Adult film industry embraces plus-sized business

The porn industry has a long history of spotlighting women with Barbie-like figures and impossible proportions. But just as pop culture began to feature women with more natural figures in TV, movies and advertising, the adult industry began to realise that its stars don't all have to be a size 0, either.

In the past year, Wicked Pictures produced a sex education video for plus-size people, which went on to become one of the fastest-selling titles in the line. Another studio, New Sensations, saw success with its plus-size feature films.

"Back up 20 or 30 years ago and the mindset or the cultural perception was that porn is all pretty blonde people," says Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist who studies the adult entertainment industry. "Now, with body positivity getting into our cultural lexicon, a lot of different women are coming to the industry and saying, 'I'm here to be a performer and I look like this.'"

The focus on plus-size women hasn't been contained to adult film studios, either. Several sex toy manufacturers, including Rapture Novelties and Pipedream Products, have begun manufacturing products for larger customers, as well. And adult toy company Sportsheets (which in 2013 was named one of the country's fastest-growing private companies by Inc.) rolled out a line of products for plus-size patrons last year.

"We've always known it has been an unaddressed consumer in our industry, but it's half the population," says Julie Stewart, president of Sportsheets. "So we decided to take a look at that and see what we could develop. ... The response was great. I think people were excited that someone in the industry was recognising that there was a plus-size market and they have the right to healthy sex lives, too."

Plus-size porn is nothing new in the industry. It has been a fetish genre for many years. But in 2007, around the same time that the societal focus on body image came to the forefront of the national conversation, the genre began to move away from fetish and more toward the mainstream porn world.

Still, there's inequality for the performers. Plus-size stars are paid less per scene than traditional porn stars, says Jessica Drake, a performer for Wicked Pictures and creator/director of the "Jessica Drake's Guide to Wicked Sex" line of sex education films.

And many plus-size films use titles like "Whale Watchers" or "Scale Bustin' Babes."

"Plus-size porn has been around for a long time, but it's not a constant genre," says Kelly Shibari, one of the most recognizable plus-sized performers. "It has been kind of like what mainstream film does. You're the comic relief. You're never naked or you're humiliated."

Last year, though, Shibari and Drake teamed up for "Guide to Wicked Sex: Plus Size Sex," which became the best-selling instalment in the series' history. Shibari was also on the cover of Penthouse Forum (the first plus-size star to do so in that publication's 40-year history) and the principal star in a DVD for New Sensations, one of the industry's largest studios.

The rise in plus-size porn comes as people get bigger on the whole. In 2013, 154.7 million Americans, age 20 or older, were overweight, according to the American Heart Association. As more of those people watch porn, they're interested in seeing people like themselves, rather than idealized physical specimens.

"Larger women see plus-size porn performers having fun and looking gorgeous and get (a) confidence boost," says Shibari. "I have a lot of fans who are couples who send me a message saying, 'Thank you. Now I can enjoy sex with my partner.' "

Drake agrees. "When I'm doing seminars and workshops, that's my audience," she says. "I think that's more of the norm."

The increased popularity of plus-size performers, however, doesn't mean the end for traditional porn stars.

"The industry is changing, but it's not that we're swapping out one performer for another," says Tibbals. "It's that the consumer base is expanding, and we're getting new [audiences] involved."

Despite the new popularity of plus-size porn, there's a question of whether this new audience will sustain interest. Drake and Tibbals both feel the genre's popularity will continue, but Shibari says she's less optimistic, based on talks with other plus-size performers and her own upcoming work schedule.

"I hate to say it, because I don't want to be a wet blanket," she says, "but I think we've peaked or we're going to peak in the next 12 months."

Regardless of whether plus-size porn films continue to be popular, Sportsheets' Stewart says there's a big future for the category in other areas of the industry.

"I think the consumer will stay, and they're going to be looking for quality," she says. "We see this as an area worth investing in and its a consumer that's going to have brand loyalty. ... They're looking for something that speaks to them in a positive way."

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