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Porn star is one of the few professions that comes with its own cultural shorthand: Whenever someone mentions the job, a very specific picture pops in our minds, just like when someone says "cowboy" or "gangster."

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Or "Internet comedian."

Too bad these images in our head are often ridiculously off the mark. The stereotypical cowboy look was made up by movies, and most Internet comedians are actually rather less attractive than that (Soren Bowie notwithstanding). Likewise, that standard "Stripperella with daddy issues" image we as a society tend to mentally assign any and all porn stars is actually pretty damn far from the truth.

Here, let's take a closer look at people who are probably distracting you from work in another browser window:

4
The Average Porn Star Looks Nothing Like You Think

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Quick, imagine a porn star. Don't pretend it's difficult, you have plenty of experience. Chances are, you're picturing a tan platinum blonde with low self-esteem, a solid minimum of 99 problems, and, most importantly, bulbous breasts that look like they're lovingly crafted by a special-effects team with a grudge against realistic proportions (which, in a way, they are). There may be a tramp stamp or a dolphin tattoo in there somewhere. It's the image everyone conjures when they picture a porn star. It's also totally inaccurate.

Sure, these Rob Liefeldian physiques are still present in the industry, but they're far from the all-encompassing porn presence they may or may not have been back in the days when we used to pretend Mr. Liefeld's work was anything but a desperate cry for help from a man possessed by balloon demons. Bleached silicone goddesses are actually an exception rather than a rule. Brunette performers outnumber blondes two to one, and the average breast size among porn stars hovers at around 34B, which is actually somewhat smaller than the American average, 36C. This means that the girls in those other 17 browser windows you have open statistically look less like this ...

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Nine out of 10 ladies experience back pain merely seeing this picture.

... and a lot more like this:

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That's Sasha Grey, which you already knew unless you're reading this at work and have to pretend that you don't know
because holy shit your boss is standing behind you and you are looking at a picture of Sasha Grey.

We know all this thanks to a writer called Jon Millward, who noticed a distinct lack of porn star data in the world and spent the better part of a year mining International Adult Film Database (link exactly as NSFW as you suspect) for intel on professionals of on-camera boning. Millward published his findings in 2013, and while a lot of them were pretty much what you'd expect (most porn stars are Caucasian, anal is fairly common), there were plenty of unexpected gems, such as the hair color and cup size tidbits above. Millward has also created this composite image of the 10 most popular porn stars, and damn if it doesn't look exactly like your sister:

Jon Millward
Or your mom, provided tequila goggles are allowed.

OK, so porn stars are actually pretty normal and girl-next-door compared with the bleach devourettes with zeppelins strapped on their chest that are the historical staple of the industry. Still, surely the other part of the classic porn star image is correct? Surely, most -- if not all -- porn stars are basically a bundle of mental issues verging on complete breakdown, opting for a sex industry profession in a desperate attempt to show them all and/or keep their shit together?

3
Porn Stars Are Not Insecure Bundles of Mental Issues

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Surprise! they're not!

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying every porn star out there is a paragon of sanity. It's absolutely a profession with a potential to draw in people who are overcompensating for something, or have issues with substance abuse, or work in the field out of sheer desperation that is slowly eating them away. However, the exact same thing can be said about, say, the workers of your local Walmart or favorite fast food joint. Ain't no Bible-thumping aunts attempting to rip their throat out at family gatherings.

On average, it looks like porn stars are in fact mentally a lot stronger than the average person. Far from the subservient slabs of meat the public opinion likes to see them as, the self-esteem of triple-X thespians actually seems to be pretty damn OK. Interestingly, porn stars also tend to be more spiritual than your average person, which is presumably why they scream "Oh God!" all the time. I will not apologize for making that joke.

The heaping helpings of self-esteem porn stars seemingly possess are speculated to be due to a trait called sociosexuality, a form of social promiscuity that makes the person more willing to indulge in sexual relations outside their normal relationship. This trait, which you may recognize as the exact description of the profession of a porn star, is usually present in people who tend to be socially bold and assertive.

In other words, porn stars aren't willing to bone in front of the camera because they have shit for self-esteem; their self-esteem is generally just fine, because they're the kind of people who are willing to bone in front of the camera.

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Turns out, having a killer body and a willingness to use it doesn't automatically plunge you into the pits of self-loathing.

What's more, it looks like the old "porn stars are damaged goods because of all the abuse they faced when they were kids" adage is largely bullshit too. On the whole, research indicates that porn stars are no more likely to have a history of being sexually abused than the average citizen is. Again, this doesn't apply to everyone -- the industry definitely has its share of heart-rending stories of abused people who bury their pain in booze and pills and designer goods and fast cars they may or may not drive off a cliff in a moment of desperation. Still, they're far from the only ones out there.

Tons of porn stars show all the signs of normality. They mess around on Twitter and photo-blog their life with every sign of enjoyment. They make art and dabble in politics. They read books, and play tons of video games, and go to Mensa meetings, and love, and hate, and exercise, and occasionally drink too much, and sometimes have their hearts broken, just like you and I (except for exercising and the Mensa thing, let's be honest here).

It's almost like they're actually people. Who knew?

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"Surprise! We have feelings, yo!"

Continue Reading Below

2
Being a Male Porn Star Can Be Horrible Too

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Just because I've been painting porn stars as people in a positive light here, don't think for a second that I'm claiming the actual industry they work in is always a 100 percent squeaky-clean operation. Spend five minutes on Google and you'll find any amount of evidence that the porn industry attracts as many figurative assholes as it does literal ones, and sadly only the latter tend to get fisted. As such, no matter how level-headed porn stars themselves may be, the field in general has plenty of potential pitfalls for the unwary.

Unwary women, that is. Male porn actors rarely feature on anyone's agenda when perils of porn are discussed. Why bother? There's no way those guys have a worry in the world. They spend their days banging gorgeous women and get paid for it, for fuck's sake!

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"WITH MONEY!"

However, that's not to say the life of a male porn star is completely without peril. Thanks to industry veteran Lance Hart, Cracked has already offered you a sneak peek at the surprisingly many occupational hazards of life as a professional boner, ranging from erection issues and horrifying physical discomfort to accidental clown fetishes. Other porn actors agree that earning a living by hiding the sausage on command amounts to a lot more than people think. Apart from the many specific performance issues that come from having to screw random strangers in acrobatic positions for hours while uninterested interns chew gum 10 feet away, there's the social factor; as with any freelance-based job, you need to price yourself right and make sure everyone in the production likes you if you want to work for them again.

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"Yes, Mr. Flynt, I realize this is your personal safe, but we're shooting burglar-themed porn and I'm trying to get into character."

And then there's the loneliness -- the crushing, alienating loneliness that can so easily accompany a life that revolves around robotically boning people all day and never finding one that will be close to you. No matter how muscular and handsome and well-endowed you are, chances are most women outside the industry are going to stop returning your calls the second they find out what you do for a living. As for finding love within the industry, good luck with that: Sure, there are a few porn actor-actress couples that are able to make it work, but as porn actor Tommy Gunn openly laments, the girls of porn generally want little to do with their male co-workers during their off hours, especially when it comes to a serious relationship.

Even if you manage to avoid the pitfalls of relationship ... pitfalls, it is still porn you're making. There's always the chance you're going to be that unfortunate asshole who lets the industry and the negative aspects of the lifestyle it allows get to you, and you'll end up depressed, addicted, dead, or all three.

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"Say, I wonder if his coffin is hardwood. Get it? Hard wood?"
"... Shut the fuck up, Ronnie."

1
The Profession as We Knew It Is Gone

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In one way or another, porn is always going to be around. There's no stopping it; even humanity's legendary propensity for murdering other species can't hold a candle to our willingness to ogle boobs. However, the classic, scene-filming, occasionally stripping cookie-cutter cutie -- a la Jenna Jameson -- is rapidly going the way of the dodo. Oh, she will probably always be around in some capacity, but she's losing a foothold as the world has begun to realize how many other options there are at the Get-a-Boner Emporium.

Lately, it seems that every awesome thing the industry achieves comes with a financially hurtful twist for the performers. Take the rigorous STD testing processes that are in place nowadays. They're necessary and they're awesome, but occasionally someone with a serious disease (read: HIV) still slips through, which is when the entire business (or, at least, the not-too-shady parts of it) screeches into a moratorium that lasts until everyone gets tested and the results are in. Health-wise, this is wonderful and professional and responsible. Money-wise, it's another story: The year 2013 alone saw three moratoriums, during which no one works and no one gets paid. And the people sorely, sorely need to get paid, thanks to the challenges presented by another apparent godsend, the Internet. "Hold on," you say. "How can the Internet hinder the porn industry? The Internet is porn!" Think about it: Back in the day, porn was all physical magazines and video cassettes and DVDs. Now, as the online world is nigh oversaturated by free porn, more and more performers are finding out the job's not the sure-fire moneymaker it may seem.

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"So, apparently, I'm a piggy bank now."

Sure, a handful of big-name performers are still just fine; they have contracts with reputable studios and, even if a moratorium strikes, they can always hit the lucrative stripping circuit and cash in on their star status (which they likely do anyway in between productions). But not everyone can work the stripper pole, and the less-known you are, the more difficult things are going to get if you want to pay the bills.

So the porn stars change, adapt, and get creative.

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So very, very creative.

Porn has been experiencing a similar transition phase to the one that the music industry encountered when the Internet exploded. In other words, things got indie as shit. It's not enough for a porn star to bump uglies and yodel as sexily as they can manage anymore -- it's all about finding a niche that appeals to the Rule 34-marinated online audience. As such, the "classic" porn star is just one of the many, many kinks available to the sticky-keyboarded connoisseurs of copulation.

The new faces of porn are people like alt-porn pioneer Joanna Angel, or Cracked's favorite sex puppeteer camgirl, Veronica Chaos: active characters who refuse to take what they get, instead choosing to proactively peddle their particular brand of perversion, capturing your imagination and hauling you(r wallet) in. Hell, some have found a way to cash in on the Internet's many perversions without so much as taking their clothes off; there are girls who have managed to turn eating in front of a webcam into a $9,000-a-month business, and although I don't even know anymore if that technically counts as porn, I refuse to believe even a tenth of their followers are watching the feed with their pants on.

So, these are the porn stars whose world we now live in. Their job might not always be as lucrative as it used to be, and they're definitely not as secretive as they used to be. They're proudly out in the open, getting progressively more creative as the Internet saturates with normal content, tapping you on the online shoulder and inviting you to see whether they've managed to conjure a piece of beautiful erotica or flat-out spider-monster fuckfests this particular day. For better or for worse, that's who our purveyors of porn are now.

Be nice to them -- they're not going anywhere.

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