There's a well-worn porn cliche about the college student-turned-actress who decided to have sex in front of a camera in order to pay off her student loans. Like many cliches, it's rarely true — but it's worth wondering: How big are paychecks in the porn business, anyway?
Money is a topic that's shrouded in mystery in the adult entertainment world. While it's widely presumed to be a multibillion dollar industry, there's no real firm accounting to back that up. Companies regularly inflate their numbers when speaking publicly and may deflate them at opportune times as well. The same is true of performers.
The median household income for the United States was $53,657 in 2014 (the most recent data available), according to a Census Bureau survey. While that report breaks down average salaries among several careers, there is no data about adult performers.
So to determine who makes what, CNBC spoke with a number of individuals who work in all aspects of the adult world to get a sense of what sort of money trades hands. While there's no way to say with absolute certainty that the figures are correct, they were supported by enough people to at least seem roughly right.