Even in not-so-naughty Southwest New Mexico, the "adult-entertainment" business is booming—and becoming increasingly mainstream.
By Jeff Berg
If you are reading this, like it or not, it is because of sex. Sounds simplistic in a way, because you may have been attracted to this treatise by curiosity, seeing as how the word "sex" is in the title. Or perhaps you just read Desert Exposure for the articles. . . .
One of the tamer images from Las Cruces-based Red Sky Nudes. Photo © 2006, Mike Jones
No, think back further than that. Unless you are a clone or someone who was created from artificial insemination, at some point, some years ago, a man and a woman got together and had sex, thus beginning your creation. Whether it was a loving married couple, a one-night stand between two lonely souls who never saw one another again, or even if you are adopted (watch Desert Exposure for my upcoming in-depth article on this subject), the sperm met the egg, and voila, you are now one of my readers. My thanks to your parents.
And like most people, you probably have your opinions on sex. You may enjoy a healthy robust sexual life with a life partner. You might be someone who is taking a hiatus from such activities; perhaps you are a virgin (if so, I would like to interview you if you are over 30 and not a church employee).
Then there are those who spend or make money on sex. And that, would-be voyeur, is what this article is about.
Las Cruces is home to exactly one "adult merchandise" store, Eros Video on Amador. "Business is good," says the young man who was the manager on duty the afternoon that I go there.
That is more than evident by the fact that the entire building is undergoing a major renovation on the outside, and the inside also looks like it may have been recently remodeled. There are at least five employees on duty, including one gentle-looking young woman. Another man is mopping the lobby of the already tidy and well-lit store.
As the manager makes a phone call to the boss to see if I can interview him, I walk around the store. Nothing unexpected here, but the volume is astounding. DVD movies, with something for every taste (or lack thereof), take up about half of the store, with magazines, novelties and sex toys filling the rest of the space.
Although he's willing to talk to me, the manager extends his apologies and says that the district manager in Albuquerque says no, thank you, we try to keep a low profile. District manager? Indeed, it turns out that the owners of Eros Video also have stores in Albuquerque, another Eros Video location in El Paso, and a store in Alamogordo.
Eros' manager tells me he has been there for 11 months, and that the movies are the most popular item. "We get a lot of truckers that come through here that live in California. Our prices are half the price as they are out there. One guy said that the DVD that he was buying was $80 in LA. Which is weird, since that is where most of this stuff comes from."
I look down in the display case as we talk, and note a novelty called a "pet horny toad." It doesn't look like this creature is a desert denizen.
"Lots of stores are tailoring themselves to appeal to women now," he continues. "We (Eros) have gotten away from the 'in your face' kind of stuff, and find now that we get a lot more women and couples as customers. It is an industry trend."
That afternoon's clientele can certainly verify that, as there are several women in the store by themselves, along with two couples who are having a great time looking at some of the novelty toys. There is a small but steady stream of customers while I visit with the manager. No sign of trenchcoat-wearing weirdoes, although he does keep an eye on one customer who he claims had been troublesome in the past. "It's just like any big store—there are always customers you have to watch for."
The Eros store music system is not playing cheesy saxophone music, but rather, one of this area's most inexplicably popular genres, "classic rock." I have to wonder how Neil Young would feel if he knew his music was playing in the background for couples looking at toys for the boudoir.
As I prepare to leave, the manager offers me a copy of a past issue of AVN, the monthly trade magazine of the industry. This issue is 275 pages, and 75 percent of the blonde women of the US between the ages of 18 and 30 must be in the ads. It is an incredibly bulky and well-designed publication. After about 10 minutes with it, however, I find it unbearably dull and repetitious. Honest.
Those opposed to pornography and its relatives, like the businesses in AVN, have a long uphill battle ahead of them. If you "Google" the word "sex," you'd better not plan on sleeping for a while, since there are 677 million Web pages that offer information about procreation and such.
According to an article by Jerry Ropelato on toptenreviews.com, worldwide pornography accounted for $57 billion in revenue, with $12 billion of that being in the United States. Videos brought in $20 billion of that $57 billion. Amazingly, phone sex, at $4.5 billion, nearly doubled the revenue of online sites that offer sex products or services of some kind, which accounted for "only" $2.5 billion. According to that same article, there are 4.2 million pornographic Web sites, adding up to 12 percent of all current sites on the Internet, and eight percent of all emails that are sent are considered of a pornographic nature—2.5 billion daily. Ropelato does not cite his sources or say what year these figures are from. But another Web site, healthymind.com, notes many of the same figures, using the year 2003. One can only imagine the increase as of 2006.
About a week after my visit to Eros, the store plays host to an event that includes a visit by a young woman who is said to be a rising star in the adult entertainment industry. The woman, Monique Alexander, is on hand to sign autographs and to have her picture taken with fans or potential fans. Alexander has her own Web site, and the affair at Eros probably gives attendees the rare chance to see her with her clothes on. This event also somehow merits two "remote" broadcasts from a local radio station, Magic 105. The station sends its party van out to Eros Video with a new Harley Davidson in tow, which is the grand prize for some upcoming contest.
This hoopla also, perhaps obviously to most readers, shows just how mainstream so-called adult entertainment has become.
Mike Jones is a local photographer who also makes some money from this burgeoning industry. He runs an online business called Red Sky Nudes. I meet Jones through a classified ad that's been running for several weeks in the Roundup, the twice-weekly student-run newspaper published by NMSU. Through the ad, Jones is hoping to recruit models for his adult content Web site, which features various young women in different states of undress. Jones' site also offers access to various services that help keep children from viewing adult material.
To date, he has not met with much local recruiting success, in spite of his $300-$500 pay scale for models. "I've had some phone calls, but no follow ups," he says with a note of hope in his voice.
It seems that after the initial call, the would-be models remember that Las Cruces is still a pretty small town in some regards, and decide that the notoriety from someone seeing a friend or acquaintance nekkid online is not worth what Jones is willing to pay new models. (But then again, would one want to go to their neighbor and say, "Hey, I saw you naked on my computer last night?" What does that say about the voyeur-viewer?)
Nonetheless, Jones has hired about 25 out-of-town women to work with him. On his site, several are depicted in places such as White Sands, or with an Organ Mountain backdrop.
Jones was born in Las Cruces, but left at around age 20 and moved to the West Coast. He returned here awhile back when his father decided to move back to Las Cruces. He has not always been a photographer. Previously, he was self-employed in different areas of construction, specializing as a welder fabricator.
Today he is neatly dressed, and equipped with a terrific sense of humor. Jones says he turned to photography about 10 years ago. "I drifted out of construction and into photo work after I injured my back. It just became too painful to do the work.
"I was drawn to construction because of the creative aspect of it," he adds. "I enjoy taking something and making it into something else."
Before launching Red Sky Nudes, Jones started Desert Light Glamour Photography. Red Sky is a site where visitors must pay to join to see all of the 6,000 posted photos. Desert Light, which is generally not as explicit, fits more into the glamour/boudoir kind of category.
Jones explains, "There are lots of different photo areas that a person can work in—advertising, weddings, but I have always felt that I have a knack for erotic glamour. I started focusing on that, and use the landscape of New Mexico as part of that.
"I was trying to find work locally, and trying to operate out of my home, so the Internet became a natural evolution for me, and gives me the ability to market worldwide. So starvation actually brought about the creation of Red Sky Nudes—necessity being the mother of invention!"
Jones admits that until recently Red Sky Nudes—RSN for short—was not doing well at all. But that all changed when he attended an adult site webmaster convention in Costa Rica. The place was filled with young men wearing sunglasses, many with a number of piercings and tattoos. "The Hummers were parked next to the Lexuses," he recalls.
Jones, who is not tattooed nor pierced and who leans more toward middle-age, laughs when he recalls the scene. "'Dude,' they kept saying. Every sentence started with 'dude-this' or 'dude-that.' And they told me what I was doing wrong and how to fix it to increase the traffic to RSN. These guys are probably billionaires, and they had rented the whole resort, with all the food and drink we could handle."
He laughs again. "'Dude,' they said, 'make some changes. Here is what you do.' And sure enough, it started to produce a little bit of income. I couldn't even afford to fly there, but one of my models paid the way, since she wants more business, too." Many of the models on RSN have links to their own Web sites.
Jones does not feel that his models are being objectified at all, and also volunteers that he would "be glad to personally execute child molesters."
He insists, "They (the women) are there because that is what they want to do. It is a craft. Each one of us lives within our own world, and that worldview becomes the way we function within our own environment."
Jones tries to illustrate this point with a story. "One time I watched as a guy in a pickup stopped behind a Mustang that had a flat tire. The driver was an attractive woman." The man helped the woman fix the tire, Jones notes, adding, "If I had a flat tire, and lifted my pants leg (to try to get someone to stop), I would have to fix it by myself! Their world is different, and it took a while for me to grasp that concept. Their personal power comes from their sexual power."
The sex industry is so huge, Jones continues, "because the people are purchasing the product. The on-demand adult movie industry that is on cable is astronomical.
"Physical attraction to each other remains," he adds. "It is entrenched in humanity."
Jones, who is single, shares how he handles his photo shoots. "When I started photographing women, I knew that I had to absolutely behave myself," he says. "When I started doing this, my sex life ended. It is my business, and it has been the happiest period of my life. Many friendships have developed, and usually when a model comes to town, she stays for a few days to visit."
He says that he uses humor and opens up about himself when working with a new woman. "They need to know they are safe with me."
With another laugh, he adds, "I have learned a lot about eyeliner and mascara!"
Jones says that he almost never approaches a woman in public who he feels would make a good model. One exception he notes in the portfolio that he has brought to share is a 20-something woman he was standing behind in a checkout line one day. She is now posed au naturel along some abandoned railroad tracks.
"The two strongest visual criteria I look for in a model are good symmetry and a pretty face," he says. Attitude and energy also matter. After looking at some of Jones' photos, I note that long hair is definitely another plus.
I ask Jones about the stripper-type shoes many of his models wear, while usually wearing little else. "Guys like shoes," he replies. "A personality shift can come from shoes—the appearance that she is actually somebody else."
Through all of it, Jones admits that all he is doing is "fabricating illusions." He explains, "Photography is all lies, because it never shows what happened before or after the picture you are now looking at."
"Went in on Tuesday saw Taylor, formally (sic) of the Red Parrot, and decided to see if she stepped up her game to compete with the girls at Jaguars, also I wanted to see her without a G-string. Went to the VIP room at $30.00 a song got two dances and was very disappointed as they were very low contact, especially considering I am used to receiving very high mileage at this club. Decided to try out Sabrina and was made very happy by her dances and gladly paid her $200.00. There are so many girls at Jaguars you can always find one that will give you the quality of dances you want."
That is a comment posted on a Web site that, incredibly, at least to me, offers detailed information on hundreds of strip clubs in North America. This particular establishment is right down the highway in El Paso, home to a number of such businesses. For each club listed, the site offers prices, hours of operation and a place for reader comments and a bevy of other things, including access to more lurid Web sites.
Texas has much more lenient laws than New Mexico when it comes to such things. The El Paso clubs, if they do not serve alcohol, allow nude dancing. But of course, you can bring your own alchohol, and get charged by the establishment to bring it in. An odd concept to say the least. Those establishments that do serve alcohol are limited to having "only" topless dancers.
New Mexico law is pretty simple when it comes to such things, and the law does not allow completely nude dancing. There are a handful of such places, mostly clustered in and around Albuquerque, but Santa Fe and Hobbs each have places where tassels and high heels are used as business attire.
The state law is straightforward, and statute 22.214.171.124 covers it (no pun intended), under the term of indecent dancing:
"Indecent dancing consists of a person knowingly and intentionally exposing his intimate parts to public view while dancing or performing in a licensed liquor establishment. "Intimate parts" means the mons pubis, penis, testicles, mons veneris, vulva, female breast or vagina. As used in this section, "female breast" means the areola, and "exposing" does not include any act in which the intimate part is covered by any nontransparent material."
Note the curious use of "his" in this statute. Also curious is the fact that the publication in which I found this 1981 edict covers only places that serve alcohol. It also does not cover (still no pun, honest!) derrieres, or self-contained equipment located in that area. The New Mexico indecent exposure law might prevent scofflaws from having a non-alcohol-related club, but the above statute clearly uses the word "public," whereas a business might be considered private.
One wonders if this will bring legal challenges in the future.
The next statute, 126.96.36.199, covers indecent "waitering," something I am sure we have all suffered in a different way from clothed beings. But again, besides not being a real word, one must wonder if "waitering" includes waitresses? And again, the word "alcohol" is clearly stated throughout the document.
Las Cruces City Code is similar, but seems a little less complete, and does not mention alcohol. At least at this time, however, Las Cruces is not home to any places that offer bare bottoms (or tops) as adult entertainment.
But one thing that all of the dance parlors in New Mexico and Texas share is the ability to offer their clientele "lap dances." Having never been the recipient of one (honest!), I guess it is best described as a dance that is a sexual tease by a scantily clad (I love that term) dancer for a customer who is not generally allowed to touch the dancer.
"Place is a dive. Wouldn't waste my time there anymore. Spent around $200 bucks, and didn't get one decent dance. The girls were pushy, and weren't even that good looking."
As witnessed by the above comment about another El Paso club, sometimes the customer does not leave in a good mood. This remark was likewise from the strip club Web site, which also listed comments from patrons who had received (allegedly) more, ahem, bang for their buck.
Scanning through the comments by a lot of eager-sounding clients and some dancers who mentioned where and when they would be dancing next, it all sounded very lonely. After about 15 minutes, it became incredibly boring to read these comments. It was also most frustrating not being able to correct the horrendous spelling and grammar that the posters tortured me with.
"Did you get a dancer in Dec 2004 and/or Jan 2005 who puts gold or bronze colored streaks in her normally black or dark brown short hair, brown eyes, cute looking (maybe slight acne on each cheek at one time), curved barbell piercing in her belly button, tatoos [sic] on the outside of each ankle, and on the back upper right shoulder=small man figure with pedals of a flower right of it, c-section scar, very nice body and tan? If you did, do you remember her name and where she is from?"
Many of the patrons were also keen observers.
In the interesting documentary film, Portrait of a Naked Lady Dancer, filmmaker Deborah Rowe interviews three women who worked as nude dancers in the Washington, DC, area. During their initial interviews, the women all say that their labors were either enhancing their personal sexuality in some way, or that it was just a form of entertainment that paid very, very well. One of the women claims that her customers were just "successful men who want to go to an adult Disneyland." Another observes that "stripping is selling sexual energy, and we all know the world revolves around sex."
In a return visit to her three subjects, five years later, however, Rowe finds that they all have left the business for more traditional jobs, such as real estate agent and business owner. And all three ex-dancers seem to have some regrets and a fair amount of second thoughts about their overexposure when they lived in DC (all had since moved away). One of the women states that she began to wonder how her customers treated their wives. Were they objectified or dehumanized as she began to feel? Are they respected?
According to New Mexico statute 30-9-2,"Prostitution consists of knowingly engaging in or offering to engage in a sexual act for hire." The statute goes on to describe such acts, and closes with the fact that the crime is a petty misdemeanor for the first arrest and a misdemeanor thereafter. In 2004, there were only 412 arrests for prostitution and "commercial vice" in all of New Mexico, which is a fairly consistent number for the past few years except for 2003, which had only 251 busts. Compare that with the nearly 13,000 arrests for DUI. Perhaps the gendarmes were too busy nabbing stupid drunks to worry about workers in the world's oldest profession.
Pimps and madams also had better find a different line of work, since they will be charged with a fourth-degree felony if they are collared.
Again, going online, southern New Mexico turns out to be as devoid of "escort" services as it is rain. Only one site that I found offered the services of one very tired and slightly tough-looking young woman, who called herself "Jasmine." Jasmine offers several services, and notes that she has "no fat on my body." She adds that she loves "to go to adult video stores and movies. Familiar with the local nightlife in Las Cruces."
That makes Jasmine unique, since I have lived here for five years and have yet to find any nightlife in Las Cruces.
Our low amount of arrests for prostitution may be in part due to the fact that Juarez, where selling one's body for sex is rampant, is so close. The World Sex Guide Web site offers, again incredibly, a full page—although dated (1995)—of reviews and locations in Juarez where not very gentlemanly gentlemen can procure services.
Calls to the Las Cruces city attorney and Dona Ana County attorney reveal that although prostitution was prevalent here in the early 1950s, it is no longer. Neither office seems to feel that there is a local prostitution problem, so we don't talk long.
If they're wrong, I decide I'm just as happy not knowing.
While researching and writing this article, I found it necessary to take a look at my own thoughts about the sex business and the adult-entertainment industry. In the past, I have always appreciated the maxim that I read once about adult magazines. It said something like "all persuasion, no force." I do think that I agree with that still, but find that now, after getting just a taste of the enormity of the industry, it is sad to think that our society is able to pour billions of dollars into a business that makes its dollars by taking away a person's imagination. Or perhaps it is merely imagination enhancement. I try not to judge.
Nothing and I mean nothing is left to the mind's eye now in terms of human sexuality when one reads about this industry. I haven't even touched on everyday advertising or places with a milder "adult" theme such as Hooters. (A friend who runs an office near the Las Cruces Hooters told me recently that men gather in the parking lot during the waitresses' shift changes. Now THAT I find degrading and juvenile.)
But I think back to the old joke where Grandpa is telling the kids that back in his day, he would walk 10 miles uphill in a blizzard just to get to school. Grandpa might have also said, "Back in my day, I kissed Grandma behind the barn when I was your age. We found out that our emotions created the best part of our imagination."
Senior writer Jeff Berg previously also reported for Desert
on area nudists. We try not to ask him too many questions.