Kink Report: Studios Discuss Mainstreaming of Fetish Content
BDSM/fetish erotica has been a part of adult entertainment for generations. Bettie Page’s black-and-white videos with filmmaker/photographer Irving Klaw in the early 1950s were way ahead of their time, depicting spanking and bondage and black leather attire back when BDSM was the antithesis of mainstream. But in terms of visibility and exposure, things have changed considerably for BDSM and fetish erotica — and what was once underground is now ubiquitous.
Small, low-budget mom-and-pop studios that specialized in BDSM and fetish erotica in the 1970s and 1980s had their audience, but they were very underground and were a marginal part of the adult entertainment industry. Large vanilla porn studios, as a rule, avoided BDSM in those days. But in 2016, one finds a very different landscape. BDSM studios like Kink.com and Wasteland are major players in the adult industry. Director Glenn King’s MeanBitch Productions has successfully marketed itself as “the world's premier producer of nonviolent erotic femdom content.” And famous studios like Evil Angel, New Sensations, Vivid Entertainment, Wicked Pictures, Zero Tolerance and Bang Bros. have not been shy about embracing BDSM and fetish scenes.
Dee Severe, co-owner of Severe Sex Films — which is collaborating with Wasteland for a joint series of DVDs distributed by Exile — asserted that high production values are not hard to find in the BDSM erotica of 2016.
“BDSM production has changed dramatically,” Severe told XBIZ. “I remember when I was coming out as a kinky person in the late ‘90s, I would rent femdom porn — and with most of it, the production values were horrible. But at that time, mainstream distributors wouldn’t take fetish porn. So I assume opportunities were limited and people had to make movies on no budget, or they’d never see a profit. Now, with the advent of ‘Fifty Shades,’ BDSM has become much more mainstream — and the ‘vanilla’ part of the industry is no longer shying away from it. So now, we’re able to afford bigger productions and bigger names.”
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the lines between vanilla porn and BDSM erotica were drawn in the sand. If a company was filming actual sex scenes, it was unlikely to be filming any type of bondage, spanking or flogging. But in 2016, intercourse and BDSM often intersect in adult films.
“There’s a lot of crossover, and it’s a good thing, for the most part,” Severe emphasized. “However, I would encourage porn performers who want to expand into fetish to get some training in BDSM. Just because you put a girl in latex and give her a flogger, it doesn’t make her a dominatrix. Our fans want authenticity. So people we hire need a reasonable level of skill.”
One studio that has been shooting BDSM and fetish erotica for more than 30 years is Bizarre Video, whose press liaison, Naudia Moore, explained that technologically, the company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in New York City. Moore told XBIZ, “When comparing the large-scale, global adult entertainment companies of today that produce fetish-driven content to the smaller back-alley fetish producers of the 1970s and 1980s, it is with vast experience that I can speak as a representative of Bizarre Video….. When Bizarre Video shot in its infancy, the main medium was film — whether 8mm or VHS — versus the prevalence of digital media cameras now. This freedom of editing on the fly and instant playback has allowed for retakes and refinements of shoots, whereas in days of old, what you shot was what you got. One take.”
Moore continued, “The fetish market has evolved in recent decades since the ‘70s and ‘80s by becoming more sophisticated. This is due in large part to the advancement of technology and social acceptance. Environments have evolved from basements to exotic locations. Talent has evolved from the same old group of tired faces — who were the only lot to pull from since porn stars willing to shoot BDSM were few and far between — to a wide variety of new and established talent, with more coming in every day.”
New Sensations’ popular “The Submission of Emma Marx” trilogy, written and directed by Jacky St. James, has attracted the attention of major mainstream websites like the Huffington Post and Salon — and Belle Casten-Taylor, media sales director for New Sensations, noted that other BDSM-themed releases have also been doing well for the company. Casten-Taylor told XBIZ, “Mainstream audiences discovering BDSM are attracted to the visuals of the genre and the psychological pull behind it. They like the bold imagery and exciting plots, especially when presented with a pleasing, high-end aesthetic — which is what New Sensations provides. We’re seeing tremendous success in 2016 with the launch of ‘He’s In Charge’ and its all-girl sister series ‘She's In Charge,’ both traditionally themed, beautifully captured BDSM lines. We’re also doing remarkably well with ‘Schoolgirl Bound,’ a new line meshing BDSM with the schoolgirl genre, and of course, ‘The Submission of Emma Marx: Exposed,’ the final chapter in our chart-topping Emma Marx trilogy.”
Keith Gordon, owner of Bizarre Video and son of the company’s late founder, Morty Gordon, attributes the growth of BDSM activity at vanilla studios to “supply and demand.” Gordon told XBIZ, “The saying ‘sex sells’ is now turning into ‘fetish sells.’ Historically, in the world of escorting and professional sex workers, fetish sessions have always outpriced vanilla or straight sex services. Clients of private sex fantasy services — whether through traditional prostitution or kink-based escorts — have found a statistical 40-120 percent hourly rate pricing structure when paying for kink or fetish services: professional dominatrixes, pro-dungeon sessions, etc. This tends to lay proof to the fact that kink is more unique and harder to find than vanilla sex, which is readily available in any medium. It’s supply and demand. Thus, traditional vanilla porn companies are now crossing over and adding fetish elements to their productions, as they seek wider audiences and higher DVD or digital content sales.”