From Amateur Aesthetics to Intelligible Orgasms: Pornographic Authenticity and Precarious Labour in the Gig Economy

Zahra Zsuzsanna Stardust


Authenticity has been described as a hallmark of alternative pornographies, reframing porn producers as documentarians and professing an increased investment in ‘real’ bodies, unscripted sex and genuine pleasures. In this article I examine what authenticity means to pornography producers and performers via autoethnography and 20 qualitative interviews. Fantasies of authenticity among producers often reflected particular iterations of white, middle class femininity and conventionalised signifiers of ‘naturalness’ that were presumed intelligible to audiences. Authenticity was often staged, imagined and projected by producers, who in some cases assessed the authenticity of their performers’ orgasms. In contrast, performers, who worked across genres, strategically navigated producer requirements and were more concerned with transparency, expectation management and contractual obligations. I argue that authenticity narratives form part of a wider cultural imperative for sex workers to describe their work as personal identity or sexual expression. They also manifest in a context of income precarity and job insecurity where performers need to maintain open avenues of potential work. Where authenticity becomes an aesthetic regime of its own, it produces new hierarchies of representation. Instead of undoing binaries between “fake” versus “real” sex, authenticity narratives can serve to construct and repudiate narratives of artifice as a means to displace stigma and obscure the gendered, aspirational and relational labour of porn performers.

Keywords: authenticity, feminist pornography,labour, gig economy, sex work.

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