rude for fans to ask that question. But it is important for performers to be able to have an answer. Maybe not a complete one, but some gesture toward an answer somewhere.
Even if porn performers don’t ever retire (some just keep going and going and look great doing it), most will eventually take a hiatus. Maybe you need to tend to the sensitivities of a new relationship. Maybe you’ve got a new job you’re focusing most your time on. Maybe your asshole just needs a break.
In any case, you’ve got that feeling: it’s time to stop making porn.
Having taken over a year off myself (I started shooting again in 2015 with a much lighter and more leisurely approach) and having also watched friends successfully and not-so-successfully disengage from the industry, I’ve compiled ten essentials.
1. Don’t hide the fact that you’ve made porn.
This is the number one on my list for a reason: it’s what gets people in the most trouble after they decide to leave. Stories about someone’s “porn past” surfacing are always on the tip of the media’s tongue. Porn pasts “surface” because people tried to bury them. But there is no such thing as “after porn ends” anymore. Porn is like that old tattoo you have: whether or not it still suits you, you’re going to (at least!) have to learn to love it as representing a specific mindset and time in your life. Your porn career will always be available for viewers to enjoy and for potential lovers and employers to discover. (You should consider this before you get in porn, as well.)
That doesn’t mean you have to raise your hand at the PTA meeting and tell people you were the Queen of Anal, it just means if it is relevant to conversation, a job, or a relationship, be open about it. Sex worker advocate and all-around amazing person Amber Hollibaugh once said, “Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.” If you allow your life and history to be open, you will be strong.
2. Understand that porn has given you skills rather than fearing it as something that will hinder future successes.
For every door porn has closed in your life, it’s opened another, even if you can’t always see it.
Being in porn cultivates many skills (I’ve written about some of these skills before), some of which are marketable, some of which are personal. These can include knowledge about sexual health, how to work out and eat to maintain a certain kind of body, basic entertainment production knowledge, media skills, and more. Whether you choose to use any of these skills or not is up to you. But it’s good to create what new age-y life coaches call an “asset inventory” of them. What have you learned from porn? What have you gained from it? What connections have you made? What are all the things that you have going for you having had those experiences? Make a list and you might find yourself writing for quite awhile.
3. Think about how you’re going to transition out while your career is going well and you have no intention of leaving.
This is basic preparation for the future. When you’re in the cummy peak of your porn career, when your twitter followers are jumping by double digits, when you’re getting more dick pics in your inbox than ever, ask yourself, “What next?” Asking yourself this in a moment when you feel secure will always give you a better answer than scrambling around. It will also save you from continuing to make porn — because you’re unsure what your options could be — when you’re ready to move on to something else. It might also lead you to leveraging your position in the industry to learn more skills. Porn performers often teach themselves camera, editing, directing, and producing skills while they’re spending the majority of their time in front of the camera. While you’re close to producers, directors, set designers and more, don’t hesitate to ask to learn more skills if you’re interested.
4. You may have sexual and personal needs that porn fulfilled.
They’ll need to be met in different ways. Whatever your motivations for being in porn are, you will probably, while you’re making it, alter your sex life, push the boundaries of your sexuality, and receive adoration for your body and sex appeal. When you’re done, whether you were in it for the pleasure or the money or both, you may have a hard time transitioning back to a life without all that. You might find yourself missing access to sex with other porn performers, or the role play, or the praise from strangers on your computer screen. You may also miss the exhibitionism and the pleasure of enduring long sexual sessions. Your fans will stick with you, but the praise might change or decrease in frequency. It’ll be harder to dress up like a doctor and give fuckable patients anal exams. You’ll have to work out new ways to satisfy any sexual and personal needs porn fulfilled for you.
That might mean continuing to be exhibitionistic online in some way. It might mean staying in the public eye in a different way and finding understanding sexual partners.
Whatever your feelings might be, stay aware of this possible shift, and don’t despair that you don’t have porn anymore to fulfill the need. Instead, think about what it is that gratified you and see if anything else can give you the similar (if not exact) feeling.
5. You can continue to make money from your scenes while you’re not shooting.
If anyone has ever been excited to watch you have sex, someone will always be excited and will always be discovering you for the first time. Make sure you acquaint yourself with your studios’ affiliate programs. If you don’t want to maintain a porn site when you’re done, you can always start a blog anonymously with affiliate links to make all-but passive income. You can also continue to sell clips you own, clothes you wore on set, signed photos, merchandise, and more.
6. Don’t say you’re “retiring” and don’t delete your social media accounts.
Too many performers grandly announce their retirement one day, then, for whatever reason, shoot scenes a few months later. Don’t announcement retirement. Often, performers announce retirement for themselves. It’s like someone with a hangover saying, “I am never drinking again!” If you’re really retiring, you probably won’t have to state anything so dramatically.
It’s better and more realistic to say you’re “taking a break.” If you have an extremely compelling reason to retire, go ahead and say you’re retiring. But realize you can only really say that once. After that, no one is going to believe you. Studios sometimes hire in a flurry when announcements like this are made, so it can be a good financial move; but again: only once. It will affect your reputation if you do it again and again.
To make matters worse, in a dramatic I-cut-all-my-hair-off-to-prove-a-point move, some performers announce retirement and then delete all their social media accounts. Your fans are and will always be an asset to you. They’ve supported you, they’ve created tumblrs exclusively focused on your penis or vagina, they’ve said sweet things to you in your vaguest single-word status updates of sadness. Don’t abandon them. That doesn’t mean you have to interact with them. But deleting an a whole linked community of people that you might want to interact with, share content with, announce upcoming projects to, and just in general be nice to isn’t a great exit strategy.
7. Seek relationships with partners who are understanding.
If someone only likes you because you stopped making porn, they’ll probably have some difficulty with your pornographic personality. That doesn’t mean you can’t date anyone who doesn’t throw confetti every time one of your bukkake scenes shows up in his spam email. But be reasonable. If someone gives you indications that he/she can’t deal with the fact that your naked and sexualized body is available to his.her friends, family, co-workers, that will cause some discussions and confrontations. Ask yourself and answer as honestly as possible what your threshold is for these confrontations, how patient you are willing to be with your partner, and how likely he/she is to reach understanding with you.
8. Remember that you have allies and remember to be an ally.
The community of people that will be most able to understand and help you once you exit porn is made up of performers and other sex workers. They will be the people most able to understand avenues to new work, support you, stand with you against stigmas and challenges. Performers – and other sex workers – are all in this together. To that end, join and stay in touch with the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, look into sex worker health and support services like St. James Infirmary, and keep in touch with colleagues you respect. If you think your perspective can help currently working performers or performers who are leaving the industry, offer yourself as a resource. Remember to do this without declaring your experience as the definitive one; experiences in and upon leaving porn will vary from individual to individual.
9. If and when you want to get back in, don’t assume it will be smooth.
The good news is, you will never be starting from zero again. You can show producers, whether you know them or not, “I know how to show up and perform.” That puts you ahead of the vast majority of people looking for work. But it’s not always easy to get back into porn and that’s not usually personal. Turnover for new performers and staff at studios can be fast-paced, so you might not be remembered. Maybe the staff at a studio has changed and no one there has heard of you. Regulations and protocols might have changed for a producer (or on a legal level). Your body might be different now, but you may not be totally aware of it since it’s been a gradual change for you.
Don’t be worried by all this; it might not be difficult at all. If it is, you’ll get cast again if you are professional and persistent. And worse-case scenario, you can always produce your own porn, utilizing your knowledge of the industry, employing performers you know, and distributing to fans you’ve made.
10. Remember you are brave.
Okay, I lied up there in the first item. This is actually the number one thing to remember. Listen, you’ve done something that you wanted to do in spite of the cultural discouragement, potential stigma, and discrimination. You chose to do the thing that was forbidden because you knew it was for you. So think about it: how hard can a job interview be after you’ve been fucked on a motorcycle? How tough can it be to tell a partner about your history after you’ve had oral sex in front of a crowd of people? You’ve learned how to control your breathing while taking an arm-sized penis up your butt. You know how to get your body to be aroused and performative with someone you have no sexual attraction to. The rest of life?
You’ve got this. You’re awesome.