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Women Tailor Sex Industry to Their Eyes

Carlin Ross and Christina Head, a lawyer and a documentary filmmaker in New York, recently teamed up to plot new careers.

Among their first moves: Ms. Ross, 30, a general counsel to dot-coms, this month restarted an adult Web site that features “sex and love from a woman’s perspective.”

Ms. Head, 26, who has primarily covered subjects like inner-city youth, hopes to produce and direct pornographic films and television programming.

“It’s all about empowering and educating women and, of course, I enjoy sex,” Ms. Head said. “We’re women. We enjoy sex.”

Ms. Head and Ms. Ross are part of a growing cadre of women who are selling sex to other women, in this case what Ms. Ross calls “female empowered” adult entertainment – the kind with plots, foreplay and cuddling in the afterglow, the kind that is mindful of women’s tastes and suggests new possibilities for women’s pleasure.

Experts say demand by women – both heterosexual and lesbian – is driving the growth of all sorts of sex-related ventures, from stores, catalogs and sex toy companies to adult Web sites, pornographic films and cable television shows. At the same time, many women, they say, see the sex industry as a legitimate place to make a living.

“Women have a voice now – `This is what I want and this is how I want it,’ ” said Ms. Ross.

Samantha Lewis, president of Digital Playground, a DVD company in California that produces pornographic films for women and couples, estimated that women account for 40 percent of retail sales of Digital’s movies, double what it was just two years ago. At trade shows, she said, half the fans are women, compared to maybe 10 percent five years ago. “Women are fueling the growth,” Ms. Lewis, 42, said.

While women have long been involved in the sex industry as providers and consumers, their participation now has become more of an economic phenomenon, largely because of the Internet. In fact, experts say, the Internet has been a major factor in unleashing women’s interest in all things sexual. Surveys by Nielsen/NetRatings, which measures Internet audiences, have found that women account for more than a quarter of all visitors to sites with adult content, with more than 10 million women logging on to such sites in December alone.

ComScore Media Metrix, an Internet research firm, has found even higher female demand for adult sites – 42 percent of all visitors in January – with the highest rates among women ages 18 to 34.

The Internet also helps sales for other sex-related businesses.

Toys in Babeland, a company founded by women to sell sex toys and other sex products to women in 1993, with three stores in Washington and New York, said online purchases have boomed in the last four years, outpacing mail-order and retail sales. “We’re getting a boost from the way the Internet allows privacy and from a shift in expectations about sex, specially in women,” Claire Cavanah, a co-owner, said. “It’s a whole new mindset.”

As recently as a decade ago, the customer base for Adam & Eve, a mail-order marketer of adult entertainment and novelties, was virtually all male, said Katy Zvolerin, a spokeswoman for the company, which is based in Charlotte, N.C. Today, women account for 30 percent of the company’s catalog sales and 40 percent of Internet sales, she said.

More women in the business helps to generate more female demand. Debra Curtis, a lecturer on anthropology at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., said the Tupperware-style demonstration parties of sex toys, where women sit around with friends in a relaxed setting, help to promote sex toys as fun and mainstream. The saleswomen make the toys “imaginable,” she said, for those who would never have considered using them.

“The market is providing women multiple ways of being sexual,” said Ms. Curtis, who wrote a paper for the journal Cultural Anthropology on the gatherings. “There are new sexual repertoires, new rules and expectations, being created. It’s not just about romance. It’s about increasing sexual pleasure. “

Some critics are skeptical of what is driving the demand.


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