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The abrupt end of Danny Wylde's porn career: Love, addiction and the decline of adult film

by Chris Greenspon | Off-Ramp®

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Ex-adult performer Chris Zeischegg, aka "Danny Wylde." Owen Gray

For eight years, Chris Zeischegg was the porn star "Danny Wylde" — until a doctor told him in 2013 that if he didn’t stop abusing male enhancement drugs that he might never be able to have sex again.

Zeischegg grew up in Grass Valley, a small town north of Sacramento. While attending UC Santa Cruz, he picked up modeling jobs on Craigslist.

"Modeling jobs in the sense that I would pose nude for an art photographer. It was like a $50 thing," recalls Zeischegg. "A lot of them wanted me to get an erection."

Eventually, he found a listing seeking "submissive males" for a porn shoot.

"At 19, I thought I was pretty down to do anything,” Zeischegg remembers. Today, Zeischegg says all of his family and friends know that he was in porn. He came out to his parents because he was dating a fellow performer whom he met after shooting a few more videos.

"There are emotional and physical connections, obviously, you make when having sex with people," says Zeischegg, "and though that's not always true in porn... there are definitely sincere moments, and I've spawned several relationships from those." His first partner in the adult industry introduced him to producers and directors making "punk rock alt-porn" in Los Angeles.

He transferred to the University of Southern California's film program and earned almost $4,000 a month as a freelance performer. He began to appear in films for bigger production houses, but at the time he was only credited by his middle name, Daniel.

"I got a contract with a company when I was 20 or 21, and they asked that I have a last name because they needed to market me, and they also wanted me to sound younger because this was gonna be for a website where I would have sex with older women. I had no preference for what my name would be, and they came up with Danny Wylde. Everyone in the room thought it sounded great... I think it's actually a really stupid name." — Chris Zeischegg

As a performer, Zeischegg's work days varied between three-to-four-hour long "gonzo shoots," with minimal pre- and post-production, and 18-hour days working on feature-length films. To cope with these potentially long hours, and the pressure to perform in front of a crew, Zeischegg says, "Most every guy takes erectile dysfunction drugs as a performance enhancer."

Both Viagra and Cialis warn against taking their drug more than once a day. "By the time that I was performing on a regular basis later in my career I would, on harder scenes, take maybe two or three pills," says Zeischegg. 

Zeischegg says he formed a psychological addiction to the drugs that landed him in the hospital several times with priapism — an erection that would not subside. His doctor told him during treatment that if he kept doing this, he could build up scar tissue and ruin his ability to achieve a natural erection.

He quit porn immediately, and Zeischegg admits that the loss of his career was a shock for more than just financial reasons.

"From a really narcissistic perspective, I had achieved this kind of minor celebrity, and wrapped around that celebrity is a weird idea of yourself as a sex symbol. And then you have to admit publicly that maybe that's not really a part of you. That that was pharmaceutically enhanced, and then maybe it's not there at all anymore, and you're no longer this guy that has all this machismo. I had spent near 10 years being Danny Wylde, and it's not like I thought I cared that much about that identity, but I guess that I did, because it was a little devastating to lose all of a sudden." — Chris Zeischegg

Thanks to his experience in film school, he was able to find work as a cameraman and video editor, both in and out of porn. Since he stopped performing, Zeischegg has focused on publishing novels and essays (all links NSFW), including a biting piece about the end of his porn career, titled, "On the moral imperative to commodify our sexual suffering."

Zeischegg's piece discusses a decline in the porn industry that may have ended his career if his drug problem didn't, and he points to one company as the main destroyer of competition in adult film: Mindgeek, a conglomerate that owns major production houses — and more importantly, free streaming sites like Pornhub.

"When Mindgeek started out, they were called Manwin; they were basically taking pirated content, and building a business model out of this. Just stealing everyone else's content, putting it online for free, and then when those companies would go out of business, they would sweep in and buy them up." 

"I don't know that I've been robbed of anything," says Zeischegg, "I just feel that there's a large part of my life that I put into this business, this career, that's just sort of... not valuable. It gives people pleasure for a moment when they view this stuff, but I don't attribute any personal value to that."

And as far as what Zeischegg wants people to know about him and his fellow sex workers? He doesn't want them to be stereotyped.

"I cannot to this day give you one determining factor of what makes a sex worker. There are drug addicts in porn, there are people who've been abused in porn. There are also people with PhDs in pornography, who run businesses, who are wives and mothers and fathers, and they come from all walks of life and end up here for a variety of reasons. Many of them are financial, and maybe to fulfill some other personal need; like you do in any line of work." — Chris Zeischegg

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