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Venturing into future of porn and sexuality in SEXPO

Hendri Yulius
Hendri Yulius

Writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies

Melbourne  /  Fri, December 2, 2016  /  11:42 am
Venturing into future of porn and sexuality in SEXPO

SEXPO was conceived in Melbourne and hailed as the longest-running adult consumer exhibition in the world. (JP/Hendri Yulius)

Going to Melbourne, Australia, to venture into an exhibition of sex industries, porn stars and sex workshops in SEXPO, which ran from Nov. 24 to 27, was something that had never before crossed my mind.

Although I had devoted my time to write about pornography and sexuality during my studies in Singapore, direct encounters with the industries allow a more nuanced analysis – a brief ethnography that takes seriously the personal experiences of the people working in the industries and also my very own embodiment as both a consumer and observer.

Conceived in Melbourne and hailed as the longest-running adult consumer exhibition in the world, this year's SEXPO celebrates its 20-year anniversary, having drawn crowds to celebrate sexuality throughout its long-spanning history. With its promise of being “not just about sex”, the recent event offered multiple forms of carnal entertainments – strip shows, a comedy hypnotist, fetish demonstrations, international porn stars and even audience participation competitions: the World Famous Amateur Strip and Sexy Cosplay Competition.

SEXPO ran from Nov. 24 to 27 in Melbourne, Australia.(JP/Hendri Yulius)

I arrived at the Melbourne exhibition center at 3 p.m. on the first day of the event, avoiding the predictably long queue. The grand opening started at 4 p.m. and just 30 minutes before the scheduled opening the crowds began to swarm. It was no surprise: Sex always sells. The crowds were diverse: Among their numbers could be counted men and women from a range of races, ages and nationalities.

Since I had bought the pass that allowed me to go down the red carpet, I joined another line of visitors holding those same special passes. Some of men and women in provocative outfits sharing laughter together, as I assumed they were working for the industries, and then passed in front of me and entered the room. I was nervous and kept checking my bag to ensure that my notebook, pens and power bank were ready to take notes and pictures of my observations. Nevertheless, my plan to jot down notes was not possible – bags and jackets had to be left in the cloakroom.

As the poster promised visitors would “Feel the Future”, a computer-controlled robot stripper took to the stage. A number of booths provided a glimpse into the future of adult entertainment, spanning from virtual reality porn, sex technology and toys and a gigantic Love Rocket Ride and Sex Train. International porn stars Jayden James and Venus Lux had their own special guest stage, on which fans could take pictures together with them, say hello to them and ask for their autographs. While I was observing the exhibitions, I was attracted by some virtual reality porn provided by an adult entertainment company. A female staff member (who I later I discovered was a performer for this company) slipped a Gear Virtual Reality and a headset onto me and then connected it with tablets on the desk.

Unlike the common porn in DVD format, I was immersed in the action – a naked woman moved forward to seduce me. Looking down, I saw a genitalia positioned virtually as mine. The scene was shot from a point-of-view (POV) mode, which is actually pretty common for mainstream porn that has the heterosexual male as the target market. However, the virtual body and sex reveals a new form of embodiment. Pleasure of watching and feeling the sensations thus does not always require real encounters with a physical body. This new form of porn is indeed not independent from new forms of consumption and technology. Feminist Donna Haraway declaring herself a cyborg, or female R&B singer Janelle Monae positioning her self as an android are the epitomes of technological bodies – malleable bodies that are assimilated by technology.

(Read also: 6 virtual reality experiences that don't cost too much)

Fifty Shades of Grey-type images in the stage performance by an all-male dance group.(JP/Hendri Yulius)

I found Fifty Shades of Grey-type images in the stage performance by an all-male dance group that usually cater to hen parties and ladies nights (and some gay clubs as well). They dressed up as robots, then slowly ripped off their outfits to show their pectorals and abs. The audience was screaming and asking for more. I managed to visit the group’s All Male Revue – a small room designed like a bar with a stage. Topless male dancers were walking around to cater to the female visitors. A group of 40-something women sitting opposite me were drunk. One of them screamed and asked for a performance of male dancers.

“They can be very wild,” said Daniel (not his real name), one of the dancers who approached me and sat beside me. He was 28 years old and from Brisbane, topless with well-carved abs and arms. Before being a stripper, he was a topless waiter for AUD 40 (US$30) per hour. He said his group does not have security protecting them from customers, like what female strippers have. The women were sometimes very aggressive toward them at parties. The absence of security perhaps demonstrates how male bodies are still seen as not as vulnerable as women’s, although they share similar professions. Nevertheless, his managers are two women; one can do martial arts. She will be the one who will protect him and other dancers from aggressive customers.

I asked him about performing in gay clubs. His answer surprised me – that he gets more tips from gay customers. Thus, he likes performing for the gay community, although he said frankly: “I am straight.” When performing in gay bars, he likes doing private lap dances when men can rub oil onto his body. “Do you want to move to porn?” I asked him. He replied: “I think it is too extreme.” Perhaps his parents would object to that choice as well.

(Read also: Double standards: The defining of homosexuality as pornographic in Indonesia)

Australian Sex Party at SEXPO 2016.(JP/Hendri Yulius)

In our commercialized and sexualized era, competition among adult companies is undoubtedly sharp. Daniel confessed that he receives lower hourly payments compared to his waiting job. Companies compete and reduce their expenses for maximum profitability. “Besides, this industry [male strippers] is still new. Look, the film Magic Mike was only released a few years ago.”

As I left the SEXPO, I was thinking about the future of sex. Well, the term “future” imagines a teleological process – there is something that awaits us, waiting to unfolded. But what if the future is actually already here?

Likewise, the future of sex may be already here – among the technologies and rapid consumerism. It just needs to be unfastened from its safety belt. Sex, as we become more obsessed by it and monetize it, consistently leaps from our grips, leaving unanswered questions: “What is sex? What is body? What is pleasure?” (kes)

 

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The writer, who obtained his Master’s in public policy from the National University of Singapore, is the writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies. He is currently pursuing his Masters by Research in Gender and Cultural Studies in The University of Sydney. See other writings by Hendri Yulius here.

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