Young Africans Who Want to Be Porn Stars

Hundreds of youths try to escape poverty by going into Africa's porn industry. Few realize how difficult and unsafe it can be.


I have been dreaming of becoming a porn actor since a very young age. I live in the Ivory Coast and I am looking for a producer or a director to sign a contract and to be in a movie … I am relying on you to make my dream come true.

This is the advertisement that André (not his real name), a 21-year-old, posted on the Internet with his email address and cell phone numbers. This computer science student in Grand-Bassam — a town some 25 miles from Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast — is not unusual in Africa. Hundreds of young men and women in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and elsewhere are all trying to join the pornographic-film industry in Africa or abroad.

The world pornography market (adult video networks, pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite, websites, in-room hotel movies, phone sex, sex toys, magazines and DVDs) is estimated to be tens of billions of dollars, according to Dan Miller, managing editor of XBIZ Premiere, a trade publication for the adult entertainment industry.

Warning that exact numbers are difficult to acquire because the vast majority of companies in the sector are privately owned, Miller says, “America’s market is by far the largest in the world in terms of scope and revenue. It far exceeds the market in Europe. Based on the information we have, I would estimate the market in the U.S. to be in the neighborhood of $7 billion.”

A Small Industry in Africa

By contrast, the largely Web-oriented African market is small but emerging. The leader on that continent would be South Africa, which hosted Sexpo, a public expo focused on all aspects of sexuality, in the second half of 2010. “The size of the entire adult industry in South Africa is said to be worth 60 million rand ($8.9 million), but that cannot be independently verified. It is probably the biggest in Africa.

Nigeria should be worth about half of that,” says Tau Morena, co-founder of Sondeza (“Bring it closer” in isiZulu), an African adult online network with more than 39,000 members (almost half of them South African) and an average of 7,000 unique visitors daily.

Why hasn’t the African pornographic sector taken off? Morena blames video piracy, which he says that most governments are not really interested in curbing: “In South Africa in the ’90s … about a million units were sold per annum, but now with the onslaught of piracy, roughly 150,000 units of all titles are sold on average, and the numbers keep declining.”

Another brake is legislation. Producing — and sometimes even possessing — pornographic material is illegal in several African countries. And yet pornographic content is increasingly available in Africa, mainly because of greater access to the Internet and to foreign channels that broadcast adult movies.

A Growing Market

That content is also increasingly sought after. “There is a strong demand from the lower and upper middle classes that have equipped themselves with communication and video equipment (PCs, modems, webcams). There is also international demand: Nigeria, home to one of the world’s largest domestic film-production industries, “exports videos and makes different types of content it later puts online on Internet portals,” says Philippe Di Folco, the French author of the Dictionnaire de la Pornographie.