The Biz is Always Changing & The Competition is Always Fierce Part I

The biz is a wild beast. Vast, varied, and remarkably dynamic, for the past forty years the one thing that never changes about the sex industry is that it’s always changing.

Pornography is a prime example. Porn used to be something you could only buy at dirty bookstores or watch in seedy movie houses. Then in the 1980’s, thanks to videotape and DVRs, you could rent or buy it to watch in the privacy of your home. Now, of course, it can be streamed live onto every kind of personal device wherever you happen to be in the world.

Amateur porn, because of the technical cost involved to produce actual films, wasn’t even a thing before the video camcorder. Then along came the pod cam and the Internet, and suddenly everyone was making their own dirty movies and uploading them online, taking a huge bite out of the professionally produced porn industry.

Certain aspects of the world’s oldest profession remain the same, but advertising has undergone major changes. Pre-Internet providers used to buy black-and-white column space in the back pages of local weekly newspapers, describing themselves in 200 words or less; now flashy escort websites feature professional photos that leave nothing to the imagination.

The early aughts also brought these new-fangled things called review sites. Now you could read everything about escorts, massage parlors, and pro doms in endless detail—even strippers and streetwalkers. The idea that law enforcement looks the other way while clients post online blow-by-blow reviews of their encounters? Stranger than fiction to me when I first heard about it.

Screening has matured tremendously in past ten years. A decade ago, you were lucky if a client handed you a driver’s license, possibly fake, to scan for three seconds before getting down to business. Back then, there’s no way clients would provide online photo verification, links to their company websites, recommendations, and everything else escorts demand nowadays. On the flip side, clients want third-party proof that the person they’re paying to see matches their ad, so now we’ve seen the creation of photo verification endorsement services.

Strip clubs, once concentrated only in large cities, are now in every small town, heavily overlapping mainstream bar and club culture. In my hometown of San Francisco, strip joints used to be hands-over-clothes touching only; now they function essentially as brothels, and behind-the-glass peep shows like the Lusty Lady in San Francisco and Seattle are extinct.

Professionally-run dungeons used to be deep underground. Now BDSM fashion, toys, and paraphernalia have bled into the broader porn/fetish/sexclub scene, to the point that nobody bats an eye at leather, whips, and chains anymore.

Then there’s the invention of all sorts of new shades of commercialized sexuality: the Sugar Daddy/Baby phenomenon has blown up huge in the past few years with websites and how-to books. Porn keeps finding new ways to monetize itself; Silicon Valley is filled with developers looking for new ways to personalize interactions while maintaining online distance with a new app born every minute: Snapline, Periscope, Kik and all the rest. New fetish modalities continue to bubble up, such as hypnosis domination. Even the legal brothels, which used to offer a what-happens-out-in-the Nevada-desert-stays-out-in-the-Nevada-desert feel, have completely changed. The Internet has invaded, and part of the job is reeling in clients from all over the world through online live interaction.

In fact, the Internet and other new technologies have changed everything everywhere. Dirty client lists that used to be passed around informally among small bands of local sex workers are now online and nationwide.* Prostitution used to be reliably cash-only, with only large services able to process credit cards. Now independents can accept cards, PayPal, and altcoins. Escorts used to have to work for shady circuit operations to work in other towns, but now, because of online advertising, they can travel and work whenever they choose.

As the biz diversifies, lawmakers scramble to catch up. And as attitudes change, so do legal strategies, both to limit and to legitimize sex work and sex workers. The “End Demand” push in the U.K., shifting enforcement strategies off providers onto clients is one example. The push-me-pull-you struggles between anti-traffickers and the decriminalization movement in the U.S. is another, with each side claiming victories in legislation while warring between themselves.

To be continued....

* Proving there is simply no end to the permutations in the sex industry, now there are services that claim they can get clients off dirty trick lists. For a fee, of course.