My kink of town

Chicago's small but enterprising porn industry keeps it up with normal-looking actors, condoms and—gasp—plots!

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Photograph: Tim Klein

Like it or not, Chicago may be stuck with its gritty, down-to-earth image. Take, for instance, our fascination with encased meats and our love of fleece pullovers.


Oh, and our porn.


“Chicago [porn] does have a unique flavor…. it’s definitely more real,” says David Law, a local adult-film actor who requested we use his stage name, a clever play on his day job as a legal assistant. (We prefer his previous moniker: Johnny Depth.) “L.A. [porn] is still wrapped up in Hollywood. If you wanted to teach somebody about war, you wouldn’t show them Rambo. And if you wanted to teach somebody about sex, you wouldn’t show them porn out of L.A.”


That doesn’t necessarily mean a lot to the business traveler who nervously clicks the “Adults Only” section of his TV’s  movie menu, hoping to see blond twins sporting double-D racks who have a penchant for orgies. About 90 percent of the dirty movies you’ve been watching since high school come from Los Angeles, according to Adult Video News (the porn industry’s trade group).


But there is some quality porn going down in our town—it just takes a bit of looking to find it. Our homegrown pornos are typically grassroots affairs made by a handful of local companies—shot at friends’ homes with small crews and borrowed equipment, with a tight network of mostly amateur actors. That’s one of the primary reasons Chicago porn is so far underground: It’s tough to track down the right people to doff and boff, Law says.


“So many of the films that come out of the U.S. are still made in California, so that’s where the talent goes,” Law says. “When all your major players are in another area, it makes it difficult for people in Chicago to develop those relationships.”


Law also thinks the Midwest’s conservative mindset might have something to do with our unheralded porn industry. “Chicago is not a ‘show your skin’ culture like California,” he says. “People are more prudish when it comes to [porn], and as a result, our adult industry is more developed with indoor activities and dungeons and fetish…. Sex is something expressed in more secretive ways.”


Bravely fighting Chicagoans’ clandestine tendencies is Libido Films, probably the brightest star in the local adult-film universe. Started in the late-’90s by Marianna Beck and Jack Hafferkamp as an offshoot to their award-winning erotic literary magazine—also called Libido, which folded in 2000—the studio releases about one film per year, compared with an average of four every month from major L.A.-based porn producers like Wicked Pictures.


“We like to say we’re the two people on the planet who managed to prove that sex doesn’t sell,” Beck says.


From the beginning of the magazine in 1988, Libido’s goal was to titillate both men and women, and to deal with sexuality in an intelligent and artistic fashion by placing erotic fiction and poetry alongside relatively tasteful nude photos.


This highbrow—yet still naughty—approach continued with the pair’s films, which typically depict female sexual adventures on a woman’s terms.


“We don’t have NASA-inspired come shots,” says Beck, who teaches a class on the history of sex at the Art Institute. “We aim for the aesthetic and the beauty, and for the idea of love making, not fucking.”


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