Recently, I began discussing a new genre that seems to have been emerging in mainstream segments of adult production during the past two-ish years – “romance” porn intended for women and couples. (here)
Even at its most nascent and/or broad, I find the idea of porn for women and/or porn for couples extremely compelling. Compelling, but also a little bit sketchy – whatever could these descriptors mean? What does such content look like? Who is it for/what’s the target audience? And is it possible that there’s content out there that can appeal to ALL women and/or ALL couples??
I’m gonna go with probably not.
From everything I can tell, the bulk of the content being produced within mainstream segments of the industry under the auspices of this genre is intended for heterosexual women and/or heterosexual couples. But certainly there is more to it; certainly there is more behind it.
I decided to take a gander at three recently produced (and conveniently all XBIZ Award-nominated) examples from this genre to get an idea of what’s what. Accordingly, I give you Adult Source Media’s Book of Love, Wicked Pictures’ Heart Strings, and New Sensations’ Dear Abby.* Enjoy!!
Dear Abby is from adult production studio New Sensations’ romance line, which is aptly named New Sensations Romance.
Now, prior to getting all romantic, New Sensations was known mostly for high-end parody (think The Big Lebowski XXX) and harder-hitting all-sex gonzo content. Given their reputation and production history, I admit I was a little surprised (and even a little “meh”) when they launched the line in 2010… cuz, you know, a girl can try to do everything, but she can’t necessarily do everything well (or something like that).
But I gotta tell you: if Dear Abby wasn’t porn, it would star Meg Ryan (or maybe Rachel McAdams) – that’s how cute it is!!
Here’s the synopsis…
“Sometimes the best advice is your own… Natasha Nice and Giovanni Francisco star in this romantic comedy that is as charming as it is unpredictable. Jack (Giovanni), a somewhat jaded advice columnist, has absolutely no problem dishing out words of wisdom for his romantically challenged readers; while Abby (Natasha), his ex-girlfriend, still lives with him. But when this awkward living arrangement turns into a complicated relationship crisis, will Jack be able to follow his own words of wisdom or will he ultimately lose Abby to another guy?”
…and here’s the trailer:
The story is pretty much what you see in the trailer – cute and sweet (although I didn’t quite get “unpredictable”). The main romantic tensions are between Abby and Jack, but there’s also a really charming and engaging goofy sub-plot between the Michael Vegas and Zoe Voss characters.
The acting is really good (really), Ramon Nomar is picture perfect cutesy sleaze, and the fairly conventional-porn-atypical tenor of the sex itself is well done (albeit occasionally difficult for the performers to maintain – of the four scenes, one is certainly “romantic;” the others, however, occasionally hover around porn fucking). The production value was a mixed bag – nice locations with plenty of extras, but horrible (horrible) sound editing. Horrible.
Dear Abby was easily on par with any mainstream B-level romantic comedy, with a bit of sex thrown in.
And all this makes sense when you think about New Sensations intent with the line. Consider this press from AVN, which was written in June of 2010…
“Women represent not only a viable segment of the porn-consuming public, but a fairly formidable one at that…
…In light of this, any porn company not aggressively targeting female fans is simply whistling past the money cart. New Sensations, for one, has taken the bull by the horns with its new Romance line, which debuted in January  with An Eternal Love, starring AVN Female Performer of the Year Tori Black and Rocco Reed.
‘The market seems to be changing in the female demographic,’ New Sensations president Scott Taylor told AVN. ‘Women seem to be more comfortable with their sexuality these days. This line is somewhat of an intro into porn. The focus is the love story or stories highlighted by people making love. This is quite a bit different than what we have done in the past. Not that sex and love is any new concept, but I was not aware of any line of products that made love stories their core theme’…
…There is a definite distinction between this model and what’s typically been thought of and marketed as ‘female-friendly porn’ in the past, in that a storyline in and of itself no longer necessarily equates to having women squarely in the crosshairs, Taylor asserted. One only has to look as far as the booming parody craze for concrete proof of his point.
‘The difference to me in our Romance series versus our parodies is significant,’ Taylor said. ‘In the past it seemed that a storyline automatically meant it was for couples. We operated under the impression that women need a story and not just the sex itself. Therefore if there was a script, it was for couples. We don’t make [parodies] for couples; we make them to entertain fans of the film or series. With the Romance series, it is solely targeted at women and couples.’ [emphasis mine]
Is the sex any different in the Romance titles? ‘Yes, the sex is not so in your face,’ Taylor indicated. ‘There is still the passion in the scenes, but it goes in a completely different direction than traditional gonzo. There aren’t any crazy positions that only ‘porn people’ can do. No cumshots above the neck, either. Tame but explicit and exciting.’…
…To make sure of the Romance line’s appeal to its intended audience, Taylor said, ‘We show it to all the girls in the office to see if they like it or what can be better, et cetera. Each one is really micro-managed because we want to set a standard in this Romance category. It is not often you get a chance to be first at something, so you might as well try and be the best.’” (text originally posted here)
Consider this: compare the backs of some New Sensations boxes…
(pictured: the back of Dear Abby)
(pictured: the back of The Big Lebowski XXX, which was absolutely incredible – really, you should watch it)
(pictured: the back of some random all-girl all-sex title from New Sensations; honestly, it was the first thing I could find because I’m working in public!!)
Just on the basis of this exceptionally small and not systematic collection of box images, it’s clear that New Sensations is breaking off into a third direction. And, although not without bumps, I’m of the opinion that they’re doing it well.
In my reading and viewing, Dear Abby has some of the same conflations and over-generalizations that were present in Book of Love, it is backed by another stab at market research, and is guided by a similar desire to create something new in order to capture an untapped consumer base; however, to me, New Sensations’ directive seems a bit more developed. In other words, they actually seem to be working towards accomplishing their stated goals.
Yay!! …but I’m also wondering if the whole no-pop-shots-above-the-waist thing really marks a change.
Now, don’t get me wrong – many people seem to love/need them such that they’ve become The Trope in most adult content. That’s all well and good, but what I wonder about is the thus embedded notion that men (all men? all men in romantic heterosexual couplings apparently…) must have the pop of some sort in their porn – is that true? Is that one implication herein? I wonder…
I also wonder about doing more rigorous market research with women adult consumers. Because asking someone steeped in porn (like the girls in the office) is a bit different than asking “women and couples” consumers. I’m not exactly sure how or why, but instinct tells me that working with any product or service gives you a different view of said product or service that may not coincide with a casual consumer’s. Hmmm…
One day, when New Sensations gets their production value up some and finds a way to make the fucking just a little cuter/sweeter overall, their Dear Abby-caliber projects may actually star the likes of Meg Ryan or Rachel McAdams!!
Just kidding (am I?), but Dear Abby really was fairly delightful. That, and it was also well into the spectrum of “different” in terms of porn-typical. But I must, of course, wonder – what is it about me and my perspective that’s shaping this assessment?
Recommended for: “women and couples” (as these romance films are wont to target) who don’t mind a dash of porno in their sexy sweet – this one is cute, well-done, and a bit more towards the moving target they are trying to hit… relatively, and at least in my opinion.
Dear Abby Notables
Girls: Natasha Nice, Zoe Voss, Ash Hollywood, and Alyssa Branch
Guys: Giovanni Francisco, Ramon Nomar, Xander Corvus, and Michael Vegas
BTS: the BTS footage is actually kinda nifty to watch. Each of the Dear Abby stars deals with their acting inexperience in funny ways – most of the colorful cursing is reserved for the BTS and people talk about not being used to not being naked on camera. It’s almost as if the performers were double-venting, once from the sex performance and again after the actor/acting performance. It was an interesting glimpse that I’m still thinking about.
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*My three-film sample here is based strictly on 1) being 2012 XBIZ nomed and 2) being from what seemed to be a broad representation of romance porn content. I also just pulled from what I had on hand. This little sampling is in no way representative of all the content currently available in this genre.
For PVV reviews of more award-nominated titles, go here.
For more reviews of New Sensations’ content (including The Flintstones XXX and Scooby Doo XXX) and other relevant discussion, go here.
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You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage/PVVOnline, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.PVVOnline.com).”