"We innovate. You masturbate."
That's the tag line for Pink Visual, an adult film company that is well-respected for both its commitment to technological advancement and its ability to adapt to changing market conditions. Their content ranges from mainstream heterosexual porn and reality-TV-inspired flicks to gay male porn, which is released under the brand name "Male Spectrum."
Allison Vivas is the woman running the show. Like me, she's only behind the scenes and not in front of the camera. Unlike me, she's a mom. I was curious to find out about the experiences of another woman on top in this male-dominated game.
Allison, please give us some background on yourself and Pink Visual. How did you get into the adult industry?
My industry affiliation began in 2001, shortly after I graduated from college. I had a huge interest in Internet marketing and was fortunate to land the role of Marketing Coordinator for the TopBucks affiliate program. Around 2004 the company started producing its own content, so we created the Pink Visual brand. As we continued to launch new products, my role within the company began to expand. After a few years as vice president, I became president when the founder of the company decided to step away and undertake other projects.
When we spoke before, you mentioned that in college you fought with your boyfriend when you caught him watching porn. How have your feelings about porn evolved?
My feelings regarding porn have flipped almost to a complete 180. I say that because I now have a much better understanding of how normal it is for men to enjoy porn, just like they enjoy sports or an action movie, and because I've learned that his watching porn isn't about me at all. I have stopped comparing myself to porn stars and now realize that my spouse isn't comparing me to them, either; he's just enjoying a fantasy in a pretty harmless environment. Furthermore, my spouse has never turned down sex with me to watch porn, but if that were the case, we'd still fight. I'm not a complete 180, however, because although I don't mind my spouse enjoying porn, I don't engage in watching it with him, because for me it's hard to enjoy; it makes me think of work.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes and no. I believe and think women deserve equal consideration and the same rights as men. However, I've never experienced discrimination as a woman, directly or indirectly, so I've never had to "fight" for equality. I've just always gotten it and expected it.
How do you respond when people say that porn is degrading to women?
Actually, after viewing a lot of porn and becoming more familiar with the logistics of porn and the stars themselves, I don't find porn degrading to women at all. I find that people who claim that porn is degrading usually think that the women in porn are using their bodies and their sexuality for money. By the same token, the men in these films are also using their body and sexuality for money. And I think, as a culture, we tend to judge women who enjoy sex, whether that enjoyment happens privately or publicly, and the judgment is negative, yet for men it's seen as the norm. Honestly, I think a lot of it stems from women -- and men -- discriminating against women who seem "different" -- that is, women who enjoy sex and aren't self-conscious about it. I also think women discriminate because we feel "threatened" and it's a defense mechanism, whereas men who discriminate might simply be doing so because they don't want their daughters having a lot of sex, or having sex publicly.
I think all women, whether they are self-conscious or not, should be proud of their sexuality and should enjoy sex. I think when women really understand porn, porn becomes empowering. For example, the knowledge that the smallest use of your body language can turn your guy on, or the knowledge of what actually turns a woman on physically or emotionally is empowering. I think porn helps break down the barriers of self-consciousness and can lead to exploration of those areas. Ultimately, I think if we stop judging women altogether regarding their sexuality and let go of our ideas of what we think might be "average," we'll also become more empowered.
Fifty Shades of Grey has now cornered 25 percent of the adult fiction genre, which is incredible. Have you seen an increase in female consumers?
It's hard to judge, given that so much of our consumer base is online and we can't tell gender from an IP address. We do have females and couples who enjoy our lines, but generally, we'll hear from men who thank us for a scene they enjoyed with their significant other. And we've seen that feedback increasing, so we're now focused on producing adult entertainment that is more "couples-friendly."
One issue that I am struggling to come to terms with is the prevalence of male domination in porn. Does it ever bother you that porn in which women are in control seems to be more niche or fetishized?
Personally, it doesn't bother me to see male domination or fetishized women in control, because I realize the majority of the consuming market is male and, therefore, the majority of the productions are going to appeal more to a man's fantasy. For me, it's mostly the dialogue that bothers me in porn. I sometimes want to shout, "Come on, no woman would ever respond that way." The majority of porn is definitely not real; it's fantasy. It doesn't represent "real life," and even though men are often called out for "thinking with their penis," I do believe the overwhelming majority of men are capable of distinguishing fantasy from fiction.
Now, if women become a much larger portion of the adult-entertainment audience, I think we'd see a change in what adult productions look like. I think we've begun to see a little bit of that now, and the end result is more erotic art productions, couples-friendly productions, and female-oriented fantasy productions. These are all productions that women feel comfortable with and men also tend to enjoy integrating into their porn viewing mix.
I have a no-fake-boobs policy. How do you feel about breast augmentation?
As a company we don't have a specific policy, but the majority of our productions feature natural breasts. This is part of our pro-am shooting style. Incidentally, we have solicited the opinions of the males in our office to ask if they prefer fake or real but small. Surprisingly, the answer was that fake boobs are fun to look at, but real is better to live with.
What are the trends in porn now?
I think the major trend right now is the piracy battle and consumers' perception of porn. Most males 20 to 35 years old consume a great deal of porn, but I would say they don't pay for it. So there's definitely an imbalance that the market has to work out. We see "tube" sites competing with each other for Internet traffic by giving out more free content, and we see a reduction in advertisers with the ability to monetize that traffic when so much content is available for free. Overall, what we're seeing is a reduction in the amount of adult entertainment produced in 2012, advertising-heavy sites and more interactive adult products being pushed. To combat this situation, porn producers are trying to appeal to niche markets that have little competition and ensuring their products have mobile compatibility. The general state of porn is undefined right now and will need to be defined soon, because the current trend is not sustainable.
In 2008 you opened a division for gay male porn. What has it been like to oversee other markets? A lot of people do not realize that lesbian porn is grouped in with straight porn, while gay male porn is a completely separate world, complete with its own awards show. What are the challenges compared with the straight market?
We've had gay male versions of our type of content since early 2003, because we realized it was an underserved market. Our experience is that the gay audience is more loyal and willing to pay; however, our shortcomings have been that we tended to apply our straight-market ideas to the gay market and found that didn't work. I think the major challenge is that while the straight market tends to prefer anonymity and an anonymous relationship with their porn viewing, the gay audience is much more open, wanting to provide feedback, ideas, and interact with the site and influence the style of production. During the early years the gay companies that created a strong community also created a positive brand. As we've come to realize this, we have made attempts to create similar communities, but it is difficult to compete with ones that were established years earlier.
Would you consider yourself sex-positive?
Definitely. I think there are a lot of emotional and physical benefits of sex and orgasm, which are backed up by medical studies, as well.
How has your family reacted to your career?
The men in my family think it's awesome and always make jokes but don't realize there's real work to be done and that it's not all fun or made out to be what they imagine it to be. My mother was more hesitant, but she seems to realize the business component, and I think she has evaluated her misconceptions about adult entertainment, sensing perhaps that there's no need to have such negative feelings toward porn as an industry or toward those who perform.
Have your feelings changed about the industry since you became a mother?
Not really. I have always recognized that adult entertainment is intended for adults, and I use discretion and respect boundaries when talking about it. I have two daughters, and in some ways I'm really glad I work in the adult industry, because when they are ready to talk about sexuality, I think I can provide them good insight from the perspective of both men and women, since I have concrete data and personal experience to back it up.
Do you think that it is different for your female talent to know that there is a woman in control at the company?
I don't know that the female talent has a different perception of us based on my role. Our experience has been with who the talent is exposed to onset and how comfortable they feel with that team. We've been lucky to have a solid production crew composed of men and women, and I've only heard compliments from the female talent about them, so that makes me happy.
What have your struggles been as a woman in this male-dominated industry?
I don't think anything has really been a struggle. Most people I've worked with have been respectful and always seem curious to talk to a woman in the industry, so in that regard it has opened up some opportunities. Other than that, the only other experiences for me have been more humorous. For example, when at the fan shows, even if you are dressed in finely tailored woman's clothes, there will be someone who thinks you are in the films, and they will ask for a picture or autograph.
You are committed to battling piracy. Pink Visual has been criticized for using 2257 regulations to combat tube sites. Does piracy make you angry?
Piracy doesn't make me angry. It can be frustrating and annoying at times, but I'm also a believer in karma, and I think that those who have a business foundation based off of legally risky decisions aren't going to last too long. Our lawsuit on unfair business practices was based off of tube sites' lack of labeling their content and having the age verification records under 2257 regulations, which has mostly been criticized by attorneys who are attempting to perfect portions of the law which may be overly burdensome. However, the law is in existence, and the Department of Justice has been clear that anyone who publishes or manages sexually explicit content must also apply due diligence and ensure that there are model records showing that the performers were over the age of 18 at the time of production. I see the intent in this law no different than the liquor laws requiring establishments to ID patrons before serving liquor. We do not operate user-generated content sites, not only because they potentially violate 2257 regulations but also because in doing so, we would not be able to ensure the distribution of underage content does not occur.
I have spoken about my objection to the depiction of inappropriate relationships in porn, such as the insinuation of underage sex or incestuous relationships. What is Pink Visual's stance on these kinds of "fantasies"?
We have our own internal content guidelines, and we feel our content is very mainstream. At the same time, we recognize that adult productions represent fantasy, and fantasies are often used to create a safe environment for people to mentally play out a scenario which would not be acceptable or achievable in real life. There are studies that show some women enjoy rape fantasies but do not put themselves in a position for that to happen in real life. The world of fantasy often provides a safe environment in which the fantasizer is in control, and most people recognize that in the real world they don't have that control. The rape fantasizer in real life can't control what's really going to happen with that other person, and therefore realizes there is real danger if they were to put themselves in that position.
I think the same can apply to any other fantasy scenarios, and it's only when a fantasy begins to control someone's real life that there could be danger. Building on that, it may be difficult for a porn company to determine when a fantasy is within the range of normalcy and when it's not. Since our society is very judgmental around sexuality and not very open with mental-health support for those who need it, I think there can be dangers for porn companies to play psychologist to an anonymous set of people or offer to fulfill a criminal fantasy depiction in hopes that it would deter people from acting on it.
I'm all for free speech, and maybe there is a way to balance responsibility, art, and fulfilling a need to deter people from certain types of activities, but I imagine it would have to be carefully orchestrated.
You have been candid that Pink Visual has gone through some rough economic times. How did you help to pull the company through?
Well, it's always been a team effort. During the rough times we've recognized that everyone on the team needs to be onboard and needs to be involved with molding our company. At pivotal points that meant delving into more distribution platforms like mobile, which proved successful. We also stopped feeling victimized by piracy and instead became empowered, implementing a variety of strategies that have proven to enhance our position among our peers.
What is in the future for Pink Visual and the industry as a whole?
We are definitely more aware of our need to diversify our business. We've been working towards that, and we are seeing the results in our more interactive products. We also believe we'll see a market impact when more companies implement anti-piracy services, so we are launching an anti-piracy service that acts like an in-house team and customizes business plans and strategies for companies to combat piracy. I think the industry as a whole is also focused on diversifying beyond adult productions, and unfortunately for today's consumer, they won't be getting the same quantity or variety of productions that was available five years ago.
What is your advice to young businesswomen?
This is somewhat of a generalization, but I would tell young businesswomen to focus on their strengths as a woman. As a gender, women are more loyal, more peacekeeping, and more nurturing. In the business place these strengths come out as negotiation skills, team development skills, and ultimately a "can-do" attitude that will be part of the solution during good times and bad. Sometimes I think young women in business think that they are supposed to act like men, and I think really tapping into your own strengths as a woman and as an individual will lead to more success.
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Next week I'll be answering some readers' questions. If you have questions you're dying to have answered, tweet them at me @juicyjincey.