When the adult industry pushed new technology

We can thank adult entertainment for a lot of new home technology we enjoy today.

It’s certainly what pushed through the VCR, because the units were mighty expensive back in the day, and the whole reasoning for buying one was to watch porno in your house. Remember, there weren’t all that movies to buy in those days except for adult films.

In fact, right as I was researching this subject several years ago, I went on the ‘Net and found the following headlines: “Adult Industry May Decide Blu-ray HD DVD Battle,” and “Hollywood Watches as Adult Film Studios Offer Download to DVD.”

As it turns out, the world of porn phased out VHS before mainstream Hollywood did, and unlike Hollywood, which can make a ton of dough releasing a big blockbuster to DVD or streaming, with adult it’s usually been about the critical mass of product instead of one gigantic movie keeping everything afloat.


“The adult industry is a very purchase driven industry,” says Rodger Jacobs, who wrote a number of adult movies under his nom de porn Martin Brimmer. “It’s not a rental-driven industry like the mainstream.” 

And like with the mainstream, when VHS went down in price, the money rolled right in. Back in the early eighties, porno tapes were very expensive, usually in the $100 range for a movie, but according to one report, in the late ’70’s 75% of all tapes being sold were X-rated, and by 1983, ¾ of all video rentals and sales were adult titles.


Even with movies like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, theatrical wasn’t that big of a market, especially considering there weren’t that many theaters playing adult movies. (The Pussycat Theaters weren’t a huge chain like Mann.) Adult movies were shot on film, they weren’t cheap to make, and it wasn’t easy to get one made. This of course all changed with the advent of video, and some porn denizens will tell you the plots and production values on adult films got much worse with film going by the wayside, but the women got more beautiful than ever, because being in an X rated film raises a girl’s price when she does a strip club tour.


As Bill Asher, President of Vivid Entertainment Group told me, the VCR eliminated the “embarrassment factor” that came with X rated movies. “Adult was always waiting for a way to get into the privacy of your own home. The VCR was the first great chance to get into the home.” 

And unlike mainstream Hollywood, which was always terrified of technology, the adult business has always been eager to take more risks with it. (Don’t forget in the early eighties when the VCR came in, Hollywood thought it would destroy everything, and instead it created an enormous new revenue stream).


“With the majors, they weren’t going to respond until there were enough VCRs out there to make a difference,” Asher says. And considering an adult movie doesn’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make, there’s more room to try things out with technology in the world of X.


“The mainstream, it’s almost like technology scares them,” Asher continues. “I think with adult, it’s the mindset of, ‘If there’s something out there, let’s go get it. It’s one more way to make a buck.’ We have conversations with people we know in the mainstream, and they’ve even gone so far as to call us up with something they’ve got that they think we’ll use more than they will. A new concept, a new camera, anything. They’ll call us up and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys try this out? Let’s see how this works, and let’s see how people respond.’ The mainstream studios are only putting out a handful of movies each year, and they cost a lot of money. Every hit is fantastic, every bomb is devastating for them. But an adult company puts out 80 movies a year. If we want to add a little money to try something, it’s okay. It’s not going to be devastating no matter what we do.”

Nevertheless, the adult business has clearly been hit by hard times during the recession, and you could see it coming before the economic collapse because it was the same thing that destroyed the traditional music business. Nobody’s paying for music anymore, and people would rather get their porn for free too.


The Daily Beast also just weighed in with a story claiming the idea of the porn star may be a thing of the past. 

”Even in the suburban malls ‘Porn Star’ t-shirts were ubiquitous,” writes Richard Abowitz. “Jenna Jameson, Tera Patrick, and Sasha Grey were well known in mainstream pop culture.” Porn star Jesse Jane also told the site, “I came in at the perfect time when people still cared about stars. Now, no one has a fair chance at what happened for Jenna, Tera, and me.”


The adult biz has suffered with the collapse of the economy as much as everything else, but as Stefve Javors of Adult Video News told the Daily Beast, “Companies don’t have the money to market stars that they did a few years ago,” but he did add that, “Porn stars will come back.” And of course, piracy has had a big impact on porn stars becoming porn stars, and this may be the first time in the history of the biz that porn actors can’t get work.


Even if you only have a passing interest in the world of porno, everyone knows the epicenter of X is in California’s San Fernando Valley. But now the adult industry is threatening to leave Los Angeles over the passing of a mandatory condom law with X rated films.


There’ve been HIV outbreaks in porn before, which frankly was an accident waiting to happen for a long time, yet for many years the adult industry has refused to go all out into safe sex. Way back in a 1996 Details article on the adult business, writer Chris Heath listed at least eight excuses he heard from the adult companies why they wouldn’t use rubbers including, “even if the big companies agreed to an all-condom rule, smaller companies would muscle in and steal their market share with noncondom films,” “European companies will not buy condom porn,” “Some girls don’t like how it feels with a condom,” and many more.


Now the adult industry apparently has no choice. According to the L.A. Times, starting March 5, adult actors have to wear rubbers while working on location, and as the Times reports, “The landmark law marks a rare attempt to regulate how films are made,” and the adult business will be fighting this, by either going to court, or threatening to leave L.A. altogether.


Steve Hirsch, who runs Vivid Entertainment, said that most of his performers don’t wear condoms, even though they can if they want to, and also noted porn customers don’t want to see performers wearing them. Hirsch continued the law is “a nuisance more than anything else,” and that, “We will continue shooting the movies, and if that means outside of the city of Los Angeles, so be it.”


It’s not clear at the moment where the industry could go to where they’ll be welcomed, and be allowed to make movies, but as Michael Weinstein, who is the president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation told the Times, “The fact that porn send out a message that the only type of sex that’s hot is unsafe… we think that’s detrimental.”