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Porn's New Market: Women

Sean Murphy | Stone | Getty Images

Porn, historically, has been an industry that caters to the male audience. Women weren't interested in the product – or so the theory went.

But 2012 saw books like "50 Shades of Grey" and films like "Magic Mike" strike a chord with women. And the porn industry was ready to welcome those readers and viewers to the next level.

Several production companies have spent the past few years building a catalog of women- and couples-friendly films. Leading the pack are Wicked Pictures and New Sensations.

"When it comes to something like the couples market, the revenue that can be generated with the right product is considerably more than traditional DVDs," said Scott Taylor, president and founder of New Sensations. "I wish we had done this at a different time when there wasn't so much piracy and there wasn't the Internet."

The difference between porn for men and porn for women largely revolves around plot. More specifically, there is one in the women-focused market.

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Writers, like New Sensations' Jacky St. James, craft plots that are designed to resonate with women, focusing on plots like marriages that have lost their spark and the early days of falling in love. (Think of them as movies that might air on Lifetime – only when the sex scenes start, the camera doesn't pan away.) Directors of the films, meanwhile, stay away from the gonzo sex acts that sometimes permeate other adult films.

"I don't think this is something that happened overnight," said Taylor. "It was dormant. No one spoke about it. And little by little it became ok. … We're not shooting hardcore positions or the more extreme elements of X-rated films. This is more making love than f***ing. It's a connection between two people."

Because so much porn focuses on extreme fantasies, it has been off-putting to many women – some might argue rightfully so. Overly buxom sex pots do things many women would never consider.

"I remember crying when my husband – then my fiance -- wanted to watch porn together," said Allison Vivas, author of the upcoming book Making Peace With Porn. "I thought it was about me. And it's so odd that we can assume a guy can watch an action move and distinguish between fantasy and reality, and then some think they can't do so when they watch porn."


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Vivas went on to become the president of a porn company herself – Pink Visual, which specializes in distribution in cutting-edge technologies. She noted that while the DVD porn market for women has picked up recently, there's still a gap online.

"On the web side, it hasn't necessarily been completely done," she said. "On the Internet, there has been a lot of higher gloss and glamour productions being done, but they're still marketed to men."

An exception to that rule is Sssh.com. Founded 12 years ago by Angie Rowntree, the site is best described as an adult online version of Cosmopolitan magazine.

"I want to make it a safe place for women," saiid Rowntree. "The #1 comment I get from women is it doesn't make them feel dirty. It's not sleazy looking."

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Content on the site is rated by a pair of lips. One pair is relatively tame (tame being defined a bit differently here than on most women-focused sites). Two is a bit more risque. And three is the most explicit content.

The site's not huge. Since they've been keeping statistics (something Rowntree is quick to point out was not early in the site's life), 22,000 people have walked through the virtual doors.

"We don't make a huge amount of money; we're not Vivid," Rowntree admitted, though sales have increased markedly in the past five years, she added.

While the women's market in porn has been increasing steadily for a couple years, adult industry executives point almost universally to the success of "50 Shades of Grey" as a tremendous breakthrough for the industry. The book might have its critics, but it has resulted in increased foot traffic to adult stores by women, who are taking note of the"entry level" and female-oriented films.

"More women are feeling comfortable going into adult stores and buying adult products," said Steve Orenstein, founder and CEO of Wicked Pictures. "So now it's more clear they're making decisions on what they want to bring into the house with those products."

Women, in fact, make up roughly 60 percent of the clientele at Hustler's Hollywood store, according to Michael Klein, President of LFP, Inc.

Like any industry, though, porn trends tend to ebb and flow. And studios seem to be taking pains to ensure that the women-friendly genre isn't one that gets overrun with content, for fear of running off the customer.

"For the past two years, it has been very successful," said Taylor. "I don't flood it. I don't try to do too many. You can cannibalize your own success."

Porn Convention 2012

  • When the movie industry slapped adult films with an XXX rating, porn companies came to embrace the scarlet letters. But when the nonprofit corporation that oversees Internet addresses rolled out the .xxx domain, the reception was unequivocally unenthusiastic.

  • The L.A. City Council voted to make condom use mandatory in adult films. And adult studios are already planning how to minimize the effects of that law.

  • As the porn industry gathers for its annual convention, there's a lot at stake. Online piracy continues to nip at the earnings of studios, and new legislation could dramatically impact how companies do business.