Web Rouser

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

McPherson approached Post-Feminist Playground to pitch a story idea on the S/M scene in Silicon Valley, interviewing dominatrixes whose clients were kinky computer executives. The Playground loved the story and immediately posted it. Susannah Breslin, the site's sex columnist, lived in Berkeley and wanted to meet McPherson in person. The two got together for drinks at Eleven, a South of Market restaurant.

"She was extremely tech-savvy," Breslin remembers. "You often find people in the sex industry who are interested in sex, and you often find entrepreneurs, but you don't often find both in the same person."

The conversation got McPherson thinking. The Post-Feminist women were shutting down their site to work on a book project. Here McPherson was, talking about sex and technology in the same sentence. She obviously held passion for both subjects. Maybe there was some way she could combine the two -- create a marriage of the sex business and the Silicon Valley world of high-tech guys sitting alone in their cubicles.

By the time the two finished their drinks and headed off to a strip club, McPherson had made her decision -- she would start her own adult Web site.

The Bay Area generates much of the world's computer technology, including the mighty Intel Pentium chip, which powers almost everything. It's also given the world topless and bottomless dancing, unionized strippers, and safe-sex clubs.

From these tech and flesh roots, one would expect the area to be home to a plethora of porn Web sites. In fact, few are located here.

There are plenty of listing services for escorts, dominatrixes, strippers, mail-order sex toys, prostitution activists, and referral centers. But there are few prominent amateur sites like www.shyx.com and www.leighsworld.com, which are both independently run by young exhibitionist women who live in the East Bay. Another amateur site, www.glamazon.com, is the domain of a high-tech worker on the Peninsula. Such sites are more hobbies than full-time businesses.

When Caity McPherson decided to get into the game, she didn't want a hobby. She wanted a livelihood. She wanted to make lots of money. So she began piecing together what she hoped would become the area's premier site.

The name "Juicy Mango" came to her after she spotted a giant statue of a pineapple in the middle of a restaurant. She created an umbrella company, Samantha's Online Galleries, named for her brother Sam, a recovering addict.

But she needed a big-picture concept. Most of the porn sites out there were for shit, she thought, nothing more than a bunch of stock photos with lame captions. She wanted something smarter. She had watched guys at the Lusty Lady and observed their baser instincts, what they wanted and looked for. She remembered the computer guys, men who would obsess over small details. And she was living in Silicon Valley, surrounded by geeks and their gadgets. Why not target them?

"The notion that a nerdy guy could be at work and look absolutely not sexual at all, that that person could in fact be sexual -- it's like opening a present!" she says. "Seeing a man in a technical environment, where there's just an absolute lack of sexuality, and fantasizing about the fact that he goes home and masturbates to visions of the secretary, whose skirt was sort of up a little bit at the front desk -- is really sexy to me! I do have a Silicon Valley-centric perspective. Everyone loves technology, right? Because I do!"

She hired a designer. Friends showed her the basics of setting up an ISP account, credit-card billing, and how to get registered with major search engines. She learned the variety of ways an adult site can generate income. Banner ads. Memberships. Affiliate programs, struck with companies like Amazon.com.

Investment offers were weak, and when she couldn't find others to bankroll her plan, McPherson financed everything herself, cobbling together $30,000 from her 401(k) and credit cards, and getting help from family and friends. In May 1998, Juicy Mango appeared on the Internet.

From the beginning, she would avoid stock images and direct photo shoots herself. Juicy Mango was about originality. Not only was the Tech Girls concept -- photographing models in front of Silicon Valley company signs -- an original idea, it was also right in her back yard. And she would add cutting-edge software for panorama, zoom, and infrared viewing.

But pornography isn't as easy as it seems. After running a newspaper ad that sought "exhibitionists needed for female-run Web site," McPherson was deluged with so many offers from men (and photos of their penises draped over keyboards), that she had to run another ad emphasizing she was looking for women. When girls did answer and agree to be photographed, some got to the shoot and turned listless and apprehensive.

Some of the first sessions with men were disastrous.
"I wasn't assertive enough to say, 'Now's the time for you to get a hard-on.' These were amateurs. They just weren't inspired with their partners. It was awful," she recalls. "One guy decided he didn't want to take off his clothes. It was like, 'What did we talk about here?' "

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