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The week of March 27, 2016
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Crissy Moran tried to leave pornography behind, but the industry won’t let her go

By Adam Popescu

“A lot of people claim it’s hard to transition into real life after porn,” says Crissy Moran. “And it is.” Between 2000 and 2006, she performed in more than 50 adult films, appearing on the covers of Hustler and muscle car magazines, vamping on the back of skin tapes and DVDs, and cropping up all over the Internet. Today, speaking from her small apartment in Texas, nearly 1,000 miles from the heart of the adult industry she left, the now 40-year-old Moran can barely believe that that was the same person.

“I blame myself for all my bad choices,” she says. “And I’ve made some terrible ones. Terrible. And everybody can see them.”

For years, Moran was the face—and body—behind a lucrative adult membership website that she claims has made hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars over the last decade.

“I was making $15,000 a month just from my website,” she says. “I had months I made another $5,000 to $7,000 from shooting if I wanted to, easily. Sometimes I did phone calls for $9.99 a minute, autographed photos, panties, I’ve done that, too. There’s unlimited amounts of money I could have made.”

Could is the operative word. That’s because Moran claims she didn’t get the lion’s share of the proceeds. “The contract talked about how the money would be split between me, my webmaster, the guys behind the content, and people sending traffic,” she says. “Everybody got a piece. But I didn’t make as much even though I was the person the site revolved around. The others made a lot more.”

Contracts that held her digital likeness in perpetuity are to blame, she says. “I don’t have a copy. I don’t even know when the contract ended or when it ends. The only thing I remember is the wording on the contract; if I were to die, what would happen to the site. From what I recall, it said that they would still continue to run the website. I remember when I read it I thought, ‘Wow, they’re going to own me. They’re going to keep the site up forever, as long as it keeps bringing them money—and it doesn’t cost them anything to keep it up.’”

That’s just what happened. Fueled by a string of abusive boyfriends Moran says encouraged her to get deeper into porn, men who would control her finances and emotions, she lost control of herself and her identity, eventually signing agreements without fully understanding them.

“I always wanted to get out,” she says. “Any time I did a shoot where I took my clothes off, I would feel bad.”

“I was very suicidal during that time,” she adds. “I wanted attention. I didn’t have a relationship with my family, I didn’t have a close relationship with anybody. When people said I was good enough to do porn, I thought I guess I should. Anything I did that was sexually acting out, all of that is because I longed for purpose and meaning. It’s hard for me to get back in my own head because my thinking back then was so irrational, I thought no one cared about me. And I wanted to please these men. But none of them wanted me to quit. They wanted me to keep doing more and more harder stuff. It kept evolving and I became someone I didn’t like.”

In 2006, she says, “I had a revelation of God and it changed everything. I had to leave the industry, immediately.”

“I told them to stop sending the checks and to take my website down.” But they wouldn’t take down the site—it was making too much money. And they kept sending the checks, which Moran says she would tear up. When asked why she wouldn’t donate her share to charities, Moran calmly answers, “Because it was from porn. I wanted a clean break.”

After six years, and making hundreds of thousands of dollars, Crissy Moran suddenly went from five figures a month to nothing. “I wouldn’t take another dollar. They all thought I lost my mind.”

She says her decision was in response to her newfound belief. “It was what He told me to do,” she explains. “It felt like the right choice.”

“It’s hard for me to get back in my own head because my thinking back then was so irrational, I thought no one cared about me. And I wanted to please these men.”

It was a hard choice. Not just giving up the money, but giving up control of “Crissy Moran,” the adult movie star, and figuring out who she really was. “I totally lost my identity,” she says, her voice shaky. “If I’m not a sex object, and I’m not a fantasy girl, then who am I?”

By October 2006, the checks stopped coming. “But they wouldn’t let me go,” she says. The membership site she founded nearly a dozen years ago, the site she walked away from a decade ago, is still running, still charging fees and posting updates that claims to be from “the real Crissy.” Crissy Moran may have left the porn industry behind, but the industry hasn’t stopped using her to make money—and thanks to those long-ago signed contracts, the real Crissy says she has no legal recourse.

“It’s been 10 years, and the site is still up. All I had to do was call them and say I want you to send the money to my bank account, but I refused.”

Many former stars have faced this predicament—including Mary Carey and Jenna Jameson—and many have returned to the work. Crissy Moran could have gone back to that life, or at least taken the money she says she was owed. “But that wasn’t who I wanted to be,” she says. “If I went back to the industry, I would never be free.” And it wasn’t about the money. “I was making the most money I had ever made when I left. I was not spiraling downwards, I was going up.” When she left in 2006, she had almost nothing. Less than $15,000 in savings, no higher education, no transferable job skills.

Over the past few years, she’s tried to build a life after porn, speaking out about the industry and sexual abuse on Periscope, Christian websites, and on NewCrissyMoran.com. Despite all that, she still doesn’t control her online persona; when you search “Crissy Moran,” you’re likely to find the self she’s tried to leave behind. “I can’t hide,” she says. “I can’t hide.”

Young Crissy Moran.
Young Crissy Moran.

Moran was born in 1975, in Jacksonville, Florida, to working class parents. Her mother was half-Hawaiian, and an accountant, her father a welder, and religious. Two kids, church every Sunday, the picture of a typical nuclear American family.

When she was a preschooler, Moran says she was sexually molested by a neighbor while swimming. “It’s one of the first things I remember,” she says, pausing between words. That moment shaped everything, she says. “I was only four years old. After that, it seemed to be something that always happened in my life.”

“In first grade, a kid in my class touched me. Second grade, my boyfriend molested me, pretending to have sex with me with my clothes on. It’s always been hard for me to trust men,” she says. “I felt I had something that people wanted, and they were going to take it.”

To make matters worse, she couldn’t tell her parents what was happening. “My dad told me if anybody ever touched me he would kill them. He would talk to me about being a virgin until I was married; he had this strange obsession about it.”

But the abuse kept happening, and Moran was too scared to speak. Confused and guilt-ridden, she thought it was her fault. Around that time, her parents started having trouble, her father drinking heavily and arguing nightly with her mother.

The fighting became incessant, and one night after a blowout, he stormed off with Moran and her brother. They slept at a motel in another town, and didn’t return in the morning. They left, hauling trash bags stuffed with “whatever you want to take,” she remembers her father telling her. Moran was 13. Soon thereafter, her parents divorced.

By the time she was 17, Moran had moved back in with her mother, who had remarried. But, she says, “I didn’t have a good relationship with her then—we didn’t talk.” And she didn’t have a good relationship with her father, either. Searching for emotional support, she started dating older men. “I realized that to be in a relationship filled the void,” she says. “Living with my mom was more stable but I felt alone. I just wanted to be loved. My dream was to get married and have kids. And in order for that to happen, I had to meet a guy, so I went out with a lot of different guys.”

Moran moved out at 18, and after high school started living two lives. She began working for the city of Jacksonville in an office where her mother worked. Things were going well, but after a bad breakup, she moved back in with her mother and stepfather. She also worked night shifts at Hooters. “I don’t know why I applied there because I was so shy and introverted,” she says, “but I knew everything that was sexual got me attention.”

After only a few months, she was fired: “I wasn’t outgoing enough,” she laughs. That left her more time for her day job—but the position frequently left her unfulfilled and idle. That’s when she discovered the Internet. It was 1999.

“I would get done with my work really fast,” she says, “I would be bored, so I would go on the Internet and explore. I started [posting to a modeling] website and started talking to people in chatrooms. Then I found an online dating website.”

Way before Tinder, before sexting was a word and MySpace hookups were a thing, she would upload racy photos to websites whose names she doesn’t even remember. “That’s when I started losing myself,” she says. She began behaving recklessly, at one point even traveling across country to meet unknown men.

“I was raped, I was roofied—a lot of bad things happened. I wanted someone to stop me,” she says. She wanted her family to intervene, but “during that time I didn’t feel close to anybody. I didn’t really talk to my mom.”

“There was a lot of money. But I wasn’t in it for the money. I needed to feel wanted.”

She got breast implants and was eventually contacted by a photographer eager to shoot her. Bikini pics became topless shots, and her behavior became more dangerous. Less than a year after first going online, Moran stopped showing up to work. Another breakup led to a bout of depression, and a new man she started seeing encouraged her to get deeper into the business. Take it further, they said. And she did.

“There was this excitement for the unknown,” she says. “And there was a lot of money. But I wasn’t in it for the money. I needed to feel wanted.”

And she was, for a time—at least by her fans, which she quickly amassed once she started her first membership site with her then-boyfriend. “I didn’t feel loved when I was performing or shooting, but I got emails from fans validating me.”

But that validation wouldn’t last. She quickly became very popular on the nascent Web scene, but Moran never had real control of her digital self. She always left that to controlling partners.

In the early 2000s, Moran and her boyfriend moved to Las Vegas, then back to L.A., making so much that the pair could afford a live-in assistant and makeup artist. Still, she maintains “I never wanted to create a website because I wanted to make a lot of money. I just wanted to feel like I mattered. A lot of girls have gone into the industry for the money, and a lot have gone in for the fame. Neither of those were my motives. I was so depressed, and from a young age I realized that sex is what kept somebody. So it was very important for me to be the ultimate fantasy. I thought the guy I was going to marry was going to come along, but that never happened. I was like bragging rights to their friends.”

To her partners, she only mattered as long as she could make them money. And her last boyfriend was the worst of them: “I moved across the country with him, and I had only known him for a couple of weeks. I was always making these bad choices, spur-of-the-moment decisions. It was one of the worst choices I ever made.”

The man ended up performing on-screen with her and taking control of Moran’s income. “He was a very dangerous person,” she says. A habitual drug user, crystal meth by choice, he was also very abusive: fights, violence, police, drugs.

“She was lost,” recalls Bobby Gutierrez, Moran’s former assistant, who now works as an agent for Wilhelmina Models. “I worked for Crissy for six years. She’s one of my best friends, and I felt bad making her up to look beautiful when she was going through so much.”

Gutierrez was there when Moran’s boyfriend binged on crystal for two weeks, basically holding Moran and Gutierrez hostage. “My boyfriend and I have been in fights where I jumped out of a car and been in a gas station screaming he’s going to kill me, and literally at times 10 people were looking at me, and nobody did anything.”

Gutierrez repeatedly urged Moran to escape—and they tried more than once.

“We basically planned a getaway, a day he wasn’t home,” Gutierrez remembers. “We got in the car and went to a hotel. We got a knock on the door and it was him. Her boyfriend found us and we went back.”

Soon thereafter, on Memorial Day weekend after a particularly loud fight, Gutierrez intervened, grabbed Moran, and the two “got in the car and drove to L.A.,” Gutierrez white-knuckling the wheel so hard blisters formed and popped on his hands. Over the Nevada border, they hunkered down in a series of motels. “He threatened me, he kept calling my phone,” Moran adds. “We stayed awake at nights fearing that this guy would come after us.”

When they left, they left everything: clothes, photos, and Moran’s contracts. The two tried to return a few months later, this time with police protection, but a 30-day Nevada state rule mandated that all of their possessions were abandoned. They no longer had a legal right to reclaim them, so they returned to California. “The second day in L.A., I had a panic attack and went to the emergency room,” Moran says. “I was terrified.”

Terrified because her ex wouldn’t stop calling, even making death threats, and terrified about what she would do next. She didn’t have much in savings. Maybe $15,000, she says.

“We had an apartment, we had a car, we had bills,” Gutierrez adds. “Making $15,000 to $18,000 a month, and then all of a sudden going to no income! When Crissy left the industry, I knew that everything would come to a halt.” With the money gone, Gutierrez had to find other work to support himself.

One night, Moran downed a bottle of sleeping pills while Gutierrez was out. “I was totally broken,” she says. “If Bobby wasn’t there with me, I probably wouldn’t have made it.” But Gutierrez found her. “I remember her on the bed, just laying there,” he says. “I rushed her to the bathroom to make her throw up.”

Crissy Moran at her wedding.
Crissy Moran at her wedding.

She made a clean break with her past. “The way I started dealing with it: I don’t look online, I don’t Google anything, I don’t read any of the message boards, I cut that out from my life completely.” But before she left, she let her fans know exactly why she was quitting. “Before I left the website, I posted a message publicly to let my fans know why I left the industry and I wasn’t coming back,” she says. “A lot of them helped,” donating money and even a Ford Escort.

She got a job as a legal secretary, but she was wracked with worry that her past would be uncovered. So she started a new routine: therapy and church twice a week, then work. “I lived in constant fear from my past—I was a wreck, post-traumatic stress—I think people thought I was crazy.”

She lost that job, and after a brief romance with a so-called “nice guy” that she says crushed her, she decided to take a fast from men. Meaning no contact, and absolutely no sexual relationships for a year. “I fell to the ground and prayed for a really long time. ‘God, if you’re real, I need to know, because everything I know about love is twisted, it’s wrong.’”

Around 2007, Moran met Harmony Dust, an exotic dancer turned social worker with a master’s degree from UCLA, who in 2003 founded Treasures, a nonprofit organization focused on rehabilitation for former sex workers. Dust became Moran’s mentor, and Moran found in her unconditional emotional support.

“Having to undo the person you were while trying to build a new life, all while you’re trying to get a job, it’s very difficult,” Dust says. “Crissy’s past does not define her.”

“After all the things I’ve been through, I would never imagine my life like this. I probably sound younger, but I honestly feel like my life has just begun. I feel present.”

Moran never changed her name, never denied who she was. Instead, she began to speak out in interviews and on TV, on ABC’s Nightline, and recently in the Life After Porn documentary. What little free time she had was spent in church, where she tried once more to find love. She met a semi-professional skateboarder who also dealt with addiction and trauma, and the two “talked for 10 months and had a friendship,” first only via phone. They ended up meeting in person in Houston, where they stayed up all night—just talking. She returned to L.A., and to her fast. She says she needed to heal, to love and accept herself before she could enter a relationship.

“It took a long time for me to trust anybody with my baggage,” she says. “Real love is possible to find. It’s hard, but it’s possible. Part of my dream has come true, to get married and have a normal life. After all the things I’ve been through, I would never imagine my life like this. I probably sound younger, but I honestly feel like my life has just begun. I feel present.”

Today, she lives in Texas with that man—now her husband of three years. And she says she’s happy. She works two jobs, one at a department store and another at a ministry supporting sex workers. She’s made religion and activism her mission.

Her videos are still online, a fact she’s been forced to make peace with. (I emailed sites that claim to be her “official” online home, recycling content and even writing faux blog posts signed in her name—none responded.)

“It caused me so much grief that I stopped pursuing it—one day they’re going to get what’s coming to them. You can’t do bad things to people and not have it come back to you,” she says, explaining her belief in justice.

And in her role with the ministry, she’s using her experience to help other industry victims. Who better than a former victim?

“Women are getting lured in, sometimes for money, some are single moms or going to school, but they aren’t thinking about what happens down the road. If you think about what your life is going to be after, you wouldn’t make the choice to get into it. That’s what makes me a good fit for the job that I’m in. I’m a survivor.”

Illustration via J. Longo