With dozens of patents to his name, Arizona inventor and businessman Bill Wilkinson recently took a break from his quest to find a cure for diabetes to work on something else he believes will improve humankind: a sexual aid.
This weekend, he and wife Tracy were busy hawking the device for $60--batteries and rubber bands included--to the curious and bemused at the Erotica-LA show at the downtown convention center in Los Angeles.
"It's like any invention," said Wilkinson, 56, who acknowledged that devising it required being a bit unorthodox.
Indeed, judging from the crowd at the fifth annual adult entertainment trade show, lots of people are breaking from social convention to attend the sexual convention.
More than 25,000 people were expected to pay $15 for the chance to meet porn actresses and purchase an array of XXX-rated videos, DVDs, sex toys and other boudoir paraphernalia direct from 85 vendors and manufacturers.
Billed as the only adult entertainment trade show open to the public, the aim is to give the industry a better image, and maybe sell a few trinkets and videos.
Besides entertainers, there were booths offering scented candles for mood, sensitivity creams for effect, bronze statues for inspiration and a $250 bungee contraption for the imagination.
Planning for the biggest crowd ever, event organizers increased the exhibit space by about 25%, to 100,000 square feet.
Event Attracts a Diverse Crowd
Industry officials said they were encouraged by the crowds.
But one lone figure, a street preacher who calls himself Billy Bible, stood sentry in the convention hall with a black hat inscribed "John 3:16" and a black shirt with the words "Read the Bible While Able. Matt 4:4." He said he was protesting the event because of its Babylonian immorality.
However, porn actor David Cummings, who said he is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and grandfather, called the turnout a healthy sign.
"These are normal, everyday Americans who aren't afraid to admit that sex is a part of their lives," said Cummings, who claims to have starred in 300 films.
One industry newcomer added that the trade show, which continues today, underscores that the onetime outlaw enterprise is gaining widespread acceptance.
"Normally, it's a closed, hermetically sealed industry because it's been attacked for so long," said the 33-year-old co-owner of a sexually oriented Web site. "Now, it's gotten to the point that the general public has consumed so much adult material that it's reached a critical mass."
Maybe. But for two wide-eyed lookie-loos, the allure was more a spur-of-the-moment decision to indulge in the forbidden than to make a sociological statement.
"We have strict families so this is kind of taboo," said 24-year-old Josh, a Montebello resident who preferred not to give his last name. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Sonya, 25, who appeared to be in a mild state of shock.
"We're kind of tripping out right now," continued Josh.
Also wandering the floor was Ray (no last name), 60, an architecture facilities planning consultant who was conspicuous in his polished black wingtip shoes, light blue dress shirt and brown pinstripe suit from Harb of Beverly Hills.
Ray said this, too, was his first time at the show.
"I'm pretty much a neophyte," he said. The items on sale, he said, "may be mainstream to a lot of people but I'm just starting out."
Lining Up for Photos With Porn Stars
Mostly, the crowd was male and young. The only critical masses were those standing in line for autographs and photos beside actresses, smiling like Southern debutantes and, as dictated by convention center rules, clothed.
A line about 20 feet long waited for a signed glossy of porn diva Tara Patrick at one booth, while at the other end of the floor 30 men huddled with flash cameras to take shots of lesser-known actress Kaylynn.
"This is me meeting cool people who enjoy watching what I do," said Kaylynn, who said she was formerly a security guard on the set of the TV show "JAG," a cashier, a "herbologist" assistant, a saleswoman and a housecleaner.
And for those able to scrape together $5,500, plus $400 for shipping, there were life-sized dolls with silicone bodies and stainless steel and aluminum skeletons.
So far, the company that makes them claims to have sold two dozen--a third of them to art collectors.