One of my first assignments when I began writing was visiting porn shoots. I remember signing a disclaimer stating that whatever footage I happened to be caught in was owned by the company. Essentially, I was unequivocally consenting to being in the filming of a pornographic movie, even though I was simply an observer.
When I signed my life away, I laughed to myself and thought, Well, I guess that whole running for President thing is out. Suddenly it wasn’t so funny when my employer found my blog and fired me for having a blog devoted entirely to the subject matter of sex, including—but not limited to—visiting porn shoots and sex parties. I am a paralegal and at that time I worked for a local attorney in San Francisco.
About four months into working for them, I started a blog called “Fleur De Lis SF: Whatever You Desire.” I wrote about sex: mainly my sex life, but also the sexual things I observed others doing. I changed my name; I didn’t allow my face to be shown in photos. I took all of these precautions because I didn’t want my employer, or the world of Google, to find out. In September 2011, the SF Bay Guardian put me in their “sex issue” and gave me the title of San Francisco’s Sluttiest Blogger. All of a sudden, this little blog became a big deal.
A few weeks after the article went to print and went live online, I remember being called into the conference room immediately upon arriveing at my office. My boss asked me to sit down, and he said: “You know what, Vanessa, I’m so glad that you have an active sex life, but in the state of California, there is such a thing as at-will employment. So, you’re fired. Turn in your keys and get out of my office now.”
I barely remember grabbing my last check, putting my personal items in a box, and getting shoved out the door. This was one of the most humiliating, debasing experiences of my life. Slut shamed, then fired, and all because I had a personal blog with adult content. After I was fired, I did a lot of temp work, but it was hard. That’s when I realized as a paralegal, I could start my own business helping couples get divorced less expensively than if they hired an attorney. My first clients were a kinky couple whom I had interviewed. They wanted someone who wouldn’t judge because they had kids. I helped them through the divorce process and after that, a business was born.
One of the main reasons I did this was because I knew getting back into the job market would prove difficult. A simple reference check now opened a door that I really didn’t want opened. Once my business proved successful, I began to write using my real name, because I no longer feared someone would fire me (or not hire me) simply because I wrote about sex.
One of the first things I realized when I wrote about anyone in the sex industry, whether they were starring in an adult film, a sex worker, a dominatrix, a director, or an executive was this: Almost every single one of these people had two names, their work name and their real (or legal) name.
Here’s why: working in the adult industry comes with a huge amount of obstacles. Some banks don’t allow you to do legal business with them because you are selling sexual content. I compare it to being a felon; this one part of your life is suddenly the only thing you ever did, and all you are about. People who work in adult are brave, because they are taking the risk that they may never be hired by a mainstream company. You may be passed up for a promotion, you may not have a political career—and all because your work life somehow had something to with sex. In this country we shame people for being sexual, plain and simple. On top of that if you profit off of the sex industry, somehow that makes you an undesirable.
I say this not just because it happened to me, but because I watched other people around me have a lot of problems once people found out they worked in adult. Two men that I am friends with, and who both worked as high level executives in adult, are now back on the mainstream job market and it’s been rough on them. Mind you, both of these men are college educated, exceptionally intelligent, and have turned a profit for many companies. Both of these men allowed me to ask them questions regarding this matter, and I will not be using their real names. For the sake of this piece, we will call them Bill and Nick.
I asked Bill, who used to work for a porn company, why he changed his name when he was working there. “I left a mainstream business career and I didn’t want my adult career to affect me, should I later return to mainstream. Having since left and returned to mainstream business, I am very glad that I did this. There is nothing online that connects my real name to the adult industry. Every time I apply for jobs, the first thing that potential employers do is Google my name—everyone does that these days,” Bill said.
Now that Bill has left adult and moved back into mainstream, I asked him how challenging that has been. “I always assumed that I would miss out on a lot of work in the future from conservative companies, but I assumed that there would be plenty that would not care about what industry I worked in—they would see my successes through the lens of ‘business is business.’ What I didn’t anticipate is that every company is going to have at least one executive or decision maker who would be offended by my adult work, even if all the others don’t care. I have had three opportunities fall apart at the very last stage when someone looked into the content of the company that I worked for.”
Nick’s experience was a bit different, because he used his real name when he worked as an executive for an adult novelty company. “This was one of several businesses I oversaw, but it became the most public as I was the worldwide spokesperson. Even when I didn’t tell social friends, people would hear me on Cosmo radio and such and it would start the talking. Most people loved the company and product; ironically, I got far more requests for samples from extended friends, country club, and such than disapproval at the time.”
I asked Nick if his time in adult has hindered his job opportunities: “It’s been most obvious with my network of friends. The adult company was probably less than half of my total workload, but it was so much more interesting than the Swiss Banks, lawyers, and engineering companies I worked with that it became what I was known for. Some of those same people who loved the stories seem to now see me as damaged goods. There have been a few odd reactions in initial interviews when people realize what the job was, but that seems to be more related to a moral conservatism. There have been an equal number of people that have laughed or seemed envious, perhaps? And, in fairness, there have been two ‘bro-type’ interviewers in ‘bro-type’ industries who seemed really interested in whether I could introduce them to people or take them to AVN (the adult film awards and expo) if I worked there. So, there could be an upside in certain places.”
Nick said he would never go back to working in adult, simply because it’s not his strong suit, but he thought the people were amazing. That was the best part of the job for Nick: “I loved the people I worked with in adult, much more than any colleagues from any other phase of my life. I knew NOTHING and there were so many people who were kind to me, introduced me to the right people, and taught me what I needed to know. The worst thing about adult was that, even though it is a very woman-heavy business (at the corporate level), there is still a lot of sexism in that world.” That was hard to watch for Nick.
“The product and industry don’t matter—I can help an organization succeed,” Nick said, and that should be the only thing people take into consideration when they interview candidates. Both of these men have had huge successes, but now have to defend why they chose to excel in adult as well as mainstream.
I asked Bill what advice he had for people who are working in adult and plan to transition into mainstream: “It would be advantageous to use a different name while in adult, and to create a consulting company to work through so that you can camouflage the work that you are doing. Many huge companies in the adult industry already do this for the benefit of their employees.” Currently, Bill has his own consulting company, along with other endeavors. Nick is still interviewing and has received offers, but he’s being very picky. I wish them both the best.
Every person I have worked with, interviewed, or dealt with in adult has similar stories. Once you work in adult in any capacity, it’s a life changer. For people who think people change their names because they are ashamed of what they do, I hope this article helps them understand why people need anonymity when they work in the adult industry. People change their names because it’s like putting a target on your back.
I still don’t tell my new clients, especially if they are male, about my time as the slutty blogger. When and if I do tell them, the reaction is much different and is usually followed with many personal questions, as well as stories about their own lives I never really wanted to know. I took my power back, made my own job, and I control every aspect of it. Most people do not have that luxury, and have to re-enter the mainstream job market which is no small task.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think either one of these men regret the choice they made to work in the adult industry. I know I don’t regret it. Yet, having a career in adult is one of the few moves that may stay with you forever—and not in a good way.
People have judgments, and somehow major business accomplishments associated with an adult company aren’t the same as a mainstream one. There are not many jobs you are punished for having had, but this is one of them. So, go into it and out of it with your eyes wide open, folks. It’s a tough world out there and too many people have fucked up issues with sex, so having a background that has to do with sex is not always seen as an asset.
My hope is that one day, the tides will turn and people who work in adult will be able to easily transition into the mainstream, without all the judgment and stigma surrounding this one aspect of their resume.