Boston is a city with a RICH history of Puritanical paranoia.
Dating all the way back to when William Pynchon (great-something to legendary writer Thomas) wrote a criticism of Puritanism in the 1650's and was sent back to England, being "banned in Boston" has been at once a badge of honor for some artists and creatives, for others a burden or career death knell.
From Whitman's Leaves of Grass to Burroughs Naked Lunch and even The Sun Also Rises, literary works deemed too sexually explicit have a long been deemed 'illegal' in Boston. HL Mencken was even arrested for personally selling a copy of his literary magazine, The American Mercury, which had been banned for featuring a tale of a prostitute's search for redemption.
Although the days of citizens being concerned about "decency" more than the freedom of speech are gone, and Boston is now considered ground zero for liberal-minded thinking, some of the Puritan-crossed-with-Irish-Catholic mindset about sex as a subject matter too personal/taboo for public discourse still exists.
So naturally, Boston is the ideal place to build the next big thing in adult entertainment, right?
That's exactly what Kit Maloney is doing with O'actually, a soon to launch, porn-ish website that started as a place for female-focused sexual content but has evolved into what could be described as a "positive sex experience" site.
If you think that Boston is an odd place to start an adult entertainment company, Maloney, who has some serious feminist roots and led the 'Take Back the Night' campaign at Colorado College, is the most unlikely internet sex industry founder you'll ever meet.
How a Feminist From the Liberal School in America's Most Conservative City Became a Sex Industry Disruptor
Maloney moved up to Boston from New York with the mission of creating O'actually a few years ago, but in the interim started a women-friendly co-working space called Collaboratory 4.0 at 40 Berkeley Street. While managing Collaboratory, she launched O'actually and is currently ramping up for an official website unveiling.
Maloney's story is quite interesting. While a student at Colorado College, she was involved in a couple groups that focused on issues of sexual violence. One organization advocated the use of beepers to help abuse victims navigate college and life in general, while her work with Take Back the Night, the initiative to make communities safe from sexual violence and assault, was geared toward prevention and creating more positive relationships.
Maloney wrote a senior project that focused on the best practices for college campuses to use to prevent sexual violence and went to the London School of Economics to get a Masters degree in "Gender and Social Policy". Even though her work was rewarding and for the good, Maloney says she was burned out a bit by spending so much time devoted to a field that had so much inherent negative emotional baggage.
Staying in London, she went to work for UK tonic and mixer company Fever-Tree while still trying to figure out how to make a difference in the world of gender equity. Maloney moved back to America a few years back to build the Fever-Tree brand in NYC. Eventually, she decided she wanted to start her own company; one that could make an impact with gender equity. However, getting into the Take Back the Night-type world of non-profits didn't appeal to Maloney because she wanted to stay out of the "negative sphere around violence."
The 'ah-ha' moment came one night when she was working late and noticed some friends sharing an article from the Guardian about how women were getting more involved in making porn geared towards women. (Quite possibly this article.) The piece reminded her of a conversation she and some classmates had had after a gender equity class focused on the subject.
As Maloney said, "We were saying, 'Okay, we get it, we've all written the paper: Porn is objectifying, misogynistic, bad for people. Does it breed violence? Maybe, maybe not.' We were all really exhausted by the conversation and were trying to figure out how to take this further." She continued, "We started talking about what it would look life if a female was behind the camera, if the content was made explicitly with a female's pleasure in mind." Maloney says the conversation ended and she didn't think about it again until she saw the Guardian article.
She immediately had a revelation, as she explained, "This is awesome I thought. At the same time we were having this discussion, there were other women down the street having the same discussion who went out and did it. That's something I could be proud of."
Maloney continued, "I had this hunch. I knew I could talk about how [women] do want sexual pleasure, what we do want to see and have honored in fantasy. That's a totally different path to go down."
At first, Maloney said she wanted to have a platform of content that speaks to women, but as its developed, O'actually has evolved into a place for "fun, modern, and sophisticated adult entertainment." Part of the slight pivot was a reaction to some of Maloney's male friends telling her, "Whoa, whoa, whoa...Don't brand this so that we can't be a part of it," she told me as she broke out into what I quickly realized was her signature infectious laugh.
"So we're not porn for women," she said, "we are fun, modern, sophisticated adult entertainment. But the focus is on genuine, mutual pleasure. The focus on female pleasure is still at the forefront."
One big turning point for Maloney was when she went to the Feminist Porn Awards and realized two things she didn't want her concept to be burdened by. One, is that the terms "feminist" and "porn" are a bit loaded and have a whole lot of negative connotations that she doesn't want to tie down O'actually. Second, the awards made her realize that most of what is being "championed" as female/feminist porn is coming from a queer perspective and being created with a queer audience in mind. "And that's awesome," Maloney said, "of course it is. The [LGBT] community is often way ahead of the straight community and what is accepted by the mainstream. It made a lot of sense, but it wasn't content that would speak to me what my friends would like."
A single source/platform for this alternative type of adult entertainment is not a new concept. A Dutch site, Dusk!, that has been a leader in the female-focused porn industry has been around for a while and is starting to deploy an American-based website. Make Love Not Porn is also a competitor in the space, but that site focuses on couples sharing their own sexual experiences and promotes real world sex that is a lot closer to amateur porn than what O'actually will have on its platform.
So what separates O'actually?
The company came up with three principles for the type of content (film, art, or writing) that would be available on O'actually's platform:
1. Context - Hook, line, or narrative. Some sort of context that sets the scene which is incredibly important for women, as Maloney said.
2. Pleasure - Genuine, mutual pleasure. "Everyone is having a good time."
3. Hearing a "Yes." - Which Maloney said is "just great."
One of the biggest breaks for the company came recently when O'actually added a new, key member to its advisory board. Although not publicly announced yet, the new advisory board member plays an integral role at one of most well-known and respected organizations in the sex/fantasy industry.
Building Something Completely Different in Boston
The day I met Maloney at a busy South End deli, not a place used to a candid discussion about female sexuality and the benefits of an open discourse on personal pleasure, she had just returned from filming the first three "introductory" videos that explain what users can expect from the site, how media creators can engage and add content to O'actually, and how investors who may be interested in backing the company can get involved.
When I brought up that starting a porn/adult entertainment company is Boston was both unusual and awesome, Maloney explained people's initial reaction to the idea. "People were like, 'You're leaving New York to go to Boston to do this?'," she said.
"I had not lived in Boston since I was eighteen," Maloney told me, "and yet, I had so many resources here. I was constantly taking the train up from New York to Boston to meet with lawyers, to meet with startup people." She said that she quickly realized that Boston was "so much easier to navigate."
"The break [from NYC]," Maloney explained, "is to do something really different, and it's hard to do something really different when you are entrenched in whatever is happening in the mainstream." She explained how everyone in the Boston startup community just seemed more supportive of the risky concept.
As for the perception of Boston as the "prude Catholic school teacher" when it comes to anything with the word "sex" tied to it, Maloney explained, "Everyone was saying that Boston is so Puritanical, but that just seems to be a knee jerk reaction. I really haven't gotten anything other than enthusiasm [for O'actually]."
"We are just saying [that Boston is Puritanical] just because we are used to saying it, not because it's true anymore."
To bring home that point, Maloney explained how the most conservative people she knows, the one's she expected to push back or be offended by O'actually, were actually the most receptive.
The real challenge of getting O'actually off the ground is not breaking the mold of what people expect in Boston or the perceptions of what is acceptable territory for female entrepreneurs to wade into, but getting past consumers own understanding of what they "want" in any product. Sex and pleasure couldn't be more difficult verticals to try to figure out what the consumer trends may be, especially if you are trying to approach the sector in a positive and more honest and open way.
"For most companies, even if you are selling soft drinks, consumers don't really know what they want," Maloney explained, "you can imagine its much more complex when it comes to sexual fantasy. We don't really know nor are we honest with what we want to do and what we want to see."
"I do not talk about this [sex, fantasy, etc.] with my friends," she said. "I have a group of friends that I've had since we were ten-years-old. Before I started doing this-porn, masturbation, self-pleasure, fantasy-never came up. I would have thought, before I started doing this, that we had covered all topics. And its not like we are a shy group."
Needless to say, O'actually is going to spark a lot of interest and discussion-both positive and negative. Some of the same questions that arise when anyone embarks on a project in the adult entertainment industry surround the project.
While most of the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, one local member of the investment community wondered whether women would actually openly visit an adult site. Another posed the possibility that O'actually gets bogged down, out of necessity, in some of the content that it is trying to avoid. In my opinion, these are voices in the wilderness and the minority perspective.
But, when it comes down to it, O'actually is an audacious endeavor; it's a risky concept that is being built in the most unexpected place.
But with a founder who genuinely wants to change the perception of how we interact with and discuss sex, for the better, how can it not work?
Image originally found here.
Dennis Keohane is the Senior Writer for VentureFizz. You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.