A student said she dropped out of university because of her classmates relentless bullying about her sex work.
Five years ago, Ella Hughes, 24, from Southampton, was on the path to a high-flying career in law, but after dropping out of her course she’s now an award-winning pornstar instead.
Ella, who was crowned UK’s best porn performer in 2018, says she loves her jobs, but hates the stigma around it, as she discusses her career in Student Sex Workers on Channel 5 tonight.
Ella, who can make £180 for a 10-minute video, first dabbled in porn aged 19, during her first year as a law student.
She had a student loan, but wanted to earn her own cash and because of her hours at university, she could not find a part-time job.
‘It’s such an intense course, there’s not much time in between seminars and doing your assignments that you can hold down an average job,’ she explains.
She started with fully-clothed photoshoots, but was approached by porn companies when she swapped t-shirts from lingerie. She then became a spanking model, known as a ‘spankee’, before going into videos.
Her first video was 20 minutes long and gathered four million views, but Ella didn’t mind. She says: ‘I loved it. It was the best 20 minutes of my life.’
‘In my head I realised “This is what I’m going to do, with my life.”‘
But while Ella embraced her porn debut, her personal life suffered and she lost a lot of friends.
In the documentary she explains she had to make up lies in order to keep her double life hidden.
She recalls telling a housemate that she had done a photoshoot for an uniform brand when he found a schoolgirl uniform in her bag, but it wasn’t long before her fellow students found out the truth.
‘People start calling you names, they start threatening you,’ she explains.
In a 2017 interview with the BBC, she explained she was called a sl** on a daily basis and even received death threats.
Struggling to balance her demanding degree and her porn career, and as people at her university found out, she had to make a decision – and ultimately chose to work in the adult industry.
‘I got a lot of hate, even though they were watching the videos,’ she explains on the Channel 5 documentary.
‘To watch it and then judge somebody based on their actions, I think, is so snide.’
In order to avoid the comments, Ella stopped showing up to class, but the hate then came from social media.
Her teachers would also comment on her side-business, telling her that ‘porn and law don’t mix,’ and that law was for respectable people, not pornstars.
‘I feel like I was being crushed more and more,’ she says, ‘I decided for myself it wasn’t the best environment to be in.’
Ella dropped out of Southampton Uni and joined the Open University in order to complete her degree.
‘It was very important for me to get a degree. I was the first person in my family to go to university,’ she explains.
And in hindsight, she thinks her background in law helps her navigate the demands of the sex industry and not ‘not get scr***** over’ with contracts.
Ella goes on to say that her mother was supportive of her choices: ‘She was upset, but once she realised it is what I wanted to do, she told me as long as I’m safe and I’m happy then I should do what I want to in life.’
As part of her sex work, Ella has to attend sexual screening for STIs every two weeks.
‘You’re not allowed on set without a health certificate, and obviously it’ll always be negative, like nothing wrong,’ she says.
She adds that a lot of people think adult performers are riddled with diseases, which is a misconception.
‘I know I’m safe,’ she says. ‘I’m pretty sure people that I went to uni with will be shocked that I kept up with this career for so long,’ she says.
‘In general, people’s perspective of porn performers is that they don’t last long in the industry, that we have a shelf life.’
Ella previously said that, depending on their profile, people could make between £500 to £1,000 for a shoot – and up to £2,000 in America.
But she admits she doesn’t know if she could do something else work-wise, as recruiters might recognise her from her videos.
‘Not everybody is going to be OK with what I do, but it’s just the way the world works,’ she says.
Akonne, a second year student in sport science from Sheffield, had a very different experience going into the sex industry.
He started stripping on the weekends, aged 20, and says he performs to thousands of women per week. He does both stage work at a club and private bookings for women aged 18 to 60.
‘Everybody in my uni course knows. Probably everybody in my uni knows, it’s not something I hide,’ Akonne, now 26, says.
Reflecting on the first time he ever stripped, Akonne admits he wondered what he had gotten himself into.
‘But I had the greatest night, they were all clapping, cheering it was like a football match,’ he says, raising his fist in the air.
But Akonne acknowledges that his work is not to the taste of everybody.
‘People are going to look at what I do for work and look down on it,’ he says, ‘I can’t let my life be based on other people’s opinions.’
‘When I told my mum I was a stripper, she had two rules for me: one, that we called it performance arts and two, that I make sure I’m the best da** performance artist out there,’ he says.
Akonne adds that when he first started, he thought he would be done with stripping within six months to a year, but was seduced by the appeal of the stage and the fun of the job.
‘I just want to get on stage, feel that buzz and get my money,’ he says.
But Akonne does not plan on being a stripper forever. He says he will probably stop stripping when he hits 30, but will remain in the industry, possibly as an agent.