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.
Before I can slap the doll again, the booth attendant quickly says “not that one, she doesn’t moan,” and I realize that there are at least two people regarding me with mild alarm, as if pondering whether someone will need to step in and fight for the doll’s honor. I shuffle off sheepishly, determined to look as normal as I can after such an interaction.
My next stop is MotorBunny, a company that’s bringing high-tech masturbation to the masses, and where the commitment to affordability is much the same. The product on display here, a mount that looks like a mini mechanical bull, costs $895 and will vibrate at up to 7,000 rotations per minute, giving you the option of enjoying a pleasant tingle at lower settings or experiencing what could only be referred to as a “sexy natural disaster” as you rev the controller up to 11 and take your life into your own hands.
Factor in an almost infinite number of accessories — I’m introduced to both a formidable purple phallus (“not for beginners”) and a vibrating anus that I’m told everyone wants to touch — and MotorBunny’s promise that they’ll never make an item that would be considered unaffordable, and it’s easy to see why people are crowding the booth, gently resting their hands on the demo products or furtively poking and prodding the different attachments.
Craig Mewbourne, the company’s spokesman asks if I’d like to take a ride. I consider whether doing so will break any decency laws, but decide that there’s nothing more important than taking risks in these trying times and climb on, certain that this will be a story I will one day tell grandchildren. Not my own, of course, but definitely someone’s. Besides, Mewbourne tells me I am limited to five minutes of vibration before they have to shut the entire thing down and let someone else have a go.
“Oh yay, you’re the first taker”, a woman in bunny ears claps her hands behind me. “You’re going to have so much fun.”
“Wait, why hasn’t anyone else climbed on top of one of these?” I think to myself as I get in the saddle and am handed what looks like a mini-drone controller. I twist at the knobs and grit my teeth like I’m about to ride one of those g-force simulators at space camp. For a few seconds, nothing happens.
“It’s not work—“ I start to say, but the “ing” is drowned out by the machine’s vibrations, which immediately turn my legs to what could only be described as “very weak jello that has not achieved its full firmness potential.” I only survive about 45 seconds at the maximum speed before I have to switch it off lest I embarrass myself in front of the masses yet again.
“We recommend you start small,” Mewbourne says at the same time another woman walks up behind me and plops a pair of glowing rabbit ears on my head, their LED lights pulsing frantically in bright reds and blues. This is my reward, a symbol that I came and conquered! And I will wear them proudly the rest of the day.
“You’ve got everything,” I say, trying to catch my breath.
“And for hundreds of dollars cheaper than the next competitor,” Mewbourne responds, proud that the machine has beaten another satisfied customer into submission.
Later, when I walk past a conference employee who’s handing out t-shirts, she asks where I got my bunny ears. “I want some of those,” she says.
“All you have to do is ride this masturbation machine,” I tell her. “They just give them to you! It’s like a prize for making it.”
“A masturbation machine?” she asks, “how does that even work?”
I had not expected to have this conversation but the employee and I — her name is Barbara — are suddenly in the middle of our own “Live Your Best Life” moment and I’m telling her that something called the MotorBunny will fix whatever problems she’s having. “I don’t know,” I say, putting my hand on her shoulder, “I have two herniated discs and I’m pretty sure they’re fine now.”
“I haven’t had an orgasm in seven years,” Barbara says and we laugh together. “I’m rusty dusty. Now where did you say this thing was?”
Other innovations are designed to drive the viewer closer and closer to their favorite stars. CamSoda has just announced what amounts to a “gas mask” attachment for VR headsets, allowing those who own an Oculus or an HTC Vive to not only see their porn idols in stunning 3D but smell them as well.
The company’s site boasts that the “OhRoma” can produce a dizzying array of scent profiles, allowing consumers to enjoy the smell of flowers, body odor, panties, and even “private parts” as they consume cam shows. The hope is that once models begin using the “OhRoma” in earnest, they’ll be able to make up to 25 percent more money than before.
For those who want to enjoy the scent of a woman (or man) without wearing bulky headgear, Love Juice, a company specializing in several varieties of genital scent sprays, will sell you a pair of panties (or briefs) and a 5ml bottle of spray for about 30 bucks. Modeled on the wife of the husband-and-wife team who run the company — they both appear at the booth in matching gray bowling shirts — the scents come in “Squeaky Clean,” “Oh So Natural,” and, “Big + Bushy” for the true connoisseur.
The company’s two newest additions, “Power Bottom,” modeled on the smell of gay adult performer Armond Rizzo’s anus, and “Cisco’s Fresh Off The Box,” a cologne meant to simulate the junk of a sweaty go-go dancer, have already sold out in the online shop, showing that there’s definitely a thriving market when it comes to smelling your favorite stars as you “scroll through their feeds or watch their movies” as Love Juice’s website suggests.
I sniff all the offerings, allowing the husband of this husband-and-wife team to spray panties with his wife’s scents for me to take in. I don’t have a lot of experience in this area, but the underwear smells more like a car that belongs to someone who’s really into organic oils than actual human genitals, IMO. It’s incredibly pleasant and could be marketed on its own as a body spray, but even the “Big + Bushy” variety smells nothing like what I’d assumed panties marked by female scent would.
“Maybe I’m biased, though,” I think. As a gay man I’ve had very little cause to smell women’s underwear, so I pick up a pair of Rizzo’s briefs, allow them to be sprayed with his love juice, close my eyes, and take a deep inhale, the same way I was instructed to when I went to my first wine-tasting last year.
I smell musk, and leather, and something that reminds me, almost romantically, of the sea, but I can’t quite get the smell of “freshly drilled hole” or “pink creampie” that I’m promised.
“This smells good,” I tell Rizzo, who’s on hand to meet fans and discuss the product, “but does it really smell like you?”
He leans in and we smell the underwear together, me leaning down because even at five feet and eight inches, I dwarf the lavender-haired porn star’s diminutive five foot frame (the bunny ears don’t help).
“Yeah,” he says, “I think so.” Unlike many other adult stars, Rizzo doesn’t sell his used underwear to fans, so this is the closest anyone’s going to get to watching his movies in smell-o-vision. I can see the appeal, and I’m excited to have my wrists sprayed with Rizzo’s scent so I don’t have to worry about whether I should wear cologne to the dinner, but just like VR, it seems scent technology, while cool, is still a few years away from hitting the mainstream.
Speaking of VR, it’s everywhere: More and more companies are signing up to create interactive content, including major studios like Burning Angel — which signed with HoloGirls VR to create 360-degree experiences that will make you feel like you’re in the center of the action as Joanna Angel, the studio’s owner and biggest star, struts around in and out of a nurse’s uniform. But even though there are bigger lines to try new advances in this realm than there are for some performers, not everyone is sold on the idea that virtual reality is the next big thing, .
LittleRedBunny, an award-winning cam model who was the first to be honored when The Adult Video Network introduced a category for “favorite cam girl,” tells me that the she just doesn’t think that VR is ready for the adult market yet. “Talk to me in four to five years,” she says, “when it’s there.”
Right now, though, she sees VR as more of a “hep trend” than anything else, a fun gadget that hasn’t yet reached a point where it’s useful. “Who can keep a helmet on for a long time?” she asks earnestly. “It’s short-lived.” LittleRedBunny specializes in long shows and cams for up to 13 hours a day. She can’t imagine a client keeping a helmet on for a ten-hour show for just for a little bit more realism.
With our conversation in mind, I decide to ask porn performers themselves where they think the future is headed. Last year, at a panel about new trends, several directors discussed “robot play” as being a new and exciting area of exploration. Sites like SciFi Dreamgirls already exist to fulfill all your lactating fembot desires, but performers are aiming their sights in directions that are a little less exotic.
Norah Nova, Hustler’s #1 cam girl, wants to see porn incorporated into video games, with consumers being able to control renderings of adult film performers as they have sex and commit major crimes in the digital world. “Think about it,” she says, “naked and killing. How great would that be?”
Johnny Sins, an adult performer who was once part of a crowdfunding campaign to shoot the first pornographic film in space (it stalled at $236,086, a mere fraction of the $3,400,000 goal) tells me that what people want is raw sex that doesn’t look manufactured. “It’s just me and a GoPro,” he says. “No director, no lighting. Real sex. Every time I have sex and don’t film it, I think ‘Damn, I should have filmed that shit.”
When I ask where he’d shoot these movies, he tells me that he and his girlfriend, Kissa Sins have a bucket list of places they’d like to have sex: rooftops, parks, while driving on the open road.
“You were going to go to space,” I remind him, “Is there anything even more exciting than having sex on a rooftop on the list?”
“Actually,” he responds, “We live in Hawaii. I’d love to take one of those helicopter tours and film in the air.” Having recently flown in a small plane around the island of Molokai, I can’t even imagine such a thing, mainly because of the turbulence and all the screaming I did. After the flight, I was so shaken, I ran into the first bathroom I could to throw up, shocking an entire roomful of women who were putting their makeup on by the sink and not expecting a bearded man in a novelty shirt to rush in and throw up in the closest stall he could find.
But I’m not a professional, so I decide not to tell Johnny that I think he’d need a few practice runs first to make sure he didn’t feel like he was dying.
Alix Lynx, a popular model who bears a striking resemblance to Melissa Joan Hart (she’s also gotten Hayden Panettiere), tells me that we’re going to be seeing more taboos breached as we get more and more into niche porn. I mention that a recent survey found that “stepsister” was one of the most searched-for terms among porn enthusiasts in several states. She wasn’t surprised.
“I make a lot of my own content,” Lynx says, “and most of it is labeled stepsister, stepmom, whatever. It’s the equivalent of watching a horror movie that you know is so fucked up and twisted. You know you’re not supposed to do that in real life, but it’s almost like you’re getting an adrenaline rush from watching it.”
“It doesn’t mean that people who are watching it want to go and bang their sisters, at all,” she adds, “that’s not what it’s about. It’s about doing something that society doesn’t see as normal. It’s a fantasy. It’s okay to have fantasies.”
There’s no shortage of fantasy on the convention floor. While I don’t see the crib full of diapered women that was center stage last year, booths like Bad Dragon — which will allow anyone to experience what it’s like to have sex with werewolves and water buffalos — and Touch of Fur are taking up prime real estate. Bad Dragon’s booth is especially expansive, encompassing two tables and featuring a display case of mythical dicks that come in every conceivable shape and color.
“Is this one a frog?” Someone asks, and adult model Alex Coal, who’s running the booth, quickly corrects the person holding the green appendage. “It’s not a frog,” she says, “It’s a basilisk.”
“Like in Harry Potter,” I say, excited that I know what I’m talking about for at least two seconds.
“J.K. Rowling doesn’t own the rights to the Basilisk,” Coal responds wearily. “There are lots of basilisks out there.”
At Touch Of Fur, Matt Servos and his son are hawking everything from steel butt plugs with fur tails and fur floggers to earmuffs and handcuffs to a crowd that’s squealing with delight over rabbit ears that look like they’ve come directly off the set of Ariana Grande’s latest video shoot.
“Furries have been around a long time and now there’s a craze,” Servos says. “You’ve got women going out for dinner wearing ears. Ears are very popular, tails are very popular, then they’ve got the tails with the butt plugs. They’ll wear their tails out in public.”
Servos is quick to point out that any animal rights activists that may be upset with his business must recognize that he has nothing to do with “big fur.” All the fur he uses comes from animals that he says are “raised like chickens and cows,” although he doesn’t elaborate.
“I love animals,” Servos says. “We use the scraps that don’t go into the garments.” He seems like he might say more, but just then another gaggle of people descend on the booth, screaming “how cute! They’ve got everything!” Servos wanders off to make a sale.
Nearby, a man who won’t let me take his picture because “this is just one of my business ventures” is selling Kum Klean soaps, which are exactly what you’d imagine them to be: soaps in the shape of large veiny penises in a variety of bright colors.
“I like to have these for game night,” the entrepreneur says. “My straight friends come over, and they’re like ‘do I really have to wash myself with a dick?’ It’s hilarious!”
The soaps aren’t meant for internal use — hard to believe when you can buy a suction cup to hold them in place on a wall — but I’m told that it’s okay as long as you’re “really, really” clean. I pick up a phallus that’s made of plastic rather than glycerin and the anonymous entrepreneur puts his hands on his face and warns “don’t squeeze it. That’s a dispenser. You get any into my eyes and they’re going to burn forever. At the last show, a couple of girls got too excited and my eyes were on fire for hours.” Wow, I think, just like the real thing!
My last stop of the day, six hours after I’d arrived, isn’t on the convention floor. Over pretzels at The Hard Rock Hotel’s Culinary Dropout, Jeff Dillon of Gamelink — adult’s answer to Amazon — tells me that there are two big things that we’re going to see in adult in the very near future. First, he says, we’re going to see a return to big budget movies with high production values and storylines. This is partly due to the fact that more couples are watching porn, and partly due to the fact that the amateur craze, so big only a few years ago, may be dying down due to lack of quality content.
“There’s just so much crap out there,” he says. “It’s all the same. The same stars, the same formula, the same intro, the same girls, the same scenes. Right now, we can only differentiate with big budget films. Acting is coming back.”
The pages of the expo’s catalog accentuate his point. While stars like Johnny Sins are holding on for a tomorrow that’s full of real sex without all the drama, the show program is taken over by full-page ads touting the wonders of films such as Star Wars Underworld XXX, a pornographic parody with makeup and costumes that wouldn’t look out of place on a mainstream movie poster. Digital Playgroud, the company behind the feature, boasts an entire line of such big budget parodies, including takes on Kill Bill, Anchorman (Anchorwoman XXX), Top Guns, and Ex Machina (you guessed it: Sex Machina). For ’90s pop fans, a Spice Girls parody is also on offer.
The other innovation we should all be excited for? AI.
“Like in Westworld?” I ask, enthused by the idea of enjoying a week at a theme park where my activity choices would include shooting outlaws and engaging in romantic trysts with flesh and metal cowboys.
“Not yet,” he says, “but we’re getting there. First we’ve got to find a way to make them better and quieter.” He brings up the Autoblow 2, a machine that received an overwhelming response when it launched as an IndieGoGo campaign, but is so noisy that the only way to enjoy its charms is to put on headphones and “turn the porn all the way up.”
Sex robots are coming, though, and sooner than we might expect. They may not be at the convention next year or the year after that, but we probably won’t have to wait until 2050 to see a love doll that will respond to our advances, either on its own or with VR support. Last year, I tried the Holodexxx at the convention, enjoying a few moments with Lexi Belle’s likeness. With my controllers, I touched her breasts, zoomed her in closer, and even joined her on the floor when her avatar lay down. That’s when my goggles were taken away.
“Do you think sex robots could ruin human relationships?” I ask and Dillon says they already have in Japan. It’s not that the robots themselves are doing the relationship ruining, though, it’s the fact that it’s much easier to enjoy a relationship with a Real Doll or a Crafty Fantasy product than it is to engage with other human beings.
That may not be too far from the truth. Last year, Matt McMullen, the creator of RealDoll said that introducing AI into the bedroom would “create the desire to have sex beyond the physical.” These AI dolls wouldn’t just look real but interact realistically as well, featuring customizable personalities and, possibly, even sense of humor. Soon, our sex lives won’t just be exciting, they’ll be ripped straight from the plot line of an Outer Limits episode.
For right now, though, we’re all going to have to content ourselves with enjoying a select few aspects of human sexuality through the use of reality-enhancing products. But if you really want to feel like you’re connected to your favorite adult performer, there’s a company that will do that, too. It’s called Print Your PornStar, and for a small fee they’ll send you 3D-printed version of your favorite sex celeb. If you stop by their booth, they’ll even scan you in as well, allowing you to immortalize yourself in a prom pose with everyone from Jessica Drake to Asa Akira.
The future of sex that we were promised may not be here yet. We may not even know what is yet. But there’s one thing I can tell you for certain: Whatever comes next, it certainly won’t be boring.