Guest blog: Male porn performance or ‘We need to talk about boners’

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

When you’re working in porn, how hard is it to get hard? How do performers ensure that they can get and keep erections, sometimes for long stretches at a time? I’ve heard people discussing these questions a lot before. But today’s guest blogger – Marcus Quillan – is here to look at these questions from a different angle: what are the expectations of cis male porn performers in the industry? And what do these expectations tell us about toxic masculinity in porn, and the welfare of performers?

Male porn performance – we need to talk about boners

I wanted to write about my experiences as a new, male, porn performer. I am also straight and white. An awful lot can be unpacked about this privileged position that would take many more words than I have here, and in the current climate of female ‘whistleblowing’ (a positive and overdue movement) the question has to be asked, is it even important? Though I can only write from my own perspective, so far having spent about six months in the UK and European industries, I would argue there is at least one ‘male’ aspect of the porn industry that I think needs addressing for the benefit of everyone: boners.

OK, in the age of the dick pic, it may be difficult to see how more discussion of penises could ever be a good thing. But if we are serious about intersectional improvement of sex work, I think we need to consider the effect every aspect of the industry has on every other aspect, so as to dismantle stigma and shame wherever they occur.

As a cis male performer you may be one of the lucky few who can get it up with anyone, anytime, for any activity. Or you may be fine only taking the (probably small amount of work) for which you know you can easily get hard. Or you may be one of the 30% of male performers I know working in the UK, or the 76% of those working in Europe, who admit to using penile enhancing drugs with varying frequency (click links to see Twitter surveys).

Interestingly, I originally expected almost opposite percentage results, due to the prevalence of ‘alt-porn’ in Europe compared to the UK. Queer, feminist, and ethical porn generally seem more relaxed, intimate, and performer focused. Yet there is also a higher number of male performers in these genres who escort (at least more who admit to it) which can affect usage and attitude towards such drugs. It is worth noting that half as many answers were given to the European survey than to the UK survey.

Many mainstream producers will simply expect you to be hard as-and-when. If you want to check this, or need a detailed plan of what the shoot entails so you can assess if it is the kind of thing you will be able to get hard for, you’d better be prepared to ask, possibly in detail, the producer and other performer(s) involved. This is not commonplace, so you will then have to deal with the awkward feeling that you are causing a fuss and that your virility may be doubted, or that the female performer may take any possible dick-difficulties personally. It is not surprising that many performers just take Viagra instead.

I have nothing against Viagra (branded sildenafil, one of a few similarly effective substances) and I don’t believe that many others in the industry do either. It is a known, unspoken truth that usage is widespread. Yet I believe the stigma against it is one of the reasons it is not really talked about, even in the industry. Of course, heavy use is not ideal, yet drugs that enable us to work every day in ‘normal’ jobs, drugs like painkillers, flu meds, sleeping pills, antidepressants etc (not to mention caffeine) do not have the same kind of stigma and mystery, despite also often having side effects. Yet the secrecy surrounding boner-pills, even amongst performers who know their prevalence, contributes to the cultures of shame, self-validating expectations from all genders, and (yes) toxic masculinity, that give porn a bad name. There is nothing wrong with needing someone to swell on demand, if that is the kind of operation you run. But I think that more transparency when it comes to the kind of content being made and what exactly is expected would improve things for everyone involved.

Whether or not you are attracted to your scene partner(s), there should be no shame in finding it difficult or needing chemical assistance to get it up with someone you have just met, who may not be in the mood to chat or connect, performing acts that may not be your preference, and may not even include any intimate, non-genital interaction. Nor should there be any shame, frustration, or assumed responsibility on a scene partner(s) part. Especially as it is hard to know how you will perform in this kind situation until you have experienced it, perhaps multiple times, as each occasion will vary. The effects of Viagra and similar drugs also vary, drug to drug, dosage to dosage, performer to performer. Therefore, what kinds of shoots we want to do, and whether or not we choose to use Viagra, are tricky choices that deserve patience, transparency, and respect.

The only time I have had someone openly say they need me to get hard and cum (on demand, implicitly) is when asking me to work for free. Producers often want to know they can get the footage they need, on the day, in a tight time frame, or they lose time and money. Further, paid work is usually promised if you can perform, and many new performers are willing to take this deal to ‘prove’ themselves. However, if you already have documented ability then this should serve, and I do think some companies take advantage of this otherwise justifiable excuse for a trial shift (i.e. free performance).

Most will tell you that you cannot work in porn without meeting these demands, and performing like a wind-up toy. This sadly may be true for most mainstream paid gigs, of which there are too few anyway (at least for men, especially starting out) just as there is too little paid work available in every creative industry. However, this is not true of the wider industry. There is the aforementioned alt-porn scene that seems more receptive to communication and performer welfare.

You can make DIY ‘content-share’ scenes: the way the majority of porn is now made (in the UK at least) in which everyone works for free but can all sell the material through various hosting sites and own websites online (far easier for women and established performers, of course). Or you can get some money and ideas together and create great material with current technology on a very low budget, that stars you and whoever else you’d like, performing exactly what you like to do, in your own way.

The adult industry really isn’t that different to the rest of the arts sector: it is difficult to get out what you put in. Being a performer can be the most self-reliant of self-employed positions. This is why clear and honest employer-employee relationships are especially important. Paid work can be reliably irregular. Reputation and branding are everything. People will always do things they don’t want to in order to try to get ahead. People will feel they have to do something one day and realise it isn’t worth it the next. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is not ideal, and requires a good deal of emotional intelligence as well as business savvy, but is common to most professions. The more information and communication out there, the better we can make our own decisions: the better we can confidently act on our own needs, and shape the industry for the better.

Happy Erections!

Disclaimer/reminder: If you are thinking about taking medication like Viagra, please talk to your doctor about it. As Marcus says, there is absolutely no shame in wanting help with erections at certain times – whether it’s for work or not – but it’s vital that you consult with your doctor before starting any medication of this kind.

4 Comments

  • K says:

    Can we add to this discussion the effect of penis and testicle size, hair (or lack of), colouration, performance duration and ejaculation quantity

    • Girl on the net says:

      Could you elaborate a little? I’m all up for broadening the discussion in the comments, but if you just say ‘can you add this?’ then it seems like you’re asking someone who already wrote a really interesting post to write another one just tailored for you. Do you have any thoughts on the original article? Do you see these things as related/similar? Give me something to work with…

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    Interesting piece. This is one of those things that we should all know about, but is easy not to think about when you’re watching porn. Now, I know the purpose of porn is to be fantasy and all that, but it can perhaps be blamed for giving people unrealistic expectations about male sexual response and endurance…

    (Mind you, something similar applies to the movie industry more generally. The use of enhancing substances is hardly unique to porn.)

  • Lola says:

    Thanks for the insight!

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