Web Rouser

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

Initial feedback from those visiting her site was often confusing and contradictory. Some complained that it was too soft-core. Others said the soft-core was refreshing to see.

Then there was the episode with Jenny Blue. After receiving Blue's photos, McPherson posted them on the site. Right away, money started rolling in. "She looked like this drug-addict housewife from next door, with these huge fake boobs. She always had this dead look on her face. She was also really into dildos -- she would do two dildos at a time. These guys went crazy over this woman."

McPherson struck a 50/50 deal with Jenny Blue, and the Web traffic soared. But administrative and design work took so much time, McPherson approached Blue with a new contract, asking for 5 percent more. Blue said forget it and took her pictures off the site. Income abruptly dropped.

"It was ridiculous," McPherson says, managing a smile. "It was a big mistake."

Juicy Mango's most traumatic moment came with a Tech Girl shoot outside the headquarters of Yahoo!. As the photographer and model were working, McPherson noticed a couple of employees coming out of the building. Since Yahoo! has a hip ad campaign, McPherson thought the guys might want to goof around and be part of the shoot. McPherson approached one of the men. Before she could propose anything, she says, the employee snarled, "So, do you want me to take your film away from you now, or should I call the police?"

"I was just blown away by that," she says now. "It was totally unexpected. This was some 25-year-old guy with a baseball hat on, on a Sunday. It was like, 'What? Does your dad own Yahoo! or something? What's your fuckin' problem with me?' We just hung around way too long, and it was really bad."

But she kept going, generating and stockpiling original material. And the site began to draw some traffic. A San Jose newspaper published an article about her and the Tech Girls. A wealthy salesman saw the article, called her up, and ended up investing, buying 46 percent of her company. Playboy.com ran a series on the Tech Girls and then hired McPherson to write stories.

Women in particular liked her site, she says. It was smart; it wasn't the same stupid porn. And she was funny.

"Most other adult sites don't have a sense of humor," says Bryna Bank, president of the South of Market www.eroscan Web portal. "She's really a grass-roots site. She worked at the Lusty Lady, she knows the San Francisco sex vibe. There's a very San Francisco way about being open about your sexuality. It's like, 'Oh, I'll go to a fetish party, and I'll get spanked.' You can just drop it into casual conversation."

It was time to beat the drum. McPherson spoke about erotic e-commerce at the Internet World Conference in New York. She attended the enormous COMDEX trade show in Las Vegas, set up her booth in the adult section, lassoed computer geeks, and fed them slices of mango. She sent photos of herself to Leg Show magazine, and after they were published, guys started e-mailing her, asking for underwear.

Juicy Mango had arrived.
First-time visitors will discover a very well-conceived site, much more complete and diverse than most porn. Visitors can check out photo sets of 20 of so different models, with areas for specific fetishes like underwear, feet, or smoking. In addition to the high-tech panoramic, zoomable, and Sony NightShot infrared photos, she offers book reviews, T-shirts, and an encryption service.

"I feel like the auntie of the Web site," she says. "I'm like Aunt Caity, with my brood of models. This sort of loving creation. This is my baby. I actually have this image of a woman with this huge dress on, with these wonderful huge boobs, and she has all these kids under her dress."

But not many guys are peeking under her dress. Membership hovers around 80. As a business, it appears to be treading water.

Part of the problem is the competitive nature of the Internet. As surfers discover thousands of new porn sites, bristling with free, downloadable JPEG images, they automatically start avoiding pay sites like Juicy Mango.

Technology also drives some away. Looking at porn is one thing, but waiting to download a particular piece of viewing software -- especially if your computer is old or outdated -- quickly robs one of valuable time, and porn surfers tend to be in a hurry. And if the software does get installed, unless the computer contains current upgrades, it can often be temperamental and prone to crashing.

A third reason for Juicy Mango's middling success is more touchy. A woman's idea of what the male finds erotic is often very different from a man's idea. Most porn produced by men portrays women as fantasy objects -- hourglass-figured Barbie dolls, young and well-scrubbed, a disproportionate number of blondes, implants OK but not essential. Women-produced porn -- such as Juicy Mango -- often leans toward more realistic-looking models with a wide variety of figure shapes, a larger percentage of brunettes, and body hair, piercings, and tattoos. This image appeals to women because it indicates that women don't have to look like Barbie dolls to be sexy. And it's also very egalitarian in San Francisco, where the emphasis is often on who a person is rather than how she looks. But out there in cyberspace, where most people aren't from San Francisco, guys would rather look at Barbie dolls.

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