Fetish: More Than Meets The Eye

Jared Rutter

The fetish video market encompasses both online content and DVD product, some of it repurposed from the web, some original. From hardcore BDSM to lighter diversions like hairy girls and fabric fetishes, the range of content is wide and multi-faceted.

It’s also a growing market, thanks in part to public curiosity spurred by the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon and mainstream fascination with sites like Kink.com (the subject of a new James Franco-produced documentary, “Kink”).

We have come so far from the days when there was never any sexual penetration connected with any of our heterosexual bondage projects. Today, we are seeing depictions of forced sex, public disgrace, and humiliation on the Internet with wide-open community standards. -Luc Wylder, producer-director, Adam & Eve

James Deen, a frequent performer for that San Francisco porn factory, provides one definition of the term. “A fetish is any non-sexualized behavior or item that creates sexual arousal within someone. If cheeseburgers get your motor running then you have a cheeseburger fetish.”

Cheeseburgers are one of the few fetishes not explored at Kink.com, which rules the pay-site universe with its network of more than two dozen sites covering everything from bondage — several kinds, for both straight and gay players — to buttplay, pissing, fem-dom, sex machines and more.

Kink.com may be the market leader but even for them there are challenges. CEO Peter Acworth told XBIZ, “As a result of being in a tight niche, we’ve been somewhat protected from the erosion of the value of recorded content, but we are still seeing an effect. So over the past few years, we’ve been expanding into cams, which for fetish really allows consumers to explore their sexuality.”

Acworth, known for his zeal to “demystify” fetish material, is eager to reach an even wider audience through his recent distribution deal with Jules Jordan Video. “We’re excited by the launch of our DVD line and hope kink.com will get in front of new customers who still prefer to consume via DVD. Traditionally, BDSM hasn’t had the physical reach that other porn has, and so there’s a real hunger for it with those customers.”

He sees the burgeoning interest from mainstream media as a mixed blessing. “It’s always hard to say what brings people to the site — despite all the press, it’s very hard to get someone like Variety to link directly to us. But what it has certainly done is help us with our mission to demystify BDSM and alternative sexualities. In that regard, it’s been invaluable.”

Actor Deen said he has done “a decent amount of work for fetish sites, specifically BDSM ones such as SexAndSubmission.com. For a while Kink.com had eight sites that were shooting boy/girl scenes on them so I was doing 12 or more BDSM scenes a month.” He shares Acworth’s missionary fervor. “Performing in adult films really is a performance — each scene is like a dance or ballet with a full sexual arc. In fetish scenes that arc is more defined. Expanding human sexuality to new levels in a safe and controlled environment makes me very happy.”

At the lighter end of the online fetish spectrum is the amateur girl network AMKingdom. Its owner, Kim Nielsen, said that he finds “the term fetish is a little bit of a misnomer. In the adult world we tend to use the term to apply to tastes that are more specific or ‘unusual’ as compared to the marketplace. However, in reality we all have particular tastes or set of preferences and derive sexual arousal in different ways whether they focus on particular body parts and attributes, e.g. foot fetish, or certain outfits and themes, e.g. secretary outfit with glasses.”

No one has mined the taste for hairy girls more effectively. “Our most popular site by far is ATK Natural and Hairy. All models in that site have natural breasts and at a minimum an unshaved pubic region. However there are many sub-niches, some of which conflict with others. For example, some viewers want to view models with armpit and leg hair in addition to pubic hair while others prefer a hairy bush only.”

Fetish-themed niche product also works for DVD producers. At Devil’s Film, VP of production and sales, Steve Volponi, said it “has really kept us on a positive path sales-wise. I know there is a demand for it because we have seen a surge in the numbers of new release sales when we put those items out, as opposed to normal gonzo titles. We have always done well with Transsexual, but now we see that Pegging and our Strap-On titles are on the rise.”

Same at Smash Pictures. It’s “Whale Tail” line — Vol. 6 was just released —“has always been a success for us,” said VP Stuart Wall. “This series focuses on when a girl is wearing low-rise jeans and her g-string is poking out. Having a girl bend over at a newsstand, grocery store or wherever and to capture a glimpse of this gets a rise from any guy.” Smash does not ignore harder core material, having just completed production on a new S&M title, “Bound by Desire,” with Chanel Preston, directed by Jim Powers.

Adam & Eve Pictures has also done well with fetish-oriented DVDs, such as the recent “Kinky Desires” from producer-director Luc Wylder. Throughout a long career in fetish, from the heyday of Bizarre Video to his own Fallen Angel line, Wylder has observed dramatic market changes.

“We have come so far from the days when there was never any sexual penetration connected with any of our heterosexual bondage projects. Today, we are seeing depictions of forced sex, public disgrace, and humiliation on the Internet with wide-open community standards. I believe much of the shock value of these activities has worn off and if the rubber band effect holds true, audiences should be looking for higher quality, higher budgeted fetish films to satisfy their desires.”

Adam & Eve, he says, gathers “meaningful statistics from their extensive, though somewhat conservative, customer list. They have very clear guidelines, such as no sex mixed with bondage, no humiliation or degrading of any sort. But we also like what sells well, specifically, foot fetish, creampies, hot wax and group sex.”

Bizarre Video still releases the occasional title through its distributor Pulse, which has become home base for small fetish manufacturers. Lewis Adams, who reps DVD sales for Bizarre, Anastasia Pierce, Jewell Marceau and Venus Girls, said, “The current state of the fetish market is that it is bigger, stronger and more visible that it was previously. I can say that the hype on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels was certainly a catalyst for it. As women and couples are more open to adult entertainment (movies, toys, lifestyles, etc.), I only see this genre getting bigger.”

New Sensations President Scott Taylor also foresees expansion. “I have seen a growing audience in the community for many years. Some people experiment and withdraw and others embrace it. Whatever your fetish it seems there are more and more people that share it. I don’t think the term fetish means extreme. It can be relatively tame. One person’s extreme fetish is another person’s tame encounter and vice versa.

“Some of the more extreme stuff I am put off by. I guess everyone has a limit. Playing up to that point can be fun though. As an industry it is strong and getting stronger. I think you will see more and more people coming out to embrace things they might have otherwise denied themselves or hidden.”

New Sensations has a number of popular fetish lines, like “Panty Hoes,” “Hair Down There” and the tattoo-oriented “Meet Bonnie.” But they’ve also experimented with harder BDSM product. Jacky St. James helmed her first fetish movie “Power & Control” for Digital Sin. Then, for New Sensations, co-directing with Eddie Powell from her own script, she ventured into BDSM with “The Submission of Emma Marx.”

“I had to do a lot of research to create a fair and realistic depiction of a real-life BDSM relationship,” she said. “What I found most surprising was how a lot of people living that lifestyle criticized the depiction of BDSM in the adult world. Many of the women I spoke to said that they felt BDSM in adult is often depicted as ‘torture and pain’ as opposed to a mental exploration of power and submission (something I could completely identify with). So, I decided to explore how the psychologically arousing aspects within BDSM relationships ultimately heighten the physical experience.”

That kind of experience-enhancing fetish play has been central to the work of Evil Angel owner John Stagliano, from “The Fashionistas” to last year’s “Voracious.” That “mini-series,” he said, contains “some ass fetish, but also oral, rough sex ideas, lots of spit, and shots indulged in for the purpose of immersing oneself in a singular idea. The movie reflects where my head is at for fetish at the time. I do those ideas that excite me. I hope that connects with my fans, but I selfishly do my art first, then hope that it finds an audience.”

Evil Angel fans, he noted, “love hard gonzo. My directors in creating that often fetishize things that turn us on in artistic ways, anal being the most popular: obsessive anal, hard anal, gaping anal. Jay Sin along with Mike Adriano have taken anal to another level. Feet have been popular with Belladonna, Rocco [Siffredi] and Christoph [Clark]. They all have done hardcore movies that focus primarily on feet, which also have a fair amount of sex.”

General Manager Christian Mann wanted also to “give some mention to the face sitting FemDom movies that we get from MeanBitch Productions, the pegging ‘FemDom Strap Attack’ titles released by Joey Silvera, and the fabric fetish movies like ‘Spandex Loads’ and ‘Panty Pops’ that Kevin Moore has been releasing.”

Not all fetish creators find DVD distribution viable. Julie Simone, a well-known BDSM personality, plans to stick to her website, subtitled “Stylish Brutality.”

“The unfortunate reality of the fetish market,” Simone said, “is that distributors are scared to carry real BDSM. It aggravates me no end that double anal is fine but god forbid you hit someone.”

She was dropped by her distributor, Pure Play, in August “via an email, because my content was too extreme. The consumer wants real BDSM, the distributors push producers to make lame porno versions. So I no longer direct DVDs or release them through my company. I refuse to add vanilla sex to my movies, especially the fem-dom line.”

Will similar issues arise for Kink.com in its DVD side-step through Jules Jordan?

In Acworth’s view, “There are certainly challenges for a BDSM producer in dealing with the DVD market, and we’re confident in Jules to navigate those for us. Do we take those challenges into consideration when we’re distributing on DVD? Of course. Luckily, we shoot a lot, which gives us a wide range to choose from for the DVD line. Not everything we produce will go to DVD. There are some things you can see only on Kink.com.”

Looking to the future, Andrew Blake, a director well known for his fetish work, just signed a marketing deal that will allow him to compile footage from AndrewBlake.com for DVD release. “And yes, I will be creating fetishthemed content, particularly ‘kinbaku’ or Japanese-style rope bondage.”

Stagliano, with cautious optimism, concluded, “I don’t know what the future holds. I hope I am wonderfully surprised.”