Where are the Real Lesbians?

Anne Winter
Hot girl-on-girl action is all over the Internet. It seems there are countless numbers of lip-glossed lesbians tickling each other with manicured nails and pretty pink dildos every day, and lucky for us there's always a camera nearby.

The problem is, it's just not real. The pretty girls performing in these videos are what many in the business call "gay-for-pay" actresses, and they're certainly not having authentic lesbian sex — they're heterosexuals having sex the way directors instruct them.

And that appears to be desirable for the male consumer, but there's an underrepresented, untapped queer and lesbian market that is just as interested in watching girls get it on as any straight guy.

So where do you click to see two girls fucking the way nature intended? In the online wasteland of gonzo, solo and amateur content, it's nearly impossible to find lesbian adult content made for lesbians. Why? Because it's just not out there — yet.

"There's a dearth of lesbian content online because there's a dearth of lesbian content in general," said Nan Kinney, president of lesbian production studio Fatale Media. "There's only a handful of companies even producing authentic dyke porn."

Kinney's company has been in the adult business since 1985, a time when porn made for lesbians was a new concept. The studio produces 60-minute videos for a relatively exclusive lesbian audience and has stayed afloat longer than most other lesbian content studios.

Kinney said making the jump to the online world is on Fatale's radar, but isn't something on the top of the company's to-do list for a number of reasons.

Most importantly, Kinney's roots are in film production and distribution and she, herself, hasn't taken to the online side of the business yet. Her online and offline DVD sales are split down the middle, but producing exclusive content for a Fatale website would be secondary income and not a primary focus.

And films like Kinney's, whose titles include "Suburban Dykes" and "Take Her Down!" aren't as easy to alter for an online audience, breaking them into 10-minute scenes, as some of the genre's gay-for-pay counterparts.

"The letters we get and the people we talk to," Kinney said, "they're not looking to sit at the computer for 10 seconds or 10 minutes at a time to watching something to get off."

Kinney said many of her viewers watch Fatale films for educational purposes — women coming out for the first time wanting to learn how to have sex with another woman or how to use toys most effectively.

"Education can never be translated through pay-per-minute," Kinney said. "It takes more than a minute to learn." Kinney said she also notices her films cater to a couples market that prefers to share the viewing experience, rather than sit alone at a computer for a quick fix.

"Lesbian couples are sharing this together," Kinney said. "It's nothing like you're online by yourself for 10 minutes watching porn. It's more of an involved deal …. We never get women emailing us saying, 'When are you going to put 10- minute clips on your site?'" Kinney said.

Rather than turning on the screen and — boom — there's a naked chick, Kinney's films have a thread of plot that hooks the viewer's interest, which is tough to break into shorter increments.

But knowing that the Internet is an ideal way to get her product out to the masses, Kinney and Fatale have teamed with, at the request of Account Manager Dutchie VanDyke, to get the company's films online.

"I mean why not, there are people who want it both ways," Kinney said. "I don't think one cancels out the other; the more ways to provide your customers access to your content, the better."

VanDyke began courting Kinney and Fatale a year ago, and Kinney said it took her a while to warm up to the idea. She signed on two months ago as an experiment to see how it affected Fatale's DVD sales.

Though DVD sales on the straight side of adult have fallen in the past few years, Kinney said hers have remained steady with occasional sales spurts, so she doesn't feel as dire a need to jump online.

HotMoviesForHer currently offers viewers the option to purchase Fatale titles in full or in 10-minute increments, but Kinney said her online customers so far have chosen mostly to purchase the entire film.

Hot Sales
In just two months, Kinney said, HotMoviesForHer has sold more than 100,000 minutes of Fatale content, which translates into about 1,200 DVD sales, something that would never happen offline.

But, she said, online sales are starting to fall back a bit, and she suspects the majority of the sales explosion was from a male audience.

"I don't think it's women doing this," Kinney said. "I think it's guys. I don't think women are there yet, sitting in front of their computers — though I could be wrong. We don't break the sales out according to male and female."

VanDyke said offering authentic lesbian content online still is a new thing and it's tough to know what level the viewers are at.

"It's a new segment of viewers who would watch the content [online]," VanDyke said.

"The general consensus among queer women is that anything that would be available online — that they didn't have to go out of their way to find or wasn't offered on sites that specifically endorse being queer-friendly — is all crap."

VanDyke said much of the lesbian audience has been trained to be a part of that model, to buy and own the DVD, because it's not available anywhere else.

"But I think that given the changes in queer commerce in general, there's always a younger generation that's going to be more tech-savvy and have fewer boundaries as far as preference and identity," VanDyke said. "That's how [HotMoviesForHer] will succeed over time."

VanDyke co-developed HotMoviesForHer when she joined the HotMovies team a year-and-a-half ago. She and HotMovies Affiliate Manager Venus Vegas expanded the three-year-old site to make it approachable for a lesbian audience.

"There wasn't much there that said I should be interested in it," VanDyke said. "I knew developing a relationship with Fatale would be a lynch-pin in getting the stamp of approval for the site because [the company] has content that queer women want to watch."

And studios like Fatale know what queer women want: real women having real sex and real orgasms.

VanDyke said both straight and queer women viewers are perceptive to even the subtlest hint of fake and are easily tipped — and turned — off from it.

"You can find the fake really easily," she said, "so what we're doing with HotMoviesForHer is we're trying to keep it genuine and keep it respectful and authentic. I don't think that until recently there's been a specific indication that the interest is out there, that this model would work for them."

Much of the gay-for-pay lesbian content out there doesn't appeal to a lesbian audience because it's easy to tell it's not real. More often than not, the girls' half-hearted kissing looks forced, and it's clear that the girls are performing with their (male) audience in mind rather than each other.

"That's the thing about authenticity," said Shawn, web manager and co-producer for Pink and White Productions, an offline lesbian studio that last month made the jump online with its "Crash Pad" series.

"You can't fabricate it," Shawn said. "There isn't a formula that you can put together and have this perfect package. People producing lesbian content that aren't part of the lesbian culture; it comes off awkward or contrived."

The mainstream sector of adult has a tightly constructed idea of what femininity should be and look like, Shawn said. Visual queues — the styled hair, nails and makeup — look the same in every film.

"We threw that out the window," Shawn said. "We crack open the idea of feminine. We look feminine, but the way we have sex isn't going to fall into the vanguard of soft and playful."

Meeting Lesbians' Needs
Shawn, Kinney and VanDyke all agree that gay-for-pay lesbian content has its place in the industry. It meets the needs of a particular audience, which is what makes the adult business so successful.

"That's what's great about the wonderful world of porn," Shawn said. "You can find something that going to meet someone's need and it's important to have that something out there."

And though there's certainly an established market for gay-for- pay lesbian content, there's room for more, and that's where studios like Pink and White and Fatale fit in.

"We're trying to expand it and basically give lesbians something they can identify with," Kinney said.

Switching the business model from producing DVDs for retail distribution to exclusively producing Internet-ready content was a risk Shawn took in May after the company released its third feature.

Shawn and Pink and White Director/Producer Shine Louise Houston launched last month and now are focused on producing exclusive web content.

"We know what's been successful in the past and know what made 'Crash Pad' successful [offline], and now we want to focus on the high points for that project and bring that to the web," Houston said.

Shawn said the genre is extremely undersaturated, especially online, and the market is an open playing field that she and Houston are taking advantage of.

The online "Crash Pad" series is set up as a sort of lesbian soap opera with a thin dramatic plot stringing together each episode, featuring regular characters who have accompanying personal profiles on the site. This allows the viewer to get to know each performer, creating a connection that doesn't exist on most adult sites.

Shawn and Houston said they receive and value feedback from viewers, which directly affects following episodes of the "Crash Pad" series.

"The series is definitely more interactive," Houston said. "We're not just assuming what the audience wants. My only assumption is whoever you are, you like to watch two women together and my approach to that is not a formulaic 'touch this, do that.'"

In order to make their content appropriate for online viewing, however, Shawn and Houston understood that their production methods would need to change. Rather than creating dialogue-driven features, for example, the online "Crash Pad" series would need to be shorter, to the point and focus on the sex.

Houston said she altered the way she lit each scene in order to allow her to move around the performers, without interrupting the raw sex she was filming, in order to readjust a light or prop.

"I come from a film background," Houston said, "so I'm not thinking of it as like, 'Oh, let's do this and it'll make money.' I come at it as a filmmaker; I want this to be pretty and consider the timing, the editing. The production value is [higher] for each scene."

Houston believes that the few lesbian producers out there remain reluctant to move online and create web-ready content because of a fear of failure. Because it's such a niche product, Houston said, some people believe it won't do well.

"You've got a lot of competition from the standard girl-girl online porn," Houston said. "That's what guys watch, and for this industry the majority of money comes from straight males. Right now they are trained to watch girl-girl stuff. Hopefully we'll un-train them."

And it appears the transition already may have sparked. Shawn has yet to begin a major media push for the online "Crash Pad" series, yet the site is getting two signups each day, which means word is spreading fast.

And though she doesn't plan to market to a male audience, she knows men will find her — because they already have. She's noticed that a good amount of the feedback she's received for her site has come from straight men.

VanDyke, Houston and Shawn all are confident that as more time passes and a younger, more tech-savvy generation of lesbian adult watchers develops, more sites like will develop.

"It's so under-served," Shawn said. "It's really supportive and community-based, recognizing how much space for growth there is for [this content]. It's all about fostering the people who are interested in creating the content."