Sex Factor

These 16 men and women hope to become the next best thing in porn.

It’s the night of the AVN Awards, the awards ceremony known as the Oscars of porn, and there’s a pregame party in a suite at the Hard Rock Hotel. Bottles of rum and vodka are arranged in a row on the bar, where no fewer than seven types of mixers are represented, and nubile 20-somethings are lounging on the beds, taking selfies with their limbs draped languorously over each other.

Everyone is young, fresh-faced, and extremely friendly; it’s kind of like being in a roomful of scantily clad Mormons, save for the quiet, olive-skinned, bespectacled man who calls himself Caspian, sitting on a couch and openly masturbating underneath his jeans.

After a few minutes of watching Caspian staring into space, smiling at no one in particular and happily playing with himself, I ask him if he’s aware that his hand is down his pants. He looks up at me, smiling beatifically. “Because it feels good there,” he says.

Caspian (left) and Donnie Rock (right).

Caspian (left) and Donnie Rock (right).

Ej Dickson

Caspian is a contestant on The Sex Factor, a forthcoming reality TV show where 16 adult-industry hopefuls compete to become the next big thing in porn. He’s from the Bronx, and apparently public masturbation is not a newly acquired hobby: One of his fellow contestants, a salt-and-pepper-haired former propery manager called Donnie Rock, says he saw him standing outside the Sex Factor mansion earlier that day, staring into space and wanking at nothing in particular.

While such behavior would certainly be considered grounds for dismissal on most reality TV shows, that’s not the case for The Sex Factor. Hosted by adult performer Asa Akira and judged by veteran porn stars Keiran Lee, Remy LaCroix, Lexi Belle, and Tori Black, The Sex Factor is similar in format to America’s Next Top Model, with weekly challenges such as a nude photo shoot with adult industry legend Holly Randall. But instead of an exclusive modeling contract, the grand prize is a cool $1 million.

The Sex Factor aims to give porn hopefuls a safe, expedient way to break into the industry.

Last month, Sex Factor producer and creator Buddy Ruben selected eight contestants in the show’s first “casting call,” as well as eight more contestants during a second round of auditions in Las Vegas during the weekend of the Expo. The final cast made its debut at the AVN Awards Red Carpet, shooting their first scenes at a Sex Factor mansion outside Las Vegas. 

If the atmosphere at the pregame party was any indication, they’re already getting a lot of practice: Shortly after spotting Caspian’s solo performance, I witnessed a contestant getting digitally penetrated by a dude on the couch who looked like the singer of Nickelback. Donnie Rock also claimed to have “hooked up with” her in the mansion’s hot tub.

The cast of "The Sex Factor" (from left): Allie Eve Knox, Sydney Gilmour, Barry Newport, Sharon Perrine, Hero Protagonist.

The cast of “The Sex Factor” (from left): Allie Eve Knox, Sydney Gilmour, Barry Newport, Sharon Perrine, Hero Protagonist.

Ej Dickson

Porn is a tough industry to break into: It’s extremely tight-knit and suspicious of outsiders. Given the current economic climate of the industry, even if you’re the hottest, sexiest, most multi-orgasmic person in the world, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make a steady living being booked on shoots. What Ruben says Sex Factor will do is cut out the middle men of agents and PR reps and lecherous casting directors, and give porn hopefuls a safe, expedient way to break into the industry.

“If you or I wanted to get into porn, we’d probably have to submit an application on a website before we shot the scene, and just hope that we were good and that someone would want to book us again,” Ruben, a bearded, avuncular-looking man in an Red Sox cap and jeans, told me at the hotel bar of the Hard Rock Cafe. On The Sex Factor, contestants “get an Ivy League education on how to become a porn star.”

“Sex Factor” creator Buddy Ruben.

“Sex Factor” creator Buddy Ruben.

Ej Dickson

The Sex Factor has been in development for about a year, first making headlines in early 2014 when Duke porn star Belle Knox was announced as the host of the show. (Knox is no longer with the show, though Rubin declined to specify why, one of many instances during our conversation that he’s declined to comment.) An SFW YouTube trailer featuring Knox increased public interest, garnering nearly 5 million views.

Since the trailer premiered last May, Ruben has received what he calls a “shit ton” of applications from porn hopefuls via the Sex Factor website. One of them was from Paige Jennings, aka Veronica Vain, who made headlines earlier this month when she quit her job at a high-profile Wall Street investment banking firm to audition for the show. (While Rubin would neither confirm nor deny that she was still on the show, Jennings has tweeted multiple photos of herself on set, and separately confirmed in a message to the Daily Dot that she was still involved with the project.)

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)

The audition process for The Sex Factor is simple: Contestants are paired with other contestants for boy-girl or girl-girl scenes, while the judges give feedback on set. “We do an interview: ‘Are you nervous? How are you feeling? Let me give you some tips,’” says Ruben. “Then Keiran [Lee] gives the guy tips and tricks on how to get hard, and they’re in the room giving you direction while you’re doing the scene.”

“It’s an opportunity to f**k fun people and get a million-dollar porn contract. You can’t pass that up.”

Sometimes, the judges even get in on the action, as Blair Williams, a cherubic blonde woman in a fur coat, told the Daily Dot on the AVN red carpet. During her first boy-girl scene, she says, Lexi Belle came in and finished her off while her scene partner struggled to maintain an erection.

“I’d honestly never heard of the show, but I saw Asa Akira was advertising on Instagram or Twitter and I applied last week,” Williams told me on the red carpet. “It’s an opportunity to fuck fun people and get a million-dollar porn contract. You can’t pass that up.”

Williams’s awards show carpet date, a diminutive man in a brown trench coat who introduced himself as Mike Dean, got hooked up with The Sex Factor the Wednesday before the producers traveled to Vegas, when he emailed Rubin and told him he wanted to audition. Although Ruben told him casting had already started, Dean paid his own way from Charleston, S.C., and showed up in time for the audition.

“I wanted to travel and explore something new,” he said when I asked him about his motivations for joining The Sex Factor.

“You could join the army,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but this sounds like a lot more fun,” he responded.

Blair Williams and Mike Dean.

Blair Williams and Mike Dean.

Ej Dickson

Danni.

Danni.

Ej Dickson

Unlike most reality TV shows, there is no age bracket for auditioning, nor is there a requirement that auditionees actually look like porn stars. All you need is a willingness to appear naked on television and a compelling backstory. Vain’s Wall Street pedigree is a good example. A contestant called the Colonel, a wan, nerdy, self-identified libertarian who previously appeared on the CW reality show Beauty and the Geek, is another.

“What makes the show unique is that the porn aspect of this is secondary,” Ruben told me. “It doesn’t matter how big your tits are, if you have a big dick, how well you can fuck. We’re looking for people the audience can’t stop watching, for better or for worse.”

The Colonel.

The Colonel.

Ej Dickson

That said, if you can’t fulfill the third requirement, you likely won’t last for very long—pun intended—on the show. Kaelin Blake (link NSFW), a voluptuous redhead who worked as a phlebotomist before joining Sex Factor, told me that one of her fellow performers got the ax when he couldn’t get hard during their scene. “I didn’t know what to do,” she told me, wide-eyed. “I’d never seen one that wasn’t hard before.”

Nor does it seem like every contestant is fully prepared for the cultural stigma that comes with pursuing a career in porn. While Ruben says he tries to prep performers in preliminary Skype interviews by telling them what to expect about life in porn, auditioners have had second thoughts, including one who resigned the day before the AVN Awards via text message.

Others don’t seem to have given much thought to what their friends and family might think about their burgeoning porn careers. When asked why he chose to apply for The Sex Factor, Barry Newport, who bears a striking resemblance to Rocky Horror–era Barry Bostwick, embarked on a lengthy explanation of the sociological implications of the adult industry. He said he still had not told his mother he was auditioning for the show. Williams, a church nursery school teacher, fell into the same category.

“I haven’t quit my job yet. I guess I’m kinda fucked,” she told me on the red carpet. “I’ll deal with it when it comes out. But I think my family will understand and still love me. This isn’t me. It’s Blair Williams. It’s a persona. There’s a difference between the two.”

Then again, as the lines between reality television and actual reality become increasingly blurred, and as porn rapidly becomes more mainstream, there’s a possibility that Sex Factor won’t be quite as controversial as one would expect. Rubin is in talks with multiple “international distributors and channels” to air the show, and has hired a mainstream director (though true to form, he declines to identify either.) There will also be two versions of the show: A hardcore unrated version, and a softcore version to appeal to a wider audience.

“We haven’t had any difficulty finding distributors,” he says when I ask him if the fact he’s created a porn reality show has proved an obstacle to find funding. “I think it’s because we created the perfect storm of a great concept, and great personalities in the show.”

In the event that these personalities end up not being able to perform on camera—or if they, in the case of Caspian, have no compunction about performing solo in public—it might not make for great porn. But it’ll probably make for great TV, for better or for worse.

Photos by EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.