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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

Sex Toys vs. Porn Stars

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This is my second column about the infamous Adult Entertainment Expo, which takes place every January in Las Vegas. Last week, I wrote about the surreal experience of the parallel trade and fan show floors; this week, I recount my adventures at the exceedingly boring, but much blogged about, AVN Awards, which is basically the Oscars of porn.

Yes, that's right: It is possible for a porn awards show to be mind-numbingly dull—even duller than the Oscars themselves, in fact. Lisa Lampanelli, the stand-up comedian known as the "Queen of Mean," hosted, and she had some good moments (my favorites being when she started to riff on how there were no Asian male porn stars, only to have an angry Keni Styles stand up in the audience, and when she turned to her co-hosts Riley Steele and Tori Black and asked them if they bleached their assholes, which resulted in several seconds of stunned silence). However, a lot of her patter fell a bit flat, probably because those who work in the adult industry just are not as easily shocked as the average person. It's hard to rely on your usual gags about sex and race when MCing a show where some of the awards nominees are titled "Cum Fu" and "Booty Clappin' Superfreaks 3," and it's NOT a joke.

I was fortunate enough to score free tickets to the show and to have as my date the lovely Alison Lee, organizer of the annual Feminist Porn Awards. I was also able to recycle a black lace dress with nude lining that I picked up on a sale rack in the juniors' department 10 years ago (thankfully, the "naked black lace" look is in again this year). So at least, while fidgeting in my chair, I could be grateful that I had spent no money to be there and that I had someone next to me who would appreciate my snarky comments during the ceremony.

The show began with a public service announcement (PSA) featuring women who had been nominated for Best New Starlet or Best Actress. In this PSA, actresses implored those watching not to download pirated porn from tube sites, stating how hard they worked to make their films and that pirated movies took their well-earned paychecks away from them. This PSA, as well as the whole awards show in general, made me think about how these women are simultaneously the most valuable and most dispensable commodities in the adult industry. Yes, they are the reason that some people pay hundreds of dollars to attend this awards show, but I believe that those same people don't care enough about these women's welfare to stop illegally downloading their work.

There were some touching exchanges during the awards presentations. Jenna Haze and Monique Alexander, who won for Best All-Girl Couples Sex Scene and have also dated in real life, effusively thanked each other and demonstrated real affection, which is nice to see in an industry that most assume is based on fakery. The same for Kristina Rose and Manuel Ferrara, who won for Best Couples Sex Scene and showed lots of chemistry when accepting their award. My personal favorite moment came during a look back at the first 3-D porn movie, which was made in the ’70s and thus featured actresses with actual pubic hair, a rarity in today's porn. People in the audience actually screamed when confronted with a photo of a full bush. Really? This is the most frightening thing in a show that ruined both Avatar and "Glee" for me forever via clips of porn parodies? I'm kind of over the pubic hair phobia.

The crowd was oddly subdued, and as the awards show stretched into its third hour (past midnight at this point), Alison and I could take it no longer, even though the awards that we were most interested in were yet to come. We exited the theater and came face to face with a wall of dudes with their cameras at the ready, waiting for the porn stars to come out. I wonder how many of them made it to the actual end of the show.

I went online the next day to check out the awards for retail products. Two high-end companies, Je Joue and Lelo, won for best small and large sex toy companies, respectively, and Je Joue's G-Ki won Best Sex Toy for Women. Jimmyjane, another luxury brand, won Best Sex Accessory for its Afterglow Natural Massage Oil Candle. Fleshlight won for Best Overall Sex Toy Line (Fleshlight Girls) and Best Sex Toy for Men (Sex in a Can). I was surprised and pleased that relatively new companies with quality toys practically swept this category. Even one of the big companies that won, Doc Johnson, took the award home for its new silicone toys rather than its less expensive lines.

The sex toy industry seems to be moving more toward innovation and high-end products, while the porn industry seems to be stuck in a cycle of parodies (not one but two X-rated Batman movies) and retreads like "Fresh Meat 27" (is it still fresh if you've made 27 versions of it?). I wish that more indie film releases had been recognized, to show that there's innovation on the movie side of the house as well, but I guess I'll have to go to the Feminist Porn Awards to see that.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.