Women and Children First!

The subject is sex, and Heather Corinna wants to broaden the Internet's one-track mind


According to Corinna, all her sites combined attract about 4,000 visitors a day, with about 25 percent going to Pink Slip. But pushing traffic to her teen sites is particularly difficult. Though she has offered Pink Slip to hardcore pornography sites--which frequently have their under-18 eject "button" linked to Disney or Nickelodeon--they typically reject her pitch. "They say no because they think linking to Disney is a funny joke," she snorts. Search engines and directories can also be chilly. Corinna asked Yahoo! for a sexuality category and got one, but many others refuse to make a distinction between hardcore porn and the likes of Scarlet Letters and Pink Slip. Some won't list Scarlet at all. "Some sites are afraid that it represents the company," Corinna says. "Netscape, HotBot, and so forth are all bureaucratic organizations. We'd like to believe the Web is not bought, but it is."

Because surfing the Internet is typically only as expensive as one's monthly dial-up bill, most people don't realize that every time they load a Web page it costs the site's owner money. In order to stay in business, Corinna must seek out advertisers--and overcome any squeamishness they might have about being associated with sex. Cathy Rhoads, Scarlet's ad rep, soft-pedals any reluctance on the part of advertisers, noting that a conservative software company ran ads on a sexy site and got great results. (Still, she refuses to supply their name or the name of the site.) Once an advertiser looks at Scarlet Letters, Rhoads says, he's more at ease. Genevieve Field tells of similar experiences at Nerve but adds that many potential advertisers never bother to take a look. "It's the biggest fear of mainstream advertisers," Corinna posits. "I say to them, 'Do you buy soap?' And they say yes. And then I say, 'Do you have sex?' And they say yes, and I tell them that people who have sex need soap."

Webmadam and femmerotica crusader Heather Corinna
Daniel Corrigan
Webmadam and femmerotica crusader Heather Corinna

Nor does Corinna get a lot of support from the online adult community, an otherwise tight-knit group of businesses and individuals brought together by economic and First Amendment issues. "Porn people don't like us," she asserts. "They call it 'art porn' or 'femme porn.' For them there's something snobbish about caring about design and content." Corinna says she isn't offended by mainstream porn--just bored. She gets rankled by the games mainstream porn sites play (like luring visitors with metatags that include the names of popular video games or country music stars), and says she was kicked off an adult Webmaster message board for pushing for higher business ethics in the porn community.

She also gets shut out of potential ad revenue because she refuses to carry banners with hardcore images, and mainstream porn sites refuse to alter their ads. "Statistically, it's what people want," says Andy N. Edmond, president and CEO of SexTracker, Inc., which tracks adult Web traffic. "Webmasters want people not that just click more, but pay more, and those people like hardcore images."

Ghettoized by one Web faction and shut out by another, Corinna is managing to make ends meet, but it's not likely to get any easier. "The porn/erotica debate is never going to be resolved, because it's a matter of taste," predicts Jane Duvall, a friend of Corinna and the editor of JanesGuide (www.janesguide.com), an online review of adult Web sites. To highlight the issue, Duvall cites the example of hosting services: "Mainstream companies don't want to make a distinction, because it would be a big fight all the time. It's limiting speech in some ways if you can't get access."

As the Web becomes increasingly commercialized, Corinna can look forward to facing even more difficulty connecting with her audience. It's easy to imagine a Web split between massive corporate e-commerce sites and cheap personal homepages, where ventures like Scarlet Letters aren't cost-effective, and where risky subject matter doesn't need to be censored, because it will be impossible to find.

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