This post may get dirty, so discretion is advised.
Pornography is lucrative as any prominent entertainment sector out there. It generates huge profits and employs countless people. Los Angeles, which is the hub of professional pornographic filmmaking, is worth $1 billion (£628 million) to the American economy every year and employs 10,000 people, producing 8% of the all adult films released each year.
The powerhouse that is the LA porn industry outmatches the UK’s entire adult entertainment revenue. The most remarkable differences between American and British pornography industries is that despite the UK having more liberal sensibilities to fornication, hardcore sex videos were banned here until only 12 years ago, which is more than 30 years after America first legalised the sale of non-simulated material.
While the entire American pornography industry can accumulate estimated revenues between $2 billion to $13 billion (£1.2 to £8.2 billion) annually, its fortunes are increasingly under attack from political adversaries, shrinking home entertainment markets, amateur digital competitors and global piracy. The current business model for LA based pornography is increasingly outdated and unsustainable.
Whereas British pornography is defined by its low-level smuttiness, often comprising of pseudo-gonzo scenarios consisting of, for example, unsightly middle-aged men coaxing dour supermarket checkout girls into staged ménage à trios, American pornography prides itself on decent production values and the employment of celebrity porn stars, all of which comes at a cost . A good porn agent will broker up to $2,000 (£1,256) for a sex scene, charging more if his client is required to apply her own makeup before filming and drive herself to set. The typical budget for a professional American hardcore pornography movie is between $50,000 to $300,000 per shoot (£31,000 to £189,000), employing ten to forty people on each production. When we consider that the equivalent international production costs significantly less, and is cheaply distributed, it’s easy to see how badly impacted the American pornography industry is. In fact, things are so bad that according to top porn agent, Mark Spiegler, a female porn star’s yearly average earnings have gone from $100,000 to $50,000 (£63,000 down to £31,000) within the space of a decade. (For educational purposes, Spiegler kindly provided Hollywood Reporter with a breakdown of the current payment scale for an in-demand porn actress, who is paid about $800 for a girl-girl scene, $1,000 for a guy-girl scene, $1,200 or more for anal sex and $4,000 or more for double penetration. For the UK porn pay scale, adjust currency to pound sterling and deflate all fees by 50 %―we come cheap.)
The priggish American Establishment has its talons out, tearing away at an already compromised industry. Last month, 55% of countrywide voters passed a law called ‘Measure B’ that will introduce costly new health permits for all porn films shot within Los Angeles County. The way Measure B is written means that pornography sets will be considered clinical environments, essentially requiring the utilisation of gloves, masks and condoms during sex performances. The eroticisation sought will ultimately be bargained, thus ruining all perceptions of verisimilitude for the viewer. As California and New Hampshire are the only states where pornography shoots are legal, the wiggle room for adult entertainment studios will be severely curtailed.
The quagmire of bureaucracy faced by the Californian porn business will be massively complicated because of these new measures. LA can hardly do with any more of its film industries leaving for new pastures, which the state fears will happen. The new legal requirements mean producers will have to obtain permits from the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health, in addition to the filming permits already required by FilmL.A. According to preliminary estimates, the county expects the entire program will cost about $300,000 (£189,000) annually. Porn producers will have to foot that bill entirely. The price will be based upon the number of people who purchase these permits, the fewer production companies that get the permit, the higher the cost will be. This means that if fifty permits are issued, the cost per permit would be roughly $11,658 (£7,326).
Pornography is as much of an American institution as apple pie manufacturing, but these new laws will seriously ruin its standing as the world’s biggest adult film industry. Like it or not, it’s an industry that contributes significantly to the American economy and is as essential to the Californian entertainment sector as either Hollywood or Silicon Valley.
But pornography has a chequered image. It flies in the face of feminism and good values, exploiting women for the entertainment of men. (Gay pornography is also a part of the American adult entertainment industry, but its profile is nowhere near as mainstream or profitable.) Just because an industry proves lucrative, that doesn’t mean it should be given free reign, right? After all, all developed societies have placed massive restrictions on the sale of harmful materials like alcohol and tobacco, and those industries survive. With the rampant proliferation of sexual content filtering its way into numerous mediums (from Fifty Shades to Christina Aguilera music videos), government has a duty to make the production and acquisition of pornography hard as possible.
As liberal and progressive the UK appears to be when it comes to sex, it is perhaps the only country in Europe that has more stringent measures in place to restrict the availability of pornography. Unlike in America, where one can easily purchase hardcore videos from some mainstream emporiums (I’ve seen it); Britain restricts sales exclusively to licensed sex shops. Whereas hardcore pornography can be accessed through reputable hotel chains in the US (I’ve seen it), such material is unlawful to broadcast even on subscriber based UK adult entertainment channels. In addition, the UK is still the only Member State of the European Union that prohibits private imports of adult pornography by consumers coming from other Member States. Recently, agents of Her Majesty Revenue & Customs seized 96,783 items of pornographic media carried by people travelling into the UK, proving that sex doesn’t sell in every territory.
One realises that this is an extremely prudish and academic account of the pornography trade, but it’s a distillation of what that industry is: a profit-driven business. The best thing about legalising hardcore pornography is that respective countries can monitor and tax it accordingly, but the greater issues concern pornography’s more ethereal possibilities, where videos can be shot, pirated, uploaded and accessed with great ease, ultimately bypassing stringent laws and ending up in places where it shouldn’t.
Governments can make the production processes of porn as complex as they want, but they may be wielding a sledgehammer when what’s required is a scalpel. By identifying sex education deficits in school teaching methods and carnal misperceptions between males and females (primarily in the former), maybe society will be better placed to tackle the grander challenges posed by pornography. The issue isn’t with the availability of pornography as much as it is with the lack of understanding about the subject matter.
In fact, the best antidote is to simply read this post because it manages to make pornography sound utterly unexciting and operational at once. Not an easy thing to pull off.