Are those things fake?
Online reality porn might be more real than sex.

By Lorraine Sanders

POOR POPPY. She suspected Sean might be cheating, but she hadn't realized just how far he'd gone with his mysterious lady friend. But now, with the private investigator's videotape playing before her eyes, Sean's indiscretions are as obvious as his paramour's dye job. Thanks to the investigator's superstealth camera techniques, Poppy has Sean's afternoon tryst from almost every angle, including hairless crotch shots.

As Poppy mulls over the videotape's shocking contents, her helpful private investigator has a suggestion. He knows how Poppy can give this bastard a taste of his own medicine.

Soon Poppy is buck-naked on top of a total stranger, riding him like John Travolta on the bull at Gilley's.

"Fuck you, Sean," Poppy says into the camera with a confident grin.

Poppy and Sean are just one of the troubled couples featured on Flynt Digital's Revengecam.com, Hustler's first foray into the Internet's booming reality porn genre.

If Revengecam.com sounds like a takeoff on the mainstream TV show Cheaters, it's no accident. "Today's television-viewing public loves spicy drama and comedy, especially at the expense of others. We felt that Revengecam.com would be a perfect blend of the two," says Flynt Digital's director of Internet marketing, Laurel Hertz.

Like the TV show, Revengecam.com challenges jilted lovers to confront their wayward significant others in outrageous, often embarrassing ways. But instead of bum-rushing soon-to-be-exes at crowded restaurants, Revengecam.com contestants hand cheaters videos that make the Paris Hilton tape look like an episode of Dora the Explorer. Revengecam.com, Hertz says, taps into the universal post-breakup urge to re-create that last conversation, to come up with the perfect zinger, one that will leave an ex dumfounded as you strut confidently away from the wreckage of your relationship.

"Most people can remember an experience where someone cheated on them. I am sure that they wish in retrospect that they could go back and handle it differently, maybe turn up the heat a bit. That's what we did. Don't get mad, have sex on tape. Show it to them and get really even," Hertz says.

For the past two years, thousands of reality porn sites have flooded the online adult world. But are reality porn sites for real?

"There's kind of a leap of faith you have to take as a viewer. You have to suspend your disbelief in a big, big way," says Sir Rodney, reviewer for Sir Rodney's Guide to Online Erotica (www.sirrodney.com) and operator of the adult search engine Booble.

Reality porn actors, despite their sometimes-convincing role-playing, are rarely as fresh off the boat as they seem. Describing an actor as amateur, for example, doesn't mean that she or he has never performed for pornographic content; rather, amateur is an industry term for anyone other than a recognizable porn star.

For those convinced reality porn shenanigans are real, that the average hot chick secretly wants to jump into strangers' cars and head for the hills, Sir Rodney suggests they "get a video camera, go out on the street and offer a random female money to have sex with you. You will quickly discover the line between reality and fantasy."

Whether or not reality porn is fundamentally real matters little, says Dirty Road Trips (www.dirtyroadtrips.com) creator Raffi. He says it's the illusion of reality that creates enjoyment, and if viewers identify with reality scenarios, then they're much more likely to enjoy the content.

"The closer we get to our consumers feeling that it's real, the stronger the product is," Raffi says.

Raffi, who runs Adult Lounge Productions, says adult entertainment consumers haven't always been interested in the reality concept. "In the old days, voyeurism was big, and interest in other people's lives was not open. Today, everybody is interested in other people's lives," he says.

Instead of the hidden cams and Peeping Tom fantasies of old, viewers are seeking scenarios that infiltrate real lives, or fictionally real lives, to show sex outside porn's traditional boundaries. Of course, viewers will still find straw-haired blonds with unnaturally perky breasts and men with marathon schlongs. But within reality porn, average people have much more sex with other average people than they do elsewhere.

Like Revengecam.com, other Web sites mimic proven reality TV show models. Openly referencing its mainstream inspiration, Fear Factor, Pussy Factor (www.pussyfactor.com) challenges hard-up guys to strip down and take on a "pussy" challenge, such as hanging on to the roof of a speeding van barreling down a deserted Nevada highway. If they prove manly enough to handle the task, contestants win wild sexual privileges with willing women.

Pussy Factor contestants tackle challenges for sex, but another reality series shows just how challenging the sexual performance can be on its own. On Joe Porn Star (www.joepornstar.com), guys try to prove they possess porn star stamina. Originally, a contest on the site allowed visitors to select the winner based on looks. Like a bonafide porn star, the winner won $250 for each sex scene he performed. The site worked well with Dan, the third contest winner, but producers had to dismiss the first and second winners: one for suffering performance anxiety, and the other for possessing a bent penis and a boring personality. Perhaps reality isn't as sexy as it should be.

Reality sites like Bang Bus (www.bangbus.com) and Bait Bus (www.baitbus.com) purport to entice hotties from the street to step inside shady vans for impromptu sex. On Bang Bus, two guys offer the girls $1,000 for sex. And on Bait Bus, girls lure straight men into the van with promises of sex, but once the van is moving, the unsuspecting guys realize that they're really there to have sex with the van's male occupants.

The grainy film, shaky camera, and unscripted dialogue lend both sites a convincing veneer of reality, but then viewers notice that all "random" participants sport bald pubic regions and have conveniently forgotten their skivvies. And since we're talking reality here, don't forget that adult industry workers are meticulous about HIV and STD testing. It's easy to fantasize about a hot stranger in the throes of his first gay sex experience, but it's lunacy to think adult industry professionals haven't prepared for the shoot ahead of time.

Unsurprisingly, reality porn suffers from a male bias; online viewer metrics company Hitwise estimates that men account for 73 percent of online adult traffic. By and large, adult Web site owners are in the business to make money, and that means few sites intended for female viewers. There are plenty of heterosexual and lesbian reality sites that refrain from misogynistic sexual situations and show women enjoying themselves. But no one is convinced that two blonds giggling while they bounce their boobs up against each other is anything but classic male fantasy.

Still, reality porn provides a certain barometric reading on our societal subconscious. In her book Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, Laura Kipnis suggests that porn reflects society by showing what lies outside traditional boundaries, like an exercise in drawing negative space.

She writes, "Is it not becoming clear that this watchfully dialectical relation pornography maintains to mainstream culture makes it nothing less than a form of cultural critique? It refuses to let us off the hook for our hypocrisies. Or our fascinations."

Embracing such fantasy and hypocrisy, TV viewers respond to intimate portrayals of strangers' lives, and porn consumers are seeking the same pleasures for their sexual selves. That much is true. The question that remains, of course, is why. Perhaps we've become so disconnected as a society that we crave intimate glimpses into others' lives. Or maybe our collective subconscious prefers to fantasize about something real in a world that seems pure fiction. But then again, we probably just like our sex as real as we can get it.