Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz. An earth covered in white fluid, surrounded by sex toys

'The Money Shot:' How Porn Made Cum So Valuable

A history of the "money shot" and where we're headed from here.
Welcome to Rule 34, a series in which Motherboard’s Samantha Cole lovingly explores the highly specific fetishes that can be found on the web.

Humankind has always been dually fascinated by and afraid of cum.

Ancient Sumerians thought semen to be a divine gift. In the Old Testament, God killed a man for pulling out and "spilling" his "seed." Pythagoreans believed that "the semen is a drop of the brain," an idea some semen retention adherents still believe.

As a modern pop culture phenomenon, the nut has evolved into a whole fetish and a basic element of porn, where it's known as  the "money shot." Anytime I look at a mainstream porn site today, especially tube sites, cum is flying in all directions, in double-speed in the ads and in the thumbnails, and filling the videos themselves—and you'd have to work hard to dodge it in whatever you select, assuming the video involves a dick.


Today, fewer people believe in cum's magical powers, but there are people out there who are into cum in a way most people wouldn't imagine. There was the woman who dried and snorted it, whose anonymous letter spent a week in certain internet news circles. This story on Literotica about a cum-lover's fantasy of hundreds of dicks in an orgy, which involves a beer bong, a pizza, and a kiddie pool, is not something a casual cum appreciator could dream up.

There have never been more porn genres to choose from for the eager cum enthusiast. Facials (cumming on a face), bukkake (multi-partner facials), gokkun (drinking many loads of cum at once, for example from a cup), cum-eating instructional videos made by dominatrixes, "cumpilation" videos that are just scene after scene of cumshots—the list goes on.

"Young people growing up on online porn are more likely to consider external ejaculation as a common feature of sex," porn scholar Madita Oeming told me. "There is nothing inherently wrong about ejaculating on somebody’s face or body parts, of course, but it needs to be consensual—which is something we do not learn from porn.”

The most heated debate around the cumshot's deeper meaning comes from projection of preconceived notions of things like degradation and porn, and some off-the-cuff comments from people inside and outside of the adult world.


"Facials are degrading—and that's why they're so hot," columnist Dan Savage wrote in 2009. Veteran porn director Bill Margold is often quoted as saying "the most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face," and anti-porn activists like Gail Dines hold him up as an example of the whole porn industry.

Still others see it not as a marking of territory or sullying the pure, helpless face of a partner, but man's deep desire for acceptance. "…Rather than seeing the facial as rooted in the impulse to denigrate, it might indeed be better to view it as longing for approval," Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of gender studies, wrote in 2012. Some sex-positive scholars see the cumshot not as male desire to make someone else dirty, but for themselves to feel clean. In perhaps the wildest interpretation of the cumshot that I've ever read, Gary Day, editor of the 1988 Perspectives on Pornography, wrote that ejaculation is actually replicating the role of the mother giving milk to the infant—not fucking his mother, but becoming her. There might be as many theories of cum as there are cumshots.

Porn performers are usually the first to tell anyone that porn isn't sex education—it's entertainment, made by professional actors, often working at peak athletic performance. But the fantasy doesn't stop some guys from trying to do it like the pros, including taking sketchy load-boosting increasing supplements and withholding orgasm for as long as possible.


How did we get here, and are we overdoing it?

A condensed history of the cumshot

Surgery last year helped porn performer and filmmaker PJ Sage recover from cancer. But it also took away his ability to visibly ejaculate.

For a while, Sage was hyper-focused on hoping it would return. Now, he's accepted that it probably won't.

"I knew this was one of the possible side effects going into the surgery," he told me. "The interesting thing is that I think I eroticize it more now. We often did cum play in our regular sex and sometimes in porn, but now that it can’t happen, it think about it more and it’s more exciting when I’m watching porn."

Now that he can't ejaculate like he used to, Sage is looking for new, creative ways to express something that's become a staple in porn: the cumshot.

Most people, if they had to point to the beginning of the modern porn industry on a timeline, would put their finger down sometime in the mid-1970s. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also the start of the "money shot" as we know it today.

It's true that porn didn't reach a mainstream consumer market until the mid-70s, with films like Deep Throat changing how people view the industry and the films themselves. Suddenly, there was more emphasis on plot, acting, directing, and production. But it didn't all start there. filmmakers have been shooting people having sex on camera for audiences since the turn of the 20th century. Silent, short "stag films" were the first pornos, usually viewed in brothels and fraternities.


In those films, however, the cumshot wasn't a trope. It was rare to even see male ejaculation at all, until the adult industry came into its own with movies like Deep Throat, which has been cited as not only the first feature-length porno with a cohesive plot but the first time close-up male ejaculation hit the big screen in grindhouse theaters. With the wild success of Deep Throat, other directors started grasping for a shared dialect of representing sexual pleasure—something that's not so easy to translate to film.

The intro for Deep Throat

But they tried, and their early clumsiness and experimentation turned out fascinating examples of the still-unsolidified cumshot trope. In the 1972 film Behind the Green Door, for example, one of the final climax scenes is a five and a half minute psychosexual trip, a slow-motion closeup of a man ejaculating on actress Marylin Chambers' face and neck, with edited mirrored silhouettes and bright graphic colors—and no sound except for a deep Gregorian-esque chant and tinkling piano keys.

A scene from Behind the Green Door

The "money shot" became a must-do within just a few years after the release of films like Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat.

"Of course, this depends on the outlook of the producer, but one thing is for sure: if you don't have the come shots, you don't have a porno picture," porn director Stephen Ziplow wrote in The Film Maker's Guide to Pornography in 1977.


Linda Williams, whose 1989 book Hard Core is considered a formative work within porn and film studies in academia, critically defines the fetishization of feature-length pornography's money shot. She wrote in a journal paper devoted specifically unpacking the money shot:

As the slang term for the moment the hard-core film "delivers the goods" of the representation of sexual pleasure, the money shot seems the perfect embodiment of the illusory and insubstantial nature of late capitalism's "one-dimensional" "society of the spectacle"—advanced societies that consume images even more avidly than they consume objects.

[…] But, of course, it is in its connection to money proper—that ultimate obscenity—that the money shot is most obviously a fetish. And it is the convergence of money and sexual pleasure both imagined as visible, quantifiable, sensuous, and intrinsically valuable things in themselves rather than the mediating vehicles or relations of exchange that the money shot most perfectly embodies the profound alienation of contemporary mass society of consumption.

In her early work, Williams was responding to the radical feminist voices of the 70s and 80s—specifically calling out the Women Against Pornography who condemned mainstream porn as inherently harmful and anti-woman—by giving pornography a serious, objective, and academic treatment—invoking Marx and Freud but also viewing and dissecting a lot of porn, herself. Today, anti-porn activists still rail against the hyper-phallic cumshot as proof that the whole industry is sick.


"As the term implies, the cumshot is where the money is," Oeming said. "Originally, it meant that male performers would not be paid if they did not manage to ejaculate on camera. It also implies that the cumshot is what viewers want to see and will pay money for… As long as something sells, [producers] will just keep doing it. This is how the money shot has stayed in porn for decades, thereby shaping the viewing conventions of its audience. We now take this for granted, but it’s actually curious when you think about how for decades, millions of heterosexual men have enjoyed watching other heterosexual men’s penises ejaculate."

While most mainstream pornography relies on performers to ejaculate for the crucial cumshot, male performers are generally paid less than their female partners in heterosexual scenes.

"The pressures for men (particularly men of color who aren't afforded the same pay or casting opportunities) to be able to not only maintain an erection for extended lengths of time, but also consistently deliver an orgasm on demand, often in less than accommodating set environments, are extraordinary," porn performer Jiz Lee told me. "The rigid formula in commercial porn that demands a climax, like most decisions in production, is market-driven either by algorithm or consumer expectation. I wish more people knew that, no matter what gender you are, you don't have to have an orgasm, or even an erection or penetration, to have a good time."


The commodification of cum

For a guy who admits he's not all that into cum himself, Max Huhn spends a lot of time thinking about it.

The founder of artificial cum and cum-shooting-device company Magic Money Shot says he became an accidental semen scientist after his friend, who wanted to get into selling adult content online, told him that he struggled with retrograde ejaculation (a condition means that instead of visibly cumming during orgasm, the semen goes into the bladder, where it's peed out). Some of the old porn set tricks include using hair conditioner or cornstarch to replicate the color and consistency of semen, but those weren't cutting it—some DIY methods irritate eyes and skin, while others with sugar involved can provoke yeast infections in women.

"It took many months of experimentation since I’m no chemist," he said. "I hired two real chemists, however to assist me in both of them gave up, unable to do better than I already had."

Huhn makes "Kum," his fake semen product, in his home office. It's made to refill a variety of dildoes and shooting nozzle dispensers that he also offers and comes in sizes ranging from three ounces ("enough for 5-10 scenes") to a 24-ounce "bukkake bucket" size: "Enough to soak the entire crew!"

In recent years, cum has become a literal commodity, with companies manufacturing it for civilian consumers who've never stepped foot on a porn set. Doc Johnson's "squirting realistic cock" line and "Nut Butter" refill cum is perhaps the classic. But there are tons of lubes made to look like cum instead of clear: white, opaque and a little stickier than a water-based clear lube, typically. Spunk, Jizzle Juice, Liquid Silk, MANCUNT, Sliquid's Silk the list could go on.


But good cum is hard to fake. "Cum Lube" by fantasy dildo maker Bad Dragon is exactly what it sounds like: opaque, white, viscous lubricant. Earlier this year, Bad Dragon tried to improve on the original formula—being water-based, the white part would annoyingly separate from the clear medium—and ended up making a version that gave some customers reactions, which they had to recall and reformulate, again.

Huhn's Kum isn't lube, technically; it's more of a movie prop, and therefore is mostly concerned with looking good and tasting inoffensive (although he does offer classic "cum" flavor as well as "strawberry"). Lately, he's seen a rise in sales from male cam models who have to endlessly ejaculate during shows, but due to pandemic-related shipping delays, his devices are on backorder.

If only the real thing will do, however, there's a whole market for enhancing one's own splooge. There's no end to the cheap, over the counter supplements available that claim to increase seminal volume and force. There are dozens out there, but their ingredients are mostly the same, often including a "holy grail" stack of vitamins like L-Arginine, Pygeum, Zinc, Lecithin, and some other herbals thrown in, like horny goat weed. Semenax, for example, which has been buying pre-roll ads on Pornhub in recent months, promises you'll "shoot massive loads for an amazing finish" and "tease your partner with wild orgasmic contractions." Studies on whether these supplements actually work are sparse, and because they're categorized as food, their claims aren't FDA approved.


“I don't share this particular fetish. But that's exactly what it is. And there are worse things in life."

Men's health experts generally agree that for most guys, drinking more water, eating better and exercising usually go just as far in the pursuit of the holy cum-grail. And the size of the load varies from man to man: between one and a half to six milliliters, according to urologists. None of this has anything to do with how valiantly you've performed in bed, regardless of what Semenax says.

Performance enhancing supplements and fake cum lube are both featured in Tobi Hill-Meyer's autobiographical 2012 film Money Shot Blues and How to Fake Ejaculation. In it, she recounts her first porn shoot gig as awkward and disappointing, because of the directors expectations and ignorance of trans women's orgasms, which vary from powerful cumshot to no visible cum at all.

"Audiences these days, they want to see it really shoot," Hill-Meyer says in the film. "They want to see it practically hit the ceiling." She recalls taking a pill, and explains how to DIY a fake cum pump with some medical tubing.

Despite being designed for porn folks, Hahn told me that his cumtraptions and faux Kum refills are mostly bought by private citizens. This baffles him. "I don't claim to understand the mindset of the folks that buy it. I don't share this particular fetish. But that's exactly what it is. And there are worse things in life."


Cum as fetish

Mistress Harley can tell when men are faking it.

Cum-eating instruction, or CEI, has been a regular request from her clients since the beginning of her career as a professional dominatrix in 2014. Like jerk-off instructionals (JOI), someone (usually a dominant woman) walks the viewer (usually a penis-having man) through the process of masturbating, cumming, then lapping it up from their own palm or a glass.

"These guys would start to bring [CEI] up to me in a way that made it sound like they didn't want to do it, but in bringing it up made it clear that this WAS what they wanted to do," she said. If they were fantasizing about it, of course they really wanted to do it, she reasoned.

When I researched self-sucking, one of the recurring fears men who got close had was that they would inadvertently cum in their own mouths. CEI flips that fear into an entire kink, and based on its popularity on tube sites and with domme's content, a lot of people have it.

Jimmy Broadway, a director, producer and performer who's embraced cum-eating as part of his own adult brand, told me that he doesn't remember exactly the moment it became a kink for him—but it was because a woman commanded him.

"At some point long ago, I came in front of a dominant woman, she told me to eat it, and I did," he said. "I didn’t die from it. I didn’t get sick. It wasn’t unpleasant, and doing it pleased her, so it was a good thing. Having done a good thing, I just kept doing it. It wasn’t until I started shooting cuckold scenes for other companies that I realized that it was something that not every male performer did, so the fact that I was fine with led to more work, better scenes and happier directors."


Broadway said he's always thinking about power dynamics in any scene he's in. In bukkake scenes, "some women get off on the power of it, they view the men as serving them and having all these cocks in front of them and being showered with their bounty pleases them," he said. "Other women find being coated in cum humiliating and the men who do it as using them, but since being used and humiliated is their kink, having it done by that many men is a rush. For me personally, I prefer the submissive role, so I get off on presenting myself to a beautiful woman and being commanded to give her my cum."

With camming and independent porn production on direct-to-consumer sites like OnlyFans taking over, the power dynamics of porn production itself have shifted to cater to what a wider diversity of people want—and allows for content creators to make what they're comfortable with.

"I enjoy having sex with men—cum is just a bitter end to a good thing”

One sex worker I spoke to admitted a serious aversion to cum, but asked to remain anonymous because admitting semen disgusts her could hurt her work. "I am in the sex industry and no man wants to hear that their cum physically repulses me and there is nothing they can do about it," she said.

For her, it's a texture thing: "I dislike cum like I dislike all things with that sort of texture: Gooey, stringy, messy, gunk," she said. "No slugs, no worms, no cum."


Trying to hide a visceral reaction to cum as someone in the adult world is its own challenge, but doing solo shoots for Onlyfans and working with women helps, she said. But opposite-sex content is highly requested, so sometimes she does have sex with men for her work.

"I enjoy having sex with men—cum is just a bitter end to a good thing," she said.

Others lean into making cum-coated content with enthusiasm, making it a large part of their identity in the industry. For Jade Vow, finding her niche as a facial enthusiast was accidental: she posted a selfie after a blowjob scene years ago, and fans loved it.

"It just sort of ‘took off’ from there and became one of our main focus’, which is great for me because I absolutely love them," she said. "We’ll only ever film and share things that genuinely turn us both on, so it’s just lucky that other people love watching our facial content too!"

Now, she makes videos and photos of her post-sex, walking around with her face smothered in sticky opaque goo. It's so much cum that people accuse her of using the fake stuff, but she swears it's all real and from her current partner. She used to hate the stuff, though, and it wasn't until they started dating that she enjoyed it.

"The smell, taste and feel of cum varies a lot from guy to guy, most likely based on their diet and general health, so it’s hard for it to be a consistent kink," she said. "I’d say my kink isn’t so much the cum itself, but the actual ‘making him cum’ part. I find it very satisfying and rewarding - especially when it’s a huge load!"


Bex Caputo, a curator at adult social sex platform MakeLoveNotPorn said that a positive development since the days of Behind the Green Door is exactly that by "decentering the means of production," the porn industry can now accommodate both performers like Vow, who love cum, and those who can't stand it.

"We can all create and tell our own stories. And some of those stories will be centered around cum—but I think what's valuable is that they will not be the only stories," he said. "Because I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that being the thing that you find hot, right? We all have our thing."

Cum as the glue that binds us

People regularly approach MakeLoveNotPorn founder Cindy Gallop and say, "so Cindy, you didn't like men cumming on your face?" That's a weird thing to ask anyone, but the question is based on her 2009 TED talk, where she claims the ubiquity of "hardcore" porn has created an entire generation that believes that what it sees in porn is the way that people have sex. This, she says, is why she has no problem telling men she's dating when she doesn't want their cum on her face.

"My response is always, it all depends who's doing the cumming," Gallop told me. "What I find interesting is that, because we're all so fucked up about sex, we try and talk about it very objectively, very analytically." We've lost sight of the subjectivity of the experience, she said; that sex is often a vulnerable, highly personal act for most people.


"I think suddenly cum becomes this weighty substance, that is dangerous in a whole hell of a lot of ways”

Most people outside the porn industry I talked to who are into cum as a fetish echoed a similar sentiment; that it's not so much the cum—the viscosity, or the smell, or the taste—but who's delivering it.

"It's more a psychological thing, I think," one fetishist who asked to remain anonymous told me. "Kind of like…..a sign for 'sex happened!' I guess, or like a 'marked territory.' This part confused me at first, since I don't like sex as competition or with heteronormative power dynamics. But then I realised, that the same feelings apply to cum from other people than cis-men, and that it can also apply to the cum of a submissive person. Then it's more a sign of the dominant who made them cum."

PJ Sage connected the cumshot—as well as things like cum tributes, where people jerk off onto phone screens or photographs and post the results—to an attempt to reach across a digital divide, to break the fourth wall of the screen and find a facsimile of closeness.

"Like so much of sex, it’s about blurring the boundaries between bodies," he said. "About being on and in and around and across someone else."

Sometimes what's sexy about cum for fetishists is the taboo itself. Millennials are one of the first generations to be taught that condoms or abstinence are the only ways to avoid pregnancy—and we were taught this by people who survived the AIDS crisis, who had their own valid fears about coming into contact with bodily fluids in a sexual context.


"I think suddenly cum becomes this weighty substance, that is dangerous in a whole hell of a lot of ways," Caputo said. "The idea of playing with and engaging with that becomes very linked to this taboo."

Subverting the shot

Queer and gender-nonconforming directors and performers are at the forefront of redefining what the cumshot means.

After Hill-Meyer's experience with her first mainstream porn shoot in Money Shot Blues, she started her own production company and she sought out peers in queer porn and started her own production company. The mainstream focus on the money shot has driven a lot of female and queer-centered producers and actors to bring thier own experiences to the screen.

Almost as early as the cumshot burst onto the scene in the 70s, feminist and queer directors have gotten behind the camera to try to subvert it.

Early pioneering female director Candida Royalle was among the first to focus on women and couples' pleasure in her directorial debut in the 80s. Today, directors and producers like Shine Louise Houston are bending traditional notions of male orgasm by either showing non-ejaculatory orgasms, as in her 2014 Bed Party, or taking the focus off of the cumshot completely, as in this year's Chemistry Eases the Pain, which ends with cum but is treated like an afterthought, simply wiped away.

"To omit [the cumshot] would be like a slasher film without the blood," Jiz Lee—who is also the marketing director for Houston's Pink and White Productions—told me. "But as a queer person I also know that sex isn't cookie cutter one-size fits all, and I think that's why there's generally more room for sexual expression within queer and indie porn for challenging what's expected when it comes to sex, including the revered (male, white, cis, heterosexual, masculine, etc) cumshot." Lee said that on queer sets including Houston's, this manifests in an understanding that if the cumshot happens, great, and if not, that's just as hot.

"We talk about how women, queer, and trans people benefit from decentering dicks, but like, so do cis men," Caputo said. If all of the focus is on the cumshot, it's inevitable that some mainstream directors, like they did in the 70's when it all started, would obsess over timing, volume, force, and placement of the cum to a formulaic degree.

"If you have someone who's like, Oh, no, I cum faster than I want sex to be over, if it's not the pinnacle of all of our media, we can start to recognize narratives where sex does continue in other ways—you have hands, you have mouths—and we can start to tell other stories and open up more avenues of pleasure for everyone," Caputo said.

Even in straight sex, the money shot trope can be flipped to frame the person covered in cum as the one in power, instead. "If [female] squirting is an ‘ego-boost’ and a major turn on for a lot of men, why is it so hard to wrap our head around the idea that straight women may also enjoy the sight of penile ejaculation?" Oeming said.

"Obviously, male and female pleasure have very different places in our culture, the latter having been erased and pathologized for centuries. But sometimes I think we have internalized this to such an extent that we cannot see female agency and joy in heterosexual sex." One could also frame a blowjob as being vulnerable for the recipient and requiring a lot of trust in the one with a dick in their mouth, she said.

There's nothing wrong with working within, and relishing, the power structures that we've traditionally held—with the penis holding all the power—but it doesn't have to be the end of the conversation, either, simply because it's the narrative we've been given by mainstream depictions of sex for decades.

"While to most people, the idea of porn without a cumshot might sound like the antithesis of porn itself, it does exist, and it's precisely because the concept of the cumshot is so idolized by the industry and its consumers, that subverting or ignoring it can make a powerful statement," Lee said. "Pleasure and satisfaction doesn't always have to be male, heterosexual, or even climatic to be valid… variety is the spice of life, and that's also true of art and sexual media."