Last February, the former Miss Delaware Teen USA, Melissa King, had to relinquish her crown after it was revealed that she had shot a hardcore scene for the website Girls Do Porn. King was paid a meager $1,500 for her performance. She'd just turned 18.

“I thought it would be fun, and it sounded like I needed the money, so I just decided to do it,” King says to the cameraman in the short clip.

Although she seems to be moving on from the incident—she's reportedly a freshman at the University of Arkansas—the scandal prompted some to debate whether, in the age of social media, 18 was too young to make the potentially life-altering decision of doing porn.

A few weeks ago, that conversation was reignited when adult film director Axel Braun announced he will no longer be casting actors under the age of 21. Younger performers, Braun wrote in a statement to adult industry news site AVN, are not as well-equipped to handle the repercussions of an adult entertainment career:

“After 23 years in the business I have come to strongly believe that an 18-year-old fresh out of high school has a completely different perspective on life than he or she will have three years later, and I just want to allow them enough time to make a more informed, mature decision. This may not be a popular choice, but it is a personal one, and it is what my conscience tells me to do. I simply don’t feel comfortable anymore shooting talent under 21.”

Many of his colleagues in the adult industry applauded the decision.

Others suggested it was a step toward over-regulation, or that it smacked of paternalism:

Two industry professionals have already implemented similar policies, as Medium’s Lux Alptraum points out: Oren Cohen, the owner of adult entertainment company Tightfit Productions; and the adult model/dominatrix Bella Vendetta, who does not allow models under the age of 25.

Braun's statement stands out, however. The son of Italian porn legend Lasse Braun, he's gained a certain level of celebrity in the industry thanks to his high-budget XXX parodies. He's styled himself as something of the gentleman scholar of the porn world.(His IMDB bio boasts a Ph.D. in psychology and a MENSA membership.) That, plus the 23 years of experience and more than 500 films under his belt, puts him in a unique position of authority on the issue.

“The fact that most performers enter the Adult industry at 18 and are out by 21 certainly speaks to the longevity of a career choice made at such a young age, and to the commitment and dedication they have towards it,” he wrote to me in an email.

 “I just hope that three extra years will give them the opportunity to evaluate if they are willing to accept the repercussions that a career as an adult entertainer will bring.”

He chose to raise the age to 21 “because of where young people are in the course of their education, not because I consider it the arbitrary age for maturity. There will always be exceptions to the rule...but we cannot make rules based on exceptions.”

The current age minimum in the United States, 18, was set by Congress three decades ago, long before the advent of social media. Nowadays, an 18-year-old’s decision to do porn is “much easier to make but much harder to erase,” the Washington Post's Charles Lane wrote in an op-ed on porn age minimums. And there are serious risks: Exploitative managers, for one, and the social stigmas performers face when they move outside the industry, as King, the former Delaware beauty queen, can attest.

Given Braun’s reputation within the industry, it’s tempting to view his announcement as a game-changer: a call for agents, managers, and producers to assume responsibility for their performers’ welfare.

Yet it's unlikely Braun’s stance will have wider implications within the industry. Barely legal, a genre that almost exclusively features performers between 18 and 21, is enormously popular. A recent PornHub survey of the top 3 Google porn search terms by state indicating that “teen” dominated almost 20 states’ lists.

“It’s a terrific message in terms of his own business," says Cindy Gallop, the founder of Makelovenotporn.com, which evaluates pornography’s influence on real-world sexual behavior. "But I don’t think that it’s going to get out there in the wide way it should, because of the large sector of the industry that positions its talent to be as young as possible.”

Braun specializes in triple-X parodies like The Dark Knight XXX and Avengers XXX, and has little need to shoot barely legal performers (although he says he has in past films). For those reasons, some in the industry view his stance as self-righteous and impractical.

“It’s easy for [Braun] to make that statement, simply for the fact that he doesn’t shoot [barely-legals],” contends porn director and blogger Billy Watson, who does. He agrees with Braun in theory that “in a perfect world, entry into porn would be the same as a bar or a liquor store.” Watson views Braun’s announcement, however, as “more of a ‘look at me I’m the good-guy porn director’ kind of statement” than an industry game-changer.

“Young, cute girls do a really good job of selling,” he adds.

“There’s a reason many of these guys put them in pigtails and stick a lollipop in their hand and let them go to work… but Axel Braun takes himself seriously as a filmmaker, and he’s a guy that has sets with dialogue and scripts and plot and stuff. So he has a very different market.”

Adult industry attorney Michael Fattorosi, who runs the website AdultBizLaw, agrees that it’s unlikely the over-21 policy will be implemented by other directors in the industry.

“What Axel is doing sends a message,” Fattorosi says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad message, I just don’t think it would work for everyone.” While he believes the onus is on the industry to help prepare performers for a life in porn, he doesn’t think raising the age minimum will necessarily do the trick.

“There’s always that discussion: Are people who are 18, 19 years old mature enough to make these types of decisions, to get into porn not realizing how it’ll affect their future life?"

Every performer, Fattorosi says, needs to be made aware of the risks.

“I think the industry has to do a better job of teaching new performers, before they get here and when they get here, of what their responsibilities are and what the consequences are. And I think agents can do a better job of vetting performers to ensure they should be here and understand the risk. You can’t stop people; all you can do is educate them and let them make their own decision."

For his part, Braun acknowledges his over-21 policy can't easily apply to the rest of the industry. He hardly sees himself as an industry reformer.

“I’m not a crusader,” he recently told Salon. “Every institution has its flaws; I’m just glad to be in a position where I can choose how to regulate my own business.”

Yet even if his decision won't affect the lives of performers in the adult world at large, he’s revitalized an important conversation.  

"All I know is that I made plenty of decisions at 18 that I regretted by the time I turned 21,” Braun says. “Luckily, they were not on camera for the world to see.”

H/T AVN News | Photo by plaits/Flickr (remix by Fernando Alfonso III)