When Jenna Jameson retired from porn six years ago, she went out with a bang.
On stage at the 2008 AVN Awards—porn's equivalent of the Oscars—she announced her exit at the peak of her career, saying, "I will never, ever, ever spread my legs again in this industry. Ever!"
Retirement hasn't gone as well as Jameson planned, though, and the woman who was the undisputed queen of porn in the early 2000s quietly began taking steps last year to re-enter the world she had renounced.
To be clear, Jameson (who did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this article) has not broken the vow she made at the AVN ceremony. She has not performed in any scenes for any studio. And there are no immediate signs she plans to do so.
But everyone was surprised when she appeared last year on MyFreeCams, a community of webcam models who strip and sometimes perform solo sexual acts for "tips" from viewers. Later, she appeared at a porn show in New Jersey, signing autographs and greeting fans.
On Jan. 25 she will host the Xbiz Awards, sponsored by the media company Xbiz and one of the industry's major events. And in the near future, Fleshlight, a Texas company that makes sex toys, is expected to launch a Jameson-branded product.
"I think it would be safe to assume those decision are business decisions rather than personal decisions," said Alec Helmy, Xbiz's president and publisher.
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The larger question is this: Given that Jameson angered many performers and studios by the way she left, will the industry welcome her back?
In talking with industry insiders, it appears as if time has healed many wounds.
"When there's a Mount Rushmore of porn, her face will be on it," says Steven Hirsch, founder and CEO of Vivid Pictures. "I think the industry really owes Jenna a debt. She really was the first girl to push the industry into the mainstream. She should be credited for that. … My feeling is if she's comfortable getting back into the industry, then she should be welcomed."
No other adult performer has reached Jameson's level of fame in her heyday. She was a fan favorite whose face appeared on a multistory-high billboard in Times Square. Her book topped The New York Times best-seller list. And she sold her company, ClubJenna, to Playboy in 2006 for an undisclosed price. (ClubJenna had posted $30 million in revenues the year before.)
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The adult webcam category, which includes MyFreeCams and LiveJasmin, generates $1 billion in revenues and is growing fast, according to Sean Phillips, vice president of marketing for SexyJobs.com, a recruitment service for adult models.
Such sites are estimated to draw a total of 5 percent of Internet users worldwide, with some models making up to $100,000 a month.
Meanwhile, a Fleshlight contract can be especially lucrative. (When a performer's name appears on one of its products, it's a sure sign that he or she has achieved porn superstardom.)
"Jenna's huge—she's central in so many ways in this industry," says Kassia Wosick, an assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University who has studied the porn business. "It's a hard lifestyle to walk away from forever, especially when you've been as big as she has been."
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Those hoping for a full-fledged re-entry might be disappointed, however. Though studios would jump at the chance to put out a new film starring Jameson, those who have spoken with her say they don't believe she'll take that step.
"I don't feel we will see her performing," Helmy said. "At the end of the day ... she sold sex. We're trying to split hairs by looking at the level of the things she's doing."
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC