But what if a sex tape appears to show a celebrity committing a crime? Rob Lowe had to do community service when his 1988 tape featured a 16-year-old girl; his career took a momentary hit, but he's come back strong. And R. (as in Robert) Kelly has remained a top recording artist — and received two Grammy nominations — even though he was arrested in June 2002 on child pornography charges after police were sent a tape that allegedly shows the R&B star committing sex acts with an underage girl. He's denied the charges.
Allan Mayer is the man to call if you're a star facing scandal. He specializes in entertainment Crisis Management at the public relations firm Sitrick and Company, where his clients in calamity have included Rush Limbaugh, Halle Berry, Tommy Lee, and R. Kelly.
"Robert's feeling is that he knows that, as he says many times, he's no angel but he's no criminal either," says Mayer. "All he can do is turn over the legal things to his lawyers and go about his business, do his job, which is making music, which he happens to do brilliantly well."
And when you're talking about celebrity sex tapes that did brilliantly well, you're talking about Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.
In 1997, their ultra-explicit vacation video became the one of the biggest-selling adult videos of all time. The millions in profits went to an Internet company that had gotten hold of the tape and then settled out-of-court with its stars.
A public-relations nightmare? Not really. In the tape's wake, Anderson starred in and produced a TV series about a sexy private investigator and mocked her past in last fall's Scary Movie 3.
Pop Culture’s Perfect Storm
The frenzy over the Paris Hilton video represents a kind of pop culture Perfect Storm — a combination of our obsessions with celebrity and sex, the boom in reality TV, and above all, the technological revolution that's put camcorders into America's bedrooms and streaming video onto every home computer. The evidence suggests that, like it or not, the era of the celebrity sex tape may be just getting started.
Blatt says he's been approached by three different companies offering celebrity sex tapes.
So what does Blatt imagine would be the hottest possible sex tape? "If there was a Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears tape out there, I would think that that would probably be the ultimate."
And Blatt says he thinks more celebrity sex tapes are out there somewhere. "There's no doubt in my mind. There's a lot more tapes out there, and it's up to me, and companies like the company I represent, to go out there and find them."
While Mayer doesn't think sex tapes will sink stars' careers, he cautions that they should think twice before recording themselves in compromising positions. "Every time you turn the VCR camera on yourself, visualize how it would look on the Internet. If you're comfortable with that, fine. If you're not, leave the camera off."
Sex columnist Savage says these tapes are becoming increasingly common among young people. "There are people who are very young who are making sex tapes. Some of these people may one day be celebrities and these sex tapes are going to exist."
It's a fact Paris Hilton now knows only too well. But the strong ratings for The Simple Life seem like further proof that for most showbiz careers, starring in a sex tape brings more boom than bust.