Samantha Lewis, president and owner of Digital Playground, says the transition from mainstream business to producing high-end adult content was challenging.
"I think I'm still the only woman that owns an adult company that was never talent prior, so it's not a common thing," Lewis says. "I was coming into this male-dominated industry. It was a tremendous challenge because they didn't know whether to take me seriously or not."
Since starting Digital Playground in 1993, Lewis has managed and marketed several of the industry's top stars, including Tera Patrick, Devon, Jesse Jane, Teagan Presley, Janine and Jana Cova. Lewis handles all acquisitions, as well as domestic and international sales.
Innovative merchandising techniques, a strong Internet presence and cutting-edge production technology have moved the company to the forefront of the adult market, according to Lewis, while allowing greater marketplace accessibility for Digital Playground products. She estimates that up to 40 percent of DP's online customers are women.
"This business is such a flourishing one," Lewis says. "It was so underground and now it's so mainstream, and I want to think that I had something to do with that."
Pioneering publicist Joy King is vice president of special projects for Steve Orenstein's Wicked Pictures. Her title is "intentionally vague," she says, because it's difficult to categorize the various functions she performs at her job.
After 11 years at Wicked, King primarily is recognized for having developed Jenna Jameson into a superstar and, consequently, is sometimes credited with helping to "mainstream" the adult industry.
"I sort of feel like the industry was ready to be mainstreamed," King says. "My participation in helping both Jenna and Wicked grow to a certain extent had to do with a lot of things being lined up at a certain time, in the right way, so that could happen."
King points out that prior to her stint at Wicked, she worked for 10 years at Caballero Home Video, and her ideas for taking the adult industry to new markets started there.
"I held the very first screening of an adult movie for Caballero at the Directors Guild on Sunset Boulevard," she recalls. That movie, Andrew Blake's "Night Trips," also was entered into the Houston International Film Festival by King, winning 2nd place in its division.
"This was the late 1980s or early, early 1990s," King says. "Well before it was considered 'hip' or 'cool' to be in the business."
Looking forward, King sees new technologies as inroads to broader markets. She also is in charge of special compilations and promotions for Wicked, including an upcoming collectors' set of three of Wicked's best-selling movies, called the "Blockbuster Pack."
While the "mainstreaming" of the industry was never a focus for King, she credits a positive attitude for her achievements.
"Especially as a woman," King says. "I really felt like a smart woman who had a lot of passion for what I was doing and was able to sort of break down some of those walls and stereotypes that existed about the industry."
In 2002, Joan Irvine became the first executive director of ASACP, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection. Her unusual background includes e-commerce, business technology, association management — and writing a book called "Recipes for Hot Sex." Once in charge at ASACP, she began recruiting sponsors, formed an advisory council and instituted a new approved member system.
Irvine is dedicated to fighting child pornography and making sure both the public and the government hear about the adult industry's efforts to protect kids.
Public perception of the industry, says Irvine, is only partially about what the industry actually does. The rest is about what they don't do.
"ASACP was founded not just to fight child pornography but also to prove that the adult industry wants no part of it," Irvine said. "The Religious Right wants people to believe there's a connection because their agenda is anti-porn, legal or not. I just don't think anyone should sit still while being accused of crimes as heinous as sexually abusing children."
While she admits that getting the adult industry to do anything as a group can be like herding cats, Irvine is proud that ASACP has been able to garner so much support.
This backing has allowed her to oversee technological upgrades to ASACP's reporting hotline, which she sees as proof that the industry is doing the right thing.
Uber-saleswoman Mara Epstein has a reputation as one of the business' best behind-the-scenes players.
Since her first industry job managing Marilyn Chambers' fan club, she has worked for a long list of companies, including Metro Interactive, Mile High Media, VCA and Caballero.
While re-merchandising classic titles for Arrow Productions, she developed the idea for the modern video box cover. With DaVid Entertainment, in 1990, Epstein spearheaded the use of laserdisc formatting — long before DVD.
In 2001, she helped launch European super-label Private in America and, in less than two years, took its sales from $250,000 to more than $5 million in video and DVD programming. Her own label, I-Candy Entertainment, won a 2004 AVN Award in Best Classic Adult program for the re-release of "Insatiable."
Pondering current trends, Epstein sees an industry in transition.
"We're evolving into something that works for what I call 'third screen media,'" Epstein adds. "I think as the medium becomes more exploited — you know, we're doing high-definition, we're doing Blu-ray, different types of technologies for DVD format and for the iPods — my concerns are the content. The envelope is being pushed more. With iPods and cellphones, we may be able to exploit more hard R-rated programming. That business is going to grow."
Epstein also serves as secretary and board member for the Free Speech Coalition, alongside Michelle Freridge, executive director of FSC.
Thirty years after Chambers rose to fame, Jenna Jameson embodies the modern-day mega porn star. Ask most industry starlets who they want to be when they grow up, and Jameson's name is invoked repeatedly.
Taking the adult scene by storm in 1995, Jameson quickly garnered enough photo/screen credits and industry awards to make her arguably the most popular female performer in the history of the business.
But it was Jameson's mainstream media appeal that established her as a brand name. A frequent guest on "The Howard Stern Show," Jameson eventually played a small role in Stern's 1997 autobiographical movie "Private Parts." She was featured on several episodes of E! Entertainment's "Wild On" series in the late 1990s.
Further defying the laws of over-exposure, 2004 saw the release or Jameson's autobiography "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale," co-written by Neil Strauss.
Perhaps the female performer closest to true mainstream crossover ever produced by the industry, Jameson continues to diversify.
Another heir of the adult industry, Christie Hefner is an accomplished businesswoman, philanthropist and political activist in her own right. Daughter of hedonist icon Hugh Hefner, Christie stepped up as chairwoman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises in 1988, during a tough time for the company. She is credited with bringing Playboy online in 1994 and has overseen the re-capitalization of the company with global retail sales topping $500 million last year.
In 2005, she placed 90th on Forbes magazine's list of the 100 Most Powerful Women. Hefner also is a contributing blogger on Ariana Huffington's forum for political pundits and celebrities, The Huffington Post.
In a May 2000 interview with Terry Savage of the Chicago Sun-Times, Hefner said, in reference to her views on free speech, "I defend the right of almost everything to be published... because I think that you are better off in trusting the marketplace than allowing other people to make that decision."
It took a woman to do what no man could: produce erotic films from a woman's perspective. Candida Royalle innovated the concept of couples erotica when she founded Femme Productions in 1984. The idea was to make adult movies that both sexes could enjoy equally, and together.
Branching into other aspects of the adult business, Royalle partnered with Dutch industrial designer Jandirk Groet to create the Natural Contours line of high-style, ergonomically designed personal massagers. The line debuted in 1999 and quickly became a best-seller in women's mainstream health catalogs as well as online venues like Drugstore.com.
In 2004, Royalle authored her first book, "How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do." She also has become something of a cultural icon. She has lectured at the Smithsonian Institute, the American Psychiatric Association's national conference and the World Congress on Sexology.
Today, Royalle is grooming the next generation of female directors like Jamye Waxman, who Royalle tapped to produce and co-write her latest film, "Under the Covers."
"It was a crash course for Jayme, but that's how I learned," Royalle says. "She's got a really great background in production, and she got to see how we make a feature."
Royalle adds that it has always been her intention to promote and help guide new female directors. To that end, she next plans to executive produce "Dare," an urban hip-hop erotica directed by Abiola Abrams, another rising talent.