About two hours into my day at the Adult Entertainment Expo, I’m almost knocked out by a t-shirt. At a booth advertising cam services — that’s cam models, not camera maintenance — adult entertainers and their producers, directors, and security guards are going wild, screaming “who wants some?” as they toss swag into the air with as much abandon as you could hope for at a porn convention.
“It’s a dildo!” A man next to me yells, pointing at the phallic projectile. And before someone else can cry “no, it’s Superman,” a shirt hits me in the head. It’s tightly rolled and bounces off my face, but I’m more surprised than hurt — though getting beaned with a large tube of anything at an adult industry event shouldn’t have shocked me. Before I can even lean down to grab the shirt for my own, though, a man scoops it up and speed walks away, smiling ear to ear, pleased with his ill-gotten booty.
I want to run after him — it’s my shirt! It hit me first! — but I’m not here for branded clothing. I’m at AEE, the adult industry’s biggest event, to find out the latest trends in the sex business. Is it robots? Soap amusingly shaped like an erect phallus ( suggested retail price: $20)? Or is virtual reality still the gold standard when it comes to “what happens next” in porn?
The answer is a little less sexy than you might expect. While VR is still king — everyone’s trying to get their business into the future — there’s another factor that more and more companies are focusing on: affordability. Because in this economy, not everyone can afford $7,000 for a Real Doll or a Sybian — a rideable sex saddle which will absolutely change your life but also comes with a $1,500 price tag before taxes or accessories.
As I wander from one vendor to another, pushing against a sea of photographers who have converged on a booth where an Asian woman in a bikini is rearranging herself, I’m invited to sit down on a couch next to three beautiful women at Crafty Fantasy.
The woman to my right, who is covering her face with a mask, is missing the entire lower half of her body. “Touch her breasts,” the booth attendant encourages me. “You can touch her pussy, too. It feels real.”
The two women to my left have all their appendages. One is kneeling in front of the other, her mouth poised inches away from her partner’s loudly buzzing strap-on, which is spinning around so quickly it’s making me a little nauseated. These dolls run around $2,000. The other one, without the legs, runs closer to $1,575. But for anyone who’s worried that a love doll without any legs isn’t worth it, there’s one advantage you need to consider: A doll without all four limbs weighs less, making her less “real” but more versatile, easy to move around, and, if needed, hide in the deepest recesses of your closet.
I ask the company’s CEO, who breezes in for a second to grab some brochures, why someone would want a Crafty Fantasy doll over a Real Doll, the cadillac of silicone companions. He tells me that it’s pure economics. “We have fewer options,” he says, “but we also don’t skimp on quality. Everyone who wants one of these dolls should be able to afford one.”
“We’re talking about a lot of guys who either have broken relationships or they don’t want to get back into the dating scene,” he adds. “This is a big thing for these guys. When they own one of these things they don’t come across as needy to women. It fills a real need.”
Plus, these dolls have something others don’t: they moan realistically as they’re caressed. Well, at least some of them do. The ones on display here, including a figure on all fours whose butt I slap politely, doesn’t utter even a disinterested groan when I touch her. I figure that that has something to do with the force of my slap, and, emboldened by the tall boy I drank at lunch, I slap her again, harder, like I really mean it.
Pleased with myself, and still not having gotten a response, I try again, becoming so mesmerized by the experience that I forget that I’m a lone dude in the middle of a bustling convention floor beating on a cool slab of silicone in order to get some kind of human response from a fake woman. Welcome to the future.