Upon your friend/assistant parking the car in the spacious parking garage, you anxiously make your way to the elevator that will take you to the catwalk of the gigantic Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, home to Wizard World Comic-Con among countless other conventions. You walk nervously but happily through the lengthy, windowed hallway that will put you right where you need to be, face-to-face with Hall G where 2017's Exxxotica Chicago will take place.
Upon you and your pal receiving the Media VIP badges on behalf of both the convention and XCritic, you make your way past the entrance before being greeted by a sensory overload. At the center of the convention you see a slew of tireless camgirls and webcam models posing before laptop computers for their many viewers via Chaturbate, a key sponsor for Exxxotica and the neon-yellow lanyard around your neck. You wander through the start of the convention, within arm's reach of some of the hottest stars in the adult business now or posters and kiosks that promise their arrival in due time.
Your feet take you places at a speed at which your mind can't keep up. The aura is intoxicating, but the atmosphere is endlessly promising. It's the biggest adult convention dedicated to love and sex after all...
Those who undermine the adult industry or those who can't look past the taboo of it all often miss the romanticism in something like Exxxotica, which was held in Chicago on June 23 - 25. Far and beyond the tasteful nudity, lapdances, and twerking is an inviting and alluring accessibility absent from many other conventions. Porn stars and cam models are open for the most casual conversations and function with a very affordable paywall for their autographs, DVDs, and goodies so as to give everyone a fair chance to walk away with something cherishable or sentimental.
I learned this the easy way ten pictures, three autographs, and a few personal goodies later after a five-minute chat with Adriana Chechick, who has done her part and hustled her way to becoming one of the most recognizable contemporaries in porn today. Her personability with fans was unbelievable, especially to someone so used to contrived comic-book and movie conventions where actors are happy to oblige with a sloppy autograph following a $30 - $75 hand-over-fist transaction.
Sammy "Sammy Strips" Shayne at the CAM4 booth (Picture credit - @SammyStrips).
A big push at this year's Exxxotica, from what my virgin eyes could tell, was virtual reality (VR) pornography, something that shouldn't come as much of a surprise to most given the medium's recent use in the video game industry. CAM4, one of the most popular camming websites on the internet, has been a pioneer in the field of VR pornography, boasting currently the only website and equipment capable to broadcast models in glorious virtual reality.
Helmed by Abbey Leigh (@insideabbey) and Ela Darling (@eladarling), CAM4VR was on display at Exxxotica Chicago, with comfortable, circular pods and Oculus Rift headsets equipped to allow a person full-immersion into the room of one of CAM4's models. With the headset equipped, a person is allowed a full 360 degree view of the model's room with the ability to physically move the camera simply by turning their head where they desired to look. Positioned over the right eye is a series of chat-bubbles created by users also viewing the model.
Ela Darling (on stage) speaking at a seminar (Picture credit - @xLaylaSavagex).
"[VR pornography] is becoming bigger now that cheaper equipment like Google Cardboard is available to the public," said Darling, who graciously sat down with me for a brief chat regarding the industry. "People are really blown away by its capabilities and some have even been reacting to it, instinctively reaching out to try and touch the performer."
Darling came up with the propriety software for CAM4 to utilize, initially having difficulty on the model's end in terms of setting up multiple cameras that loaned themselves to more fluent motions. Darling also overcame setbacks in the form of expensive software to the point where being a proprietor of her own software seemed like a better option.
"CAM4 is currently the only cam-site with VR capabilities," Darling reiterated, as well as stating her ambitions for the medium aren't stopping there. "We hope to get new camera equipment to make for an easier, smoother experience as well as adopt speaking capabilities for viewers to interact with the model," she added.
Zhaddie Grey served as one of CAM4's brand ambassadors for Exxxotica Chicago (Picture credit - @PrincessPeach).
Also present at the CAM4 booth as "brand ambassadors" for Leigh and Darling's baby were CAM4 covergirl Zhaddie Grey (@PrincessPeach) and Sammy "Strips" Shayne (@SammyStrips), both wickedly popular and friendly cam-girls that spent busy days showing Exxxotica guests how CAM4VR works. Grey, who spoke with me briefly after my experience with the technology, said she had only been actively camming for less than a year and it has already done wonders for her.
"While you do deal with some harassment online, you get the regulars that make everything worth it," Zhaddie said, not leaving out her enthusiasm for her own cam-shows, which involve Hitachi-microphone "concerts" and highly anticipated "cum-shows". Sammy affirmed her words by showing her prowess with the VR technology and her tireless working to assure everyone who interacted with the CAM4 booth had an immersive and memorable experience.
A showcase of LA Direct models, including Joseline Kelly (far left, background), Olivia Lua (left), and Tiffany Watson (right).
But when it comes to joining the adult industry, Bartholet and company didn't mince words affirming the difficulty and selectivity of the industry. Right down to how you go about approaching stars about shooting, it's a business that shouldn't be taken lightly or comically just because of how laidback it seems. "It's really a mind thing for men more than women," Bartholet says, "if you think you're going to be fucking in a room alone, you're sorely mistaken."
Seminars like this are essential to the thesis of Exxxotica, which is to humanize the porn industry and show both the playful and serious sides of everything and everyone involved.
Porn star Nina Kayy, myself, and Sara Jay at the Wyde Syde Productions booth.
Of course I could go on and describe every waking detail and emotion I had meeting the likes of the charismatic Sarah Vandella, the energetic Alexis Fawx, the sweet, rising-sensation Tiffany Watson, and many other stars, but such pedantic, personal details distract from the overall ambiance and gravitas Exxxotica bears as a convention. There's a powerful, if exhausting, captivation such a get-together has on a person, especially for the first time, and the end result, on top of memories, is an ever-growing education on an industry that is more than just closed-door business.