Each month, industry news media organization XBIZ spotlights the career accomplishments and outstanding contributions of Women in Adult. WIA profiles offer an intimate look at the professional lives of the industry's most influential female executives.
Ela Darling is one of the handful of individuals who are helping shape the future of adult entertainment.
I’ve managed to attain some longevity in my career in adult and, understanding the privilege that allows for that, I have worked hard to listen to the voices of the community and amplify the needs of the workers I have come to represent.
The tall, slender and fetching adult performer not only is helping spearhead an immersive porn world, but she also is trying to help protect the industry from outside interests that seek to heavily regulate it.
After breaking into the industry in 2009, Darling took on the accolade of “the World’s First Virtual Reality Cam Girl” after co-founding VRTube.xxx, championing VR as a means for transforming adult content into a fully immersive experience. Later, she struck a deal with CAM4 to offer VR to the masses under the CAM4VR stamp.
Along the way, Darling let the cannons loose and became political, taking on some of the most important issues facing the industry with others.
This past summer after several years on its board, Darling was elected president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, which helps protect performers’ rights and tries to advance safer and more professional work environments.
And when it came to fighting the good fight against Prop 60, it was Darling who helped get the word out to help stamp out the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s measure to put limits on adult film production, speaking to thousands outside of the industry in a bid to quash it.
But the fight isn’t over. Darling now is putting her focus on bloodborne pathogen exposure standards for the porn biz. She recently traveled to Oakland, Calif., to join other adult industry stakeholders advocating for a plan that won’t call for dental dams and the like for oral scenes.
XBIZ recently sat down with Darling, this month’s WIA Woman of the Month, to learn more about her love for her work and passion for the industry in this interview.
XBIZ: How did you get your start into the world of adult entertainment?
Darling: I was a reference librarian just out of grad school. I had been modeling for several years but avidly avoiding anything adult; I didn’t even do anything as risqué as lingerie modeling.
I finally decided to make the plunge into adult after seeing an ad on Craigslist (back when there was a section for Adult Gigs) for a softcore video shoot: fully clothed, girl-next-door style inescapable bondage. It was a world away from the fashion and glamour modeling I was used to. I was excited for the thrill of something new that I didn’t understand.
After the first shoot, I realized what I was missing out on and expanded my repertoire to other fetish niches and art nude photoshoots. Before too long, the next obvious step was to do nude bondage and from there I realized that if I could make a decent amount of money doing this work in sleepy Massachusetts towns on the East Coast, I could make a career of it if I moved to L.A.
So, I did, and a few weeks after I landed in downtown Los Angeles, I kicked off my porn career on Fucking Machines for Kink.
XBIZ: You’re one of the rare performers who has really thrust themselves into politics and advocacy of adult filmmaking and camming. Where did all this energy come from?
Darling: I’ve been passionate about politics and the rights of marginalized people since high school. I was the vice president of my high school’s Amnesty International chapter. I was a residential assistant in college, and I decided to become a librarian when I learned that librarians are champions of free speech and information access.
Soon after I started my career in porn, I learned that there was an organization called the AIDS Healthcare Foundation that was fighting to stifle our voices and our industry through Cal/OSHA.
I first joined the discussion between the adult industry and Cal/OSHA about six years ago at a meeting in downtown L.A. Since then, I’ve participated as much as possible in the advocacy of our industry. I was elected president of APAC this past summer after serving on the board for two years. In my time on the board, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to the California Democratic party, several caucuses, the Cal/OSHA Division and Standards boards, people of our industry and as many members of the press as will hear me.
I think our industry is worth fighting for. I’ve managed to attain some longevity in my career in adult and, understanding the privilege that allows for that, I have worked hard to listen to the voices of the community and amplify the needs of the workers I have come to represent.
I have a tattoo on my thigh that reads, “We are only as strong as we are united, and weak as we are divided.” While this is actually a quote by Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter, it’s an idea that reverberates in me that I try to remember when advocating for our workforce.
XBIZ: Where do you see the future of virtual reality and adult?
Darling: Through my years of working in adult VR and especially in my time with CAM4VR, I have learned that VR needs the adult industry and the adult industry needs VR, as each will see growth as a result from the other’s success.
I believe that we have a unique responsibility to provide high-quality VR content. For many people, porn is their first foray into VR because it’s such an obvious use case, and if it isn’t their first experience, it is their deciding experience. That’s a lot of weight on porn to influence consumers that VR is worth their time. If the market becomes flooded with low-quality VR experiences, we could lose potential VR users, not just for the adult market, but for VR as a medium.
While I don’t think that porn is the driving factor behind VR, I do see it as one of the most saturated markets within VR and as such, we have a lot of opportunity to influence new users. That’s a really strong place to be, considering the historically rocky relationship between tech and porn.
XBIZ: When camming, what’s your selling point?
Darling: First and foremost is my appeal as a VR camgirl. Most of my time spent on cam is for CAM4VR, where I act as a girl next door/GFE performer. The VR viewers know me because of my status in the VR industry and frequently want to connect with me because of VR more than because of the sexual aspect of the camming I do.
Beyond that, I’m an unapologetic fucking nerd. I would rather spend time connecting with the fans who really get me and will feel a lasting connection with my authentic persona than pretend to be someone who fits the mold of what consumers want me to be. This means that building my fan base was pretty slow at first.
While camming, however, I talk about whatever I’m excited about and I engage with the people in my room who are also excited about those things. I wind up converting more long-term new fans this way, as opposed to the fans who have a momentary crush on me and then move along. The fans I keep tend to be very loyal and kind, which has been really rewarding for me.
XBIZ: Who inspires you in this industry?
Darling: Oh, my god, where do I even begin? I will certainly leave some people out and feel like a jerk.
Nina Hartley is a big inspiration for me. I’ve never seen her fail to strive for the rights and safety of our performers.
My Fairy Porn Mother, Jincey Lumpkin is a constant angel on my shoulder when it comes to poise and grace in the face of anxiety.
I have a lot of admiration and respect for Shine Louise Houston for the work she’s done in normalizing and eroticizing queer sexuality.
Jiz Lee has brought their work into the mainstream in a way that charms, disarms, and empowers everyone they encounter.
Jessica Drake and Lorelei Lee drive me politically. Those women are unstoppable.
XBIZ: What’s a typical work day like?
Darling: Most days, I wake up around 7 a.m., walk my dog, drink some Soylent, and get started on emails.
I usually have a meeting or two, then do outreach to press and to my CAM4VR performers. I use my mornings and early afternoons to tend to general content management work. Then I usually take a break for an hour in the afternoon to work out or go for a run or hike. After that, I finish up any final inquiries or tasks I have for work, which could take a few hours. Around 7 p.m., I start making dinner while my roommate does dishes, and we take an hour for dinner before we both get back to work. After dinner, most of the work I do is following up on emails and making sure everything I need for the next morning is ready to go.
On days that I’m performing, it’s mostly the same, but with more prioritization with regards to urgent tasks. It’s not uncommon for me to be on set, glued to my phone while helping to answer questions from my VR performers or sorting out terms and arrangements for upcoming speaking arrangements at adult/VR conferences.
XBIZ: When not thinking about the biz, what do you like to do?
Darling: I like to go on hikes and take some time to go for a run as often as possible. If I go more than two days in a week without some sort of physical activity, my muscles get restless and my mind gets bored and I don’t function as well as I would like.
I never thought that I would call reading a “guilty pleasure” but that has become an accurate description, since it’s such a devotional activity that prohibits me from focusing on any of the work I tend to do. I love to lose myself in books. I used to hate the concept of e-books but now I can’t live without them since I read relatively quickly and I travel so much.
If I have several days in a row when I don’t need to be in a specific location to execute my work, I like to visit my grandmothers and spend time hanging out with them. I learn more about them and my family every time I visit them.
They’re some of the last people in my world who don’t know me as Ela Darling and love me as the exact person they’ve always known me as.