Butting up Against the Porn Industry 

An earnest Berkeley publisher of sexual self-help books braves the Gomorrah of a Las Vegas porn convention.

Businessmen lined the entrance to the Adult Entertainment Expo, eagerly anticipating a glimpse of the porn stars wandering to and fro. Their joy, a perverted hybrid of Hollywood red carpet and fifth-grade boys impatiently waiting for Susie to swing above them across the monkey bars, beamed from their eyes. While these gawkers — mostly attendees of the neighboring Consumer Electronics Show — milled about outside, Adult Expo insiders nonchalantly entered a world of pornographic proportions. Waiting for autographs from women they last saw in Bound or Accidental Hookers, fans snaked past men and women in cages, displays of dildos, loads of lube, and countless LCD screens in continual XXX loops. Against this backdrop, the Berkeley book publisher Amorata Press stuck out like clever dialogue in a porn film. No booth babes or freakishly large body parts filled its 100-square-foot plot on the convention floor. While this first-time exhibitor of how-to sex manuals might seem risqué if encountered in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, here it was a quiet relief from an over-stimulating industry.

Acting as a breath of fresh air to an often-excessive industry wasn't the original goal of Amorata Press. When Ulysses Press published its first sex-themed book in November 2001, the company hadn't imagined starting a separate division of the company that dealt exclusively in carnal pleasures. Demand from a niche market was what prompted Ulysses Press to publish its first sex book. When that first book did well, the company followed up with another and another.

"We did one book, then two, then four, and then 25," recalled company sales and marketing manager Bryce Willett, during an early January interview at the Expo. "Eventually it made sense to distinguish the titles, give them a name in the industry." The Amorata Press imprint, which was created in the fall of 2006, brought all these titles together under one roof. Now, with a catalog of almost thirty titles, the publisher seeks to offer men and women "a path to higher pleasure with books that are informative, sexy, and edgy." Filled with provocative tips and tantalizing photos — enough to keep both men and women happy as they flip through the pages looking for sparks of inspiration — the motives of Amorata Press seemed almost wholesome beside the tits-and-ass-ambience of the Adult Expo.

The company's presence at the expo was like some perverted scene from Mister Smith Goes to Washington. Surrounded by smut peddlers, sex workers, and fans gobbling the whole scene up, Amorata Press seemed to be calling out the wayward Mr. Paines of the world. A pile of books sat stacked on a small table in front of a humble banner hung against the cloth backdrop of the Amorata Press booth. Willett, a tall man with a shaved head and earrings, sat back in his chair or casually talked up interested visitors to the booth. Although the people who attend the expo aren't really his target audience, that didn't faze him one bit. "Those films have wonderful scenes, but don't try it at home," Willett said. "They're great positions to photograph, but not enjoyable ones."

Punctuating his comments were the repetitive sounds of a neighboring booth where free vibrators were being awarded to any girl who blew up a balloon until it popped. The occasional explosions were like bullet points for Willett's thoughts. "Porn does a great job, but that job is not to make you better at sex, its goal is to be fun to watch." POP! "The core idea of the Adult Entertainment Expo is fan worship of porn stars. The long lines at the big booths are for that. However, that only lasts so long. Everyone can have sex without a book, but it's not necessarily good sex. Empowerment is at the core of all of our books. Half of it is about being comfortable, knowledgeable, and secure."

One chief difference between Amorata's books and much of the porn on the convention floor was that Willett's target audience is couples, not single males. So where the publisher's exploration of female ejaculation is simply entitled Female Ejaculation, pornography from that genre bares titles such as MILF Squirters 2. Book titles like Unleashing Her G-Spot Orgasm, Going Down, and The Best Sex You'll Ever Have! seemed tame next to the DVDs circulating the rest of the convention floor.

Willett didn't claim the moral high road or suggest that his company is socially more responsible than the producers of teen gangbang videos or the P.S.I. (Porn Scene Investigator) team with the sign reading "Flashing welcome" in the booth next to him. Still, one couldn't help but notice the differences between each side's tone, approach, intention, and attitude toward sex in general and women in particular.

But perhaps Amorata seems mild mannered only next to the supermen of pornography. Indeed, the niche market for the company's books has been fed by the pornography industry. After all, the Adult Film Database lists female ejaculation titles dating back to 1989, while Amorata Press' book on the subject first hit shelves in 2008. Did public interest in female ejaculation create the pornography, or did the pornography create the public interest?

In their book, The Porning of America, Carmine Sarracino and Kevin M. Scott argue that pornography and American culture have influenced each other so much that imitation has become the standard. In essence, pornography has become the norm and the norm has become pornographic. If this is true, (and anyone who has watched fifteen minutes of reality television must concede that the argument holds some weight) then the porn industry and Amorata Press are born from, and serve, the same master — providing men and women with sexual satisfaction and encouraging an exploration of sexual fantasies. Yet, at the end of the day when you go home to your partner, adult films are celluloid propaganda, and Amorata Press is the real deal.

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