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King of the Kinkdom

Bob Johnson

Say Kink.com and the company’s king springs to mind. And rightly so. CEO Peter Acworth has gone far beyond most adult industry leaders by building a daring and groundbreaking website that for the first time mixed hardcore sex with fetishes and delivers content that pushes the very limits of what some consider taboo.

He also made San Francisco headlines and history when the British expatriate grabbed a forgotten castle-like armory and made it his company’s headquarters.

I have always been particularly fascinated by the bondage fetish. I would fantasize about it since well before puberty — indeed for as long as I can remember.

Acworth gave XBIZ a rare look at how the fetish giant was conceived, what it’s working on now and what the future holds for what many have described as the most explicit and cutting-edge adult producer to emerge in the last 20 years.

How did you conceive of Kink.com?

I came to the U.S. originally as a Ph.D student in mathematical finance in 1997, and before I had completed the course I came across a newspaper article in The Sun newspaper entitled “Sicknote fireman makes a quarter million pushing Internet filth.” While I didn’t much care for the “filth” in question, I realized that there was surely a huge industry about to be born, and that there must be a niche for my particular fetish — bondage. Soon afterwards, I had launched my first website, Hogtied.com, and within a year I had left the Ph.D program to focus full-time on producing and distributing BDSM -focused material.

Briefly describe your vision and what motivated you.

Kink.com brought together my keen interests in computing, the Internet, and bondage. Good bondage erotica was largely unavailable at the time, except via mail order, so I was motivated by what I saw as the inevitable success of the venture.

I was also motivated by what I saw as an opportunity to demystify BDSM itself. I had being fascinated by BDSM as a teenager, but unable to find any information about it. At age 18 I eventually bought bondage magazines and incredibly grainy knock-off bondage videos from seedy London sex shops. This material was illegal in England at the time, but nevertheless, it was immediate proof to me that a whole population of people must be into bondage for sexual satisfaction, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with being kinky.

Now 15 years later, I like to think that the existence of a relatively well-known brand, Kink.com, operating out of a historic landmark in downtown San Francisco is evidence of the popularity and acceptance of bondage/BDSM as a healthy and legitimate sexual expression.

Why the fetish world and not general adult?

I have always been particularly fascinated by the bondage fetish. I would fantasize about it since well before puberty — indeed for as long as I can remember. I am a consumer of the big natural breasts/MILF genre, but other than that, I have never been very interested in general adult content.

What inspires the unique zeitgeist/feel/ambiance of the Kink sites and Upper Floor?

I don’t believe good BDSM erotica can be staged in a hotel room. For whatever reason, celebrated novels written about BDSM , such as “The Story of O” or “The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty” by Anne Rice, always seem to revolve around a castle, inside of which the traditional laws of society are replaced by those of dominance and submission. When I found the San Francisco Armory was available for sale, it seemed almost too good to be true, and hence the vision of Kink.com became to transform the Armory into that fantasy place. I view the investments we have made in the Armory as an investment in the company’s brand as well as the quality of our content.

Why do you believe there is such an interest in the fetish world?

I think there are potentially very many people such as myself who had bondage-related fantasizes from an early age. There are then many others who acquire a taste for it later. Having said that, BDSM is still a niche, and far smaller than traditional adult.

Kink broke ground in mixing hardcore (actual) sex with fetish. Was this deliberate and how did you get passed the legal and moral concerns?

We first started incorporating penetrative sex with bondage in 2005 with SexandSubmission.com. I didn’t have any moral concerns, because I was aware that people who actually tie each other up for fun are also having sex, so it seemed utterly bizarre to me that it shouldn’t be OK to publish material that incorporates both. At the time we launched SexandSubmission.com, I think our processor just plain missed the sex with bondage in the same scenes, because several months later they threatened to pull the plug on the processing. I managed to find a precedent in Taboo magazine, which had been publishing still pictures of bondage and sex for several years. The processor appreciated that we incorporated before and after interviews with the participants, and that the material didn’t look or feel obscene in any way as compared to other material being published at the time, and hence they allowed the processing to continue.

What were the first Kink.com sites?

Hogtied.com, then FuckingMachines.com, Whipped-Ass.com and WiredPussy.com.

Tell us a bit about how Fucking Machines joined the Kink family.

My cousin sent me a short video of what I now know to be footage originally shot by Ernest Greene. This video was incredibly sexy and it showed a woman achieving orgasm as the result of being ass-fucked by a dildo attached to a machine at the rate of about 10 thrusts per second.

User feedback appears to be a driving force behind your sites and your content. How much weight do you give to what users want as opposed to your vision?

The aspect of community is important to us. We view the customers as part of a community, all of whom share a common interest in BDSM or related fetishes. As you can imagine, BDSM is still somewhat marginalized and you can’t exactly bring it up over dinner with in-laws, so people into BDSM like to feel part of a community where they can be open about their sexuality.

This focus on community explains why we are investing in a bar, The Armory Club, which is in a building adjacent to the Armory, and why we are also now focusing our development on community features.

What sites are most popular and to what do you attribute their success?

I think we have great directing talent, including some very kinky and imaginative individuals. SexandSubmission.com, FuckingMachines.com, and Hogtied.com have always been very popular probably because they were the first in their niches and the production value is so high. More recently, sites such as PublicDisgrace.com have done very well, I think largely due to the production value and uniqueness of the product. PublicDisgrace.com is shot in front of a large public audience and so it can’t be shot easily.

The talent Kink uses obviously brings energy to their performances. How are they chosen?

Many come from L.A. through traditional agencies, and many approach us because they are interested in BDSM.

Kink is more than an adult company what with its community involvement and landmark Armory headquarters. Was this a conscious effort on your part or did it evolve?

This was definitely a conscious effort, for the reasons above. The antithesis of community is my memory of searching for illegal bondage magazines in seedy London sex shops. Kinky people are inherently looking to connect and be a part of a community, and we see this focus on community as the way forward for the company.

Tell us more about the Armory plans?

The big plan is the opening of our bar, The Armory Club (TheArmoryClub.com/ website — still in development), which will open in June of this year. We also host daily public tours of the Armory. In terms of construction, we’re focusing on obtaining an assembly permit to allow us to open a community center in the Armory Drill Court, for all kinds of activities for the local community [see Armory-CommunityCenter.com/]. How is the local community reacting?

Generally speaking, I think the neighbors view us as a welcome and positive addition to the neighborhood. Five short years ago, the Armory had boarded up windows and was a magnet for crime. There was not a single public objection to our acquisition of a liquor license at our upcoming bar.

How involved is Kink in the local GLBT scene?

We offer the Armory as a physical resource where we can. For instance, the Folsom Street Fair have their award-giving ceremony here each year, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have had initiation ceremonies here.

Who are your major lieutenants and what are their roles?

We’re structured much like any small- to medium-sized company, there are vice presidents of marketing, finance and administration, technology, production, and building/arts. The directors are responsible for their own channels of content.

Are Kink’s corporate decisions made by you alone, or are they part of a group effort?

This depends on the decision. When it comes to decisions about a new line of content, or adjustments to our internal Shooting Rules, I will always make the call. Directors are very involved in decisions about the look/feel of the front end of our sites. Strategic decisions about our overall direction are made in collaboration with the executive team.

Are there any taboos Kink will not explore (other than underage content of course)?

Absolutely! There are people who do enjoy activities such as blood-play, vomiting and scat, but we’ll never produce that material, no matter how consensual it appears. I think these fall into a category of activities that are too difficult to interpret, and hence too offensive, when viewed by the casual observer.

Are there any plans for more feature films (like “An Open Invitation, A Real Swingers Party in San Francisco”)?

Not currently. At some point, I would love to do a really good feature movie which is shot in both R and X-rated versions, either a “Saw” — like horror or an adaptation of a celebrated BDSM novel such as “Story of O.”

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