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The lesson of AVN: Recessions come and go, but sex is forever

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Skin, skin, everywhere.
Photo: Sarah Feldberg

After four days of toys, tarts and porn-obsessed fans, the 2009 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo has packed its pasties and headed back to LA.

While the starlets were sexy and the camera flashes as bright as ever, a less-than-cheerful theme prevailed at this year’s adult industry summit: Slightly down is the new up.

Porn in Recession

Fan attendance from a year ago is down anywhere between 10 and 20 percent, with the raw numbers likely to be between 20,000 and 25,000. Business at the trade booths, located downstairs in the B2B area, was down only slightly, and there were 267 exhibitors this year compared with 301 last year, an 11-percent dip.

Not bad, considering the economic climate, is AEE spokesman Sean Devlin’s take.

“Given the economy, given where every other trade show is now, we feel pretty good,” he said. “We did have a number of exhibitors who are here who took smaller booths and brought fewer people. Giveaways were down, but the exhibitors decided that they have to be here. The show still has value as a showcase for products and services, has value as a place to conduct networking, and has value as a place to reach out to your fan base.”

Plenty of porn industry names did just that, spending days on the floor at the Sands Convention Center autographing glossy 8-by-10s and posing for pictures with enthusiastic visitors.

Belladonna poses during a signing at AEE.

Nymph-like Jesse Jane was in attendance, as well as tattooed star Belladonna, Jenna Haze, Katsuni, Ron Jeremy, Stoya and recent crossover actress Sasha Grey.

If the business side of the convention suffered for attendees in 2009, the eye candy, at least, was plentiful.

And so were the toys.

Behind the elaborate booths of companies like Wicked, Digital Playground and FyreTV, smaller companies set up shop to showcase new toys and tech innovations they hoped would catch the attention of both consumers and distributors.

With the Head O State, everyone can enjoy a piece of the President-elect.

The OhMiBod, which allows anyone to play a solo.

The OhMiBod, which allows anyone to play a solo.

Ranging from practical to strange to comical, the products on display included such interesting inventions as the C-Box, a single serving condom dispenser that aims not to kill the mood, the Head of State dildo modeled after none other than the President Elect and the OhMiBod, a colorful vibrator that pairs with your iPod to pulse in time with the music’s beat.

Porn star Aurora Snow gravitated toward the Tyler Hope teddy bears, cuddly stuffed animals with a hidden adult twist – a secret satin-lined pocket perfect for stashing a vibrator, condom or other bedroom essential.

The Zeppelin comes in a wide range of colors to match any decor.

There were product demonstrations as well throughout the convention hall. On Thursday, two volunteers took Liberator Sex Furniture’s circular Zeppelin bed for an impromptu test drive, eagerly dry humping in front of a swelling crowd bearing video cameras and snapping photographs.

At the Real Touch booth two fingers took the place of a (hopefully) larger appendage to try out the cylindrical machine that mimics the physical sensation of sex according to the frame-by-frame action in an adult film. Guests gushed as it squeezed, stroked, gripped and even warmed their fingers with shocking realism.

The Real Touch comes so close to simulating actual sex, it's almost frightening.

A short stack of Purell wipes waited for the fans upon the completion of their demonstrations.

Most of AVN, however, went unsanitized.

Porn films played on countless flat screens, often featuring sweat-drenched scenes of the star who was perkily signing autographs below. Snapshots featured bare butts and nearly exposed nipples, as actresses adjusted their already minimal clothing to reveal the attributes their fans revere.

When not flashing skin or working silver pens, the hottest names in the industry talked earnestly about work in the adult entertainment business and attending AVN.

Sasha Grey on her First Time

“I get emails every day from people saying ‘Thank you so much for making me believe in myself as a sexual person and teaching me this and that about sexuality and not being afraid of who I am,’” said Sasha Grey, whose upcoming crossover appearance in Steven Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience generated buzz during the convention.

While the conference was a business trip for the girls who strutted the floor in towering platforms and form fitting dresses, many seemed to enjoy the chance to interact with fans who gave both money and time to attend the convention.

“I love it!” said Aurora Snow of her eighth year at AVN. “I love every moment of it. It’s being the center of attention all day and getting paid for it.”

The porn industry as a whole took a turn in the national spotlight on Saturday night during the annual AVN awards at Mandalay Bay.

2009 AVN Red Carpet

Often referred to as the Oscars of porn – the AVN’s welcomed a slew of industry stars decked out in brief but beautiful red carpet attire to a show that combined genuine emotion, raunch and politics to perfect effect.

Humor, as well, was a constant part of the awards ceremony, which included categories like Best All-Girl 3-Way Sex Scene, Best Big Butt Release and Best Anal Sex Scene.

When Pirates II temptress Stoya won the statuette for Best New Starlet, her thanks included “each and every person who jerks off to my smut.”

2009 AVN: In Photos

Between the award presentations, rapper Flo Rida provided entertainment, performing twice during the evening accompanied by local dancers from Spearmint Rhino.

But skin wasn’t the only attraction at the 26th presentation of the adults-only awards. A highly political halftime dance performance designed by Evil Angel owner John “Buttman” Stagliano added a more serious element to the show.

The dance sequence incorporated images of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Abu Ghraib, Haliburton, the Iraq war and censorship into a poignant statement centered on First Amendment rights.

In fact, political references were plentiful throughout the ceremony.

Hustler founder and First Amendment rights activist Larry Flynt spoke to the audience about the state of the economy and its effects on the porn industry. Just days after he and Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis petitioned the federal government for a $5 billion dollar government stimulus package for the adult industry, Flynt suggested that the porn industry would have to sustain itself through the recession.

Still, the wheelchair-bound, 66-year-old publishing icon remained optimistic.

AVN Eye Candy

“I think this industry has a strong future,” he told his colleagues.

Judging from the scene at the 2009 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, he is mostly right.

Porn’s future is indeed bright – full of charismatic stars, new innovations, ever improving technology and dedicated fans – but maintaining the industry and building it further within the current economic climate won’t exactly be the stuff of fantasies.

Or it will?

Business models change, fashions come and go and technologies evolve, but if AVN 2009 reminded us of anything, it’s that sex is forever.

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Melissa Arseniuk

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