Generational Challenges for Adult

Alex Henderson
If anyone doubts that Generation X is growing older, consider the following: 2008 is the first year in which people who were born in the 1990s are becoming old enough to vote. People who were born in 1990 have been turning 18 this year, and even the younger half of Generation Y — a term that is used to describe those who were born somewhere between roughly 1982/1983 and the late 1990s, give or take a few years — is starting to enter college, register for the draft (if they're male), obtain social security numbers and vote. And for adult webmasters, the question "How do we reach members of Gen-Y?" is more important than ever. Gen-X has done a lot to make many adult Internet companies prosperous, but Gen-X isn't getting any younger — the older members of Gen-X are now in their early forties — and appealing to Gen-Y is crucial if those companies want to continue to attract new customers.

"In order to reach Gen-Y, the traditional thinking about marketing porn is going to have to change," asserted adult-oriented entrepreneur Jeff Booth, president of "There is no 21-year-old out there who doesn't know how to access as much free porn as they could possibly want and do it legitimately; there are tons of free porn sites on the Internet. So why are 21-year-olds in Gen-Y going to pay for something they know they can easily get for free? Unless you come up with something that they see has added value and has something to offer them that the free porn doesn't, you're not going to reach Gen-Y."

The Los Angeles-based Booth noted that one of the most important differences between Gen-Y and previous generations is the fact that Gen-Y isn't old enough to have vivid memories of life before the Internet. While Gen-X and the Baby Boomers have adapted to the Internet, members of Gen-Y never had to adapt because they were online most or all of their lives — and because Gen-Y is so Internet-savvy and computer-savvy, Booth said, they are much harder to sell erotica to than previous generations. Gen-X, according to Booth, was thrilled to discover Internet porn and has been happy to pay for it, whereas Gen-Y grew up with the Internet and is a lot more jaded when it comes to adult entertainment.

Adult webmaster Colin Rowntree, who founded the BDSM-oriented back in 1995, said: "Generation Y was born and raised surrounded by technology. Generation Y or 'Generation @,' as I've heard it be called, learn and adapt at a far quicker pace than older people like me. Therefore, it is my opinion that the golden days of pay sites preying on the technologically defunct are over... Just a few short years ago, it was considered geeky and nerdy to know much about computers. (But) there has been a complete 180, and the opposite is now, in fact, the reality. You see it even on the large networks like G4, which before, had little rinky-dink shows like 'X-Play' and 'Reviews on the Run'; today, they are a huge network, doing 24/7 exclusive coverage of massive gaming and tech-related tradeshows. Technological proficiency has become an integral part of today's pop culture."

Booth explained that for adult webmasters, "value-added features" are vital if they want Gen-Y customers — and one thing that can give an adult site considerable added value, he said, is having a strong social networking element. "For Gen-Y," Booth said, "social networking is huge. It's a part of everyday life with the constant texting and the use of Twitter. For Gen-X, we think of porn sites as this kind of isolated experience where you are looking at porn in a darkened room all by yourself, but I think that to reach Gen-Y, we'll have to think about how to merge porn and social networking. Taking porn out of the fantasy realm and into the reality realm is going to be an important way to reach Gen-Y."

Booth predicted that in the future, there will be a lot more adult sites that reach out to Gen-Y and give themselves "added value" by offering more than erotica — and one area where "added value" is an important part of adult sites is alternative porn. Joanna Angel's well known alt-porn site, for example, is not only a place where one can find explicit erotica — it is also a place where one can find an interview with The Dillinger Escape Plan (a well known alternative metal band) or a review of a new Portishead CD.

Annaliese Nielsen, founder of the popular alt-porn website, estimates that "about 30 percent of our customers" are members of Gen-Y. At 24, the Los Angeles-based Nielsen is in the Gen-Y demographic herself — and she said that many of her peers, unlike Gen-X, are reluctant or unwilling to pay for porn. Therefore, Nielsen said, adult webmasters who will make money selling to Gen-Y in the future will need to realize that titillation alone won't win over that demographic.

"I, a member of the 'Y Generation,' can hardly remember a time before I had access to the Internet from home — and I think I somehow knew that porn and the Internet were intrinsically related," Nielsen explained. "I remember going to and searching the term 'sex' within the first five times that I accessed the Internet. I later got into a lot of trouble for searching for what I shouldn't have even been interested in, but the point is that people will look for sex on the Internet — and for those who aren't very computer-savvy, this means finding porn on a pay site. It especially meant that for the parents who bought computers for people of my generation. Now, as adults, Generation Y is so Internet-savvy that they know that paying for porn is for suckers. If you want anal-sex porn or even specific titles of your favorite star, all that you have to do is look for torrents or sit through a short download on LimeWire. We, Gen-Y, grew up with Napster, and getting things for free seems to be a naturally occurring part of our Internet use."

If members of Gen-Y are so reluctant or unwilling to pay for erotica, why does Nielsen estimate that Gen-Y comprises almost one-third of her customer base? What is doing right where Gen-Y is concerned? For one thing, Nielsen said, has a genuine understanding of the alt-porn culture — and the fact that customers are made to feel like they are part of a community, she said, is another major plus. Nielsen said that her Gen-Y customers "are really active in the community aspects of the site. It's an additional social media platform, and I think that is part of the incentive for these users to rebill for long periods."

Booth asserted that while attracting Gen-Y customers is quite a challenge for adult webmasters, it isn't impossible — especially if the webmasters thoroughly understand concepts like social networking, online community and added value. "I just don't think that the things that have worked with Gen-X are going to work with Gen-Y," Booth emphasized. "Adult webmasters who are in Gen-X or are Baby Boomers are going to have to make a real effort to connect with the Gen-Y culture and understand what Gen-Y wants."