Future Tense

How CGI Is Circumventing Porn’s Condom Law

But do viewers have to be able to see them?


Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

In the year since Los Angeles County passed a law requiring all adult-film actors use condoms on film, the so-called Porn Valley has emptied out, as directors leave for less-green pastures like Vegas and Miami. According to some estimates, L.A. pornography permits are down as much as 95 percent since the so-called Measure B passed.

But there’s an alternative to packing up and moving: simply digitizing the flesh back on.

Gay porn company Falcon Studios is using CGI to re-create the bareback experience while its actors are fully strapped on. It already has one new digitally enhanced film, California Dreamin’ 1, an ode of sorts to the old-school porn movies. Last month, around the film’s release, director Tony DiMarco said in an interview:

With this movie I really wanted to capture the essence of that time, when life seemed more carefree and spontaneous. In keeping with this concept, I felt that condoms need [sic] to be addressed. I wanted to give the impression of a pre-condom movie, but use condoms as we do in every scene we film.

It’s unclear how much phallic CGI costs, but the tech is probably cheaper than leaving Los Angeles. And while Falcon Studios is mum on sales, you can bet that being the first known CGI-enhanced porn will help push product—just on pure curiosity. For everyone else, though, the real question is: Can digital phallus and other technological enhancements help stop porn’s escape from Los Angeles.

The CGI-ing of porn is part of an evolving fantasy adult entertainment track we’ve been on since the wood-panel VCR days. Porn’s current hyper-exaggerated aesthetic began with the obvious, almost gaudy Reagan-era silicon breast implants, but it was followed by the quiet, almost taboo Viagra trend in the ’90s. Quite a few porn stars at the time considered taking the erectile dysfunction drug “cheating.” Both were false experiences of sorts, but the fact that they made the chests bigger, the dicks harder, made them worth keeping the delusion going. And the only false advertising more egregious than your favorite actor popping a pill before a scene is your favorite actor not having his penis in the scene at all. It is as if we require more to believe, to participate in, to actually enjoy a pornographic experience, like a growing kid getting more and more skeptical about whether Santa Claus actually exists.

Technology has afforded us all this power, though it isn’t to blame, as we’re the ones actually deciding how we will use it. Earlier this month, LionsGate assured fans that the late, great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman would appear in the next still-filming Hunger Games movie, albeit with the help of CGI. The fans would demand it, so technology is coming to the rescue.

The adult industry has an even more symbiotic relationship with technology, so you can bet top-billing actors will be asking for reductions, edits, and enhancements during their porn post-production. It will be up to the fans to ask for better labeling: “This porn contains no digitized parts”—the equivalent of GMO foods where most pornography will be modified in some form. There will be a Whole Foods of porn, and it will do great.

The demand for “pure porn” isn’t going to happen right away, though. The fastest-growing pornography companies aren’t the old guard like Vivid and Hustler, but indies like Brazzers and Reality Kings, which rank among the top-visited sites on the Web. Unlike the Hollywood-inspired heavyweights, they provide short clips stylistically patterned, if not actually made, on a guerilla movie environment: Shaky digital hand cameras in outside venues like the mall, seemingly random encounters between soon-to-be lovers, and, most notably, a grassroots straight-to-Internet approach that connected them directly with consumers. This new guard is autonomous from the porn-Hollywood system, controlling its own distribution, hiring its own non-union actors, and working away from complex movie sets.

And this is where the rubber meets the road: Porn consumers today don’t need shiny Hollywood-style sets, hefty production values, or excellent camera work. They need easily accessible multiplatform bites in a downloadable format. Digital dicks fit right into this aesthetic.

Nearly all of our content today is in a computerized format. The men and women we pine for are PhotoShopped beauties. Seemingly straightforward films like The Wolf of Wall Street are as CGI-laden as a Michael Bay flick. In a few years, most people won’t be able to tell the difference between a pixel-based appendage and a human-based appendage. Showing computerized body parts on top of a traditionally filmed person on a digital format may be the ultimate way to escape the uncanny valley.

The penis CGI seems pretty realistic based on what’s shown online (really, really not safe for work, obviously). Complaints so far lean more toward being turned off by the idea of getting off on digital penises, not the aesthetic of the digital penises themselves. Ironically, it’s similar to the suspense-of-disbelief argument porn producers had against mandatory condoms in movies. Both CGI and condoms remind the viewer that what they are watching isn’t an adult fairytale.

In short, it ruins the fantasy. But the truth is that our visual fantasies are already digitized.