Nina Hartley's Advice to Adult Industry Newbies

Hello! If you’re reading this you’re either thinking of joining the ranks of on-camera adult performers, or have already started such a job. Some of you may be doing this as a temporary occupation and some of you may be “Lifers” like me. (2014 marks my 30th anniversary in front of the camera.)

You’re going to make mistakes as you figure out how to make this work for you, but there’s no need to make my mistakes. Allow me to offer words of hard-won wisdom that, if I had only known then what I know now, I’d have had a much better and more profitable time (and I’m considered a success story!).

In a nutshell, here’s what you should be thinking about, or have already figured out:

1. Have a plan for after.
You will likely want to leave porn at some point. What will you do? Will you have taken the time and effort to learn other skills? Use porn to finance your schooling to maximize your options when porn is no longer right for you. Be aware that Porn Is Forever, and anything you commit to camera will be in the ether always, no matter what you do later in life.

2. Know why you’re here and own it.
The people who really do well, financially and emotionally, are those whose sexual values and orientations are already kinky/alt/non-traditional. Doing porn to act out childhood issues regarding worth, attractiveness, anger, resentment, abuse, etc. will backfire sooner or later. Do porn ONLY if, like me, sex is your thing. If your values around sex, love and relationships are on the more traditional side, this is likely not a good job choice for you.

3. Figure out your issues with money and deal with them, pronto.
Your greatest earning potential is often within the first three years, when you are still “new.” DO NOT blow this money on cars, partners, partying, clothes, etc. This is adult entertainment, so treat your earnings as an adult would. Have a savings plan and stick to it. One day you’ll want to leave and you should be able to do so with the money YOU earned with YOUR body.

4. If you don’t do something at home for free and for fun, DO NOT do it on camera for money. That goes triple for anal.
A true fan wants to see you have an authentically good time, not a pretend one. ONLY do acts on camera that you already like. If not, there’ll be a record of you having a shit time and the money will be spent. And if you don’t do anal, then Don’t. Do. Anal. Just don’t. Really.

5. Do not date anyone who does not have a job, a car and a place to live.
It’s often the case that sex workers end up supporting non-contributory partners and get stuck at their jobs past the point they’d prefer. You work too hard to support a deadbeat. Unless they’re in school full-time and you’re in a committed relationship and will be together after they get out of school, any partner needs to have their own money.

6. Do not let any romantic partner shame you for what you do.
The FIRST time they throw your job in your face during an argument, show them the door and lose their number. Do not permit slut shaming for an instant. Shaming is when another projects their issues on to you, using your job as an excuse. It may be hard to stand up to them, but you must. Plus, just accept that your family WILL find out sooner or later and you’ll have to deal with that fallout. I have one sibling who, after 30 years, still barely speaks to me.

7. Have a “floor price,” below which you just won’t get out of bed.
Only you know what your body and labor are worth to you. If you don’t feel adequately compensated for your work, you are permitting disrespect. Plus, you’ll start to hate your job, your life and yourself. Your performance will suffer and with it, your public image. Be your own advocate. Everyone wants a piece of you, so listen to your gut when deciding on a job offer.

8. Your mental health is your responsibility.
If you feel unbalanced, seek out a mental health professional who is supportive of sex workers. You may need to make changes in your work life or schedule, or what you do on camera.

9. Pay your taxes.
Consult an accountant and do what they say re: taxes, deductions, etc. Look into incorporating. Cash jobs are very rare and there is a paper trail of money exchange. You will not outwit the system. Start a retirement account and a savings account, to give you the power to say “no” to any one job. In California porn is a legal job. Treat it as one.

10. Use social media to your advantage.
Buy your URL, get a Twitter account, etc. Social media allows you to directly interact with your fans and potential fans. This is a huge boon to any single performer.

11. Own as much of your material/content as is possible.
This is the secret to long-term success. Becoming a cam model is a great way to deal directly with the consumer and you set your own hours and price scale (and work out of your home!). These days, “content” is money. We now can own the means of production, so learn to be your own boss.

12. If you have to be high, drunk or stoned to manage going to work, GET ANOTHER JOB.

13. Be vigilant about testing.
Follow the latest protocols regarding STI testing. View your partner’s test results before a scene and show yours to them. Do not work with anyone with broken skin on their genitals.

14. Keep a life.
Lastly, maintain a personal life where you have the sex that’s best for your emotional and mental health. Make the time and take the space for yourself. There is a lot of trial and error when one first starts porn and it can be difficult to push back against people, employers or fellow performers who start to crowd or pressure you to do things with which you’re not comfortable.

This is a partial list. You’ll add your own things to it as you go on. There is a lot of support between/among performers and some of my best friends I’ve met in this business. There’s also a lot of petty politics and juvenile feuds, as befits a semi-marginalized, much-maligned industry.

Play your own game to suit your own ends. Don’t be a doormat or a douche. Show up well-groomed. Bring your favorite lube, robe, towel, reading material, test results and lunch.

Have fun, and welcome!

Nina Hartley originally wrote this essay for,’s “worldwide homepage of the fetish and BDSM communities.”