Sex and porn have grown from small, somewhat underground markets into increasingly mainstream industries. While most still consider sex itself to be a private act, the topic has become considerably less taboo over the years. Porn has also become more widespread and accepted, reflecting a general shift in society's attitude toward pleasures of the flesh. In addition to increased acceptance, technology has helped spur the growth of the sex and porn industries. Since the mass-market success of the videocassette, porn companies have been able to reach a wider and wider base of customers. The rise of the Internet has revolutionized the sex business, providing consumers with ready access to vast quantities of porn and sex-related accessories. Today, porn producers and other sex-centric companies are facing some growing pains. After the industry's rapid, Internet-driven expansion, the question now is how they will maintain sales and continue growing in the rather overcrowded sex and porn markets.
Adult media producers and distributors
The Internet has brought a whole new twist to the sex and porn saga. Now, both sex and porn are easily found on any number of adult-oriented websites. Online personals and Craigslist classifieds offer places for consenting adults to meet one another, and porn on the Internet abounds. Though producers of adult videos initially enjoyed booming online sales, the proliferation of free online video websites and file-sharing programs has led to the widespread availability of free porn, which is threatening the continued viability of subscription-based porn websites. On the other hand, online sales of sex toys and accessories have grown steadily, reflecting society's changing attitudes about sex and sexuality.
Though sex is widely recognized as a potentially risky activity, sex-related toys and accessories have been seen as safe alternatives to actual sex. Recently, however, concerns have been raised about the safety of the materials commonly used in the manufacture of sex toys. Comfort is a major concern for consumers, but cost has also been an important factor in their decision-making process. As a result, manufacturers have often resorted to using cheaper materials to make their products in an attempt to maintain competitive prices. Though manufacturers rarely disclose the exact composition of their products, one commonly used material is PVC. While PVC has not been shown to be toxic, chemicals known as phthalates are used in many sex toys to soften the normally-rigid PVC and provide a more realistic feel. Scientific data on the subject is somewhat scarce, but some studies have linked phthalates to infertility and even cancer. The lack of governmental regulation somewhat exacerbates this problem, as there is no agency in charge of regulating the manufacture of sex toys. Several manufacturers have promised to eliminate phthalates from their products, but the larger issue of whether phthalates pose a health risk or not is still up in the air, causing uncertainty and concern for customers.
In general, laws regulating sex in the U.S. have become somewhat more relaxed than in previous years. Though there are still a great deal of regulations regarding age, rules about sex and porn for legal adults are rather few. Some states have their own laws regarding the use and sale of pornography and sex-related items, but these are often circumvented. There have been some moves recently by conservative groups to increase governmental regulation of sex and porn, but many in the industry are unconcerned about the implications of these groups' efforts. For example, a group called the Citizens for Community Values took out advertisements in several national newspapers calling on the FBI and Department of Justice to prosecute hotels and providers of in-room, pay-per-view adult movies. They claimed that the widespread availability of porn was immoral and should be prosecutable under federal law. Hotel chains and adult content providers alike have dismissed these claims, stating that consumers have the right to choose whether or not to watch adult material.