Jelena Jensen Has to Do More Than Just Films to Be a 21st Century Porn Princess

Jelena Jensen Has to Do More Than Just Films to Be a 21st Century Porn Princess
Photo: Willie T / Assistant: Laura Nixon / Hair: Jennie Albeno / Makeup: Monica Alvarez

By Steve Lowery

"Brad, are you doing something right now?"

Yes, Brad from Sherman Oaks is doing something right now. You could kind of sense it when he first called in to Jelena Jensen's Sirius XM radio show on Vivid Radio, the broadcasting arm of the adult-entertainment giant. There was the monosyllabic answers he gave that made him sound out of breath.

When Jensen asks him if he'd ever like to receive a sexy photo of a girlfriend along the lines of the boudoir photography done by Jelena's radio guest, Ellen Stagg, Brad gives a breathless ". . . yeah."

When Ellen asks if he would be thrilled to get one of the photos she shoots, there is a long, loooong pause on Brad's end before he replies in a somewhat-tortured staccato, "I would . . . definitely . . . like . . . it," sounding very much like someone who might have a gun pointed at his head--though, given that Jensen is an adult-industry star with a dozen years in the business this month, a mini-conglomerate who does girl-girl, boy-girl (but only with her husband), solo acts, live cam shows, glamour photos, radio shows, TV shows, webcasting, web coding, as well as the fact that she is statuesque and gorgeous, chances are it's Brad who is holding the gun, and as his rapidly increasing breathing suggests, the gun is loaded and ready to discharge.

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"Brad, are you doing something right now?" Jensen asks in that way a mother might ask a child with cookie crumbs around his mouth if he had been in the cookie jar--except instead of cookies, the kid is involved in some auto-erotic activities broadcast live internationally on a satellite radio show.

" . . . Yeah."

"What are you doing?

" . . . Watching . . . one of your videos . . . and . . . touching myself."

Jensen gives a theatrical gasp before telling Brad he is being "naughty, naughty," but not only is she not surprised, but she had told the folks in the studio to either participate or observe the show to expect as much. Still, Stagg, a friend of many years and one who will be shooting some nude photos of Jensen tomorrow, can't helped but be impressed.

"So, Brad, you're watching the video, talking on the phone and touching yourself?"

". . . Yeah . . ."

"Wow, that's like really multitasking," she says. "I hope you have Bluetooth."

"Brad's good at it," Jensen says.

Brad has called before, and chances are he is a subscriber to Jensen's website (JelenaJensen.com), that he enjoys her live-cam shows, that he follows her on Twitter, and that he may have even bid on pieces of her clothing on her auction site.

In the old days, the glory days of porn in the '80s and '90s, Jensen would have been making the occasional movie, showing up for a well-compensated public appearance and depositing her checks. But those days are gone, swallowed up by the digital age that allows anyone with an Internet connection and a bed, couch, desk, bathroom, subway car, etc. to produce their own content. That means adult entertainers such as Jensen don't so much perform as conduct a very intimate level of customer service, their wares not experienced in usually private settings, customized, niche-oriented, the kind of service that requires constant maintenance and labor.

"It's so different today," says Tori Welles, one of the biggest stars from those glory days, as she waits outside the studio to do her own radio show. "When I had my contract with Vivid, I worked every four to six weeks for two days. I made appearances and would make, like, $15 to $20,000 a week. But the competition wasn't like it is now. It's just different. These girls today work so hard."

And even for someone such as Jensen, who has been working hard ever since she was 15, who worked to pay her way through Chapman University, who worked hard to graduate magna cum laude from Chapman's film school--yes, yes, magna cum laude, let's all just get that one out of our systems--who has worked hard to not only develop her brand in the adult industry, but also at things outside of it including real estate, even someone like that gets tired of working, and today, sitting behind the mic, she looks two exits past exhausted.

In fact, it's certain that the Jelena who appears in the digital clip that Brad is viewing as he makes sweet love to himself looks nothing like the Jelena who is talking to Brad. Digital Jelena has spectacular hair and makeup, is statuesque and glamorous while exuding a kind of middle-class sensuality, if that's a thing.

"She kind of exudes 'the girl next door,'" Ellen says. "She was telling me she was thinking about getting a tattoo a few years ago, but then she thought her fans liked her because she's natural and decided she couldn't do it, her fans wouldn't like it."

Radio Jelena is light on makeup and glamour and is dressed as if she were any Southern California woman in jeans and a shirt. Beautiful? Yes, very. But not exuding sex as work. She is working. She is always working.

"All right, Brad, let's see how much you can really multitask and focus," she says.

". . . Okay . . ."

"We're gonna do a countdown. Are you ready for this, Brad?"

". . . Yes . . . I'm ready . . ."

"All right, Brad, you gotta hold it till 10," she says, then suddenly pauses. "Er, I mean until I get to one. See, I'm having problems," she says, her voice quickly switching from sultry to staggered, acknowledging how tired she is. "Sorry, Brad."

Brad doesn't seem to mind at all.

"See, it's a countdown, Jelena, not a count up," Ellen says.

She begins again. "All right, Brad . . . 10 . . . nine . . ."

". . . Oh, Jelena . . ." says Brad, whose voice crosses a nexus of excruciating pleasure and wonderful pain. Brad is in the zone. And for anyone who has ever been in the zone, even if they only visited for a minute this morning before having to bang out a story on deadline, the zone is a very good place to be.

". . . eight . . ."

Jensen is in the zone, too. The zone she has occupied the majority of her life, the zone she would one day like to leave, then again, probably never will, because it's the zone where she seems, like it or not, to be her truest form of herself.

". . . Oh, oh, Jelena!"

She's working.

 

Jelena Jensen Has to Do More Than Just Films to Be a 21st Century Porn Princess
". . . seven . . . six . . ."

"Yes!"

"Not yet, Brad!"

Brad does as he is told. Whether Jensen likes being in control is up for debate, but the fact is when you come from a background such as hers, one that began with a touch of chaos, you can either submit to the chaos or live a life directly opposed to it.

Her parents were club kids, "groupies," who inhabited the Sunset Strip of the late 1970s and early '80s and met at the Rainbow Bar. As happens with young people, Jensen's mother became pregnant, the couple married, and soon followed a few years of tumult, with Jensen living parts of her living with either her parents, her father or paternal grandparents in the likes of Lynwood; Bell Gardens; Alhambra; Battle Ground, Washington; and, finally, with her grandparents in San Dimas.

When people hear her story and rue that she was raised without parents, Jensen quickly corrects them, saying her parents were Ken, a retired truck driver, and Erica, a housewife who had raised four boys, offering as proof of how close her relationship was with those two that when each passed, it was Jensen, not the boys, who ended up with their ashes.

Erica, who had grown up in Nazi Germany, taught her granddaughter a perseverance and determination that said to do otherwise was to die. In the town where Erica grew up, there was a river that, during World War II, became a regular site for townsfolk to kill themselves.

Once, with her family suffering from illness and hunger, Erica's mother--Jelena's great-grandmother--said she was ready for the two of them to jump in the river. Erica refused and survived, though she would remain petrified of water for the rest of her life.

As much as she admired her grandmother, it was her grandfather with whom she was "inseparable." It was Ken who taught her the value of work and how hard one had to work. By 15, she was working at a shotgun range in Duarte while also volunteering to produce television shows on local cable access. That experience brought her to Chapman, where she made up the difference in tuition that grants and loans didn't cover by working in a coffee joint at South Coast Plaza.

"I knew no one else was going to do it for me, so I would have to do it myself," she says. "It pissed me off sometimes when I would see all the rich kids at Chapman. And then when I was at the mall, a bunch of people who worked there acted like they had money. I was like, 'You work retail.'"

As was always the case, she rose swiftly in each job. After six months at the coffee place, she was made a shift manager, though she was only 18. When she went to work for a company that shipped DVDs--"at the last minute, they told me it was for porn and asked if I had a problem with that. I said no"--she soon ascended to become product and marketing manager, which necessitated her attending trade shows where photographers and directors saw her. Soon enough, she had become her own Lifetime movie: College Girl/Pinup Girl.

As the plot demands, Jensen thought she would only do a bit of nude modeling until she was out of school and her loans were paid off. But the gigs kept coming, better-paying ones with better photographers such as Suze Randall and scene mates such as Aria Giovanni, who grew up in Orange County and would eventually become her best friend.

Then she found herself doing softcore adult movies. Ever watchful, she paid attention to how the business worked and reasoned that she could be making a whole lot more producing content for herself and her website than producing it for others, So, nearly seven years into her adult career, she decided to take control of things.

"I could see that the business had changed," she says. "I took over and relaunched my website with this big marketing push that I was going to do boy-girl for the first time and the only way to see it was live on my website. My thought process was that if I just upload a video, it's just going to get stolen, but if I do a web event, people would have to join my site at, like, $30 each."

She did interviews and produced press releases, drumming up interest for the 2009 event. It worked; on just the day of and day before her performance, more than 700 people subscribed to her site. Then came the shoot itself, done in her house with her now-husband Matt Erickson, the only person with whom she will perform boy-girl scenes.

"I was so busy with everything leading up to that," she says, "that it was only at that moment, you know, right when I was about to put it in my mouth that, in my head, I was thinking, 'Here goes nothing. This is changing everything forever.'"  

Jelena Jensen Has to Do More Than Just Films to Be a 21st Century Porn Princess
Photo: Willie T / Assistant: Laura Nixon / Hair: Jennie Albeno / Makeup: Monica Alvarez

". . . five . . ."

". . . oh, oh . . ."

"Hold it in, Brad. Hold it in."

[The whimpering of a thousand blue balls.]

". . . four . . . three . . ."

". . . Yeeeeeaaa . . ."

In fact, things did change. Ironically, right about the time that Jensen made her first foray into hardcore porn, the business as a whole experienced a tidal shift.

"Back in the early 2000s, the video side of the business still looked at the Internet as kind of the bastard child of the industry," says Erickson, a 20-year veteran of the business having worked as a producer and performer as well as for Playboy. "We were still making good money. But around 2004, the video guys started saying, 'Uh, we need to pay attention to the Internet.' From there, it just grew exponentially."

Like a mushroom cloud. In less than 10 years, the rise of Internet porn, most of it viewed as pirated content, devastated the industry. In a matter of just a few years, DVD sales plummeted 50 percent. Porn actor and producer Dave Cummings--of Kneepad Nymphos, among others--told the Huffington Post in 2013 that he estimated about "80 percent of the companies that were around five years ago either don't exist or are hanging on by a thread."

The drop in sales and failure of businesses was jumped on as proof that even the porn industry was not recession-proof. But the truth was much more likely that porn was as popular as ever--people had simply found a way to not pay for it. Professionally shot scenes--ones that used professional performers, camera operators, makeup and hair artists, etc.--were almost immediately pirated to free sites such as Pornhub or XHamster or YouPorn or SpankWire or RedTube or Tube8 or YouJizz or, well . . .

The sites refer to themselves as a video-sharing service, though money is not being shared with the people producing most of the content.

There had been a time when the Internet could have been everyone's best friend. A time when there was plenty of content online, and it was content that had to be paid for. It was during this time that Jenna Jameson became the biggest porn star perhaps ever, in no small part thanks to her ClubJenna.

"All the big money was made on the Internet in the first six years," says adult-industry legend Nina Hartley. "That's when people had to have memberships. But the porn bubble has popped. It's become wallpaper. Up until the Internet, porn was special--you had to leave the house to go get it. You had to want it. It's so easy now it's become wallpaper."

It's become nearly as easy to become a performer. The popularity of reality porn as well as the ability for practically anyone with laptop to become their own producer has meant a glut of performers flooding the market and driving down the fees performers are paid.

"I'm friends with [adult performer] Charlotte Stokely," Stagg says. "She told me that 10 years ago, she did a gangbang and was paid $1,000 to show up and $1,000 for each guy. She said now girls are doing that same gangbang for $800 total."

If the scenario of a glut of content easily accessible for free online sounds familiar, you need only look as far as the music industry. Like so many musicians, Jensen, who makes a point of saying she always pays for her music online, saw that the only way to make money with content was to offer as much as possible live. Live-cam performances on her site are one-time events and, as with a live concert, are immune to being pirated in real-time. We think.

It has also moved Jensen to make sure she was diversified enough. She bought property. She saved money by controlling her own website, doing everything on it including coding, which she taught herself--"I can research anything." She also manages the website of several other adults stars, coding and all.

She jumped full force into the world of online auctions, an industry that got its first big bump in 1999 when porn star Houston, who holds the record for a single-day gangbang of 620 men, sold the trimmings of her surgically repaired labia for a reported $50,000. Jensen has nothing remotely in that neighborhood--a recent offering of a tank top, yellow bra, shorts and tube socks was going for a minimum bid of $63--but dutifully soldiers on with actual content and promoting it on social media.

Still, you can see a longing in her eyes, hear it in her sighs as she listens to Welles describe how things use to be.

"When I worked for [Vivid] studio, I was under contract, and I got paid every month," Welles says as Jelena slowly shakes her head. "They did marketing, all I had to do was set up at the set. My Dr. Peppers, my cigarettes were all laid out for me, and there was awesome food. They would book me for two days, two scenes and a girl-girl, and then I wouldn't do anything for a month."

This elicits Brad-like moans.

"And then you would get hired just to go to an adult store, you know, like, in the Midwest, and it would be snowing outside, and they would still be lined up around the building, just waiting for you to sign things. They had to come to us. We weren't doing selfies. We still had some kind of mystique."

Indeed, now women such as Jensen are as much providers as performers. They are not allowed to think in terms of faceless masses, but rather must serve each customer, each subscriber at a time. That means building strong bonds with the Brads of the world, but it also means having to get very close, perhaps intimate, in the customers' mind, an area that can tumble over into the dangerous for the performer.

For that reason, Jensen gives out almost no information about herself. Her mail is not delivered to her home; her car is not registered to her house.

"The problem is they see us so intimately that they think they really know us. I know girls who go home, and there are guys there waiting for them. That's why I'm so protective of things in my life."

Then again, one of the things she was protective of was her dogs. But, when one of them swallowed a dish towel and needed surgery and medical treatment to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, Jensen appealed to her followers with the names of her dogs, and she was soon given enough money to have her dog make a full recovery after a stay of more than a week in doggie ICU.

"The Internet is such a double-edged sword, I don't know whether to love it or hate it," Hartley says, echoing many in the industry, including Jensen. "For every person that says it's horrible, there's another who says it saved their life.

"Still, if it could be uninvented, that probably would be better."  

Nice oranges
Nice oranges
Photo: Willie T / Assistant: Laura Nixon / Hair: Jennie Albeno / Makeup: Monica Alvarez

". . . two . . ."
". . . oh, Jelena . . ."

"Better make me proud, Brad . . . ONE!"

"Ooooooh, Jelena, oooh, oooh, oooh . . ."

"I'm so impressed, Brad!"

"Oooooh, ooooh, oooh . . ."

"Brad? Is it getting everywhere?

"Ooooh, oooh, oooh . . ."

"Brad, thank you so much for calling in, and I'm so glad you waited for one."

"Ooooh, thank you, Jelena, oooh, thank you, thank . . ."

And that is Brad from Sherman Oaks.

Jensen and Stagg carry on to finish the rest of the show, and then head back to Jensen and her husband's home for some dinner. Jensen looks happy that the day is done--though, for her, "done" is a relative term.

"You know, she's exhausted, but I can tell you, before we eat, she is going to feed her dogs--she does it four times a day," Stagg says. "It's better for their metabolism, so she does this whole thing where she heats up the water, and then makes this soup kind of thing, and then puts some food in, and then there's this thing she says to the dogs, and they can't eat until she says it. That would be a lot to do once a day. Four times . . ."

Jensen laughs when people bring up what she calls her "OCD," her care of her dogs, the way she demands the laundry be done, her edict that no one, NO ONE, be allowed to load the dishwasher because only she knows the perfect, Tetris-like way to get maximum cleanliness and water conservation from each load.

"We do live in California; there is 
a drought . . ."

A dozen years ago, when she told her grandfather she was thinking about doing softcore porn, he stunned her by replying matter-of-factly, "If you're going to do any of the harder stuff, just be careful." Work was work, and, as he always told her, it was the only way to get whatever she desired, whether it was a car, a college diploma or her good name--which, of course, isn't her actual name. Jelena Jensen is not her real name. She doesn't give out her real name. To anyone.

". . . just be careful."

Whatever people think of her, they must allow she lives by a code that asks for nothing but the opportunity to work and that the worker is worthy of their labor, worthy of getting paid. "If I want a Bentley, does it mean I just walk up and steal it? You need to earn what you want, and you need to pay for what you get, whether it's your car or your porn," she says. "I'm big on that."

And then Jensen climbs into her car--not a Bentley, but a nice one she paid for years ago--and, smiling through a yawn, with Stagg planted in the passenger seat, she pulls out of the underground parking garage, soon to be enveloped in a night that never ends, not with the dogs and the Internet needing to be fed.

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