Hot Sex: Inside the Kinky World of Bespoke Porn

For fans sick of the mainstream clips found on sites like Pornhub, custom films scratch every (odd) itch – and might also save the industry

Want porn that you can't find on tube sites on the Internet? Customs are the new frontier. Credit: CC Productions

Inside the sunny confines of a three-bedroom ranch in Palm Springs, California, there's a camera aimed at porn star Christina Carter. Actually, it's aimed at her toes, which she's using to clutch a couple of burning matches. She'll later get bopped on the head with a toy bat and toplessly impersonate a rooster while wearing a busty Wonder Woman bikini. The entire spectacle – something like live-action Loony Tunes but with gratuitous nudity – is intended for the satisfaction of a single viewer. There's some kooky, situational comedy (think: accidentally falling into a pool) and light bondage (picture: Jessica Rabbit tied up on the railroad tracks), and no sex. For $5,300, a fan has commissioned his very own 30-minute custom porno with Carter.

"With customs like this, I might email over 100 times with the client about the specific script details beforehand – what color lipstick I'm wearing, what angles of my body are shot, what wardrobe, shoes and props are used," says Carter. At 41, she's snubbing the traditional porn model to cash in on the hundreds of custom film requests she's received, and she's hardly alone in the business pivot: according to the Free Speech Coalition (the adult industry's national trade association) over 75 percent of industry models are now creating and getting paid for their own content, including social media, cam shows, and – the new forefront – bespoke videos.

As journalist Jon Ronson documented in his Audible podcast The Butterfly Effect, the custom adult film trend has emerged as a way to bring life back into a biz that nearly bled to death from rampant film pirating and the rise of free sites like Youporn, RedTube, and ­– the Mecca – Pornhub, which sees a staggering 75 million viewers a day. "The Internet's done nothing but shoot holes in mainstream porn, not unlike what happened back in the day with Napster and the music industry," says Carter's producer, Nick Sterling. "Customs evolved because we had to start fulfilling a specific fantasy not available on those free tube sites."

Despite the massive free market, a small, cash-flush contingent of fans, fatigued by the watered-down or repetitive quality of mainstream porn, are choosing to throw their coin into the bespoke experience. "Yes, there's all this free content, but it's like watching too much comedy – you become jaded or nothing feels new or different," says a 36-year old man we'll call Joel, who recently dropped $2,000 to bring a 20-page script about a crazy scientist and his sex-act-inducing potion to life. (Though this endeavor had the blessing of his wife, he asked to have his name changed for privacy.) "Developing a custom is exhilarating – yeah it's kind of smutty and odd but it's also a rewarding creative process," says Joel. Yet it's one that he likes to keep to himself. "It's not like I'm out at a bar telling my friends about the porno I've just commissioned," he says. "It's an pricey, private hobby."

Casey Calvert – a 27-year-old porn star who produces her own custom flicks for anywhere from a few hundred bucks to upwards of $10,000 – says her fan base forks over premium prices for customs because they open the door to interact with her directly. "These guys are usually big fans and now they get the chance to tell me what turns them on, or how they want their name said," she says. "Meanwhile I get to create something they love and be my own boss at the same time." Calvert began her career back in 2011 booking mainstream gigs, but zeroed in on customs after the big studio jobs started drying up. "I remember my first month in the biz I was hired to shoot a big feature, and on set we had craft services, wardrobe, hair, makeup – even manicurists. Six months ago I got hired to do another feature for the same company and I had to do my own makeup and they fed us McDonald's at the end of the day. There's just no more money in mainstream porn." (She concedes that there are fewer gigs for her age group, too: "Right now I'm stuck between the teen and MILF categories and there just aren't the same jobs for me anymore," she says.)

Where are the jobs? Niche and fetish porn, a.k.a. super-specific, oddball stuff that isn't on Pornhub. It's one of the biggest drivers behind the custom film trend. "Whether it's friggin' French nails or latex, everyone's got a fetish," says Carter. "I've filmed a custom film in Crocs before because that's what turned the guy on!" Adds Sterling, "For hardcore fetish guys, they need to see that one thing to get off." If the premise isn't too bizarre, some porn stars and producers, like Carter, will retain the rights to custom flicks so they can resell them down the road at a discounted rate by way of a clips store or members-only subscription site. (For the hyper-niche stuff Carter doesn't expect to resell well – like the Looney Tunes shtick – she might charge more upfront.)

Not only are performers refocusing their approach, now entire production companies are turning their sights on this kind of porn. Anatomik Media, a Los-Angeles based company run by a married couple who go by Dan and Rhiannon, churns out custom, kinky content. They produce as many as 15 films a month with flicks ranging from a few hundred bucks to tens of thousands of dollars – and say they receive at least a script a day outlining a fetish they've never heard of before. (Their oddest commission: a man from Norway sent in his rare stamp collection to be ripped apart and burned by a couple of models in heels, destruction expertly documented in The Butterfly Effect.) Dan and Rhiannon's bread and butter, however, is the messy, gooey, wet stuff – they've filmed everything from baked beans and ranch sauce being poured over a model in a mini pool to a bare foot getting stuck in rat glue. "We've done the cookie cutter stuff, but honestly custom videos are just way more fulfilling – we get to make people happy, it feels like we're helping them," says Rhiannon. (She says they don't ask questions about why a script's being commissioned, but they are painstakingly careful with small script details – for fetish fans, something as simple as a camera angle can make or break a film.)

The tech brains behind iwantcustomclips.com, an online marketplace for independent models to sell custom videos, have put some horsepower behind the niche market; viewers can browse over 1,000 categories (including "pantyhose wrestling," "height humiliation," and, um, "vacuuming," to name a few), find a model suited to their taste, then select various outfits and toys before running their credit card for the custom. (The models charge by the minute with premiums for a certain sex acts­ or a quick turnaround – the average custom clip runs about $385.) Launched in 2014, the site is now exploding in growth: their revenue's jumping an average of 10 percent a month, and the top performers can bank as much as $600,000 a year, not a bad payout for a freelance gig. "I think within five years almost anything a fan desires, they will be able to custom order," says the site's vice president, Jay Phillips. "It will be the difference between buying off the rack, and walking into a designer's studio and having a couture piece made."