By Pandora Young and Guelda Voien
2008's Erotica LA bills itself as an opportunity for couples to "express their sexuality." In reality, it seemed like an opportunity to buy cool stuff, see porn stars, get marginally creeped out, and then find some salvation in the booths and vendors you would least expect to see there. Among our favorites:
Pink Cross, the porn star advocacy group, was memorable, if not utterly deflating to that sense of sex-positivity. Pink Cross works to spread the word that the porn community has endemic health issues and to emphasize that "the industry" is not all glamor. The women, all former porn stars, operate their faith-based organization out of Bakersfield, CA. Shelley Lubben started the organization after suffering two miscarriages and one ectopic pregnancy during her years as a porn actress. She also contracted herpes and the human papilloma virus, and now has cervical cancer. Lubben says that over 66% of porn stars carry herpes and that suicide and drug use rates in the porn industry are high. She also says that many porn actresses have abuse in their pasts and are susceptible to further abuse in an industry where regulation has never been well implemented. Having never thought there was a speck of glamour involved in the porn business, we are now thoroughly convinced.
Pandora: I was surprised to learn that this Florida-based band would be at the convention. Back when I was a Florida-based teenager they pierced my nipple onstage during one of their concerts. Much time has passed since then, but lead singer (and piercer) Gen told us they are still going strong. The fetishistic stage show I remember from my youth has gotten larger and sicker, and they recently released both a CD and a DVD. And there was more, but I was too lost in nostalgia for my wasted youth to pay much attention to what she was saying.
The expo was filled with sex-toy companies, but the Natch Snatch booth was the only one that frightened us. Their slogan, which was plastered all over their booth, was “Keep the tox out of your box”. What tox? That would be phthalates, as a company rep explained, which are chemicals used to soften plastics. They’re a common additive in sex toys and can be absorbed into the body through the skin. The science is still out on the danger of pthalates, but some studies have linked phthalate exposure to unpleasantries such as illness, infertility, allergies, and cancer. “Do you really want those chemicals in your pussy?” the rep asked us. Well, no.
Sure, the smut world is filled with so-called “lesbian” porn, but we’re pretty sure this company is the real deal. Their porn films feature exclusively women, many of whom have bad haircuts and real boobs. Plus the two cougars working the booth offered us a job in one of their films. Offered to audition us - right on the spot.
Easily the most exciting thing we saw all day. Clitoraid is a non-profit dedicated to providing reconstructive surgery to victims of female genital mutilation. Using a procedure developed by French doctor Pierre Foldes, the group claims to help women regain clitoral function.
Female genital mutilation, or FGM, involves the removal of all external female genitalia, including the clitoris. It is the functional equivalent of a man having his penis removed, and it seemed difficult to imagine that any woman who had suffered this horrific amputation would ever be able to experience sexual pleasure again.
But we wanted to believe.
And they seemed so believable. The had literature! T-shirts! A well-spoken public relations manager! Their “Adopt-A-Clitoris” campaign was a little tasteless, but whatever it took to make these poor women whole again, right?
Still, one thing troubled us- how was it we hadn’t heard of this miraculous medical advancement before coming to a porn convention? Either the national media had completely dropped the ball, or we were being had.
The Clitoraid website presented an immediate red flag. The group was founded by the Raelians, a religious cult that gained national attention a few years back when they announced that they had cloned a human child. The group failed to produce any scientific data to substantiate their claims, but the national media was all over the story regardless.
Why wasn’t anyone paying attention now? Kid clones are all fine and dandy, but this is vagina we’re talking about!
Our continuing research hasn’t yielded much in the way of answers. The group appears to be working with non-Raelian doctors. And we’ve read that the clitoris is actually four inches in length, with all but a small portion being internal. Theoretically at least it seems possible. But the truth about Clitoraid has yet to be shown.
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Overall the annual smut industry trade show was surprisingly vanilla. There was a fetish area set off to one side, but the expo was not so inclusive as to showcase the broad range of gay and fetish sex products we are sure are available on the open market right over in WeHo. Only the jumbotron viewing of "Ass Worshipper" managed to offend our sensibilities. In fact, there was not a single live nipple to be seen in the entire South Hall of the LA Convention center because of some silly state laws.
That said, Erotica LA would probably have made many Midwesterners blush, and it accomplished much of what it hoped to: it was a safe environment for adults to see and buy sex toys. Some, such as the "Pleasure Machine," a relative of the cheaper and more cleverly named "Perpetual Peter," were obviously mere novelty. The automated ever-thrusting dildo carried a thousand dollar price tag. But other toys of various shapes and sizes were selling on a grand scale, and people were able to examine them, ask about them and sometimes see them demonstrated without scorn or fear of it.