Warning: Sexual content
While Australia was watching in awe as Margot Robbie got her Oscar nomination last month, another Aussie movie star was also taking the US by storm.
But there's a good reason you might not have heard about it, because Angela White is a porn star.
I first met Angela (her real name and porn name) six years ago at a Sexpo in Townsville, and it was pointed out to me back then by Australian adult industry insiders how business-minded she was and how successful she would be.
Standing with her in Las Vegas as she collected an unprecedented 14 awards at the 35th annual Adult Video News Awards (widely known as "the Oscars of porn"), I had a proud moment.
This is a controversial and taboo world but it does not mean we shouldn't celebrate her achievements.
White is the only Aussie to have ever been inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame, the only Aussie to have ever co-hosted the AVN Awards (an industry honour in itself), and the only Aussie to have ever won the much-coveted AVN Award for Female Performer of the Year.
Yes, her work is a little more physical than most — she describes being an adult performer as akin to being a sexual athlete. But the fact that sex on screen is the job and commodity that is traded does not mean her professionalism, determination and passion for her work should be devalued.
With an Instagram following of 2.5 million people and an organic growth rate of an additional 5000 followers a day (something most influencers would dream of), sitting with White I learned that there is more to becoming a successful porn star than just having sex. This is an industry that requires serious business acumen, intelligence and a thick skin to get to the top (or on the top, or on the side or in reverse cowgirl).
But what makes Ms White stand out from the crowd? "Firstly, it's the fact that I love what I do," she said. "My passion is what makes me stand out as a producer, director and a performer. Fans want to see and feel a real connection on screen and they can tell when a performer isn't completely engaged."
She continued: "It's also about professionalism. It's all good to love what you do and to be passionate about it, but you also need to turn up on time, be prepared, arrive with the correct wardrobe and be pleasant and patient on set. You have to conduct yourself in a way that is appropriate. Having respect for everyone on set is important, from the director and camera operators to the make-up artists and production assistants. You can be a great performer, but if you are difficult to have on set, people won't want to book you or work with you."
Hearing this, I'm reminded that most jobs require you to be this way to be successful and maybe the adult industry is not as different as people think.
But how lucrative can working in the adult industry be? "Average pay is difficult to gauge," White said.
She estimates the average rate for a female performer is between A$1260-$1500 for a hardcore boy/girl scene, which would take anywhere from half to a full day to shoot. She said there are female performers that get paid far more.
"My scenes start at $1900. But that rate does not include anal. Anal requires more preparation and thus more labour time so there is an additional cost. My rate for anal starts at $2500 and goes up if it includes double penetration. The more complex the act and the more people involved, the higher my rate will be."
Getting into the industry wasn't smooth sailing for White.
"I was very sexual growing up, and I was criticised for the way that I expressed my sexuality.
"I was teased and called a slut and a lesbian at age 14. I was called a 'lemon' (nickname for lesbian) and had lemons thrown at me. It wasn't just verbal but physical too. I was punched in the face for expressing my sexuality," she said.
"I grew up before Instagram, before the 'thick' trend existed (a word commonly used in America to describe curvy women). I read Dolly and Girlfriend and watched TV and never saw my body represented in a positive light in mainstream media. When I was introduced to pornography, I finally found women with my body type celebrated and sexualised. I saw porn as a space where I could express and explore my sexuality, and have my sexuality celebrated rather than criticised."
She worked as soon as she was of legal age.
"My first shoot was for a magazine called Voluptuous. I was treated like a princess and my curves were finally celebrated. They published images of natural boobs that hang. We are so used to seeing enhanced boobs that large breasts that slope are considered saggy. But the editors at Voluptuous referred to them lovingly as hangers and referred to stretch marks as beauty marks. It was a positive experience for me to have my body held up as desirable which was counter to what mainstream media deemed sexy."
But White admits going into porn is an extreme way to look for body positivity.
"There may well have been other ways for me to express my sexuality, but I couldn't see them. Porn was the first place I saw my body represented positively. Porn was the first space where I saw people being celebrated for having sex with multiple people of varying genders. When I started performing, I finally found a space where I could pursue my passion with like-minded, sex-positive peers. I feel like I belong in the adult industry. I work with people that think about sex, sexuality and sexual creativity in the same way that I do. I can't see anything else quite like porn for me."
Being at a porn conference and seeing all different types of bodies, I was curious at the sight of pubic hair, something many think is a requirement in the industry to take off.
White had a lot to say on the matter.
"You don't have to have a bikini wax, but you to do have to have good hygiene and be well-groomed. In porn, the bush is back. Most girls that have pubic hair will trim underneath, on the outer labia, so that the camera can see everything. But it's not a requirement to shave or wax. A lot of movies these days celebrate the bush, and for those movies, directors will require you to grow your bush to be cast. But in the end, hygiene is far more important than how much or how little pubic hair you have. Performers have to be very aware of their own taste and smell. What you eat and even what you wear can impact your vaginal flora. Many female performers take probiotics to replace the good bacteria they wash away as a result of frequent douching."
There is of course a downside to this industry and the stars themselves are the best people to explain this.
"I know that the porn industry has been criticised for allegedly trying to promote its product to people under the age of 18," she said.
"But that is a myth. We want paying customers — this is a business for us. People under the age of 18 can't get credit cards, they can't pay for porn.
"This myth also suggests that those in the porn industry don't have a code of ethics. It's as though people think that because we do porn we are terrible people who don't care about the welfare of young teens and kids. That's absolutely untrue. It's called the adult entertainment industry. It's entertainment created by and for adults.
"This is not for young people who haven't had sex before. This is not how you should learn about sex. That is like watching The Fast And The Furious to learn how to drive. The stunts done in The Fast And The Furious are done by trained professionals in safe and controlled environments. Just like in porn.
"We are professionals working in a safe and controlled environment. This is not how people have sex at home. Sure, there are some scenes that are closer to what people are doing at home. But people are not seeing the preparation and the cuts for lube. It is a product and it is edited."
As for the fear that porn is getting kinkier and influencing these acts to be done in our own bedrooms, White said: "I disagree with the idea that there has been a steady, uninterrupted progression to harder and kinkier scenes.
"Porn, like any industry, goes through trends. During the early 2000s 'gonzo porn' (a genre that got its name from Gonzo journalism, a style that breaks the fourth wall) was king and rough scenes were common, but by the late noughties, the pendulum had begun to swing towards more cinematic and romantic, 'couples-friendly' porn.
"But there is a problem with the term 'couples friendly' because obviously some couples like kinkier, harder, rougher stuff too. There's also other movements within porn, like the feminist porn movement, or the alt-porn movement pioneered by people such as Joanna Angel, that have proliferated with the rise of the internet. It's not a simple progression to harder and harder scenes. It's like fashion. A certain trend will become popular so people start to produce it."
But White admits that the porn industry is not for everyone.
"For individuals like me, it's a positive place where I can express my sexuality and I can be myself. But performers face a lot of stereotyping and stigma as a result of being involved in this industry so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't prepared to experience that negativity.
"Performers face issues with trolls and bullying on social media, institutionalised discrimination when applying for bank accounts and loans, and their profession can even be used against them in custody battles. Performing in porn can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. The pressure of being in the limelight and being 'on' 24/7 on social media is a lot to deal with."
Angela White might not be an Australian household name like Margot Robbie, but she is worshipped in many bedrooms across the continent. She is a hidden Aussie star.
Should we think any less of her because she uses her entire and bare body for entertainment or take a moment to not only learn from her but celebrate her success?