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Porn 2.0

Everyone asks what porn has done for the Web, but they never ask what the Web has done for porn. In one San Francisco office, I found out.
 
 
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In downtown San Francisco, if you wander off Fifth Street down a small, twisting alley nestled among sky-high monuments to money, you'll find a freshly installed steel door, the glowing numbers affixed to it bearing little relationship to the other addresses on the street. If you're lucky enough to get past the security cameras and locks, you'll find yourself at the edge of a huge warehouse space full of stages and sets.

Climb up the stairs that lead away from the "medieval castle" set, and you're in a huge office space full of computers. People are on the phones, or swapping stories as they return from a trip to the Starbucks around the corner, or gathered in tight huddles around large, flat-screen monitors full of partial layouts. Only the bathrooms offer a hint about what's really going on here. No ordinary office would stock its toilets with an enormous rack of baby wipes, paper towels, and every feminine hygiene product known to woman. This is Kink.com, home to half a dozen of the Web's hottest porn sites.

Everyone always asks what porn has done for the Web, but they never ask what the Web has done for porn. A place like this, full of queer hipsters, geeks, and models, would never have existed before 1995. It certainly wouldn't have looked quite so Ikea.

I've come here to visit the set of Fuckingmachines.com, a Web site devoted to images and movies of women having sex with machines. Usually the machine involves some sort of piston and at least one moving part to which a dildo can be attached. The sensibility is perfectly San Francisco: a cross between high-tech fetishism and sexual fetishism. Tomcat, the site's understated Web master, wears a tie and jeans to the set. With a degree in film and digital media from a large public university, the self-consciously androgynous Tomcat is precisely the sort of hip young professional who is attracted to second-generation Web porn operations like Kink.

Tomcat makes sure the first machine (called "the chopper") is ready to go and picks out a pale blue dildo from a huge, tidy cart that contains -- laid out with surgical precision -- an array of silicone cocks in various sizes, a fanned display of condoms, towels, baby wipes, and several lube bottles. Next to it is a pine cabinet full of carefully labeled drawers containing "large dildos" and "small dildos." A tiny table holds some soft drinks packed in ice, as well as a handful of lemon Luna bars.

"Last week we did an alien abduction scene," Tomcat says. "It was great -- I got to be the alien." Today's model, a tall brunet with a lascivious smile, named Satine Phoenix, arrives in a little dress and fuck-me shoes. Like Tomcat, she's the sort of person who has the education and resources to choose from many careers and has chosen this one because she likes it. "I'm moving to LA to get more work," she says, sipping water. "But I just got into this about six months ago -- I like having sex in public, so I thought, why not do it here?"

Settling onto the chopper, Satine poses and reposes, replaying her naughty grin as many times as Tomcat asks. The scene behind the scenes here is all business. PAs discuss the merits of various lubes and dildos; everyone tries to figure out the ideal position so that everything fits together when the machine starts pumping. Tomcat manages to issue directions in the tone of a nice but task-masterish boss.

"I know it's awkward with your knees and the handlebars, but go ahead and insert it so that it's comfortable," the Web master says. "Now just wank a little until you get off."

"I don't know if I can get off like this," Satine suggests. "I'm too lubey."

"Get some baby wipes for her to take care of that lube," Tomcat directs the PA.

Eventually, using another machine called "the predator," Satine starts screaming in a way that marks this whole scene, again, as something that could only happen in the world of Porn 2.0. She's had a genuine orgasm, the kind of thing you'd almost never see a woman do in porn before the Web took over.

Ten minutes later, still shaking and sweaty, Satine pulls on a robe and stumbles over to the snack table. She falls into a chair and lets out her breath in a whoosh.

"Hard work, eh?" she sighs, grinning at me. "Having orgasms all day?"

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who's never met a machine she didn't like.