Six women, six bedrooms, six boxes on the screen. Aidra Fox, wearing only a bold red lip and pair of socks with cherries on them, pops upright on her bed and says giddily, “I want to get closer.” She scoots down toward her webcam and places knees behind elbows. Kendra Spade leans into the screen and starts licking the air. In response, Fox bounces her bottom, as though enough coordinated movement might miraculously bend the rules of time and space, bringing tongue to vulva. Meanwhile, in neighboring rectangles, co-stars Alina Lopez, Kenna James, Kristen Scott, and Whitney Wright collaboratively writhe and moan, the focus of their satisfied gazes in this disembodied bacchanal a bewildering unknown.
It’s a Zoom orgy, a delightful phrase that I have found myself in recent days repeating aloud in a singsongy style, because it feels like any other heartwarming quirk of these socially distanced times: sidewalk drawings, TikTok dances, Zoom orgies. Given the covid-19 pandemic, the adult industry is currently operating under a production hold on traditional in-person studio shoots, which has forced directors to get creative. The grid of writhing, moaning women is a result of that creativity, a product of the sudden need to rethink porn.
This Zoom orgy will eventually be edited into a film for the porn site Adult Time, a YouTube-like subscription streaming service with genres ranging from “fauxcest” to “plus-size erotica.” The six performers previously worked together in the popular movie Teenage Lesbian, a sexual coming-of-age story set in the ’90s, and they’ve been reunited for the one-year anniversary of the production by director Bree Mills, the founder of Adult Time. “I thought, ‘We gotta do a reunion, we have to do some kind of virtual orgy,’ that’s the best we can do right now, so let’s do it,” Mills said.
Before the Zoom orgy, the six performers called into the video conference to record a conversation out of character, appearing as their real-life selves while reminiscing together about their favorite sex scenes from the original. Then it was on to creating this new sex scene. They reach and grasp toward each other’s screens, literally and figuratively. “Oh my god, Aidra,” says Lopez, “I want to stick my tongue deep in your pussy.” This reaching and grasping is typical: porn is an inaccessible fantasy. It touches without touching, bridging physical distance through visceral imagery, prompting viewers to imagine their way into the scene. Now, though, porn performers have to portray that remote illusion while themselves socially distanced. Suddenly, there is another layer of remove.
In March, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the adult industry’s non-profit trade association, called for a production hold due to covid-19. For those who chose to follow the guidelines, shoots were limited to at-home productions featuring either a solo star or performers who are sheltering-in-place together. Luckily, this DIY style of production is familiar to many performers, who already worked for cam sites and premium social media platforms like OnlyFans alongside traditional in-person studio shoots. Still, a Zoom orgy is a unique offshoot.
Last month, four women performers got together for an orgiastic video conference and distributed the resulting video on their OnlyFans accounts. Now, Adult Time, a major studio, is exploring the genre and, more broadly, it appears teleconferencing productions are the near-term reality of porn, especially with FSC earlier this month extending its production hold “until further notice.” Mills has already shot a Zoom film about a fictional boss and secretary who were having an in-person affair when the pandemic hit, forcing their infidelity to go virtual.
Adult Time is developing a number of live streaming series, including one in which adult performers will watch their favorite porn films while providing Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary. Mills is also planning to direct an ambitious feature film via Zoom with the help of a team of performers filming from their own homes, the fictional concept being a portrait of several people’s sex lives after a year under quarantine. “What impact does the self-isolation have on people’s psychologies and, of course, on people’s sexual desire? I think that’s an interesting subject,” she said. Mills will write the script and storyboard each shot before virtually coordinating with performers working from their own homes.
For now, though, porn shot with Zoom is a way to keep filming despite the demands of social distancing. Here, teleconferencing software doesn’t just facilitate production but also occupies the frame of the fantasy itself: the stars of a popular series reuniting via Zoom for companionship, and sexual relief, amid isolation. As Spade put it during the call, “I’m so horny.” This is a production shift borne of desperation, but it also has the benefit of efficiency. “If we did this normally, it would probably take 12 hours, between getting everything set up and shooting all the scenes,” Mills said. This virtual shoot took only two hours.
Before call-time, contracts were signed, makeup was finished (the performers did it themselves), and setup was completed. Each woman arranged her own camera, lights, props, and backdrop, according to the parameters of an instructional document sent out by Mills. The shoot began with a group interview with Mills playing host—and then it was time for the orgy. Before the scene, Mills cracked the clapperboard while sitting in a captain-style desk chair in front of her home office setup, which she has nicknamed her “spaceship.”
Clothes were promptly peeled off amid sprinkles of laughter. “Seeing everyone on camera and not being able to—look at Kendra’s nipples,” said Lopez, sounding tortured. Fox mimed grasping motions with both hands. “I just want to grab through the screen at you guys,” she said. Scott, shaking her bubblegum-pink head of hair, said, “I wish I could taste all of you right now. Fuck.” Fox gushed, “Look at those pussies. I wanna taste them.” It’s a dynamic familiar to anyone who has ever had any form of virtual sex. Whether it’s cyber, phone, or cam, long-distance sex is often filled with expressions of longing to transcend the distance. Not being able to. I just want to. Wish I could. In many ways, that is the sex. It is the eager, tormented expression of what is wanted until you can imagine yourself there. I wish fleetingly becomes I am.
Conversation turned casual: “I have a full bush!” exclaimed Spade. Fox replied, “I have a baby one. You’ve been growing yours out?” Spade tossed up a hand in a half shrug: “I just haven’t been waxing.” Fox giggled. “It looks so good, though,” she said. “It looks scrumptious.” Vibrators were pulled out briefly, then promptly went away (“There’s the [fans] who loves the toys and the ones who hate the toys, and never the two shall meet, so mix it up,” warned Mills ahead of the shoot). The performers masturbated while gymnastically arranging their bodies in the interest of their webcams. The visual of six women gazing into a camera in neighboring Brady Bunch-like boxes was reminiscent of a cam site landing page, only the women were disorientingly interacting with each other.
For me, as a silent, unseen participant, the shoot was what an orgy necessarily is to a distant observer: erotic chaos. There was no single, central point of focus. My eyes bounced around the screen, then I switched to Zoom’s “active speaker” view, so that whoever was speaking—in this case, moaning—would be maximized on-screen, but then everyone was “speaking” at the same time, so my screen became a roulette of shifting surprises. I ping-ponged between various personal bedrooms—white sheets, embroidered quilt, blue velvet throw pillows, geometrically patterned headboard—wondering to whom, and with whom, each woman was looking, responding, interacting. I found myself trying to match gaze to gaze, searching for evidence of a pair of performers simultaneously looking into each others’ eyes. Someone would smile in response to something on-screen and I’d fruitlessly search for the inciting visual.
This Zoom orgy had the same essential qualities of any other business teleconferencing session amid this pandemic: awkwardness, confusion, and commotion alongside the ecstatic relief of imperfect connection. “It was hard to have to pay attention to so many different things at once,” said Fox of the shoot. Similarly, Scott said, “I was so visually stimulated by so many beautiful women, I almost didn’t know what to say, I just wanted to focus on everybody.” The scene concluded with the group seeming to unanimously agree to encourage Scott to a concluding orgasm, which led Mills to call “cut.”
Virtual shoots like this may be borne of necessity as a technical production workaround, but in practice, it feels more like a shift of narrative relevancy. Sure, there is something to be said for total, untethered escapism in entertainment, but porn tends to elicit feeling by maintaining a link to the darkness, whether it’s taboo desires, unarticulated fears, or the backdrop of a pandemic. That is where the spark happens.
Porn meets us where we are before taking us where we aren’t. For many of us, human contact right now is teleconferencing. It’s unbridgeable distances and leaning into screens. Plenty of the everyday tropes tackled by porn have gone virtual: yoga, therapy, high school, doctor’s visits. Mills’ wife is currently teaching fitness classes virtually and recently had a couple of men barge into the class to flash their dicks. “I’m over here like, ‘That would be a really good scenario,’” joked Mills.
For her, the limitations on production have opened new possibilities. “This isn’t a pause that we’re on,” she said. “It’s just a fork in the road.” Mills plans to one day resume studio shoots, when it’s safe to do so, but she adds, “I don’t think we’re gonna limit ourselves to traditional productions anymore.”