Kayden Kross on set 
Image: Darren Cornell

LOS ANGELES—Kayden Kross is crouched on a stool, legs tightly crossed, leaning toward a pair of monitors reflecting the feeds from two cameras capturing a profusion of acts and parts, a simulacrum of sexual abandon. An industrial warehouse space in downtown Los Angeles has been transformed into a fictional sexual underground with spotlit drifts of ethereal smoke. On the screens: hands, breasts, butts, vaginas, penis, tongues collide in a blur of seemingly endless permutations and possibility. Meanwhile, Kross is the portrait of a laser-focused director, looking like she might try to crawl, Poltergeist-style, right into the monitors.

She’s attempting to hide from the sight of her romantic partner of seven years, Manuel Ferrara, who is the star of this five-person bacchanal. Although the couple has agreed to monogamy off-camera, and Kross is comfortable watching him perform, her presence during sex scenes makes him uncomfortable. When directing Ferrara, which she does regularly, Kross usually leaves the room once the hardcore sex starts. This time, though, she decides to stay in the room and hopes, that by ducking behind the monitors, Ferrara won’t notice.

Ferrara, a 22-year veteran of the adult industry, stands feet away from her in front of the cameras. He’s shirtless with black dress pants slung around his ankles. In front of him: a black leather platform that’s part bed, part kinky coffee table. Four women—Alina Lopez, Angela White, Autumn Falls, and Lena Paul—writhe in pleasure on the table-bed as Ferrara moves along its edges. White, a popular, multi-award-winning performer, is playing the role of his wife, who according to the script, has just had an erotic awakening after a lifetime of sexual repression. Ferrara tells his make-believe wife, “Oh yeah, you like it nasty.”

Kross cuts through the moans and shouts from off-camera: “Someone go wide!” She’s telling the cameramen to make sure they are adequately capturing the reverse gang bang of Ferrara—the love of her life.


This film, titled Drive, is the first feature for Deeper.com, a high-end, fetish-themed site that Kross launched earlier this year. Marketing materials have portrayed the site as “leading a sexual revolution that’s taking politically incorrect fantasies into the mainstream.” It is, perhaps, a bold proposition in the age of MeToo, which made high-profile headlines of real-life stories of abuse. Only four years ago, two years before the MeToo movement went mainstream, the adult industry began reckoning with its own abuse allegations. Since then, several men in the industry have been accused of boundary violations during shoots—and, last year, Ferrara was one of them. This complicates what is otherwise a story of a couple’s collaborative rise within the porn industry, and the depiction of forbidden fantasies, with real-world concerns around consent.

Ferrara is considered an industry legend—he’s won the Male Performer of the Year award a record six times and has been inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame, but it’s Kross’s star that this year has risen most dramatically. She started in the industry as a performer in 2006 with a coveted Vivid contract and has since made the transition into directing. In January, she won the AVN Award for Director of the Year—the adult industry equivalent of a Best Director Academy Award—and she’s only the second woman to do so in the show’s 25-year history. That same month, the well-heeled Vixen Media Group bought a majority stake in the award-winning TrenchcoatX, an indie porn site that Kross co-created. A few months later, she launched Deeper under Vixen’s umbrella of popular sites. Ferrara has become one of her most-booked male performers.

The two have proven formidable on their own, but increasingly so in collaboration. Kross and Ferrara—who have a child together and live next-door to Ferrara’s ex-wife, with whom he has three children—have been called porn’s “golden couple.” They even have a Fleshlight “Couple Goals” package, which includes a dildo molded off of Ferrara’s penis and a flashlight-like tube featuring silicone labia modeled after Kross. Now, though, they frequently come as a different kind of package deal: director and performer. Kross directs Ferrara in the scenarios that she dreams up for Deeper, which have recently included a husband pressuring his wife into a threesome with an escort and a woman coercing her sister’s husband into sex.

These are delicate fantasies to navigate alongside industry abuse allegations, which have included Ferrara. Last year, the New York Post reported that performer Jenny Blighe alleged that Ferrara had choked her excessively and left bite marks on her body during a shoot for a scene the director had told her would be “pretty vanilla.” At the time, Blighe noted on Twitter that she wasn’t “sure who is to blame for the things that occurred because I don’t know what Manuel was told prior to shooting,” but has since referred to the experience as abuse. “I was very surprised,” said Kross, noting that she felt unclear on the exact nature of the allegations. “If something happened, it was not intentional.” Ferrara, via Kross, declined Jezebel’s request for comment on this matter.

Kross also frequently directs Markus Dupree, who has been accused by multiple performers of boundary violations and excessive roughness during porn shoots. Most visibly, the podcast Last Days of August, an investigation into performer August Ames’s death by suicide, unearthed text messages in which she reportedly made allegations against Dupree to a friend. (Dupree did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment.) Kross says that she continues to work with Dupree because she personally trusts his ability to safely perform rough scenes, and because, in the case of Ames, she never went public with the allegations. “I don’t think you can throw a whole person away based on an accusation that’s removed like that,” she said. “It starts becoming reckless.”

Not unlike in the mainstream, the prevailing reality of MeToo within the adult industry—despite the requisite cries about overreach and the abandonment of due process—is not one of the accused men being driven out of the industry, losing their livelihoods. Like Ferrara, many are still working, and some quite successfully. There is no real sense of resolution or conclusion: Performers and directors are left with their own opinions about the legitimacy of individual claims, the degree of culpability, and the grounds for forgiveness. These perspectives don’t always fall tidily along expected political lines: Recently, Barcelona-based porn director Erika Lust, whose work is marketed as feminist and ethical, published a blog post denying a performer’s claims of on-set sexual assault.

Similarly, Kross questions the allegations against Ferrara and Dupree, but has also been vocal about the issue of consent on set. “I’m getting better and better at finding all the little places where there could be violations and controlling for that,” she said, explaining that she’ll often interrupt scenes, even at the slightest sign of unease, to ensure that a performer is comfortable.

Years ago, following those early industry abuse allegations, I visited one of her sets to report on the complexities of ensuring consent during a shoot that she felt required extra care. Interestingly, it was a scene featuring a woman performer having sex with two men in front of her real-life husband, roughly a gendered inverse of the scenario under which Kross and Ferrara routinely work. Kross explained that such a setup could “reverberate” through the performers’ off-camera lives, given the real feelings involved. But this potential liability was also crucial to the heat of the film, which went on to win three AVN awards. As she told me at the time, “In my mind, to get something really good you’re going to get something that hits the emotional aspect of an interaction, otherwise it’s just mechanical.”


To hear Kross and Ferrara tell it, at least on the surface, there isn’t much of an emotional aspect for them when they work together. “It’s all for the scene,” said Ferrara during a filming break. “Once the scene is done, ‘Thank you for the scene, it was great, now I’m back to normal and being Kayden’s husband,” he says while sitting on a fraying antique prop couch placed next to a plywood false building front. Similarly, Kross tells me of Ferrara’s work, “It’s very easy to show up, shake someone’s hand, have the common goal of making really great content, and go home and wash yourself of it.”

It wasn’t easy, though, back when Kross was performing with other men. Kross describes her decision to stop performing in 2013 as a response to both Ferrara’s jealousy, as well as her own waning interest in performing. In 2014 she wrote a Modern Love column about their relationship in which she said, “Navigating love when both of our jobs involve having sex with other people can be stressful, and this especially began to bother Manuel; he would get jealous and moody in the days before my shoots.” She continued, “He knew it wasn’t fair to ask me to stop, but he couldn’t hide the way he felt.”

As Ferrara puts it now, “I was happy she decided to stop,” although he acknowledges that some might see this arrangement as “hypocritical.” Kross, however, sees it as a quirk of their personalities. “He’s an extremely possessive person,” she says. Meanwhile, Kross jokes that she could be happily “sitting on the bed with a monitor” during one of his scenes. “It would be a little more difficult for me,” Ferrara says with a slight smile. “I wouldn’t be able to handle it the way she handles it.”

Married couples and longterm committed partners working together, or parallel to each other, within the mainstream adult industry are not at all unusual. Neither is off-camera monogamy. Kross says it is “super common,” even a “norm,” within the industry. What makes Kross and Ferrara unique is a combination of the frequency of their work together, their roles on either side of the camera, and the power dynamics in those positions, as well as the degree of their professional success. In many ways, their arrangement reflects the labor of sex work: In the context of porn, Kross doesn’t perceive Ferrara having sex with other women as a threat, because it is contained within a professionally negotiated scene.

Maitland Ward, a performer featured in the film Kross was shooting, is married and often has her husband shoot independent adult content that she stars in with other men—and this works for them, although they are monogamous outside of work. “You have this passion in this moment and you’re creating this thing together in that moment,” she says. “It doesn’t have to spill outward.” She compares it to dance partners, ice skating pairs, and mainstream actors. Ward has experience with the latter, having performed in the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, the sitcom Boy Meets World, and comedies like White Chicks before getting into porn. “You watch [mainstream] movies and you think, ‘Oh my god, they’re so connected, the chemistry is amazing,’” she says. “And it is in that setting, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be hooking up after work.”

Then again, Kross and Ferrara met on a porn set; it was her first time performing on-camera. That first shoot didn’t go well—the chemistry was so lacking that it had to be renamed from the intended Kayden Loves Manuel to Kayden’s First Time—but years later they performed together again and, as she puts it, “sparks flew.”

As Angela White, one of the industry’s top women performers, points out, some of the strongest adult films tap into real feelings, passion, and connection. “The best porn is when it’s most likely to feel threatening because there are emotions and feelings and there’s passion and real chemistry,” she said during a filming break. “It doesn’t mean that it goes beyond those walls. But the best porn as a performer to experience is the porn that doesn’t feel like porn.”

A few years ago, White performed with Ferrara in the award-winning Angela: Volume 3 which captured sex between the two in a cinéma vérité style and, toward the end of the scene, she melted into tears from the intensity; meanwhile, he held her at length and told her, “You are so fucking special.” (A clip of the film now lives on Pornhub with the title, “ANGELA WHITE GETS EMOTIONAL AND CRIES AFTER CREAMPIE.”) “It was incredible,” she tells me during a break from filming.

Of course, passion, intensity, and emotion can go in other directions. When Last Days of August producer Lina Misitzis reviewed footage of the shoot in which Ames alleged excessive roughness, she observed Dupree pushing Ames onto a table and pulling her hair. “I’ve seen dozens of other male performers pull similar moves,” she said, “but they all seem to have a sense of affection and intuition that Markus lacked that day.” Misitzis went on to watch footage of Ames’s exit interview, a common industry practice in which a performer attests that a shoot was consensual. “She’s staring straight into the camera, holding up her check for the day’s work,” narrated Misitzis. “She looks resigned and emotional and hollow, all at once.” She added that Ames “seems like she’s verging on tears.”


In part, it’s the potential for authentic feelings—the intersection of work and intimacy—that drives Ferrara to ask Kross to leave once the sex starts. He prefers her in another room, even if rationally he knows that she will not only bring her monitors with her, but also later edit the scene. “He doesn’t want to do something that he’s doing to make the performance look better and then have me interpret it as this spontaneous reaction to the person, but obviously I know that,” she says. As Ferrara tells it, his discomfort is a result of concern for how she will react. “I never want to think, ‘If I do this, is she going to get upset? If I say that, is she going to get upset?’”

There is also the issue of co-stars, who can be intimidated by Kross’s presence. “I’ve had performers who don’t know how to handle the fact that we’re in a relationship and they’re having sex with him,” she says, explaining that it can result in a lackluster scene with a co-star performing disinterest for Kross’s benefit. “I don’t blame them, but it definitely hurts my product.”

Ferrara says part of his request for satellite directing is to avoid this kind of interference. “We’ve seen girls that are great performers and then because Kayden was here they kind of ... ,” he trails off as he tightens his shoulders and freezes up his body. “They don’t want to offend her. They don’t understand that she’s down with it, she’s cool with it, she wants the best scene, no matter what it takes.” As Kross puts it, “It works with the performers that are most clear about the fact that it’s a job.”

That’s the case with White: “The way I feel is if Kayden has booked me for a scene and she’s paying my rate, then I better give her the best scene that I possibly can,” she says. “If that means getting really intensely intimate with her husband—I know that the whole reason that she’s booking me is to make sure there’s incredible passionate chemistry. She’s going to be disappointed if I give her anything less.”

None of this is to suggest that Kross and Ferrara’s arrangement is simple or one-dimensional. “There is definitely a mess of complexity surrounding a relationship like this and while I’d argue it’s working, I would never argue it’s been easy,” Kross says. “I don’t think relationships are easy once you get past the infatuation phase. There have been jealousies, pettinesses, betrayals, fights, distrust—all of it.” Sex on a porn set is work, it’s more often than not a fully contained, six-sided box of passion, and yet she says “there are more reasons to transgress and more opportunities to do so” in their line of work. These transgressions, though, don’t necessarily spell disaster in the same way they might for “that more normal monogamous relationship we’re comparing against,” she adds.

Even short of the potential for transgression, there is the reality of seeing once-private gestures of connection portrayed with someone else. “I’ve had to learn that the small intimacies and affections that he displays for me will be repackaged and repurposed as performance material and even if they began for me or were inspired by me they will stop being mine,” Kross says. As she tells it, negotiated non-monogamy has forced them to develop intimacy, and a sense of emotional exclusivity, in other areas of the relationship. “This not only allows us to relax enough to allow for the sort of relationship we have, but has saved us when the pitfalls of the relationship have done their worst—and they’ve been bad, but they have yet to deliver that death blow,” she explains. “If anything they’ve lost their strength against us over time.”

Monogamy, and marriage itself, is often deployed as protection against fears of losing a partner, but as such both institutions are obviously fallible, which is something Kross addressed directly in that years-ago Modern Love piece: “If we lose our lover’s attention to someone else, it doesn’t matter if that erosion happens on a porn shoot, with a secretary at the office or between two academics attending a conference,” she wrote. “The only safeguard, for any of us, is how we maintain our love along the way and the care we take in choosing a partner in the first place.” And, maybe, in negotiating the terms of the relationship.

As part of their agreement, Kross can veto his working with any performer who makes her uncomfortable or feels like a threat, even if that means giving up lucrative projects. As she puts it, “I’ll just say, ‘You’re not working with this person anymore,’ and he says, ‘Okay.’” Similarly, she’s asked him to restrict sex to when the camera is rolling. “I don’t want to hear that you’re fucking the person in the makeup chair, that kind of stuff,” she explains. Kross provides the additional example of him having sex for photo stills but “holding” (i.e. stopping) when the cameraperson isn’t actively shooting. It seems a fine line to walk in practice: On Kross’s set, Ferrara continued having sex with his co-stars when the photographer stopped shooting to review the images.

Their current power dynamic has “shifted drastically” from the beginning of the relationship, as Kross puts it. “When we came together, he had a stronger edge,” she says, noting how “googley-eyed” she was over him. There were, perhaps, hints of this in her Modern Love column: Kross wrote that when Ferrara asked her, at the age of 27, to quit her Vivid contract and move in with him, “with the logical next steps being marriage and children,” she experienced a panic attack that landed her in the hospital, in part because she worried about “becoming a single mother, financially insolvent... and left to raise my future children alone,” just like her own mom had been. When the couple did have a baby, Kross cut back on paid work to provide childcare, while Ferrara worked full-time.

The Modern Love column caught the attention of 20/20, which shortly after profiled the couple, probing the personal politics of their sexual arrangement by depicting Kross firmly within the wife-standing-by-her-man trope. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas narrated in absurd, reductive caricature, playing heavily on the wife/whore dichotomy: “Today, Kayden’s taken on a new role: more domestic goddess than sex goddess,” she said. “These days, the woman who starred in more than 70 adult films is more likely to be found at the park than on a porn set.” Cue: footage of Kross with her baby at the playground.

Since then, Kross has complicated the narrative of sexual inequity, launching two porn sites and becoming the adult industry’s “it” director. But there remains an essential incongruity, and as a couple, Kross and Ferrara seem in a constant flux of balancing power, especially at work. As she put it in her Modern Love piece, “Manuel gets to perform with other women while I don’t with other men.” And yet Ferrara says, “If she would tell me, ‘Listen, I don’t like you performing anymore,’ I would stop in a heartbeat. I’ve told her so many times. She knows.” Kross describes their power dynamic like so: “We go head to head, it’s intense,” she says with a laugh. “We’ve got hooks in each other, we never flatline, we never find the status quo.”

It’s tempting to draw connections to a recurrent theme throughout Kross’s work. In recent Deeper films, a woman aggressively pursues her boss, despite his repeated denials, until he relents. A detective uses sex to get information out of a suspect. A jealous guy seeks revenge by guiding his blindfolded girlfriend into an orgy. Many scenarios deploy kinky symbols of dominance and submission: riding crops, chains, and rope. But Kross’s focus is equally aesthetic as it is psychological: She portrays not just the fact of sexual power dynamics, but the shifting struggles within them. It’s a realm in which confrontation, trespass, manipulation, retribution, and blackmail lead to ecstasy. “It’s about power. It’s always about power,” she says of the undercurrent of her films.

A similar thing could be said of the MeToo movement: It’s about power and its abuses. Within the adult industry, specifically, the movement has focused on alleged failures to successfully navigate power during sex, and within the context of work. In some cases, it’s alleged that the portrayal of a fantasy of a power differential became on-set reality. In the wake of the spate of abuse allegations, there has been the introduction of optional consent checklists, the sharing of best shooting practice guidelines, and the greater visibility of conversations about consent. Which is to say: The industry itself is in the midst of trying to navigate power.


Back in the industrial Los Angeles warehouse space, amid a well-lit, fog-machine haze, Ferrara and Paul start having sex as their co-stars rearrange themselves gymnastically. Kross once again breaks her cover from behind the monitors and yells to Ferrara: “Give me the insert again.” Without moving his eyes from Paul, Ferrara mutters, “Okay,” and pulls back to reenact the moment of his penis entering his co-star’s vagina. This time, a camera captures the penetration in close-up.

The scene progresses with Kross peppering in directives to the performers and cameramen: “Find Lena’s boobs shaking. It’s really pretty.” “Autumn’s boobs, lemme see them bounce.” “Ladies, scoot down.” “Go crazy, I want to feel like he’s getting smothered by boobs.” And then finally: “Go to the jerk-off shot.”

After the “jerk-off shot,” the four women performers head to the shower, with Paul giving a tongue-in-cheek shout of “good game, guys,” as though they had just finished a sweaty pickup game of basketball. Kross walks up to Ferrara to check-in and he immediately holds up a middle finger right between their faces. It’s the kind of move you might expect between warring siblings, except that he’s slightly smirking and Kross laughs it off while gently grabbing at his waist.

Later, Kross will tell me, “Did you see him give me the middle finger? He was mad at me for staying.”

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