America Has No Choice But To Accept Kink’s Forthcoming Mainstream Moment
When absolutely nothing else arouses the excitement and intrigue of the mainstream, sex and sensuality always can…
No, this isn’t about 50 Shades of Grey. Yes, the film starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan made $166 million dollars at the box office in 2015. But did literally two out of every five American adults rush to the theater to see it? Did it inspire kink-friendly behavior to become iconic front-page news? No. However, regardless of the effect of 50 Shades, could American pop culture be increasingly warming to and potentially economically sinking into kink’s seductive and erotically asphyxiating grip? Absolutely. Here’s a sound socioeconomic argument as to why this is the case.
There was once a time in American history wherein the mainstream pop cultural consciousness could dependably and economically quite sustainably, be held enraptured by a TV show, a pop song, or a film. While yes, these are still all mediums quite capable of capturing the nation’s consciousness, there may be a democratization of access and globalization of options available that has lowered the bar to a point where something wildly peculiar…no, let’s just say kinky…could occur. When sex and sensuality pop a boner on the zeitgeist that — call a doctor for this one, lasts longer than four hours — a tradition can and will be waylaid forever. What this unconventional sexual detour means for our very parochial nation-state is definitely worthy of consideration.
Kink’s going to have a significant moment because people are engaging less — and with far smaller financial return — with established and less taboo mainstream media than ever before. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that one million consumers canceled their cable-TV or satellite subscriptions in the past quarter. Couple this with the fact that the going rate for artist payment when someone streams their song on Spotify is still infinitesimally less than one cent. Also, America’s mainstream film revenue was referred to as “flat,” “sluggish,” and “stagnant” in a recent IBISWorld report, while the Motion Picture Association of America noted that movie admissions in the U.S. and Canada hit a 10-year low in 2017, dipping 6% to 1.24 billion tickets sold.
Ten years prior to today, 100% more people were watching cable or satellite television and paying a similar percentage more to stream a musical artist’s recording. Furthermore, the American film industry was in the midst of a DVD explosion, buffering box office receipts and leading the American film marketplace to a level of unprecedented growth.
American economic markets always viciously correct themselves though, but not immediately. Thus, in the amount of time we sit and wait for a seemingly never-ending stream of next-era broadcast portals and revenue earners fighting for our pop cultural admiration like telephone apps, skinny bundle-driven TV services, live musical concert earnings, and whatever sort of debacle MoviePass eventually pans out into take hold, we’re here. And while we’re here, something sensually enthralling — on say, Pornhub or Kink.com, or if you’re digging a bit deeper, independent and kink-friendly film production houses like Pink and White Productions — could quite easily distract all of us. Someone or something more entertaining than anything available via YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, iTunes, Google Play, or heck, those ancient relics the TV screen, car radio, or movie theater absolutely exists in the world, and the playing field is flat enough for them to exist in plain view of everyone, at all times. Sometimes, all it takes to be first in a twelve-horse race is to win by a hair. In this case, that’s likely a pubic hair.
Though this theory may read like complete nonsense, it’s based in reality. The 1970s were nearly five decades ago, but there are numerous corollaries between then and now in the United States. Replace Richard Nixon with Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter with the Black Panthers, the gay liberation and women’s movements are entirely similar, and the mid-term election cycle showcased that the Silent Majority still obviously exists. Also, television in the 1970s was nascent but marginally popular than it was a decade prior, music was eventually dominated by the disco juggernaut, and the mainstream American film industry was struggling at best.
When the government informant that guarded secret inside information related to the Watergate political scandals that led to the impeachment and resignation of President Richard Nixon needed a press nickname, Howard Simons, the then-managing editor of The Washington Post, chose “Deep Throat.” Deep Throat, of course, being the 1972-released independent pornographic film starring Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems, directed by Gerard Damiano, in which a doctor discovers that his patient’s clitoris is located in her throat, thus she can only achieve orgasm via oral sex. A conservative estimate of 60 million people (or roughly two in every five adults in the United States in 1972) saw this film. Thus, using this name as the code name for the operative was a case of using a VERY well known name in the mainstream for maximum impact.
In our current age, our favorite rappers and pop stars are openly embracing kinky behavior and sex-positive culture more than they have in quite some time. Kanye West, Young MA, and Brooke Candy have all worked with Pornhub, and Doja Cat’s “Go To Town” video is a thinly/not so thinly veiled acceptance of latex fetishization (for starters). According to Stormy Daniels, the President of the United States already been down with the culture for a while, too. Moreover, cities like Washington, DC aren’t just rapidly changing because of gentrification. No, in the Nation’s Capitol, BDSM and alt-fetish web portal Kink.com notes that the kink-friendly population has grown in the Nation’s Capital by 60% in three years.
Washington, DC-based sex worker Domina Vontana notes, “sexual health is a fundamental human right. The healing that needs to happen in this world simply won’t be possible until we as a nation and a world embrace and recognize this truth. I’ve been a professional Dominatrix for over a decade. Thousands of people have shared with me the truth about their desires and insecurities. Healthy human sexuality can positively empower individuals and communities.”
What some know that the rest of the nation has yet to accept is that there is a level of freedom via safe, sane, consensual, and mutually agreed upon behavior — and enjoyment of said behavior — that’s intrinsic to kink’s quite varied communities. This is a notion that could be incredibly important to defining America’s best future. A society that is socioeconomically dominated by and created within a celebration of our most salacious base desires would be astounding. It’s likely going to happen. But, at what cost does America pervert its well-established social morality forever?
In the pre-internet age, the pornographic film industry (one of kink’s many stalwart industries) was lucrative to the degree of untold hundreds of millions of dollars. Between 1969–1984 (the so-called “Golden Age of Porn,”) revenue drivers included small budget/high revenue films and print magazines. From 1984-early 1990s, VHS and DVD movies, plus pay-per-view services via hotels and adult cable channels were also popular.
However, in the past 25 years, kink has been besieged. Government regulation of porn’s retail industry and sex/sex-adjacent work in general dovetailed with the persistence of conservative social mores and coupled with massive economic downturns, and we’re at a unique point in America’s history. In the face of massive societal roadblocks, kink’s on the cusp of something great. Not since the era of Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson, and Chubby Checker taking black rock and roll from outlaw “race” radio to the largely white mainstream has there been a more wildly intriguing crossover to contemplate.
But that’s not to say it’s going to be easy.
Interviews with underground, mainstreaming, and veteran kink industry stars were to be had in preparing this article. However, I had a less than five percent success rate in reaching out to no fewer than 25 different male, female, and male or female-identifying performers. Upon deeper review, there’s something to the idea that, it’s how kink has uniquely mastered a democratized and globalized content and content-viewing marketplace that made getting these interviews difficult.
In a democratized and globalized space, the key to wealth is being able to ensure that first-time access to any content, activity, or experience has the most significant earning potential. The key to popularity is oftentimes linked to wealth but is also derived by ensuring that there’s something so entirely eye-catching and/or unique about you or your delivery of said content, activity, or experience that makes repeated, perpetual first-time access to content, activities, or experiences necessary. Couple this with the idea that, like music, film, or television, there’s now unlimited access to everything, including illegally recorded or re-uploaded content. Illegal access to content completely cuts out any further income for content, which again, is plentiful and readily accessible, anytime.
But, even within a space like the estimated $1 billion camgirl industry, that revenue is cut by credit card processing and in the case of websites that serve as a portal for multiple performers. What seems on the surface to be a billion dollar industry is more accurately a $540 million industry. Slice that across a space where there is democratized access, and profits aren’t exactly as they seem.
Given these conditions — whether with the aid of a company or management, or independently and by one’s self — there’s a need for a kink-aware performer to be the creator, editor or and/or director/producer, point of distribution (even if via a link tweet or GIF creation for social media) and, if independent, facilitator of point of sale transactions. In the great hierarchy of needs, answering a journalist’s questionnaire? Well, that falls understandably pretty low on the totem pole.
In the game of needing to out-content and out-instantaneously cool someone or something else in an ever-crowding sea of options, it’s kink — because turning people on however they uniquely and precisely love to be turned on, is good, healthy, and essential — that stands the best chance to succeed in modern America. Foremost, there’s the notion that the amount of money someone will pay for something related to their unique sexual desire is, at present, higher than what they’ll pay to hear a song, watch a movie, or see a television program. Figure for the decline in value for repeat access to goods or services, kinky or otherwise, at present, kink can reign supreme.
There are surely those who would happily mention that, between 1972–1976, obscenity legislation and legal proceedings related to the film’s distribution sullied Deep Throat’s amazing legacy. Comparatively, the previously mentioned 50 Shades of Gray, though being a movie explicitly about BDSM, received a tamer R rating and had no legal action taken against its showing stateside in 2015. The tide has shifted, and if numbers don’t lie (they never do), there’s potential for what follows 50 Shades to eclipse any standard it set, or re-established for kink’s crossing over into the mainstream.
At this point, it’s probably a great idea to turn things over to Annie Sprinkle, a certified sexologist, sex educator, former sex worker, feminist stripper, pornographic actress, cable television host, porn magazine editor, writer, sex film producer, and sex-positive feminist. The current passionate ecosexual activist notes (as paraphrased from an interview) regarding all things porn (and by extension, kink) and America’s future, the following:
We need it all. As long as no one is forced into anything. And it's consensual. I chose to make porn. I had other options, like college. But I wanted to make porn. I had control of my choices. I have no regrets about any of it. It's a privilege and blessing to be able to make the kind of porn you want. Some people just need money too much to get to follow their muse. They make porn as a business. Some don’t. I’ve been lucky. And blessed with resources, off and on. It's always a balancing act. I like crazy thinking. I think there is a lot of potential for porn to do a lot of good work for our culture. And help us create a better world. Some pornographers really don't give a shit about that. But there are some that really care.