I had wanted to attend the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas since I started writing my memoir, Pornographer's Daughter, and I finally got my chance earlier this month. It was a milestone for me in my quest to learn more about the business and the social issues that surround the porn industry. And get a firsthand glimpse of the career my father has been a part of for the last 35 years.
My father always talked about this convention in a business-like fashion, describing how he met with colleagues, discussed industry trends and learned about new products. He left out any details about naked women or how to operate the hot new sex toy. We had an unspoken agreement between a father and a daughter to never discuss these types of things and I knew from an early age that he never wanted me to be exposed to this “dirty world”. So for years I would imagine the details of what took place at the expo. Now I didn’t have to guess what this event was all about anymore—this good girl was all in to learn what she could about Dad’s dirty world.
Before traveling to Las Vegas, deciding what I would wear to the Expo suddenly became a serious quandary. I pulled out and tried on different outfits from my closet, packed my suitcase, then unpacked it and started all over again. My mind was spinning. It was one of those times when I wished I had a stylist who could pick my wardrobe for me. I wanted to fit in, so did I want go with the high heels and skirt ensemble to try to pull off a sexier look? Or should I stick to my typical conservative dress and just be comfortable? I had a lot of ground to cover at the Expo, quite literally, and I needed an outfit that I could walk miles in. I threw a pair of fishnet stockings in my suitcase but in the end my practical side won out and I settled on a sweater and jeans.
I’ve been to a lot of conventions, so when I entered the cavernous halls of the Sands Expo Center at 12 pm I expected the packed crowds and wide variety of booths. But there were some subtle and not so subtle differences. The exhibit floor pulsed with dance music to induce a party-like atmosphere and there were tons of people waiting to take pictures with the booth babes. And then of course the women weren’t exactly wearing corporate, or even casual, attire.
I was happy with my outfit selection but I definitely stood out as an anomaly among the couple of thousand people attending the expo. Though most of the attendees were men, the women who attended with them were almost as scantily clad as the porn stars signing autographs and selling products in the booths. As I looked at the women in high heels, mini-skirts and wearing cleavage as an accessory, I realized I wouldn’t be comfortable in that sort of an outfit – even though I am a pornographer’s daughter. And for a casual, friendly observer, my sweater and jeans worked out just fine for me.
There was much to see even though the number of vendors did not fill the expansive Sands Expo Center. I was disappointed in the smaller audience but it seemed evident a tough economy and a competing adult novelty toy show in Burbank contributed to a decline in attendance. The imprint of 3D content was everywhere, like Hustler’s version of the movie Avatar, called This Ain’t Avatar XXX 3D, a porn parody. By the way, there is a porn parody for just about every famous TV show or movie, like Charlie’s Angels, Top Gun, The Brady Bunch and Batman. On that note, it was comforting to see that the adult industry is again ushering in the use of the latest technology. At the Consumer Electronics Show I had donned 3D glasses at the Sony exhibit to experience crisp images jumping off huge screens and being displayed on slick new TVs and laptops. And now at the AVN Expo here I was envisioning 3D images in vivid pornographic form that would now be viewed in the comfort of people’s homes. The porn industry is certainly ingenious at implementing trends.
There were vendors who sold everything from scented candles and massage oils to life-size dolls of your favorite porn star and pole dancing equipment you could set-up in your living room. I discovered a small movie production company who featured Muslim women and explored the taboo of having sex with women that wear burqas. You can use your imagination here. In striking up a conversation with a company representative he quipped, “If this gets more popular the Taliban might try to kill me.” It was a strange comment and I thought if he really had experienced death threats, which I believe possible, is porn really worth inciting a terrorist attack or risking one’s life? Well the adult industry is said to be a risky business and there does seems to be a niche for everything.
At one booth I saw the “Sybian” in action, a piece of equipment that has been featured on the Howard Stern Show. The Sybian is an orgasm-inducing machine for women and the onsite demonstration was just jaw dropping. A woman volunteered from the audience, with the permission of her husband, and demonstrated having an orgasm on the Sybian in front of a teeming crowd. The throes of passion this volunteer displayed seemed just a little too overly dramatized for the sake of the audience. It was clear to me she was an actress called upon to cause a spectacle, which she did, and bravo for the great marketing tactic.
As I moved through the hall taking in the technology and the products my attention soon turned to the public debate about the harmful effects of pornography. I met the ladies of the Pink Cross, a non-profit organization that helps women leave the porn industry and recover from drug addiction, disease and abuse. While their mission is admirable, the alarming statistics and the “Jesus Saves” undertones left me skeptical. I’m just not sure the industry is the cause of the victimization of women. I can’t say it doesn’t happen, but circumstance, personal choice and judgment seem to play a big role in the fate of most women who work in this industry. It’s very hard to judge the origins of these sad stories.
I also met Pastor Craig, founder of the XXX Church.com and who works with porn star, Ron Jeremy, on the Great Porn Debate. Pastor Craig looks like a young punk rocker and he and his volunteers speak their message eloquently — Jesus loves everyone, even porn stars, because we are all the same and have all equally screwed up. They must have noticed my visceral reaction to the mention of “Jesus” and told me they use his name only in the spiritual sense, whatever that means. I have a hard time with the injection of religion into the porn debate. I’m just not quite sure what the identified sin is. If the adult industry helps single people and couples in consensual relationships enjoy sex, and enjoy each other through sex, then what’s the problem?
Pastor Craig was gracious, though, and pointed me in the direction of his good friend Ron Jeremy. No porn conference would be complete without getting my picture snapped with the most famous porn star ever, which I did (see above). It was an adventurous day for this otherwise homebody and I left the great hall with the conviction that the porn industry clearly isn’t anything like it was in the 1970s. Today the industry is so much larger and more diverse and business is conducted with real corporate flair. That said, I suspect its value to society will forever be debated.
That night it was on to the AVN Awards Show. More details about this event in my next blog post.