Why Are Porn Stars Pivoting to YouTube?

Adult entertainers are expanding their brands with SFW content.
March 17, 2020, 12:14pm
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Image: Lexi Lore/YouTube

Johnny Sins is dressed up like a doctor and looking at the camera. He’s got the stethoscope, the white lab coat, the whole deal. It’s not unusual for him—he’s made a career out of playing dress up—some days he’s a physician, others a janitor and sometimes he’s a high-powered businessman.

What is unusual for fans of his work is that this time he’s not taking the coat off and having sex on film.

Sins is one of the best-known male porn stars working today, a four-time winner of the Adult Video News’ Favourite Male Porn Star award. But today he’s keeping things relatively PG. Rather than getting busy in front of the camera, he’s taking fans’ questions on sexual health for the YouTube channel he shares with his girlfriend, fellow adult entertainer Kissa Sins.

Since launching in 2015 SinsTV has racked up over a million subscribers and almost 64 million views and has done so with relatively Safe For Work content. Sure, Sins is often shirtless, but that’s because one frequent topic he covers is his workout routines and triathlon training regimen. He does talk about the adult industry, putting out Q&As and offering advice to aspiring porn stars, but for every video that touches on his other career, there are more that belong in traditional YouTube genres: unboxings and food reviews and vacation vlogs with Kissa. Within the adult industry, Sins was something of an early adopter of YouTube, but now he’s just one porn star out of many who have pivoted to the platform.

“I think it just gives some people another place to show who they are,” he said. “When a lot of people watch your videos, they form an opinion of you based on your porn and the characters you’re playing in porn. I always acted in scripts so I was always playing a character. People always say ‘I thought you were the biggest asshole, in your videos you’re kind of a douchebag.’ Then they watch my YouTube videos and I change their minds. ’ I think that’s why a lot of performers get into it.”

Social media has become an essential part of the adult industry. Twitter is where performers preview upcoming scenes, advertise in-person appearances, link to Amazon wishlists, and share explicit behind-the-scenes photos and videos. Instagram is a more G-rated brand-building experience, with bikini and influencer-esque glamour shots of far-off places. Private Snapchat accounts are monetized by sending paying fans personalized content.

YouTube is where adult entertainers go to show a version of themselves that is closer to the real thing, where the focus is generally less on sex and more on the other things that excite them - food, travel, fashion, makeup and fitness tend to come up often in many stars’ videos.They are building brands not unlike any of the thousands of aspiring influencers on YouTube and proving the once bright line between adult and mainstream entertainment is becoming increasingly faded, one subscriber at a time.

Alix Lynx uses her channel as a way for fans to develop a personal relationship with the real her—or at least the version of the real her she chooses to put out.

“There’s a ton more room for fan interaction and I think that’s where the industry is going,” she said. “You can log onto Pornhub and see pretty much anything you want for free. But I think what people are craving is a more intimate experience with their favourite adult star. They can go online and learn about their life. On OnlyFans, they can chat directly with them and access their personal pictures and videos from their personal phone stash. It’s indispensable. I think it helps girls in the long run to build up a personal brand like that.”

At 21, Lexi Lore has already seen a lot of success in porn. But she has also discovered a truth about the industry: it can be emotionally and physically exhausting and burnout is a very real thing. Take a break, and you aren’t earning. You need to have something on the side to keep your career sustainable.

Looking to diversify her revenue streams, Lore hired a social media manager to find sponsorship deals for her. She began posting paid content onto Instagram, where she has almost 230,000 followers, promoting brands like Fomo Bones CBD doggy treats. Now, she’s doing the same with her YouTube channel. While she first signed up with YouTube in January, 2018, she only started posting regularly a year later. In that short period, she’s become one of the most popular adult stars on the platform, with over 400,000 followers.

“I think I’m just showing people a real side to the industry,” she said. “I think a lot of people showed interest in that. It’s such a mystery to people, what is an adult sex worker like in real life? I grew up watching YouTube and YouTubers and I was always fascinated by that.”

Like Sins, much of her content is innocent, bordering on sweet - smooching with her boyfriend on a helicopter ride in Hawaii, trying out a variety of ethnic foods, detailing her before-bed routine. She also takes followers behind the scenes of the AVNs, talks frankly about her mental health struggles and, in one particularly heart-wrenching early video, described her escape from an abusive relationship.

The pivot to influencer is proving to be a lucrative one.

“With the adult industry maybe I'm making about $1,300 a day and putting in a lot of work physically and mentally,” she said. “For YouTube, if I do a full video sponsorship I can land around $1,200.”

While most adult stars with a YouTube presence talk about their work in porn, it can be a tricky balancing act. The platform has strict community guidelines and violating them can have swift and permanent consequences.

Fetish performer and producer Ariel X discovered that the hard way. One of her websites, evolvedfights.com, was comprised of videos of co-ed wrestling, after which the combattants would have sex. She started uploading teasers and more PG content, like arm-wrestling, to attract traffic to her site. Ariel X said that within months of starting the challenge she received a notice saying complaints had been filed about her videos and her content would be taken down. Ariel X said that while the emails from YouTube didn’t cite any specific policies she violated, the website does ban fetish content.

“I’m completely aware of the reason they shut me down,” she said. “We had our logo in the background and we’d say ‘To see more, go to this porn site.’ I never felt attacked or picked on… There’s no nipple! We’re not even talking about sex! But I didn’t go through and read their terms of service at the time.”

Alex Raymond, who co-owns adult industry-oriented public relations firm Star Factory with his wife, retired starlet Tanya Tate, said that while YouTube subscribers and Twitter followers might not be the most accurate metrics to judge a performer’s popularity, they do hold sway in the industry.

“I think it’s just a quick and easy way to look at someone and say ‘Well, they’ve got a million followers, she must be popular, let’s hire her,’” he said. “Let’s bring her into the picture, we’ll have more of a reach, more of an impact.”

Lynx, who earned a degree in broadcasting and worked in communications before entering the industry, says she’s earned “like, 10 bucks,” off YouTube, but the branding opportunities presented are invaluable.

“For me, it’s planting the seeds for the future,” said Lynx. “I do it for different reasons, I’m not doing it to make money, I’m doing it because I have things to say and messages to share.”

There is a ticking clock for almost everyone who enters the adult industry. Everyone is replaceable and the time comes where the question of what comes next looms large. While some stars are using YouTube to promote their current gigs, others are setting the next stage of their career.

Lynx made her porn debut in 2014. She joined YouTube the same year and began posting in earnest last year. Now, she’s using the platform to give makeup tips, answer fan questions, vent in the occasional rant and as a means to promote her EDM project, Fancy Monster.

“I’ve always been very well aware of my shelf life,” Lynx said. “People tend to put porn stars in a box, and be like ‘They must have no choice getting into the business.’ I’m like ‘No, I did this because I wanted to.’ I wanted to show people you can do porn and still be smart and have valuable, tangible information and stuff to share with others. I did it to build out my brand and have my personality be a big part of my brand. I know eventually I won’t be doing porn anymore and I’ve got to have a plan.”

For Sins, YouTube appears to be a good chunk of life after porn. He’s semi-retired from the industry: while he and Kissa still make and post content to their website, he isn’t working for the major studios at the moment. Some people who have seen his videos may have thought Sins was a douchebag and were pleasantly surprised. Others now say they know him so well, they have a hard time going back to his adult work.

“A lot of people that watch my vlogs say they can’t even watch my porn anymore because they feel like they know me as a person from my vlogs,” says Sins. “They can’t watch my porn anymore because it’s like watching one of your friends basically have sex.”

This article originally appeared on VICE US.