It might seem like porn is all about touching, but in most adult videos contact tends to be limited to the repeated union of the business parts, with performers contorting the rest of their bodies as far apart as possible so that consumers can get a good look at the action.
Except when Kayden Kross directs a scene. “I want to make it look like they can’t touch each other enough,” she told the Observer in a phone call. She said she tells them, “Please, just be together.”
Kross co-founded the site TrenchcoatX with fellow porn star Stoya, a subscription adult site built around the two’s personal tastes (Stoya has since moved on from the project). Particularly in a series like “Sun-Lit,” performers are likely to to kiss for a long time, press their entire bodies together and stare into each other’s eyes as they go at it.
She recounted directing the male talent on a recent shoot, saying “Man, you don’t have to hump with your hands behind your head.”
“They thought I was crazy,” Kross said. “You could tell.”
That physicality is on-brand for TrenchcoatX, though. While she declined to share subscription numbers, Kross said the site has an unusually large female audience, at roughly 47 percent. Kross said the number is more like a quarter of subscribers, on other subscription video sites. Marie Claire estimated a third of women are regular porn consumers. Kross’s lady fans tell her that they “like that we are getting this intimate interaction between people,” she said.
Female fans (and some men, too) also like something else the founders built into the site from its earliest days: a system to filter videos by what viewers want to see and—critically—filter out what they don’t.
Stoya wrote about this design decision during the site’s early days. They call it “squicks and squees.” New users get asked to tag aspects of a porn that they love (squees) and stuff they can’t stand seeing (squicks). It’s all done with content tags. Someone at TrenchcoatX watches each video (it was always Stoya at first) and tags it with each performers’ names and aspects of the performance, like “spanking,” “ejaculation: on face,” “domination: soft” or “transman.”
Every TrenchcoatX video a user opens will show their squicks and squees prominently highlighted, with all the other tags shown in a demure grey (“shrugs”). Users can also completely block videos that feature one of their squicks.
For women in their audience, “the worth to find the kind of stuff they want is not worth the effort of avoiding the stuff they don’t want,” Kross said. For anyone who has not been, even the front page of the typical free porn site can be a little much, without clicking “play” on anything.
But less than 10 percent of people opt to completely hide videos featuring their squicks. “They just want to know what’s in there ahead of time,” Kross said.
Though this may also be because the system as it is built right now could benefit from a little more nuance. When we first fired it up, we clicked too many squicks. Hardly any videos surfaced if we blocked everything that kind of grossed us out, though. So we switched to the warning rather than the blocking system. Some users might like a mix. A warning could be fine for “spitting” but they might rather completely block anything tagged “domination: hard.”
The squicks have been eye-opening for the team, too. For example, just because a sex act is very popular, some buyers in the market probably still want to avoid it. In particular, Kross was surprised to learn that there’s a segment of her audience that really doesn’t want to see anal penetration. “There’s this idea in adult, that if a woman will perform anal, they should book it,” Kross said, because it always sells well.
That may be true, but those same distributors could be losing sales by not offering some scenes that limit the variety of penetration. “A lot of people want to see nothing related to that in any sense,” Kross said. So now, she doesn’t always shoot it, even if her star is willing.
“Having watched squicks and squees, I feel I don’t have to do that,” she said.
All that said, the squee feature—helping users find what they like, is more popular than the squicks. People are also less surprising about what they dig. “It’s completely the stuff you’d expect,” Kross said. “Natural breasts. Girl on girl. Squirting.”
One could imagine the system really evolving with coding and technology. For example, rather than blocking a whole video over a squick, the system could just edit that segment of the video out. Or major squees might loop for viewers that really wanted to dwell. And Kross would like to further refine the system, but the margins in porn today are razor-thin and it takes resources to build that stuff. “We’re not Apple. We’re not crazy tech geniuses,” Kross said.
In order to drive a handful of sales, TrenchcoatX has to give free content to to thousands on sites like Pornhub, even though tube-sites like that are blamed for wrecking porn’s business model. A new podcast from Jon Ronson explores more of the economic impacts in a world rich in free explicit videos.
Right now, it’s even hard for TrenchcoatX to add new tags, because doing so creates a whole cascade of extra work. Sometimes Kross feels she has to, nevertheless. For example, a woman contacted her recently and said that “cumswaps” really ought to be a tag. “As soon as she said that, I was like, ‘Absolutely, you’re right,’” Kross told us (tip: if you don’t know what that is, you probably want to tag it as a squick).
So far, Kross doesn’t know of a comparable site that also lets adult content fans filter out the stuff they don’t want to see, and she’s confident TrenchcoatX was the first subscription site to do it. Somewhat counter-intuitively, though, this simple idea of helping folks minimize their particular ick-factor might actually leave them wanting to watch more.