A look at Toronto's surprisingly soft porn underbelly.
Each month, Sex-ist looks at topics relating to sex and sexuality in and around the GTA.
It’s not for nothing that Toronto is sometimes known as “Hollywood North.” It’s possible to see Bay Street double as Wall Street on prime-time television, or watch a movie where characters stroll amongst a disguised 416. Companies like eOne Films and Nelvana maintain Canadian offices, and Canadian actors routinely make their way south to Los Angeles to try their hand at the big show after getting some success here at home.
But Los Angeles also has something else. Since the 1970s, the San Fernando Valley has been home to North America’s largest porn industry. Thousands of scenes are shot there every year, and what comes out of the Valley is largely what North America—and perhaps the world—thinks of when their minds wander to dirty movies. At its peak, L.A.’s porn industry brought in over $10 billion each year (including sales from films, print publications, sex toys, and in-room hotel movie purchases), although it’s difficult to track because not all sales are monitored. L.A. porn is a massive economic driver and an influential aesthetic. Chances are, if you’ve watched porn on the internet, it was produced in “San Pornando Valley.”
If Toronto is Hollywood North, and Hollywood itself has a robust porn scene, does it follow that Toronto has the same?
It’s tough to say how many pornographic films are shot in Toronto each year. The Ontario Film Board reviews titles that are produced for DVD or video-on-demand releases, but those numbers have dropped since websites have come to the forefront. The law takes a neutral perspective on homegrown porn: unless it’s considered “obscene” or involves children, there’s no federal-level injunction against creating or consuming it. From a practical point of view, however, there are some stumbling blocks to create local content.
It’s difficult for companies that shoot adult videos to secure funding: banks won’t provide financing, online payment platforms are skittish, and they aren’t eligible for tax credits that get extended to other film productions in the province. (One local producer’s bank teller once misheard her business as “corn” instead of “porn”; it was easier to go along with it rather than correct him.) The City won’t issue permits for porn shoots on City of Toronto property, but filmmakers won’t face the cops breaking down a private door. Most porn is shot in someone’s home, or at an Air BnB rented for the occasion.
But industries are like ecosystems. Smaller players exist alongside larger companies, and information, best practices, and people cross-pollinate all the time. One analogy would be Toronto’s restaurant industry: we have top-tier restaurants with star chefs; we also have hundreds of lesser-known bistros employing thousands of cooks, dishwashers, sous-chefs, serving staff, managers, and bartenders. Many of these people will eventually change jobs, looking for opportunities to make more money, work in better settings, or cook more interesting food. And this doesn’t even touch on the sectors that support the restaurant industry and whose trends can be hugely influential: the farmers, the delivery people, the culinary schools, and so on.
If Toronto’s restaurant industry is varied and robust—if we’re going with an ecosystem metaphor, think something like the Rocky Mountains—then our porn community is more like Madagascar: smaller, and more precarious, and filled with unexpected and wonderful creatures.
Sophie Delancey is vice president at The Art Of, whose websites include The Art of Blowjob and The Art of Cunnilingus. Bost sites are devoted to oral sex; The Art of Blowjob offers more than 500 videos and educational posts devoted to giving head. The videos run about six to 10 minutes, and Delancey says, “It’s almost a bit more like a music video than porn. It’s fundamentally about the act, but it’s edited so that there’s a little more beauty to it. We’re trying to recreate what the eye sees.” Shots of hands gripping sheets are intercut with voyeur-inspired wide shots, and The Art of Blowjob often includes elements of the foreplay or denouement. “I feel like Porn Valley has a different aesthetic than [Art of Blowjob]. We don’t necessarily have a European aesthetic, but we’re looking for people who are attractive and who look like people you would see in real life.”
“We’re looking for people who are attractive and who look like people you would see in real life.”
Delancey is careful to warn couples who approach her about appearing in videos about the risks still associated with performing in porn. “We ask people if they ever want to work with kids, or be in politics, and do you have people in your life who would be supportive of this decision? And sometimes the answer is, ‘Mmm, I’m not sure!’ or just no.” They discourage people like this from performing. She continues, “If I could work in porn as a performer and then went to an interview for, like, an office admin gig, and know that if they found me online it wouldn’t faze them, there would be more performers.” So far, though, that isn’t the reality. “Everyone in porn uses a fake name.”
Exhibit A: Malcolm Lovejoy, looks sort of like Dennis Rodman as inspired by Prince. “I want to be one of the examples of living, breathing examples of healthy, shameless, positive sexuality,” he tells Torontoist in an interview.
“I want to be one of the examples of living, breathing examples of healthy, shameless, positive sexuality.”
Lovejoy worked in hip-hop for decades before its cultural misogyny became stale. “I got tired of going to clubs and hearing records with the word ‘bitch’ in them. I just got fed up,” he says. He got his start in porn through the posting board at local sex shop Come as You Are. The store manager watched him stalk the board for months before passing him his first role, with Purple Video Productions. Lovejoy, who specializes in what he calls “goddess worship,” has done about a dozen scenes since he started last year.
“We have a sex industry, and we have a film industry, but we don’t have a porn industry. We have legal sex clubs, strip clubs, we’re a very intellectual city, there are beautiful people. And it’s legal. We have all the elements.” Lovejoy sees one of the issues as being economic. “The harsh working conditions really hold people back from imagining a pleasure-based industry could provide them with the means to live.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Drew Deveaux, a trans performer and the 2011 Heartthrob of the Year winner at the Feminist Porn Awards. “I think the cost of living in this city is so exorbitant that people have to work in order to live, and that creates a situation where you don’t have the luxury to dream up porn companies, and the disposable income to front it through its first year and actually start making money.” Deveaux started in porn in 2010 after connecting with American director Tobi Hill-Meyer for Doing It Ourselves, an influential for-trans-women, by-trans-women film that went on to spawn several sequels.
“It’s an interesting thing. I thought I was only going to do one shoot and say, ‘Here’s a representation,’ but I find out I really like making porn,” she laughs. Deveaux went on to shoot in both California and Toronto, albeit with mostly visiting American producers. She has also worked in San Fernando Valley on studio films, which she described as surreal. “There were makeup artists, costume people, a script.” The set was full of tech and cis men. “They did photo stills for the box cover before the actual sex.”
In Deveaux’s view, the local scene is anemic compared to its West Coast cousin.
“There has been hardly anything happening in Toronto. Ninety per cent of my work has been shot outside of Toronto, mostly in California, like L.A. or the Bay Area. It’s been hair-pulling. The times that I have shot in Toronto, more than half the time it’s been with directors from out of town. That’s always been a bit frustrating. I’ve had to lay out money in order to make money. It would be exciting to see more work made locally here.”
She says that more connectivity would help drive the industry.
“You build an industry by building companies that feed off each other in a synergistic way, by creating opportunities for performers to find themselves on camera and become stars. That’s what happened to me in Bay Area porn. I do think things will look different in a few years, and there will be more. There’s an opportunity and a market for some interesting, edgy, creative, queer-positive porn work to be shot in Toronto. For a city that prides itself on being on the cutting edge, this is underrepresented here.”
“There’s an opportunity and a market for some interesting, edgy, creative, queer-positive porn work to be shot in Toronto.”
One of the locals currently trying to build up that scene is Caitlin K. Roberts, the co-founder of The Spit Magazine. Nearly everyone Torontoist spoke to praised Roberts and The Spit for trying to create not just porn, but a porn community. The Spit holds parties, which sometimes double as video shoots, at Oasis Aqualounge. They host mixers, trying to figure out which performers will spark in upcoming scenes.
“I would love to have a studio,” says Roberts. “I would love if Spit became a business and we could have a beautiful studio and we could pay them lots of money. We’re really strong held to our values, to an annoying degree, but it’s really beneficial to everyone that’s involved.”
Spit, which has been online for about 18 months, currently offers nine videos and plenty of photo sets.
Roberts, 25, got involved with a burgeoning erotic arts magazine after leading body-positivity workshops. The magazine evolved into a website when the print format proved to be unsustainable.
“We could do everything that we wanted to do for the magazine, but in a broader, grander sense,” she says.
Roberts, who both performs in and produces videos, has big plans. “Our goal is to become the tube site. We’d still produce our own beautiful, high-quality porn, but we’d also do pay-per-video, with content coming in a whole whackload of porn stars with our values. And that’s important to us, that they align with our values. Instead of a subscription, you’d be able to pay two dollars to view a 15-minute video. It’ll have some free content, and some paid content. There will be erotic writing, and photos, and our aim is to be that site that people go to in order to get all the queer, alternative, feminist porn.”
Being able to pay performers and other staff is a key element to ethical porn, and it requires that viewers actually pony up. Payment rates vary; The Spit pays $50 for a photo set, while The Art of Blowjob offers $100 for each hour of shooting. These are roughly on-par with Los Angeles rates; the difference is that independent porn shoots tend to last only a few hours, while studio shoots can start at 7 a.m. and go until after dinner.
But if viewers refuse to pay for content, it becomes difficult for anyone involved to get paid. “People don’t pay for porn any more,” Delancey says.
Everyone Torontoist spoke to for this article was adamant about the importance of collaboration and consent, and many brought up the importance of representing different types of bodies and sexualities on screen.
Taylor J. Mace, a producer at Feisty Fox films who has been working in porn for about a year, and started creating his own porn as a response to what he saw as its shortcomings, says, “I had a strange relationship with porn before I started making it. I liked porn as a consumer but I was constantly disappointed by how different it looked from my experiences actually having sex. Everyone deserves to see a representation of someone like them as an object of desire. I didn’t see any bodies that looked like mine, my partners, or my friends.”
Both Deveaux and Roberts mentioned that watching porn is likely going to be a modern child’s first sexual experience; creating diverse and respectful porn becomes even more crucial when we consider the messages that porn sends to young, impressionable people discovering sex for the first time. In that sense, though Toronto’s porn scene may be small, it is cognizant of its potential to make changes, and many of its players are striving for a sexier, healthier, and more sustainable future.