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Former Lusty Lady dancer Caity McPherson struggles to make a living on the oversexed Internet

Wednesday, Mar 31 1999
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Shiny cars jam the thoroughfares of Silicon Valley, as computer workers flee their cubicles for the grinding drive home. Caity McPherson whips her red Honda Civic into the busy labyrinth of roads that crisscross America's new-media mother lode. The sunlight is rapidly fading. McPherson is in a hurry.

She changes lanes and heads for the Palo Alto headquarters of the Xerox Corp. Decadence, a North Beach stripper, checks her look in the passenger-seat mirror.

Near the enormous company sign at Xerox's main entrance, McPherson pulls off the road and parks. A citadel of buildings shimmers on the horizon. The company that brought the world its first computer mouse, graphical user interface, laser printer, and e-mail will today host another industry innovation -- a guerrilla porn shoot. Decadence will drape her nude body on and about the Xerox sign while McPherson hurriedly snaps pictures.

On such a mission, God is in the details.
"You need to look for space around the sign, because you don't want to thrash anything," McPherson explains. "During the WebTV shoot, I put my foot up on the sign, and a letter came off. They had these cheap wooden letters! The other model, Jezebel, used her gum to reattach it."

An eye peeled for bugs and snakes, Decadence delicately steps through thick grass. Her sunglasses, cocktail dress, and feather boa give an impression of a demented Greta Garbo. McPherson positions Decadence near the sign, steps back, aims her camera, and starts shooting.

"Beautiful ... and, move to the right." Decadence turns around and sticks her rump up in the air. "OK, let's start doing some exposure ... I like the panties down ... ooh, that's lovely! That's great!"

Commuters on Hillview Expressway are now seeing full-frontal Decadence. A forest-green sport utility vehicle whips past, its driver happily blasting the horn. Minutes later, a Xerox employee takes the turn into the Xerox compound too quickly, tires screeching all the way. Nudity can be distracting.

The sight of a naked woman frolicking atop a high-tech company's sign is delightfully incongruous, particularly in Silicon Valley, where people are more likely to talk up Steve Jobs than hand jobs. But McPherson hopes to change that.

Last summer, the former topless dancer and human-resources manager launched her own porn Web site, specifically aimed at dazzling computer geeks with a combination of erotica and cutting-edge gadgetry. Her site, Juicymango.com, now claims to be the top adult site in Silicon Valley, although that's not saying much.

The Internet is already blitzed with online adult material, and the media has made celebrities of industry success stories. Yet against great odds, McPherson has gambled her life savings on Juicy Mango. And after one year of elbowing for attention against Web sites that gross millions, she's realizing that online porn isn't quite the pot of gold at the end of the bandwidth that she imagined.

She might well fail in her quest to become the Bay Area's premier purveyor of online porn. But she's in too deep to stop now.

Human beings sit atop the food chain, but we're just as predictable as the lower species. From the earliest erotic scrawlings on cave walls, we've ogled our own sexuality. As every new technology has been introduced -- the printing press, daguerreotypes, home video, and now the computer -- some have felt compelled to dutifully record the activities of their own crotches.

When hackers maneuvered through newsgroups and bulletin boards in the 1980s, they seduced each other and swapped crudely scanned porn images. The CD-ROM revolution was boosted by porn games like Virtual Valerie, and virtual-reality technology had people in goggles and gloves envisioning rich cybersex fantasies.

When the 1990s brought Web-browser technology to the masses, a handful of entrepreneurs quickly registered obvious domain names like www.sex.com. These pioneers slapped up thousands of porn images on networks of crudely designed sites and registered their corporate headquarters in offshore locales like Tijuana and the Bahamas.

Around 1995, a second generation of more sophisticated adult Web sites emerged. This next wave recycled the same old images and materials but also began tailoring porn to a computer-savvy audience. The tawdry, gossip-slinging clublove.com, launched by Seattle phone-sex mogul Seth Warchavsky, introduced technology that allowed members to have a real-time video conversation with a nude woman.

Danni's Hard Drive, started by stripper Danni Ashe in Southern California, represented a logical spinoff from the established adult industry of porn videos and strip clubs, and offered porn-dog surfers a pay fan club for over 150 balloon-breasted women with names like Pandora Peaks, Tiffany Towers, and Kimberly Kupps.

A Tacoma, Wash., housewife and mother of two named Beth Mansfield began collecting porn links while working from her kitchen table. Named for Mansfield's cat, the free Persian Kitty site lists dozens of adult sites, organized into various categories.

Pennsylvania college student Jennifer Ringley went online with her JenniCam site, which featured 24-hour live video-cam coverage of herself in her dorm room. Each day, 500,000 people clicked in and watched Jenni brush her teeth, study for exams, and fool around with her boyfriend.

Porn, as usual, proved profitable for those who got into the game first. A pioneer porn site like sex.com looks tacky and utilitarian, but industry analysts guess such a site can gross over $100 million a year. Warchavsky now claims annual revenues of $20 million from 200,000 members. Danni's Hard Drive boasts 13,000 members and earns an estimated $2.5 million every year. Persian Kitty grosses over $1 million annually.

But the computer industry still considers online smut an unfortunate byproduct of its wizardry. While mainstream Web surveys and awards completely ignore adult content, however, they can't deny that porn propels their industry to a large degree. Cyberporn has either originated or perfected many Internet gizmos, from click-through banner ads and live streaming video, to videoconferencing and e-commerce systems like secured credit cards and 900-phone payments. (Not to mention those annoying JavaScript "console" windows that pop up when you leave a site, crashing the browsers of even the most diligent journalists.)

About The Author

Jack Boulware

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