It’s Friday afternoon and the porny people have taken over the Hard Rock. The parking lot is packed, the Circle Bar is slammed, and a steady stream of badge-wearing attendees is heading for the Joint and nearby convention center ballrooms. It’s the 2013 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo. Business looks good.
It’s so good that I can barely walk. Inside one of the ballrooms, scantily clad stars are signing autographs, and eyes-wide fans have clogged the aisles, cameras raised and mouths gaping slightly. An earthquake could hit and I don’t think anyone would budge. Walking into this scene is slightly overwhelming. Between the thumping music and flat screens showing hard-core pornography I’m unable to move for a moment, adjusting my sense of normalcy to include strangers feeling up porn stars under fluorescent lights. Deep breath. Okay, let’s do this.
The stars are the main attraction at AVN, but past their throngs are the little guys: booths selling sex toys, strip clubs with dancers wiggling, herbal supplements that promise to improve your sex life and a device called Munkey Barz that puts handles on your girlfriend’s hips.
Luis Espinoza came all the way from Tijuana, Mexico, to advertize Hong Kong Gentlemen’s Club, and by the circle of men ogling a red-haired dancer on his booth’s pole, it’s working. The club has been around for 25 years, but this is just its second visit to AVN. Last year Espinoza brought four dancers, this year nine. Next year, he says, maybe he’ll have 15 ladies with him to entice new customers to visit the Tijuana club where 200 ladies are on duty during every shift. Will he be visiting Vegas’ local strip clubs while he’s in town? “No,” Espinoza says. “We don’t need to compare with nobody.”
Past Espinoza the party continues. There’s a booth selling ATM machines, the Jesus Loves Porn Stars crowd and a new product that combines a cock ring with a pipe. I wonder out loud if lighting up (tobacco, of course) so close to a man’s sensitive bits is a good idea. “You gotta trust [the person] who’s got the lighter,” creator Wayne Wilson says.
Inside the Joint, I spot Lance Alexander, an Austin, Texas, musician celebrating his birthday at AVN. He’s tall, dressed all in black and carrying four silky women’s babydolls, which somehow seems perfectly normal in this environment. Alexander is a fan, and the lingerie is his souvenir, destined to be enshrined in a glass display case in his music room back home. His goal for the convention is to get the signature of every single star at the show, but already he’s run into trouble. “Stoya wouldn’t sign it,” he says with a light scowl. “She’s got an attitude.”
A few booths over, I see a first for me at AVN. It’s Uncle Don’s Erotic Interludes, a risqué board game that CEO and former porn star Lexi Love describes as “strip poker meets Monopoly.” Properties around the board have names like the Swap Shop and Booby Pen, and Love says with a smile, “You can pay your rent however you want.” The game’s namesake is depicted on the board with a long white beard and a purple pointy hat—like Gandalf crossed with your handsy uncle. And Love says Uncle Don is a real person, although he’s technically not a wizard. Don is a terminally ill sex store owner from upstate New York who created the game as his legacy. I don’t see it becoming a household name anytime soon, but it could certainly find its way into swingers’ parties as a low-key ice breaker.
Before I say goodbye to AVN, I stop by the novelty expo, which is closed to fans and nearly devoid of porn stars (except for James Deen, who has his own merchandise booth and is chatting with a small crowd). It’s very quiet, and as I walk through the aisles of brightly colored sex toys made of odd synthetic materials, something catches my eye. It’s an old briefcase filled with glass wands that look like they were used for medical experiments by our great, great grandparents.
Turns out, I’m almost right. Dr. Clockwork’s violet wands were inspired by quack medical devices once thought to cure everything from hair loss to heart disease. They don’t, of course, but they do tickle and slightly sting. The device takes an electrical current and turns it into static, which can be transmitted by glass attachments plugged into the wand or by a person holding an adapter. Grab the adapter and suddenly you, and anything metal that you’re holding, becomes a prickly, tickly sex toy. The kits start at $199, and in the 10 minutes that I spend chatting with the good doctor, he makes two sales.
As Dr. Clockwork and I chat inside the booth, he takes off his top hat for a moment and wipes his brow, looking just a bit tired. It’s a look I’ve seen on a lot of faces today. Despite the porn stars in Lucite heels, the constant flashing of cameras and the lingerie-toting attendees, AVN is still a tradeshow. And it’s damn hard work.