Sexy and cash-strapped

Peddlers of the world’s oldest professions are getting hit by the economy, too

The stock market is down, real estate prices are 60 cents on the dollar and my 401(k) is tanking. An economy like this makes me think about what really matters:

Have adult film stars begun to buy generic baby oil? Have strippers started to hand out “buy one-get one” coupons for private dances? How has the economy affected non-traditional businesses in the adult industry?

Everyone knows the impact the economic downturn has had on the nation as a whole and you know at least one of your friends who has taken a hit. What about the sex kittens who make going out with friends worth the hangover and empty wallets? Who is going to take notice of the empty thongs of adult entertainers?

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Everyone is hurting: Banks, clubs, restaurants. If it’s a business, it’s being affected by the economy. That doesn’t exclude workers who peddle sex or other adult-themed products and services — one of the oldest professions in the world.

The internet is a pornographer’s wet dream: The porn industry rakes in an estimated $13 billion each year. It makes content available to a large audience who can remain completely anonymous behind a computer screen. They don’t have to leave home for a private dance. Their private dancer can show up at the kitchen table with a few clicks of the mouse and a valid credit card.

Thorn Alexander, owner of BTL LLC, an adult website company, started his business with his partner, Chris Austin. Alexander said he always wanted to do adult movies. At 17 years old he was too young to act in the films, but he was a fluffer for an adult filmmaker. His job was to make sure the actors’ “equipment” was taken care of and ready for camera.

Alexander and Austin have been providing adult content for about eight years. He and his partner run a gay voyeur-cam website, hotcamboiz.com, from their home.

Members can log on and watch five models live their daily lives in the house or if they’re not in the mood for a G-rated production they can watch one of the 90-minute shows that promises a little more excitement. Members are able to chat via the internet with the model while he excites himself and his fans. Each model must perform four 90-minute shows per week. Alexander said five years ago there were hundreds of voyeur cam websites and now there are only three. His site boasts about 2,000 members, but has seen a decline of 15 to 20 percent in membership.

Alexander feels the uniqueness of the website is what has kept their members’ interest aroused. The company is looking toward iPhone apps that would allow members to access the house when they are away from their computer as a way to continue to grow their business.

Lavanna McDonald, the owner of Just for Pleasure, an adult novelty and bookstore, has also noticed a slump in business. McDonald opened her store after she visited an adult novelty shop, bought $200 worth of sex toys suggested by the clerk and hated them all.

She decided she could open a store and do it better.

McDonald always tried to set herself apart from her competition by being a friendly adult store.

“If you’re short a dollar or two, that’s okay,” McDonald said. “Try doing that at one of the corporate places.”

She tries to make her shop feel more like a boutique than a “porn store.” Vibrators and dildos are in a glass case. Lubes and gels are scattered throughout the store. DVDs and lingerie are on display, but McDonald added a feminine touch when decorating so visions of sex weren’t beating your eyeballs.

In time, McDonald was able to expand her store to include the space next to her. Yet, the economy took its toll forcing her to give up the new space.

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“It is almost like starting over,” she said.

The store, near South Blvd. in Charlotte, struggled during light rail construction. It was barely able to stay open when construction ended because Charlotte began to feel the tightening grip of a recession.

However, she feels business has been relatively stable since then. In an ironic twist, the bad economy could keep her afloat. Feuding couples arguing over money are turning to “marital aids” to work out rifts in their relationships.

“It is cheaper to stay together,” McDonald said. She feels when the sex in a 15- or 20-year marriage hits a slump then small issues seem a lot bigger, and introducing a battery-operated friend in the boudoir can spice up sex and relieve marital tensions.

She has noticed fewer customers, but many are making larger individual purchases. Other people, she said, aren’t making big, one-time buys and are instead looking for quality.

Tien “Asian Rider” Hoang, an exotic dancer, says he has noticed fewer people crowding around stage to tuck dollars into his g-string. Hoang says his earnings while working in Charlotte have dipped to half what they used to be.

He travels to Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina, but says he earns the least in North Carolina.

“I mean I can make about $300 to $400, but here it’s like $75 or $100,” Hoang said about his nightly take-home pay.

But, he hasn’t given up and keeps coming back. He says he has a unique selling point: “I think people keep paying because they ain’t never seen an Asian male dancer.”

Carnal desires will always fuel the meat market. Sex sells and there is never a shortage of buyers or sellers, but during a recession the price is a lot lower. And, for those involved in some of the oldest professions in the world, that isn’t good news.

I have faith that change is coming. Keep your heads up webcam performers, dildo peddlers and thong-wearing eye candy and believe your bank account will be full again soon. : :

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Posted by Nathan James

Nathan James is a former editorial intern for QNotes.