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A Visit to the World's Largest Porn Convention

Sex sells. From sandpaper to steak, there is seemingly nothing it can't be used to market. The easiest thing to sell with sex is, of course, sex. I went to the Adult Entertainment Expo to see how the porn industry is pimping itself.

by Megan Koester
Jan 22 2014, 12:16am

Sex sells. From sandpaper to steak, there is seemingly nothing it can't be used to market—save baby formula. That being said, I'm sure a think tank of modern Mad Men are currently trying to eroticize the formula game. Of course, sex is best at selling itself, which makes the Adult Entertainment Expo business as usual; emphasis on business. A literal circle jerk for folks who make their living off lasciviousness, combined with a lil' somethin' for fuck fans—and by "a lil' somethin'," I mean, "the opportunity to take awkwardly staged photographs with bored looking women in sheer shirts"—the self-proclaimed "World's Largest Adult Trade Event" is a veritable smorgasbord of smut, all of which can be possessed for a price.

The Adult Entertainment Expo takes place where events of its ilk should take place: Las Vegas, aka Xanadu for mouth breathers; where the cocktail waitresses are already conveniently dressed like sex objects. In the casino that surrounded the expo (Hard Rock, natch), degenerate gamblers refused to look up from the slot machines they were vacantly poking at, not even to gawk at the scantily clad ladies go-go dancing right in front of them. Countless others, I'm sure, sat in the rooms above, watching television on their vacations. Vegas, baby! Vegas!

Hundreds of superfluously absurd, "cutting edge" novelties littered the brightly lit expo floor: eerily emotionless Real Dolls modeled after porn stars, weed pipes designed to fit snugly on the edge of a dick so users can simultaneously smoke bowls and deliver blow jobs, Heeldos, "the First Strap-On Harness for Your Foot," vibrators that also charged your smartphone, brightly colored exercise balls with veiny phalluses attached to them, plush bears designed to stimulate your nether regions with their terrifying looking tongue nubs. In one booth, an enterprising man in an ill-fitting suit sold dick pills and made a killing. He was, after all, amongst his target demo.

Citizens and exhibitors alike wandered unperturbed around the room, which was filled with a combination of novelties and the sort of garbage you'd find at any trade fair—bedazzled cell phone cases, ceramic hair straighteners and the like. The fact that both coexisted in perfect harmony emphasized that this, for all intents and purposes, was your garden variety convention. Less than a century ago, it was a federal offense to send pornography through the mail. The overwhelming normalcy with which pussy-eating teddy bears was treated, however, proved how far we've evolved, or devolved, depending on who you ask.

I couldn't help but view the unnecessarily innovative products surrounding me as byproducts of a world in which mere intercourse was no longer interesting enough to get us off, just as life is no longer enough to satisfy us. The "extreme-ification" of products, be they in the fields of beverages or pornography, is becoming the norm. The AVN Awards, which ran in tandem with the expo, handed out trophies in categories like "Best Older Woman/Younger Girl Release," "Best Double Penetration Sex Scene" (of which there were 15 nominees), "Best Orgy/Gangbang Release," and "Best Squirting Release." A film nominated in the "Most Outrageous" category was called 50 Guy Cream Pie 9. Which, to be fair, was pretty outrageous. But also the ninth in a series. These categories, needless to say, did not exist when the AVN Awards first started in 1984.

Beyond the expo hall, in the darkly lit fan area, egregiously loud pop music blared as porn stars sat behind card tables and unenthusiastically awaited their perverted public. Like moths to a flame, men trudged toward these interchangeably hot women, who, when not engaging with the male gaze, tapped away at their iPhones. Silently and single-mindedly, they slowly wandered the halls in huge, amoeba-like packs, unable to look at or think about anything but precious poon. Their posture was hunched; they tried in vain to obscure their erections.

One, dressed like a mid-level manager, nodded off in the hall. I spotted him on the first day of the expo; white, bald and overweight, with an enormous camera rested in his lap, he was already spent. He appeared overwhelmed, and rightfully so; it must have been exhausting to be the most stereotypical man there. The list of of expectations he had to live up to was endless. Yawning, he held the huge lens of his expensive camera in his lap like an erection. Men with similarly ornate cameras were everywhere, their long lenses acting as penis surrogates. They walked the halls cradling them against their legs, when they weren't focused on taking artless photos of scantily clad women. Wandering in the path of a man taking photos always resulted in one of three outcomes:

  1. Complete obliviousness to my existence
  2. Acknowledgement of my existence coupled with a refuse to budge
  3. Budging, but doing so with a look of utmost contempt.

The argument could be made that it takes a specific kind of creep to be so into pornography that they want to attend a convention that celebrates it. The crowd, however, didn't exclusively consist of obese baldies—although they were there in spades. All ages, genders, and races were accounted for. Painfully average-looking couples, some hand-in-hand, carried around bags filled with lube samples and signed headshots of their favorite performers. Regardless of demographic, all patrons walked around silently zombified. Overwhelmed by stimulus, they wandered the halls and gawked in a mindless daze. The more I wandered, the more mindless I became. My loss of cogency in light of my hardcore surroundings, however, made sense. Sex, and by proxy pornography, appeals solely to the lizard brain's base-level need to procreate. And by "procreate," I mean, "watch two heterosexual women with tans half-heartedly finger each other."

As a woman pole-danced, the expo's resident DJ played a song wherein the protagonist yammered on and on about watching a woman's "pussy twerk." He requested she "make that pussy work" and "drop that pussy, bitch." The pole dancer willingly obliged his demands. As a bitch myself, I was offended by the song's misogyny, in much the same way other bitches might be offended by the perceived misogyny of the expo. The song, however, wasn't recorded for the expo. It already organically existed in a world gone gauche. If a single ballroom could exist as proof of society's ongoing devolution, this was it. Idiocracy, it appeared, was becoming real, yet I felt nothing.

Despite what you may think at this point, I am not uptight. I have no problem with people unfurling their freak flags. I've seen my fair share of pornography. Hell, I used to edit and review it. It's not that I'm a prude, or was disgusted, or turned off. I was just bored. I was stuck in the living, breathing, twerking embodiment of the internet.

Sex was absolutely fucking everywhere, so much so that I quickly became wholly desensitized to it. What did that mean? Was that why 50 Guy Cream Pie is currently in its ninth iteration? Is that why sex is used to sell steak? (Incidentally, have you ever tried to fuck after eating a steak? You can't. But I digress.) Why did everything, in culture in general, have to be so fucking tasteless? And why did I sound so old for asking that question?

I'm 30, for Christ's sake; I should be used it by now. I had the internet in my bedroom when I was a preteen, and you better believe I used it to have cyber sex with creeps and look at pixelated BMPs of tits. Maybe the problem lies in the fact that I'm too used to it. Maybe we all are. The Supreme Court defines obscenity as material where the "dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest" and that the "average person, applying contemporary community standards" would disapprove of. But if today's average person revels in their prurient interests, does obscenity no longer exist? Or does that mean everything's obscene?

Every day, after taking all I could stand, I listened to NPR in my car, my logic being it was the polar opposite of the sound and fury of the expo. The soft, dulcet tones of Terry Gross reminding me of her name (Terry Gross, in case you were wondering) sat in sharp contrast to the aggression of the world I just wandered through. On the days I listened, the subjects of Fresh Air were the rise of the KKK and the rise of Fox News. Struggling to pay attention, I let the words wash over me. Still brain-dead, I absorbed nothing.

I listened while driving down the Strip, which was remarkably similar to that of the convention: people with mouths agape, slowly shuffling down the street, blindly taking whatever was handed to them, often escort business cards from non-English speaking men wearing shirts that said "Orgasm Clinic." Entranced by it all, they crossed the street without looking both ways. Billboards of broads sold them a lifestyle they couldn't afford, just as the expo sold its own unreachable goal of fucking like a porn star. It didn't matter what the goal was, so long as it was unattainable.

I drove through the desert to get to Vegas. While it seemed, on the surface, to be one of the last untouched places on Earth, the garish hand of modern day was everywhere: billboards with tits on them, abandoned buildings crumbling into the dust they were built on and marred with graffiti. Every night, after the expo closed for the day, I'd return to my room at the tits-themed Hooters Hotel and Casino. There was no escape. This was the new normal. RIP cogency.

@bornferal

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Adult Entertainment Expo