The Oral History of the Money Shot
We reached out to dozens of academics, critics, and experts inside and outside the adult industry to find out how the porn trope of the cumshot came to be.
All original art by Zoe Ligon
These days, fans flood porn tubes with an endless stream of money shot "cumpilations." Even those who don't watch porn are vaguely aware of money shots through their occasional, scandalous depiction in pop culture and broad sexual osmosis. Especially for younger folks, the importance of the visual splat is so strong that it has crept into their sex lives, despite the fact that just a few decades ago, the money shot didn't even exist as a discrete sex act.
Commentators of all stripes have spent years speculating on what the money shot's rise and reign means: whether it's a sign of patriarchal dominance, a way of sparking emotional reactions in porn, a passing social construct, or something essential to human sexuality. Yet, while porn scholars believe money shots emerged in the early 1970s, far less energy has been devoted to figuring out how and why they popped off as much as they did.
The anti-porn sociologist Gail Dines, who's studied the history of porn tropes, said this history is almost impossible to tackle because "when you speak to pornographers, they tend themselves not to know" the origins of these sorts of things. Still, we decided to give it a shot: Over the past few months, we reached out to dozens of academics, critics, and experts inside and outside the adult industry. They shared piecemeal insights on the broad social and niche industry roots of the trope. Below, we've pieced together some of those interviews, edited for length and clarity, into an oral history on the rise, spread, and future of the money shot.
1900—1972: Before Money Shots Were a Thing
The first porn flicks coincided with the birth of film in the 1890s. While mainstream movies took off right away, obscenity laws and social stigmas limited porn production and distribution. Until the mid-20th century, most porn movies were "stag films"—short clips of a few erotic acts produced underground and shown in illegal gatherings. Furtive and slapdash, they lacked the visual tropes of modern porn—including the notion that a scene would conclude with shots of a man's cum.
Lisa-Jean Marie, a sociologist at the State University of New York in Purchase and author of 2007's Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid: [Early 20th century] ads for champagne feature [scenes like] a young, slender, girl opening a bottle while another girl near her cracks up. It's explosive. It replicates the money shot. I suspect that there were other representations of eruptions through which this notion of ejaculate was in the culture before money shots proper emerged.
Linda Williams, a professor of film studies at the University of California-Berkley and author of 1989 book Hard Core: When I was looking at an earlier stage of hardcore pornography, the money shot did not seem to be the convention. Occasionally, in stag films, you would see ejaculation almost inadvertently, something trickling out. But very rarely did you see the money shot being offered as the climax.
Darren Kerr, a media studies lecturer at Southampton Solent University and the co-editor of a 2010's Hard to Swallow: Hard-Core Pornography on Screen: In the early 1970s, pornographers were trying to find the language of sex on the screen. The seminal film Behind the Green Door came out in 1972. There's this extended sequence of ejaculation; they do this early video graphic overlay, and it goes on and on and on with images of ejaculation and mirror images of the woman's face. It's a very trippy, psychedelic approach. But as in many films of that era, it's not the point of conclusion as it has become now. The movie culminates with hardcore sex where the viewer is denied the cumshot.
1972: Money Shots Erupt onto the Scene
Andy Warhol's pornographic Blue Film in 1969 drew skin flicks into mainstream American consciousness. The nearly two-decade "Golden Age" of porn that followed encouraged ambitious scenes and storytelling. Arguably the most famous and successful film of the era was 1972's Deep Throat, which centers on a woman whose clitoris is in the back of her throat, encouraging her to engage in a ton of fellatio (which was not as normalized as it is today). The film ends with a man ejaculating after oral sex. It's a poorly captured shot, driven home with visuals of fireworks and bells ringing. But it was the first major example of an intentional money-shot-as-scene-cap.
Linda Williams: Since Deep Throat, [the moneyshot became a fixture at films' conclusions]. It was such a big and profitable a hit, it became de rigueur to imitate it.
William Margold, a heavy-hitter male performer from his entrance into the industry in 1972 onward: I did my first money shot on October 1, 1972. I was lying on a rug in a garage in Venice, California, being blown for a movie called Love Sandwich and I remember going off into the girl's face—copiously.
[Ideas like the money shot could spread rapidly back] in the 1970s, because there were only like five big male performers in Southern California. [And] why wouldn't you have a cumshot at the end of every scene, no matter where it is? Because it shows that the man is satisfied. Most porn is made for men—masturbatory catharsis.
Odette Delacroix, a hardcore performer, producer, and industry wonk who analyzes her own content to pick up on trends: Back then, everyone was using condoms in scenes because there wasn't a way to get a STI test back in 24 hours like there is now. No one wants to see a condom fill with cum. So with money shots, they could see the guy cum and see the condom was gone—that it was an actual sex scene. There were a lot of people back in the day so nervous about porn that they'd fake having sex... It's also usually one of the only shots in each movie that's just on the girl with just a little bit of dick in it, versus the horrible angles where you're basically seeing up the guy's butt. I think it's also a good cue for men to finish masturbating.
Charlie Glickman, a sex coach and educator who's been in the business for over two decades: They became a way to signal that the scene was over. Internal ejaculation is mostly invisible (unless you show a creampie). For a lot of people, ejaculation is the marker that sex is over. We could have a big conversation about how limited and limiting that idea is.
Shine-Louise Houston, a director and producer at Pink and White Productions, a queer porn studio: If you look at sex-positive/feminist scenes from the 1980s, by porn producer Candida Royalle or director-producer Veronica Hart, the movie narrative is very different. The sex is coming from a woman's perspective. But they're working with producers who say: You've got to sell this. So even in those films, at the end, the guy pulls out, and it's the money shot.
1980s—1990s: Where Should They Cum?
Deep Throat entrenched money shots in the industry, but it didn't establish where they ought to be shot. Experimentation with the location of the money shot continued into the 1980s.
Dr. Carol Queen, a sexologist at the sex toy company Good Vibrations and founding director of the Center for Sex and Culture: Cumshots opened a door: Where will the ejaculate go? This was becoming more stylized and sometimes fetishized by the 1980s: pearl necklaces, cum on my tits! My favorite porn fail is when a woman orgasms loudly when ejaculate hits her ass—that rarely happens in real life.
William Margold: In 1979, in one of the first shot-on-videos ever, High School Report Card, I gobbled up my own cumshot off of a woman. The men on the set said that's the most disgusting thing they'd ever seen. I said, "Now, wait a minute, you don't kiss your lady after she sucks your dick?" They said, "Oh God no." The woman who directed the movie said, "That's the most romantic thing I've ever seen." But even when I bring it up today, men get queasy. In Future Sodom in 1988, I worked with Lauryl Canyon. I came on her ass and gobbled it up. And I remember Peter North, the modern king of the cumshot said, "Oh my God!" I said, "Come on, kid, you've got to be kidding."
John Stagliano, a.k.a. Buttman, a performer and producer who founded the Evil Angel porn studio: Most pornographers are guided by what we liked and by fan suggestions. For example, I heard about cumming on jeans from a couple of people in the late 1990s, so I figured it must be a fetish. That made me think: What do I find appealing about that? My mind opened up to it.
Everything's controlled by clicks or DVD sales. If somebody finds an underserved market like bukkake, if it sells, others are usually going to do it. It's that simple.
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1990s—Present: The Facial Takes Pride of Place
Despite the experimentation from the 1980s on, most money shot variants never achieved ubiquity. But one style of cumshot managed to take off: the facial, in which a man cums on performers' faces. Today, the facial is almost a foregone conclusion in mainstream porn.
Darren Kerr: With bukkake and similar things, so much of it is tied to spectacle—trying to show people what they haven't seen. That's why I think it's not going to ever break out of its niche. Bukkake is not something that people are necessarily going to get pleasure watching and masturbating to, but something that gets looked at as this spectacle [for the sake of spectacle].
William Margold: [When I came on the girl's face in my first moneyshot,] it happened organically... It was obvious: Where else to cum but in the face of the girl? As I continued in my career, I always strove to ejaculate in the face of the person I worked with.
John Stagliano: When you do a cumshot, you should do it on the most beautiful part of a woman's body. If a girl has a pretty face, cumming on that emphasizes it. The face is the most communicative thing we have. It's the most interesting thing to look at in general on a woman's body—unless she does not have a pretty face.
Riley Reid, a top-rated female performer working in mainstream porn: I wasn't familiar with the money shot or facials before getting into porn. I had only watched lesbian or hentai, where it's usually a creampie. When I started shooting, I was asked if I was OK with getting cum on my face. I was never asked that question before, but I sure as hell wasn't opposed to it. One, I can't get preggo, so that's awesome. Two, I get to see how big the load is, which for me is a turn on. Three, it's so fun and different from what I had done in my personal life. I loved it instantly and started asking people in my personal life to cum on my face. There were times when I would leave it on my face and run a couple errands.
Charlie Glickman: Probably the mid 90s... I heard women saying that their boyfriends wanted to do it, and the women didn't know how to respond... A lot of folks copy what they see in porn, especially if they don't have access to accurate sex ed. That can cause problems if the other person doesn't want to do it. For some people, it seems to be almost expected. That's especially true for younger folks.
John Stagliano: There was a big change in the market after Sasha Grey, around 2006. New girls started coming into the business after watching porn on the internet. Before that, few girls even knew what porn looked like. Today, almost every single girl I've talked to does. [These girls knew of and expected to do facials; some of them did them in their own sex lives.]
Riley Reid: I've heard from people who aren't in porn thinking the facial is disrespectful or things of that sort, but I disagree with that sentiment. It depends on the individual, but I see no difference in me riding my boyfriend or girlfriend's face until the point of orgasm. So why couldn't a guy be getting a blowjob or handjob from me and then nut all over my face? It's sexy and can be very yummy if the guy has a healthy diet.
Today: Looking to Dodge the Money Shot
Although ubiquitous, money shots are not without their detractors. Some producers find them practically inconvenient or boring. Some performers think they're uncomfortable. Some social critics worry that they could be altering our expectations of real sex. Whatever the reason, there's now a fair amount of pushback against this decades-old norm.
Riley Reid: [When you get it in your face, it's] a weird, sore feeling that makes your eyes so red that you have to use those Rohto eye drops. I don't usually care when it gets in my eyes. It's mostly annoying because I wear contacts, so I throw my lens away if it gets jizz on it. I definitely spend more money on contacts than the average person I'd assume—unless you're a facial loving slut who also wears contacts.
Odette Delacroix: I see a lot of cum dodging, too, where it gets in a girl's hair, and you can't see her face at all. [That's a terrible way to end a scene.] But a lot of producers are just so stuck in their ways. Which is sad because now, more than ever, is when people need to be more creative.
Riley Reid: Most guys like to fuck to pop, so if I were a creampie pornstar, he'd just be able to fuck me and cum inside and then cut scene. But because I only do money shots, we have to change camera angles and set it up. So then the talent and I either fuck to pop and he just pulls out and I rush down on my knees hoping to not miss a drop, or he fucks to a fake pop and the cameras cut and they set up a new shot with the talent repositioned. When that's the case, I have to make sure I can give the best goddamn blowjob ever to make this guy cum. After going from my sweet little hole, there's only so much my mouth and hands can do. I never fail, and we always manage to get the guy to cum. But it's sometimes a bit more of a time-consuming challenge.
Odette Delacroix: There will be changes as productions get more expensive per hour to make and make less money per hour of production. They're not going to be able to afford Mr. New Guy on set, who takes 30 minutes to cum. Back in the day, they could wait because everyone was making so much money.
Angie Rowntree, co-founder of the woman-centric porn site sssh.com, which collects user preference data: The female perception of the ubiquity of the money shot is kind of like a collective sigh. We wonder: Why do men like this element of porn so much? Is it a dominance thing? A degradation thing? Does it make them feel virile to watch sperm fly around?
I'm not about to set rules for how other women should make porn, but I do think this is one area in which an adult filmmaker would be making a mistake by not departing from the norm a bit. More than any other single aspect of typical, male fantasy-focused porn, the money shot is something our female fans and members say they'd like to see handled differently.
Will Ryder, a producer who's been in the industry (behind major parody films) since the 1980s: I often got bored with the standard pop shot to the face. But people have been conditioned that the pop shot belongs on the face. So that is where the boatload of semen goes.
Lisa-Jean Marie: There are women who enjoy semen. But I really feel that if [porn turns the money shot into an expected part of all sex], it is deeply troubling. I don't think you can turn on your critical brain and not be affected on a subconscious level by [watching porn]. Everything I see affects my sense of eroticism. Part of why I stopped researching this is that I think it had a toxifying effect on me. That's not to say I am anti-porn. But you have to be a careful consumer.
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Tomorrow: What Happens After the Money Shot?
While some may have gripes with the money shot, it's still the norm. There's an inertia that will leave it in its position for years to come. But more than that, there's no consensus about what could replace it at the end of a porno.
Linda Williams: The remarkable thing is that porn hasn't changed in decades. It's still the money shot, with a few exceptions. There're many money shots in homemade porn, too, parroting what they see in studio-produced pornography and studio pornography is speaking back to them.
Shine-Louise Houston: I was reading Linda Williams's book in the early 2000s, and it asked questions like, Where does porn go beyond the money shot? I was like: I'm in this right now! I've watched all this porn, and I'm seeing exactly what you're saying. I'm having all these problems.
John Stagliano: Having a guy cum inside a girl is a powerful thing. I've done blowjob things where the girl is sucking off a guy, and he cums in her mouth. You can hardly even see the cum, but, if you frame it properly, you can see a guy's reaction, and it looks like real sex that's really pleasurable. That's what I like to see more often. I don't really care to see the cum.
Darren Kerr: If you look at cumshots in film, where it's not happening, it becomes focused around "couple's porn" and what's been crudely classified as "women's porn" today... [But as better data on consumer desires come out of digital porn,] I think there's going to be fewer men than anticipated who enjoy facials. I could see a shift toward naturalistic sex. You'll see the end being more than just drowning a woman in cum or squirting her in the face with your ejaculate.
Shine-Louise Houston: My company mainly works with female-bodied people, although we've had some male-bodied people work with us. It was a challenge to find a way to represent the moneyshot, for women since there isn't the same visible confirmation. Squirting could be considered an equivalent, but it's also very different [and hasn't really taken off in the same way]. At this point, I've got my shtick down with how to represent female-bodied orgasm: a series of carefully crafted shots to portray the feedback of escalating pleasure. I feel like it works.
Odette Delacroix: One of the sites that's doing the best and won a lot of awards is strictly a girl-on-girl site. People tend to watch through the whole scene a lot more, and there tend to be multiple orgasms—usually faked. So they can get their money shot multiple times. I've literally shown up to a set, and they'll say, "You're going to cum three times, we'll tell you when." Then they'll look at the other girl and say, "You're going to cum three times, we'll tell you when." You get six orgasmic features in a 40-minute video.
Shine-Louise Houston: The mainstream is always going to be the mainstream. They've been branching out a little bit. But it's harder for them to change. It's the tiny companies that can do radical things. Now, where technology has radicalized filmmaking, you have a multitude of new voices telling stories. There're a lot of young filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of what porn is and what sex is, and I think that's amazing. My hope is that there will be a young underground filmmaker takeover. It's kind of happening now.
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