What If Porn Had No Pictures?


“I know it when I see it,” Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote in a 1964 Supreme Court case when asked to set legal parameters for “hard-core” pornography. But what do you call it — hard-core, soft-core, whatever you like — when there’s nothing to see?

“‘Erotica’ doesn’t sound as fun,” said Caroline Spiegel, a founder of Quinn, a new platform in the growing world of audio pornography. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, she was scrolling through the site at the loft in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn where she lives and works with Jackie Hanley, her co-founder and the C.O.O. of the company.

Their goal is for Quinn to become the premier destination for nonvisual pornography, following in the footsteps of popular sites like Pornhub.com. Quinn plans to remain free for users and later this month will introduce an option to tip creators, keeping a percentage of those tips; the site also plans to experiment with advertising.

The idea came to Ms. Spiegel, 22, when she was in treatment for an eating disorder and began to experience sexual dysfunction. “Visual porn didn’t work for me,” she said. “It was too voyeuristic.”

She has found that audio porn leaves more room for subjectivity and imagination. And you can listen to it anywhere.

Ms. Spiegel clicked on one story, in which a man with a plummy British accent begins, “I love making love.” She hit pause and giggled. “You get the idea.”

The formats vary: a naughty story, a guided masturbation, an acted-out scene. Sometimes these audio stories appear in Reddit threads, blog posts and podcasts (“porncasts”?) like “Bawdy Storytelling” and “Kiss Me Quick.” Many of the creators are women.

“Visual porn is working for men,” said Gina Gutierrez, 29, a founder of Dipsea, a subscription app. Users can pay monthly ($8.99) or yearly ($47.99) for access to 175 stories, with weekly updates.

Ms. Gutierrez and her co-founder, Faye Keegan, 29, were intent on a narrative approach based on the premise that “the best sex content was hidden inside other content.”

“‘Outlander’ is a good example,” Ms. Gutierrez said. “Even ‘Fleabag’ showed sex that was real.” They couldn’t find erotica they liked, and online searches produced a lot of videos that didn’t turn them on. Ms. Gutierrez would find herself daydreaming about the Airbnb the film was shot in, rather than the sex.

Headspace, the guided meditation app, got her thinking about how audio-only programs could increase focus and, crucially, pleasure.

Dipsea’s clean design and cartoonish thumbnail drawings could be mistaken for a mindfulness product, but its stories have titles like “Worth the Wait” (Description: “When she told me she didn’t want to sleep together on the first date, I was surprised. But if she wanted to wait … I could wait. I’d do anything she asked.”). Settings include the F train and Tulum, Mexico; and there are references to indie rock concert meet-cutes.

“The big umbrella idea is approachable fantasy,” Ms. Gutierrez said.

Dipsea also has categories for gender and sexual orientation, the type of scenario (“hookup,” “role play”) and the level of raciness. The app’s demographic “sweet spot” is women who are 25 to 45.

Lucie Fleming, 25, is a voice-over actress in New York City whose experience is mostly in corporate narration and product advertising. She was also in the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at Stanford University with Ms. Spiegel and Ms. Hanley, who approached her to join their new venture.

“This was an opportunity to perform in a way I hadn’t as an artist, and to connect with audiences in a much more intimate way than laser hair removal or internal corporate videos,” Ms. Fleming said.

There were some transitional challenges. “You don’t want it to sound too manufactured,” Ms. Fleming said. “Scripts would say, ‘moan here.’ I would try to weave that in as naturally as possible so it doesn’t sound like, ‘O.K., I’m moaning.’” But she has gotten into the groove of it and has even begun writing stories for the platform.

Another Quinn creator, Jim, 35, records audio porn under the name Feel-Good Filth. He has a day job at an international bank in Chicago, but he thinks that in a couple of years he could be making enough money to support himself through the recordings. Jim himself prefers more traditional porn. “I like visuals,” he said.

At Dipsea, professional voice actors are recorded individually for stories. Some sound effects come from an audio library. “A condom wrapper could be a candy wrapper opening,” Ms. Gutierrez said.

Birth control and active consent are addressed directly in story scripts. Ms. Spiegel said that Quinn’s policy is “no minors, no incest, no bestiality, no nonconsent — although we allow consensual nonconsent, but it’s clearly tagged.”

Dipsea takes a similar stance on consent. “It’s mandatory,” Ms. Gutierrez said, “but it doesn’t always have to be verbal. Like if the story is No. 2 in a series and it’s about a monogamous couple. If it’s a first-time encounter with two people who have never met before, it does.”

This is not just to keep up with social and political mores, but because “the whole communications thing is so core to pleasure,” she said.

With stories made by companies run by women and without unattainable bodies to compare oneself to, you could call this a more accepting and even feminist approach to porn. (Though feminists have been divided on porn for decades.)

It could also be a more disruptive format than, say, virtual reality porn, which has all of regular porn’s problems and then some.

The 35-year-old writer behind Girl on the Net, an erotica blog, lives in London and is named Sarah (“I get a lot of strange emails as is,” she said when asked to share her surname). Audio porn, she said, may also rise in popularity as users become more aware of ethical porn consumption and wary of exploiting performers.

“More people are looking to independent porn sites and paying for their video porn, as well as exploring options like audio,” she said. “It’s probably also significant that the technology required to produce audio is now much more accessible to people — setting up to record your own is easier now.”

Ms. Spiegel said that about half of Quinn’s users are men, and that the site’s most frequent search term is “lesbian.” Its most popular story involves a British man — accents are so popular that they have their own category — named Harry addressing a female paramour.

Before the unprintably hot stuff begins, he makes sure you, the target of his desire, are comfortable: “Let me take your jacket, let me help you unwind,” he says. “Let’s get those heels off.”



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