Debbie Does HTML

Forsaking film for the freedom of the home office, porn stars learn to program

"My wrist and back are killing me," laments former porn queen Mimi Miyagi. Though such a complaint might sound par for the course for someone with her experience, it's just as understandable coming from a full-time webmaster--or, in this case, webmistress. Miyagi is one of the more successful women who have left the sometimes dangerous adult-video biz to run their own sites. New Yorker Vanessa del Rio, a retired porn superstar from the '80s, will be hawking her site at the East Coast Video Convention in Atlantic City, which begins Tuesday. As both Miyagi and del Rio attest, carpal tunnel syndrome and faulty JavaScript are now the only occupational hazards they endure. And oh yeah, adds Miyagi, the internationally renowned heroine of films like Butthead Dreams and Anal Asians, "Debugging is a real pain in the ass."

Faced with sleazy producers and a heightened AIDS scare (four high-profile stars have tested HIV-positive this year), entrepreneurial starlets have been looking for a place where they can make money, head a business, and maybe even build self-esteem. They're finding it online. Yes, they say, it's neofeminism. "With the Net, we have full control," explains Miyagi. "We know how to program. We don't have to rely on these men anymore. We rely on the girls."

And when top stars like Miyagi and Asia Carrera--who recently quit the film industry because of the AIDS scare--leave for the Web, the old guard of porn takes notice. Adult Video News, an industry publication that sponsors an annual Oscars-inspired award show, will host its first Adult Internet Awards this month in Orlando. Paul Fishbein, publisher of AVN, says porn star sites are an inevitable part of the industry's evolution. Starlets are "always marketing themselves," he says. "They go on the road, they start fan clubs, now they have Web sites."

Big business: Vanessa Del Rio at work
Sandra-Lee Phipps
Big business: Vanessa Del Rio at work

But for Miyagi and her cohorts, it's more than just another shill. After spending seven years in front of the camera, the 25-year-old now maintains her own site (mimimiyagi.com) with the help of a small staff that includes her brother, husband, and sister-in-law. Miyagi handles all the programming and graphics. For $12.95 per month, subscribers can watch Miyagi and friends perform in streaming videos, take a virtual tour of her bedroom, or even chat up the webmistress herself. With thousands of national and international subscribers, Miyagi earns $500,000 per year--up to five times the salary she earned from films. But the real reason she went online wasn't for the money, she explains. "I wanted to have a baby."

Most women in porn spend the majority of their time on the road. While they may only earn a few hundred dollars per sex scene, they can make thousands per week during dance tours of clubs like New York's Showworld. This doesn't leave much time for raising a child. There's also the AIDS crisis. When Miyagi first entered the business at 18, she never used condoms. Soon she insisted upon them, only to lose work when producers demanded unencumbered money shots.

These days, major adult-film companies like West Coast­based VCA and Vivid have adopted "condom-only" policies that require stars to be sheathed during intercourse. Oral sex, however, both now and when Miyagi was acting, has no such requirements. Miyagi says the politics reflect the problem of who's on top. "The business is so male-dominated. It's almost impossible for a woman to have any control."

After a few years of this frustration--and of feeling run down by the industry--Miyagi attempted suicide. Then a friend suggested she explore Net-based porn. Miyagi immediately enrolled in a UNIX programming course. Within months, she launched her Web site. Now, less than a year later (and seven months into her pregnancy), she's managing seven other sites, as well as programming one for a Las Vegas sports club; the jocks don't mind her day job.

Miyagi wasn't the first porn star to go online. After retiring from films, Brandy Alexandre launched her own site (kamikaze.org) in 1995. But Alexandre isn't interested in turning a profit; she simply wanted away to keep in touch with her fans. Her free site includes rants about everything from her interests (one favorite TV show: Suddenly Susan) to her Top Ten Do-Able Celebrities (number one: Ralph Fiennes--"My astrologer told me my perfect guy would be a Capricorn with a Scorpio Moon," she posts. "Guess what!? Hey, Ralph, my address is in the FAQ"). Mundane, maybe. But Alexandre's mission runs deep. She wants to show the personality inside the body. "It's meant to humanize porn performers."

Carrera says her site strives to achieve a similar effect. Most of her online diaries are more XO high school yearbook style than XXX. She describes herself as a nerd with a passion for writing code; online photos show her without makeup, in glasses, typing at her PC." The Web gives us a chance to show our fans who we are, without a journalistic slant painting us to be wanton harlots 24/7," she said in an e-mail. "My fans were amazed to discover that I'm actually a real person who enjoys hanging out online, and I don't really slobber after sex like a crazed nympho."

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