AN OPEN LETTER TO DAVID CAMERON

Dear Mr. Cameron,

You recently announced sweeping measures to combat illegal child pornography. Let me say that we in the adult entertainment industry applaud any well thought out measures to achieve this goal.

However, in the name of ‘protecting children’ and as a ‘moral obligation’ you also intend to expand laws which make mere possession of some forms of pornography illegal, and to censor the Internet of all forms of pornography in the UK. I am writing to you to let you know why I believe these are mistakes. I speak both from a personal perspective and on the basis of statistics.

I grew up in England, and am the product of a family dynamic where sex was not a topic of conversation. Any form of sexual information — be it pornographic or otherwise — was unavailable to me. I graduated Cambridge University, in a college consisting of 80 percent men, primarily focused on academia. I consider my sexuality to have been repressed until adulthood. My first understandings of my sexuality came — aged 18 — from purchasing bondage and kink themed magazines and videos from seedy london sex shops. I say ‘seedy’ because these establishments had to be prepared to break UK law by selling this material — and still do to this day. It was upon acquisition of this material that I started to understand that BDSM was part of my sexuality and that I was not alone. From there, I identified communities of people with similar sexual tastes. For me, access to pornography was healthy.

My repressed sexuality could only stay repressed for so long. Shortly after moving to the USA, and having identified a need for the widespread availability of kink-centric pornography, I started Kink.com, a business which now employs 130 people. I felt a need to express myself, and in a big way. I felt a need to let people know that expression of sexuality is OK. My life’s journey has taken me wide, far, and back to where I find myself happily married with a child today.

I do not mean to suggest that if I had not been able to access pornography aged 18, I would have committed a sexual crime. However, had the repression I felt lasted indefinitely, had I never found communities of people who shared my sexual desires, and had this lead to isolation, I have no idea where I would be today. As it is, I have explored my desires to such an extent, that my sex life today is probably not obscene, even to you.

The ‘extreme pornography’ laws of the UK which – incredibly – you are considering expanding are ambiguous to say the least. Who is to say what is illegal to possess and what is not? Are a couple who take pictures of their BDSM activities guilty of this law for merely possessing the images?? How will you make the distinction — from a single image — between a heavy S/M scene and what UK law calls “likely to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals”? Is the depiction of a woman who consents to being bound and penetrated deemed ‘rape’? Where will this stop? What about educational websites which include elaborate pictures of S/M? You are sending a message that kinky sex is wrong. You are repressing sexual expression. The point of my letter is to tell you that your actions are inherently short sighted, unhealthy, and indeed likely to have the opposite of the intended effect.

My experience is an isolated case, and so clearly not the basis of any scientific conclusion. However, you are guilty of exactly this — considering only isolated cases. You draw the conclusion that consumption of pornography by a handful of sexual offenders actually caused the offense, and then you extrapolate to other forms of legal pornography and assume this also leads to crime. Let me clue you in. Consumption of legal pornography is widespread beyond your wildest imagination — the vast majority of it, healthily consumed. You are using a moral compass to make sweeping policy decisions without any real evidence or analysis of the consequences.

I have yet to see any compelling evidence whatsoever that there are any negative consequences to the proliferation of pornography on the Internet. Indeed, during the period from the creation of the Internet and today, there has been a remarkable reduction in the incidence of rape in western civilizations. Anthony D’Amato, Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University argues this point very well in his paper, Porn Up, Rape Down (this paper was written in 2004, but rape numbers have dropped a further 15% in the US during that 2004-2013 period).

Further, If your assessment was correct, it would follow that countries such as Denmark, who prides herself on an absence of censorship of any kind, would have a sexual abuse problem. Far from it. Rape numbers in Norway are one quarter of those in the USA or UK.

From my personal experience and these statistics, I believe you are wrong in this decision. Indeed, I believe that society’s acceptance of sexual expression is fundamentally healthy. Repressed people become isolated, lost and frightened, and that is the real problem we face. Those who use pornography to help explore their sexual tastes end up healthier.

As an Englishman, it saddens me to read of this shortsighted approach to policy making in my home country.

Peter Acworth
Founder, CEO, kink.com

Help Stop Condoms Being Used Evidence!

Please join me in supporting Tom Ammiano’s bill which states that possession of condom(s) shall not be used as evidence of soliciting or engaging in prostitution.

Whether or not you agree that prostitution should be legal, the problem this bill addresses is that that there is a prevalent belief among sex workers that carrying condoms will get you arrested.  For those that have never been arrested I can assure you it is no fun, and it is not surprising that many sex workers carry an insufficient number of condoms, or none at all, as a direct result of this fear.  This poses an obvious public health issue for both the sex workers and their clients.

Please help support this bill by writing/faxing to the people below (Yes fax! Use a service like interfax.net if you no longer have one)

Here is a fact sheet on the issue:
AB 336 – Fact Sheet – Condoms As Evidence (1)

Here is a template support letter thanks to St. James Infirmary:
AB 336 – template support – ACOPS (1)

Here is the list of people to send it to BY TUESDAY APRIL 23rd!

Committee Members District Office & Contact Information
Tom Ammiano (Chair) Dem – 17 Contact Assembly Member Tom Ammiano

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 3146, Sacramento, CA 94249-0017; (916) 319-2017  Fax: (916) 319-2117

Melissa A. Melendez (Vice Chair) Rep – 67 Contact Assembly Member Melissa A. Melendez

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 4009, Sacramento, CA 94249-0067; (916) 319-2067 Fax (916) 319-2167

Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Sr. Dem – 59 Contact Assembly Member Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Sr.

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 5144, Sacramento, CA 94249-0059; (916) 319-2059 Fax: (916) 319-2159

Holly J. Mitchell Dem – 54 Contact Assembly Member Holly J. Mitchell

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 2163, Sacramento, CA 94249-0054; (916) 319-2054 Fax: (916) 319-2154

Bill Quirk Dem – 20 Contact Assembly Member Bill Quirk

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 2175, Sacramento, CA 94249-0020; (916) 319-2020 Fax: (916) 319-2120

Nancy Skinner Dem – 15 Contact Assembly Member Nancy Skinner

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 3160, Sacramento, CA 94249-0015; (916) 319-2015  Fax: (916) 319-2115

Marie Waldron Rep – 75 Contact Assembly Member Marie Waldron

Capitol Office

P.O. Box 942849, Room 5128, Sacramento, CA 94249-0075; (916) 319-2075 Fax (916) 319-2175

 

Opposing Mandatory Condoms in Porn

AB 332 is a pending bill in the California state legislature mandating that performers in the adult industry use condoms when they work. At it’s heart, it’s a state-wide version of the ordinance that passed in Los Angeles last fall. On the surface, such a bill would seem to protect the performers from STIs — a worthy goal, and one toward which all of us in the industry should work. Unfortunately, AB 332 would make things worse performers. I’ve spent over ten years working to make Kink a safe and sane work environment for performers, and the bill does nothing to acknowledge the reality of porn production.

Kink, like most of the industry, abides by a strict set of testing protocols — a safety infrastructure we’ve built over the past decade to keep performers safe. Porn actors are required to submit to regular testing, and present those tests before shooting new scenes. It’s been largely successful — there has not been a case of HIV transmission on a porn set since 2004, and when there has even a suspicion, the industry shuts down until everyone can be retested.

What AB 322 does by requiring condoms could dismantle this testing protocol and threaten to drive porn production back underground. It also takes away the rights of performers who prefer not to use condoms on set due. Porn production is a physically intensive process, and latex makes the process much more difficult. In a three hour shoot, it can be abrasive and very uncomfortable. (Kink did a survey of performers a few years ago, and a majority of both men and women prefer to shoot porn without condoms — even when they use them diligently in their personal life.)

Instead of creating smarter regulation, AB 322 will turn porn into a wild west, stripping existing protections from our performers. In the short term, much of the industry will move out of state, or overseas, to places where neither condoms — nor our testing protocols — are in place to protect models.

There are ways that the porn industry can make sets safer for models, but AB 322, like Measure B before it, isn’t one of them. They were drafted by moralists (we can get into that at another time) who have never listened to what either performers or producers have told them about how we live or work.

Next Wednesday, Kink staff and stars will be headed to Sacramento to make our voices heard. And while we’d love to see you there, you can help even if you can’t be on the bus.

Please call or fax (yes, they still measure opposition by fax in Sacramento) the Assembly members on the committee to express your opposition.

— Peter

State Assembly Labor Committee Contact Info

Assemblymember Roger Hernandez (D)
100 North Barranca Street
Suite 895
West Covina, CA 91791

Tel: (626) 960-4457
Fax: (626) 960-1310

assemblymember.hernandez@asembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jeff Gorel (R)
2659 Townsgate Rd Suite 236
Westlake Village, CA 91361

Tel: 805-230-9167
Fax: 805-230-9183

assemblymember.gorel@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Mike Morrell
10604 Trademark Parkway North, Suite #308
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730

Tel: (909) 466-9096
F: (909) 466-9892

assemblymember.morrell@aseembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Luis Alejo
Salinas Office:
100 West Alisal Street
Suite 134
Salinas, CA 93901

Tel: (831) 759-8676
Fax: (831) 759-2961

assemblymember.alejo@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Ed Chau
205 South Chapel Avenue, Suite B
Alhambra, CA 91801

Tel: (626) 382-0049
Fax: (626) 382-0048

assemblymember.chau@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez
1910 West Sunset Boulevard
Suite 810
Los Angeles, CA 90026-3350

Tel: (213) 483-5151
Fax: (213) 483-5166

assemblymember.gomez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Chris Holden
600 N. Rosemead Blvd, Suite 117
Pasadena, CA 91107

Tel: (626) 351-1917

assemblymember.holden@assembly.ca.gov

More more information or possible text for fax, please visit the Free Speech Coalition/a>.

Does the Pope Like Porn?

Screenshot of the Download List from Vatican City. WA stands for Whipped Ass. TPH for TSPussyHunters.

Screenshot of the Download List from Vatican City. WA stands for Whipped Ass. TPH for TSPussyHunters.

We got word yesterday that someone in the Vatican has been watching our porn movies — illegally.

Yesterday, Torrent Freak reported IP addresses registered to the Holy See have been caught downloading clips from Kink. While we can’t identify who specifically, whomever it is is certainly violating the eighth commandment (“Thou Shalt Not Steal”) and possibly the second (“Thou Shalt Not Bow Down to Any Gods Before Me”). We don’t want to cause an international incident, so we won’t be pressing charges or demanding they hand over records.

While we don’t support theft of content, in this case we’re happy whoever he (or she) is is enjoying our movies. Our mission is to demystify BDSM and celebrate alternate sexuality. This is different from the Catholic Church’s mission which has (traditionally) been to shame anyone who deviates from a sexuality that isn’t procreative. We figure whoever is downloading these movies is feeling a fare amount of shame as it is, so we’ll let this one slide.

In many ways, the Church isn’t so different from Kink. The peculiar vestments, the intricate rituals, the absolute surrender to authority — these are all things we practice in the consensual BDSM. What is aftercare if not the absolving of sin? What is subspace if not a way to exorcise demons? We, too, believe in seeking the sublime and transcendent.

So whether this is a lonely priest or pope emeritus Benedict, we hope he isn’t flagellating himself for having a taste for the flesh. Or if he is, that he’s at least enjoying it.

We’ll practice forgiveness for now — and in return ask that they restrain themselves from judging those of us who seek our own form of salvation.

The Armory Community Center (TACC)

To this day I still have a vivid memory of the first moment I entered the Armory back in 2005.  The owner had been discretely testing the waters with prospective buyers as his condo project received opposition from preservationists and neighbors.  I was being taken on a tour by a realtor.  As the back door opened, my first sight of the inside of this boarded-up building was the vast drill court – a 40,000 sq foot arena with bleachers and an 80’ roof.  It felt like walking into a roman coliseum.

I could not honestly believe that this treasure had laid unused for 30 years right in the center of the Mission District, less than 2 blocks from BART!  The roof leaked and the wooden floors had long since rotted away.  I soon found out that the Armory Drill Court had been San Francisco’s primary sports venue in the 1920’s through 1940’s, eventually earning the nickname “the Madison Square Garden of the West.” For almost three decades, at least two prizefights were held in the Drill Court each week.

The Armory Drill Court in the 1940’s aka ‘The Madison Square Garden of the West’.

While I knew I would not have the resources to renovate the Drill Court in the near term — accountants were telling me I could barely afford the down payment on the building — the prospect of someday resurrecting the space for public use seemed non-negotiable.  Quite simply, I felt it was the responsibility of the owner of the building to make it happen.

So after acquiring the building in late 2006, moving my company’s operations into the ground floor and basement in 2007 the idea gradually started to take shape.  The first phase was to restore a place of assembly (POA).  Luckily, the Fire and Building departments already considered the Drill Court an existing POA, so we filed a permit to bring the space up to code – upgrades to doors, emergency lighting, handicapped accessibility, a fire detection system, etc. This took a great deal of negotiation back and forth with the city. Would we need to install sprinklers? (luckily, ‘no’), do we need to extend the fire detection system to the whole building? etc.  Eventually the permit was signed off, the work was done and we received our shining newly issued POA permit from the fire department.

In parallel with that work, a “pie in the sky” master plan for the Armory was negotiated with the historical preservation group at the planning department.  This included all the projects we might undertake in the next 3 – 5 years and includes things like an elevator, a commercial kitchen for TACC, lots of restrooms, a rehearsal area, etc.  This plan received the blessing of the Historical Preservation Committee at a hearing and we received what is called a ‘Certificate of Appropriateness’.  With this approval in place, we would get a quicker permit for any subset of the Master Plan.

Currently, significant work is underway not only legal, but a pleasant place for public assembly: The giant roof and walls are receiving acoustic insulation, all remaining surfaces are being painted, the windows are being replaced, and a 40,000 sq foot maple hardwood floor is being laid.


This last month we have been working on the ‘Place of Entertainment’ permit.  This requires signoff from 7 city departments.  There was support for the project across the board, and this last week we received the approval at a hearing. This currently allows us to host events under the ‘arts use’ category (theatre, performance arts, etc.).  Occasional other events can take place subject to a one-off permit.

More work is still required to increase the scope of activities that can take place – this will doubtless include much more neighborhood outreach, more hearings, more construction, and more costs.  However, in the interim, we are delighted to welcome ACT to the Drill Court for their month-long production of Black Watch. This will represent the first major use of the Drill Court and a first chance for the public to see this historic San Francisco treasure.

I would like to thank all those people who have helped us with this progress! – all the supporting neighbors, the city departments, the historic planners, those at SF Heritage, and of course the employees and contractors who have done all the hard work!

The Upper Floor

Many celebrated BDSM novels such as The Story of O or Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series revolve around a castle-like place, within which the laws of society are replaced by those of Dominance and Submission.  It was with this context in mind that I was so excited to acquire the San Francisco Armory in 2006.  In the back of my mind, I wanted to create that fantasy ‘never-never-land’ which forms the core of the fantasy so often written about.

The Upper Floor project seeks to take the traditional Edwardian Great House structure shown in the TV series such as ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, or ‘Downton Abbey’ and create a sexual fantasy version of it.  In the eyes of the guests visiting in person or watching live over the internet, ‘Masters and Mistresses of the House’ perform the roles of the aristocracy, while ‘House Slaves’ perform the roles of traditional house staff.

The Upper Floor has been fabricated with entertainment in mind – a fabulous lounge and dining area, complete with a commercial kitchen.  House slaves facilitate events by preparing the space, welcoming and serving guests, and by performing scenes.  The guests are members of the local community, invited to attend and be an integral part of the fantasy as ‘extras’.


“Authenticity” is a word in the kink.com mission statement, so, to back when this project was first conceived, the goal was to make this as real as possible, complete with participants taking on actual House roles and responsibilities, and in some cases actually living in the Armory for contracted periods of time. This raised considerable questions for myself, along with kink’s HR and legal staff.  As much as possible, the social events were to be real – subtle lighting, a tolerance for background music, and good food and drink were all ways we made the space feel less like a commercial shoot and as genuinely enjoyable as possible.  The ultimate aim was to create a self-sustaining project with revenues from 24×7 webcams as well as recorded content funding the maintenance and development of the ‘Household’.

The first phase started in 2009 and revolved around 4 key participants: myself as the “Master of the House”, James Mogul as the ‘Head Trainer’ and two ‘Slaves’ paid as full time daily employees to do a hybrid of House tasks and performances.

I had a bedroom in the Armory at the time, and 24×7 cams were put in several of the rooms on the floor.  If you were remotely interested you could have seen me taking my morning shower.  The two slaves worked 10-6 and were expected to perform actual household duties such as cleaning, cooking and serving, alongside production tasks such as editing, and sexual performance on camera.

We found that there are only so many hours that customers can spend watching a person mop a floor before it gets old. Much to my disappointment, nobody wanted to see me take a shower either.  It was the events streamed live over the Internet and later edited which formed the core attraction of the website. The original parties back in those early days were quite wild – lots of extras were invited in to participate in the fantasy, and many played on camera.  We had to be careful to manage and monitor any interactions between paid models and the unpaid extras, whereas unpaid extras were free to play among themselves subject to house rules.

As time passed, what started out as a fun idea slowly lost its momentum.  The burden of having to keep up the pretense of being ‘in character’ each and every day was taking its toll.   The enthusiasm from the core participants waned, extras stopped wanting to attend the events, and it became hard work to keep the idea going.

In 2010, about a year into the project, the two original House Slaves had left and there were various changes in management at kink.com – a new Production Manager and a new Director of The Upper Floor, JP.  With a new take on the project and a new enthusiasm, there followed a phase of the project which involved core House Slaves living in the Armory and sleeping in a model dorm room over a contracted period of time.

Prior to the Upper Floor project, I had kept relatively good boundaries between work and private life.  I never performed on camera, and had a separate set of friends outside of work.  By this stage of the Upper Floor project, however, these boundaries gradually eroded, and from my perspective life gradually lost authenticity. I lost the separation between my business and personal life, together with a sense of distinction between my public and private persona.  When I interacted with guests who came to The Upper Floor, I played the ‘King of the Castle’ role on camera, but this was also the core of my social life. I ceased to know the basis of these relationship – were these people my actual friends or not? I also performed sexually on camera with the paid models and/or with guests.  I would hang out with employees, guests and models after shoots were done.  I rarely hung out with people from the outside world.  I certainly struggled to date, which, I now realize, may have had something to do with the fact that there was a camera in my bathroom.

I began to question my motives for having created this space.  Why was there a giant portrait of me wearing a tuxedo in a gold frame? Was I building a fantasy from a book or was this a quest for fame and was my ego the primary driving force? The more public my life was, the more alone I became.  I had once in the past hosted weekly parties where hoards of people would come and enjoy free drinks I paid for. Were my motivations back then similar? These experience was starting to make me question who I was and how I had got there.

Having now long since moved out, these reflections caused me to want to reach out to the models who participated, especially the nine who at some point were resident.  I have gotten feedback from four so far. One person said her experiences were some of her most highly treasured memories. Two others said the experience was overall positive and an interesting experience to have gone through.  There was feedback that the days were long which made it hard work, and that it was sometimes cold to be expected to be semi-clad for so long.  The fourth person I have heard back from – like me – was probably more immersed and had an overall feeling that the public environment we created was unhealthy in some respects, and that it felt like being part of the documentary We Live in Public.

We Live in Public is a documentary about an early internet pioneer who conducted an experiment involving himself living with his girlfriend under 24×7 surveillance throughout his house, including his bedroom and toilet.  He and his girlfriend spend their time living their lives with the public who watch them over live video and interact with them in chatrooms.  Some of the feelings he expresses are that of ‘having the energy sucked out of him’, and that ‘intimate interactions become about egos rather than feelings’.  He eventually ends up mentally unstable and leaves to start an apple farm.

While the Upper Floor was never as intense of an experiment as We Live In Public (there were never cameras in restrooms or safe ‘backstage’ areas, and models worked fixed daytime hours without cameras on them at night), there was a draining effect of having cameras on so much of the time.  The constant influx of people coming in and out as extras added an additional public feel to the space, almost as if one was living in a nightclub.  I think many of these guests were unaware of the behind-the-scenes challenges – they would come for the inside of an evening, have fun, and leave.

So, ultimately, the early phases were very much a learning process.  Everyone, including myself, moved out in early 2011, and there are no plans to resurrect the idea of a ‘resident’ performer.  JP continued to direct in my absence for a while, and James Mogul moved back in 2012 to take the project back.  Models are now contracted for fixed periods of time to do defined performance activities for the camera. They know when to switch their on-camera personas on and off.   Everyone involved knows what is expected of them and are able to keep healthy boundaries between their work and personal lives.  At the end of a day’s work, everyone steps out of the fantasy and goes home. Modelling, administrative and production roles are deliberately kept separate.

In a situation like the Upper Floor, we have learned that it is better, more effective, and healthier to put on a show for the customers and extras who come into our world as opposed to striving for authenticity all of the time.  There is magic in theater and authenticity in the joy of being in a fantasy.  We are all capable and eager to let our imaginations run free — much as happens when one reads a book.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank-you! to everyone who has chosen to be part of The Upper Floor project with us — most especially the models, and also the extras.  I would be interested in hearing more of your experiences, especially those models who were resident and I didn’t hear back from. Please write, call or post your thoughts here!

Fighting 2257

The “Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act”, commonly known as “USC 2257” is a law which places stringent record keeping requirements on producers of sexually explicit material.  Specifically, producers of sexually explicit must maintain proof-of-age records, including copies of state issued IDs, dates of birth, legal names, and even maiden names of all performers. Producers now just live with this law, and it’s as if we have forgotten its very damaging effects.

The issue that angers me most is that the law extends to the ‘secondary producer’, which includes anyone who simply reproduces those image  — whether it be on a commercial blog, a tube site, or a magazine — without being involved in the actual production.  This means that performer’s personal information, including copies if their IDs, has to be distributed to the myriad of people who republish material in an attempt to comply.  This is a dangerous and clear violation of the model’s privacy rights, and what seems like a deliberate attempt by the federal government to create a barrier for entry and dissuade performers from sex work.

This law also impedes free speech in a violation of the first amendment.  For instance, I would *love* to send a director on a tour of the German sex club scene and shoot spontaneous, authentic scenes.  Such material would expose and educate us all about a vibrant subculture.  Heck, it might even inspire people to want to open sex clubs locally.  Once, without fully understanding 2257, a director shot such as scene for me. He told me all the participants agreed to be filmed and everyone at the club was required to be over 21 anyway, so what’s the problem?  The problem is I could go to jail if I publish it.  To be legal, we would have obtain copies of IDs and have participants fill out complex paperwork — this works for a few participants, but it is virtually impossible when dealing with spontaneous crowd scenes.

So what is it like to be young and hot and get fucked in a German sex club? What’s the hopping underground BDSM scene like in London?  Go there and find out for yourself, because 2257 makes it near impossible for someone like me to expose it for you. That’s not just upsetting, it’s tragic.  Now consider swingers magazines — they cannot legally be sold under 2257. The problems of 2257 are profound.

We live in a time of complacency.  Due to a liberal administration, there has been no 2257 enforcement in years.  As a result, many companies do not fully comply.  I remember harder times under Bush — some smaller producers lacked the resources to comply and actually shut down.  Membership to the Free Speech Coalition soared as a defense was put together.

If (when) we get another conservative administration, it seems likely that unless 2257 is struck down now, the next industry-wide attack from the federal government will be 2257-based.  The Free Speech Coalition is mid way through litigation to overturn 2257 and they badly need your help.  Without it, the efforts could be abandoned.  Please visit their website and donate if you can.

The Anti-Porn Activists and Consent

When Kink.com purchased the San Francisco Armory in 2006, Mayor Newsom asked the planning department to host an informational hearing so that concerns could be raised.  Anti Pornography activist Melissa Farley drove in from Santa Cruz to compare activities at kink.com to those at Abu Ghraib prison.

Over the subsequent months, opposition faded as we replaced the boarded up Armory windows, brought in 24×7 security, and worked to become a good neighbor.  We have striven to operate as transparently as possible, and now host public tours daily.  However, central misunderstandings still remain in some minds.  For instance, Gail Dines recently argued that Kink.com violates the UN Convention Against Torture, and she is now leading a charge to ban BDSM porn in Iceland. It is clear that we still have a long ways to go in talking about consent, fantasy, and the rights of models.

The difference between the activities portrayed in BDSM porn produced by companies like kink.com and the acts the UN Convention Against Torture aims to forbid by is quite simple: consent.  The difference between negotiating a BDSM scene and undergoing torture at Abu Girab prison is as clear as the distinction between consensual sex and rape.  The two could hardly be more different.  In the minds of Melissa Farley or Gail Dines however, the activities portrayed on kink.com are so degrading that it is ‘not possible to meaningfully consent to them’. This is a difference of opinion, to say the least.

For us, consenting to a given activity begins with explaining exactly what a shoot entails and making sure the model wants to participate. If the booker senses the model is in it solely for money, or isn’t in a headspace to handle it, we won’t book them. It’s not just ethics, it’s business sense.

To further ensure consent, each model who works for Kink is presented with a Model Bill of Rights.  This lists some common-sense rights which models should have. The right to stop a shoot at any time. The right to verify STD tests before a scene. The right to test any toy or equipment before the scene. Because we know that commerce clouds issues of consent we also let models know that if they choose to end a shoot early, they’ll still be paid a pro-rated amount.

After a shoot is over, we also employ aftercare — another element drawn from BDSM — to make sure that the shoot went well for the model. (Each shoot we do features an exit interview with the model talking about his or her experience.) BDSM is an intense experience, and it’s important for us that we do have those conversations, and address any issues — physical or emotional — that may have resulted from the shoot.

We understand that what we do seems confounding to some. That not everyone understands the relationship between pain and pleasure, and that consent may not always be apparent to an outside viewer.  However, I would like to assure the reader that it is possible to get meaningful consent for intense BDSM acts in the context of making pornographic movies.

I look forward to the coming discussion with readers, the community and with our past, current and future performers — as well as for scholars like Ms. Dines.

Authenticity in Porn

Kink.com’s mission statement reads “To demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities by providing the most authentic kinky experiences”.  The word ‘authentic’ has been included in this statement since it was originally conceived.

From when I started the company, I have have always known what I didn’t want.  I didn’t want lousy ropework that was clearly escapable, Hollywood style duct-tape gags that could obviously be removed, lots of plastic surgery, fake reactions to pain or – worst of all – obviously fake orgasms.  I wanted to see attractive, natural looking people genuinely tied up and reacting to BDSM scenarios as authentically and naturally as possible.

I converted the second bedroom of my San Francisco Marina apartment into a dungeon and put an ad on craigslist offering $100/hour to anyone willing to be properly tied up.  With the camera on a tripod operated via remote control, and slightly sweaty palms, I went about the business of producing what appealed to my emerging sexuality.

As the company grew and I hired others to direct, keeping things authentic meant finding directors who had a genuine passion and personal interest in the activities they were portraying, as well as continuing to find models willing to go through real experiences.

Having come at this from a very different angle and with different motivations, it is interesting now, 15 years later, to see how the BDSM we produce compares to what is practiced by the general BDSM community. The fact that we are a for-profit company has an effect on the nature of the scenes.  While the scenarios are still real – the models are genuinely tied up and are giving authentic reactions to real scenarios – there is a theatrical element that plays specifically to the camera.  Some might say the machinery has unnecessarily large and noisy pistons; metal weights that look heavy are actually hollow, hardwood floors that models kneel on are actually spongy, and the scenarios are often more elaborate than some might feel is necessary to achieve the desired result.  Walk into a typical BDSM club and you’ll mostly see crosses with people tied to them – it’s straightforward, it’s quick, and it gets the job done.

In addition, the for-profit nature informs the choice of participants towards that which sells – and that means featuring conventionally good looking people groomed in a way that the public currently considers sexy.  The fact that the participants are paid also alters the outcome:  as soon as money is involved, as much as one might try, the dynamic is never completely the same.  Let’s face it, whether they are enjoying the activity or not, the participants are there mostly to get paid. Putting on a good performance enhances sales for a performer’s work, and hence the chance of future gigs.

I have often thought about whether the above distinctions between what kink.com produces and what is practiced by the wider BDSM community represents a betrayal of the company mission statement.  In my mind, the answer is “no”.  It is not my mission to necessarily portray these same activities, nor to make everyone feel good about their bodies, but rather to get basic themes from BDSM in front of as many new eyes as possible.  If this means a little theater and focusing on what customers find attractive, I am OK with that.

It is also interesting to note that the for-profit nature of the business leads to a phenomenal effort towards innovation.  There always has to be something new. New sets, new props, new scenarios.  The human body only bends in so many ways and has a fixed number of orifices, and yet I am amazed by what the directors and prop builders are able to dream up! I get a lot of feedback from customers who tell me how inspired they are by this innovation – some people genuinely get ideas about how to spruce up their sexlife from kink.com.

For example, kink.com did not invent the concept of a ‘fucking machine’. However, we have paid numerous engineers to innovate and develop machines for our popular website, fuckingmachines.com.  Before this site became popular, I scoured the Internet looking for machines to buy – I came up only with a Sybian and a JeTaime.  Now, however, online stores feature entire categories of them. Prototypes of new commercial machines have often been used in collaboration with our staff.

So, in summary, we sometimes hear criticism that a typical BDSM featured at kink.com is more sensational and theatrical as a result of being shot for profit, or that we only shoot a given look. This is an entirely valid critique.  Money does change and complicate authenticity, but it also causes us to innovate.  It is core to kink.com’s mission that our work is seen by new eyes – we hope to demystify activities that are often misunderstood, celebrate and inspire.

Ethical Porn in the Age of Cams

People do not consume pornography like they used to. When I look back to the 1990s and early 2000s, business was booming — we could hardly shoot content fast enough.  Today, however, the marketplace has changed.  Free content is ubiquitous and the barriers to entry are low. This has lead to falling sales and significant consolidation.  Ask anyone who has attended the adult industry trade show in Vegas — it was once spectacular. Today, large booths have been replaced by small ones, and fewer of them.

Compared to many companies, Kink.com has managed to better shield itself from this effect due to a unique product line in a tight niche and some very effective marketing.  We build elaborate sets and props in house and thus the barriers to entry in our market are higher. Still, there’s no question this trend has lead to cost cutting and tighter margins over the last five years.  Indeed, from 2011 to 2012 overall recorded content sales fell despite the addition of three new sites to our portfolio.

In response to this sobering state of affairs, our strategy is similar to that of the music industry — move towards live programming.  We are currently investing the majority of our technology resources into “webcams” that allow kinky performers to log-in from their home and connect directly with the customer.

The one-on-one interaction associated with live cams allows people to explore their sexuality in a more intimate way, which is core to our mission. The benefit to models is that cams offer the model the ability to work from home and set her own schedule, which is very different from working in adult movies where the work and schedule is unpredictable. However, it also represents a significant dilemma for us.

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