Love Junkies

Susannah Breslin takes you deep inside the sad, desperate lives of male porn stars.

Here’s what people don’t understand about porn. It’s not about women. It’s about men. It’s not about vaginas. It’s about penises.

It is made by men for men, and no amount of feminist theorizing in hallowed academic halls, on feminist blogs, or anywhere else, will make room in porn for what women think of it. Why? Because porn cares no more for women than dreams care for waking.

Though I’ve spent a good portion of my career writing about porn, I was never interested in porn stars. Female porn stars, that is. I was interested in the men. Stripped of their clothes by the medium, stripped of their dignity by the nature of their work, and stripped of their pride by the all-seeing, unblinking eye of the camera that followed their every desperate thrust, Porn Valley’s working stiffs offer a peek behind the curtain of masculinity at manhood laid bare.

♦♦♦

In 1997, I visited my first porn set. The name of the movie was “Flashpoint.” It was a big budget feature.

Over the years, I’ve written about what I saw there so many times—the seven porn stars having an orgy on a fire truck in the middle of a parking lot in downtown Los Angeles under the scorching midday sun; the woodsman up the fireman’s ladder getting a blow job from the busy, busty blonde whose head bobbed like a chicken’s; that evening’s climactic scene inside an abandoned warehouse where a naked (but for a pair of thigh-high shiny red boots) and bent over Jenna Jameson turned her head above her shoulder and informed her costar, T.T. Boy, arguable best known for having been described in the pages of The New Yorker as “a life-support system for a penis,” to, “Take it easy on me, OK?” as he and his erect phallus bore down upon her while flames shot up all around their X-rated dream sequence.

If you thought these men wanted to be studs, you were wrong. If you thought they were in it for the sex, you were soon corrected. If you thought they were in it for the glory, you were to find otherwise. They weren’t in it for any of that. They were in it for love. Only for love would a man dedicate his life to the sausage-making enterprise that is the porn industry.

♦♦♦

Early this past June in the San Fernando Valley, a 34-year-old porn star named Steve Driver (real name: Stephen Hill) killed a fellow male porn star (stage name: Tom Dong) and slashed two coworkers with a samurai sword at an adult video production facility. A few days later, surrounded by LAPD SWAT team members and having been tasered, Hill went over the edge of a cliff and fell to his death some fifty feet below.

His final act was captured on videotape by a posse of news crews hot on the trail of the Porn Star-Turned-Samurai Slayer. Several recordings of the incident from multiple angles posted on YouTube failed to reveal whether Hill slipped or killed himself.

When the news broke, an editor at Salon asked me if I would write a story about it. So I did. I had never met Hill, but I had met men in the porn industry who were a lot like him. I speculated as to his state of mind and why I thought he had gone off the deep end. I tried to be sympathetic. He was a human being, after all. I wrote:

“Over the years, I have found that all porn stars have one thing in common: an overwhelming, desperate desire to be loved. Many of the men who work in the porn business are neither fools nor thugs. They love women and crave social acceptance to such a profound degree that they are willing to go to any lengths—even subjugating themselves to the unknowable, undeniable demands of their own penises—to, for one fleeting moment, feel that, in some way, they mattered to someone.”

The day the piece appeared online, I received an email from Hill’s uncle. He thanked me for writing the story. He said he appreciated that I had not treated his mentally troubled nephew’s death as if it was a punch line to a joke nobody quite had the heart to tell.

The next day, I wrote Hill’s uncle a note in return. I told him that if Hill’s father ever wanted to get in touch with me, he could. Not long after, I received another email, the subject header of which read: “I am Stephen Hill’s father.”

“To the world the picture of Stephen is of a killer poised with a sword on the edge of a cliff, surrounded by black-armored swat officers,” his father wrote. “This picture that I can’t get out of my mind, however, is of a little boy running to the door and grabbing me by the knees yelling ‘Daddy’s home.’”

♦♦♦

These days, porn is everywhere, but when I write about what it’s really like behind the scenes in the porn business—for the men, for the women, for everyone working in what I came to refer to over the years as “a meat grinder for the human condition”—I get a great many emails.

Mostly, they are from people I don’t know. By and large, they are compassionate people. They are kind. They are thoughtful. They read my story, and, they say, it made them sad.

They sound a lot like that elderly woman who comes up to Tim O’Brien at the end of “How to Tell a True War Story,” the one with the tears in her eyes who is very sorry about the dead baby buffalo and tells him to write about something other than war, to put it all behind him. Their emails say the same thing: I didn’t know it was like that.

I understand what they are saying, but I don’t believe them. You can watch porn or you can not watch porn, you may have ideas about porn or you may have nothing to say about porn whatsoever, you could be a porn addict or you could prefer protesting against porn in the streets, but if you write me an email in which you tell me you are shocked (aghast, in fact) to discover that fucking on camera for a living is a really hard line of business to be in for the men and for the women who work in it, you have got to be kidding me.

Otto von Bismarck said, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Of course, the same can be said of porn. This is the problem with talking about porn. How can one possibly know the truth of what porn is and still get off on it? It is impossible.

♦♦♦

He’ll do something, you’ll see. That’s what the photographer said about T.T. Boy that night on the set of “Flashpoint,” and she was right. After he had delivered his money shot, and the director had called, “Cut!,” a PA came up to T.T. Boy and handed him a wad of paper towels.

Then, with his paper towels in one hand and his penis in the other, T.T. Boy began scanning the room. He was looking for someone. He was looking for something. He found me hunkered down in the corner, watching him. It all happened so long ago that I can’t remember if he smiled or grimaced, but I’m pretty sure I understand what he was trying to say, even if he didn’t say anything. I think he wanted me to see him, the real him, as something more than a prop to a porn star.

Photos by Susannah Breslin


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About Susannah Breslin

Susannah Breslin is a freelance journalist, blogger, photographer, and creator of The War Project.

Comments

  1. So many people with whom I talk think nothing of porn. They think it’s a natural occurrence in human existence. They think more women should watch it. They think it’s a complimentary addition to their love lives. I’ve read articles telling women why it’s medically good for their men to include porn in their masturbation time.

    Do people take you at your word, when you write stuff like this? You say people express they “never knew”… but you’re right, we all know. We all should know. We chose not to, yes?

    I can’t decide if reading this article makes me feel that I’m not crazy, that there are others out there who understand what goes on with sexuality, with human beings, human psyche in sex, etc. … or if it just makes me feel that much more alone.

  2. After reading your piece Susannah, I totally agree with you. Here’s my take.

    As a gay man, I’ve seen quite a bit of porn. Had friends in the industry. I’ve even dated some actors. I know what the industry is like, I just chose to ignore it while watching it.

    It’s not as if suddenly I know that the actors are in love with each other (though they might be). I know that their job is so difficult that most actors in the business make it less than 5 years before they quit. That some of them, in order to make more money, do things that they would never do in real life (gay-for-pay). I choose to ignore those aspect while watching.

    Do I feel sorry for those that the industry chews up and spits out. To a certain degree, I do. I also know that these men are adults and participate in an industry that they know that their careers are incredibly short. They know, if not from the beginning then soon after, that they are a “dime a dozen” commodity. And while this is a life that they have, they chose this career and the problems that go along with it, consciously or unconsciously.

  3. I appreciate your take on this, but I also find it very one sided and does not take in the gestalt of the industry. More people have friends and acquaintances in porn than you seem to think and they love their life, the perks, the money, the travel, the fame and the sex however robotic it often is. I do not believe for a second that every porn star is damaged any more than race car drivers, rodeo cowboys or aerial acrobats. It’s the thrill. Using the bad behavior of one said porn star who had a meltdown does not give license to crucify an entire industry of individuals as pathetically desperate for love. Porn is supply and demand. If people didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there.

  4. I don’t know about other guys, but personally, I prefer my porn without men.

  5. I have no doubt the lives of many porn stars are extremely tough. I fully believe some of them hate it and wish they were doing something else. By no means do I think it is glamorous.

    Having said that, I don’t give a shit.

    They’re consenting adults who sign up for this. And their sole purpose is to entertain, titillate or otherwise arouse people. They’re being compensated for it. So why should I think about their plight while I’m watching? I don’t care about their troubles, I have enough of my own. That doesn’t make me a bad person, it makes me a guy who occasionally likes to watch some porn.

    • You are a bad person, not because you watch porn, but because you are stubbornly trying to convince yourself that there are no bad consequences to the porn industry. Possibly you don’t care about sweatshops either, as the workers are ‘consenting adults who signed up’.

      It doesn’t take a genius (or reading a blog post) to work out that there are quite a few damaged and dysfunctional people in porn, and a lot of exploitation goes on. There’s blood and shit on-set (but off-camera of course) too.

      The average financial compensation (even for the women) is not as good as you might think, and many of the performers don’t come from a background where they know about financial planning, or think ahead to their future after their porn career. Unsurprisingly, repeated comebacks after ‘retirement’ (usually in more and more degrading roles) are common, and drink and drugs are a staple. Porn is a high-risk career for suicide – for both male and female performers. And did you know it is considered normal to have herpes in the porn industry?

      What about limits? I wonder if you think that the kind of porn produced by Max Hardcore is acceptable? He seeks out industry newcomers, the naive, and the desperate, and does his worst. And his worst is pretty bad. Let’s just say that lots of crying goes on on his sets. And he likes the the girls to hold stuffed toys.

      If you can, watch ‘Hardcore’, a UK Channel 4 documentary showing some of the underside of the porn industry, and ‘Exxxit: Life After Porn’, that shows that a lot of the impact on the performer’s lives comes after the leave the industry.

      The lives of Janine Lindemulder (Jesse James’ ex-wife); Marie Carey’s problems, and Penny Flames’ experiences are much more the sad normal reality than Jenna Jameson’s relatively comfortable life.

      Yeah, I like porn movies with big-booty girls myself. But I don’t pretend it’s all ok, and I do my best not to feed the beast.

      • Ah, I see. Because I disagree with you I’m a bad person. Interesting.

        For what it’s worth, I am not trying to convince myself there are no negative consequences in the porn industry. I bet it’s like everywhere else, where the top performers make it look great but 99% of the worker bees are in shitty conditions, slaving away for peanuts. I’m sure that’s how it is. What I’m saying is why should I feel bad for people who voluntarily choose to do this? Because they’re on drugs? Screw them. No one is making them be on drugs. Half of my family are addicts. I’ve been around them all my life. They make their own bed and dig their own graves. You try to help along the way but after a certain point they’re adults who will do what they have to do.

        I cannot feel bad for someone who knows all the degrading, painful and otherwise awful things that are about to be done to them and signs up for it anyway.

        • Lacking compassion for your fellow human being is one of the metrics by which we typically declare one a “bad person.” Telling yourself you’re a nine foot tall Korean woman is easy too, but it’s not going to change who you are.

          The good news is, if you can’t give a shit over someone who knows what a certain way of life means and does it anyway, then you shouldn’t have to care about being a bad person.

          • Yeah, right. I’m a bad person because I lack compassion for a stranger who chooses a line of work that involves sex and possibly drugs. I have compassion for the people who I feel deserve it. Sorry I’m not an over-involved, bleeding heart who doesn’t feel people should take responsibility for their own actions.

            I’m a good person. I’m a husband, a father and a loyal friend to many people. Yet you, someone I’ve never met, feel that you can judge me because I said I don’t feel sorry for porn workers who voluntarily line up to work in this godforsaken industry? And you think I’m the bad person??

            You’re a joke.

            • i just read all this… and i could not agree more with. you have a perfect view on the reality of life. just like me. i take care, good care of the people around me and close to me.. im also very good aware of all the problems and f.up shit in this world around me.. however since i cant do sht about it and i got my own life to live.. i dont give a f:) doesnt mean im a bad person. means im realistic. thumbs up from holland

            • i just read all this… and i could not agree more with. you have a perfect view on the reality of life. just like me. i take care, good care of the people around me and close to me.. im also very good aware of all the problems and f.up things happening in this world around me.. however since i cant do sht about it and i got my own life to live.. i dont give a f:) doesnt mean im a bad person. means im realistic. thumbs up from holland

      • Olly:

        “The lives of Janine Lindemulder (Jesse James’ ex-wife); Marie Carey’s problems, and Penny Flames’ experiences are much more the sad normal reality than Jenna Jameson’s relatively comfortable life.”

        Relatively comfortable? I’m sorry, what? Have you read anything about her at all? She lost her virginity to rape. Was gang-raped and then beaten, knocked out, and left naked to die at the side of a road when she was in her mid-teens. The boyfriend who she idolized (and who, at 25 when they started dating, was old enough to know better) when she was 17 convinced her to start stripping so he could show her off to his friends, then basically rejected her as a human being when she was raped again by a friend of his by treating her like it was inconsequential. That was all before the age of 18. It didn’t get prettier from there.

    • Honest comment…I must say

  6. This website blows. I knew I shouldn’t have bothered reading after seeing a female for the author. Porn stars want love. HAhAha. what a waste of time.

    • MetalRabbit13 says:

      Sexist, much? When you saw the TITLE, dude, before seeing the name of the author, whatever did you think that the article would be about? Maybe you should just skip past anything with the word “love” in the title. You’re obviously not interested in opening up your closed mind.

  7. MetalRabbit13 says:

    OK, I must be one of the few people on the planet if you go by your measurements, who not only were not aware of what you say is the sad state of the “”majority” of actors/actresses in the porn industry but who don’t watch it. (Parenthetically, I believe that the woman who now goes by the name of Jenny Ketcham, formerly Penny Flame, has said that she by no means is trying to say that her experience in the industry was typical or that that the aftermath for her is the standard for ex-porn actresses). Maybe I was turned off by bad porn but to me, the films always seemed like nature films for space aliens. Nature films as in those films where we, homo sapiens, watch animals that we consider a lower order, having at it during mating season within a story line about the life cycle of whatever species or group of species is being filmed. That said..

    How many actors/actresses in the mainstream film industry are lonely, love/romance addicts, drug/alcohol abusers/addicts with suicidal tendencies because of the way that Hollywood in general, grinds up those who stand in line to be fed to the machine in the hopes that they will be part of the lucky 10% who actually make a living at acting and don’t end up perpetual waiter/waitress/barista-actors/actresses? Or sell real estate part time? And I’m not talking those who become known minor or major stars. I’m just talking the ones who can make enough money to survive by acting in commercials, small parts in TV shows and films, etc..

    Should I worry about all that when I see someone up on the big or little screen? Should I look at Robert Downey, Jr. in “Iron Man” and calculate in my head the odds on his chances of staying clean and sober? Should I have running through my head the way he abused himself when he was abusing drugs? I don’t want to be thinking about someone’s “real life” while watching film in a theater or on TV. It’s called “acting” because the actor or actress is supposed to create a fantasy that we can believe in for the run time of the film or TV show. Even when the “love scenes” in the film/TV movie/TV show/TV soap are what is really now, sometimes, “softcore” porn. That’s what they get paid for. That’s the craft of acting. That the viewer can believe in the character and not think about the “real life” personality of the actor/actress or their “real life” drama/trauma. I don’t think that that makes me a bad person any more than it does those who choose to not think about what you say are the crappy lives of porn actor/actresses when looking at porn. I’m sorry if indeed, it’s true but my solution would be to advocate for the availability of more or better psychological and health care as well as drug/alcohol rehab. Not to enjoin people to not watch or to feel guilty for watching porn.

    • Robert Downey Jr.’s choice of career was not what made him spiral downward. The movie you went to see with him in it didn’t make him spiral downward. Regarding porn, it is the movie that you see and the acting that you see that causes the problems for the lives of the actors. The fact of the matter is, porn exists because consumers demand it. If consumers don’t choose to purchase porn, there would be no industry. To say that you as a consumer have no responsibility for this seedy world is just your way of justifying whatever it is that you want to do. Yes the actors made bad choices in life that led them to where they are probably at a time when they were too young to fully understand the consequences of their actions. This does not mean that these people are not human and are therefor not deserving of compassion. And I’m sure all of you out there NEVER MADE A BAD CHOICE when you were younger.

  8. Sandra Parrotto says:

    Okay, this was some article and the comments that followed pretty charged. I have these thoughts, if we aren’t doing it then we don’t know what the experience is. If someone like Susannah Breslin wants to get closer to their experience, share it with us and then allow others’ to get closer then I’m glad she did. Between telling someone they are bad or accusing others of being sexist, I think we all have to take a step back and appreciate that we live in a world where we, as human beings, are all looking for someone to love us. No differences, different choices maybe, but we all are on a mission to find that wholeness. It does make me sad when I think about anyone’s suffering that results from that journey. But, I also honor free choice and don’t begin to think I understand the path of others’ soul development. I felt honored that I could read all of your comments and share in the world of porn for just a moment.

  9. Why don’t all you folks give a shout-out to Greg on “House” …a doctor at large he’ll set you all straight

  10. I’m surprised more people don’t know about this. I was watching an interview with Ron Jeremy, and something in his eyes and mannerisms said something was missing from his life. Men idolize him; his face is a cliche on a shirt and a boast from horny Jewish men I’ve hung around. But you can tell he has some sort of existential crisis going on every day. And the amount of substance abuse among gay porn stars is just staggering. I’m of the attitude that if you’re on hard drugs every day just to get by, something is missing from your life and you’re using porn acting as a way to fill that hole.

  11. “It is made by men for men”

    Obviously that isn’t all porn. I think its a little unfair to classify porn that way. A lot of women watch porn that’s made by men. And porn made by women. I prefer to watch queer porn, especially stuff that’s made mostly by women mostly for women, like nofauxxx.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] for you. Susanna Breslin—who has written extensively about the porn industry—takes us inside the world of male porn stars. They are, apparently, desperate for more than a good fluffer. They’re desperate for… [...]

  2. [...] Susannah Breslin: Love Junkies “These days, porn is everywhere, but when I write about what it’s really like behind the scenes in the porn business — for the men, for the women, for everyone working in what I came to refer to over the years as ‘a meat grinder for the human condition’ — I get a great many emails… Their emails say the same thing: I didn’t know it was like that.” [...]

  3. [...] This is another interesting story by the same chick about the dudes that work in porn. [...]

  4. [...] at Forbes, Susannah Breslin, a GMP contributor, pays tribute to her father, James E.B. Breslin, who died 15 years ago. Breslin talks about how she [...]

  5. Sources…

    [...]here are some links to sites that we link to because we think they are worth visiting[...]…

  6. [...] industry, says she was never meddlesome in a genuine stars of porn — a women. As she wrote for a Good Men Project, “Stripped of their garments by a medium, nude of their grace by a inlet of their work, and nude [...]

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