No one pays attention to the guys in porn.

There are exceptions. Gay porn has produced a hefty handful of stars over the decades, and there’s obviously the iconic Ron Jeremy. We also have the panty-dropping juggernaut James Deen, and more and more men performers, like Tommy Pistol, Xander Corvus, and Johnny Castle, have been garnering their fair share of fan-girl love in recent years.

But these examples are only a small fraction of the porno men who’ve come and gone. Though no one knows for sure (because the labor statistics don’t exist), I’ve heard industry insiders—agents and people responsible for hiring—say there are anywhere from 30 to 50 guys working as porn performers at any given time. But this number is constantly in flux and doesn’t take into account the fringe guys, like the mopes who fill in a gangbang, whose faces you never really see. These disembodied penises march in and out of scenes with non-existent fanfare, all while even the most obscure lady performers get measures more attention.

Their respective incomes reflect this. While some women performers can still rake in more than $1,000 for a boy-girl scene, almost all the men make well below that. Is it fair? Is it ethical? And for those dudes whose jobs seem enviable from the outside, is it in any way fulfilling?

I recently visited a porn set in the San Fernando Valley. Because of my sociology work—I study gender, labor, and law as they operate in the adult entertainment industry—I’ve been on dozens of sets over the past decade, from the most elaborate of productions to ratty apartments in North Hollywood. This particular shoot was a small project for a well-known company. A director had launched a new series of vignette lines, which were basically collections of 30ish-minute mini-movies. The intent was to find a middle ground between the all-sex gonzo films and a typical film narrative. I was curious to see the production process behind this new format, and there’s always something to be learned about community and culture when you’re a fly on the wall, especially when people are taking their clothes off.

Two scenes were scheduled for that day: a romantic interlude followed by a naughty/dirty step-sibling thing—”faux-cest,” which is currently wildly popular with consumers. Call time was 8 a.m. for the first scene, noon for the second. I planned to show up in time for tryst #2 (I find taboos far more interesting than conventional romance), but then I received a call around 11. Things weren’t going as planned. Could I please come closer to 1?

By the time I arrived, they were only just getting started with the first sex scene. Ginger, a tall redhead in her early 20s, had been late. Way late. And then she was hungry. And then she didn’t like her makeup. “She’s never gonna get booked again,” I thought. But oh well, I’d never heard of her anyway.

Her scene partner, Tyler, was beautiful—tall, clean cut, and decently jacked. He was well-respected and well-represented, though with an unfortunate reputation for displaying a little too much bravado on occasion. But he had over 10 years of performance experience and more than 500 scene credits to his name, working in everything from softcore Skinemax-type features to the hardest of hardcore.

For their scene, a “straight boy-girl” (read: basic lead up to vaginal penetrative sex and an external pop), even though Tyler was seasoned and Ginger was new, he was still getting paid several hundred dollars less than her. Granted, he didn’t have to cover all the hidden costs she did—wardrobe, the extensive manicuring ladies are expected to maintain, etc—but he’d been on time. All I could think about was how long he’d already had to keep his dick hard so far that day, and things were only just now (maybe) getting started.

I went inside

the set house and assessed the situation. Where would I be the least intrusive? The large, open room was split by a false wall; the set on one side and a couch on the other provided the perfect vantage point. Easy to listen, and a conveniently located mirror near the door allowed for a crystal-clear view of the action.

I settled in. A little dog hopped up and curled himself alongside me. Nothing of real consequence was happening on the other side of the wall. I mean, sex was happening, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. At one point, I glanced up into the mirror and saw Tyler making romantic porno-love to Ginger from behind. She still had her panties on, which he held aside with one hand. The director was giving instructions, moving the scene along—flip this way, look that way, etc. There were occasional breaks for hardcore stills.

And then it was time. Pop time.

The crew gathered around Tyler. The little dog yawned. So did I. But there was a problem. It was too hot inside because the noisy air conditioning had to be off, and the day had already been too long. Tyler couldn’t get to the grand finale. The crew drifted away as the performers cooled off/reheated on the other side of the wall. I could hear Ginger trying to nurse Tyler back to life as I chatted quietly with the photographer. The director and the PA started working on paperwork, and the camera guy took a few hits off his e-cig.

“I’m ready,” Tyler suddenly announced. The crew rushed into place.

But again, nothing. The director talked to an agent, who had shown up unexpectedly. The PA returned to his paperwork. The camera guy went back to his e-cig.

“I’m ready,” Tyler shouted. The crew returned hopefully.

Nothing.

An oscillating fan was brought into the room, which succeeded only in blowing the humid scent of sex around the rest of the house. The PA offered Tyler some options. “You can keep fucking her or you can beat it,” he said. “I don’t care, just as long as you cum.”

Several minutes later, Tyler called again for action, but with considerably less confidence. Nope. Not yet.

Tyler was apologetic and anxious, but the PA didn’t seem to care. He paced impatiently and threw insulting jabs in the now slightly ashen performer’s direction. He reached into a refrigerator and cracked a beer. “Hey man, sorry,” he said to Tyler. “You can have one too, but only if you pop.”

The cycle repeated itself eight total times, every five to 10 minutes, until finally, mercifully, the crew decided to simulate the scene’s culmination. They knocked out three options: a Cetaphil splatter from off camera, a soft shot of a fake internal vaginal pop, and a fake internal blowjob pop (coconut oil this time, not soap). Everything was complete in less than a half hour.

Ginger bounced into the shower, all giggles and smiles and tropical sheen. The crew scrambled around to change out the set. As I took my leave, I noticed Tyler’s reflection in the mirror. He was still butt-ass naked, sweaty and chiseled, standing with his head bowed. He looked broken-hearted and embarrassed. Word of today’s non-performance would get around quickly, and you’re only as good as your last scene.

A few days later, I followed up with the director, who was extremely apologetic. “That scene sucked,” they told me. “The second one was soooo much better.” In the midst of it all, they mentioned that Tyler had voluntarily discounted his rate that day, meaning he was paid even less. You know, because he didn’t finish the job.

No one ever pays attention to the guys in porn.

By Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist specializing in gender, sexualities, work and organizations, media and technology, and popular culture. She lives in Los Angeles, CA and is avid about pretty much everything.