A handful of leather straps, sex toys and other bondage equipment were scattered throughout the mostly empty studios of Kink.com on a recent Thursday. Peter Acworth, founder and CEO of the BDSM porn empire, walked through the dark basement corridors of the San Francisco Armory, recounting how his company used to make as many as 100 films a month. But in February, Kink actors will do their final shoot at the historic castle-like building that has become a world-famous destination for tourists and porn connoisseurs. As Acworth described Kink’s early days, staff upstairs prepared for a lavish party for Airbnb – the kind of corporate tech event that some fear could take over the Armory once porn is out the door.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Lorelei Lee, a longtime Kink performer. “To lose this in a city that is losing resources for artists and queers and sex workers in such a huge way is sad.”
The Kink.com studio is the latest uniquely San Francisco institution to shutter in the rapidly gentrifying city, which in recent years has become exceedingly unaffordable and culturally homogeneous amid a huge technology boom. Combined with the financial turmoil in the porn industry, Kink’s business model has become unsustainable, leading Acworth to cease all production in the Armory.
Although Kink.com will maintain Armory offices and continue to provide content, some San Francisco performers are lamenting the closure of a porn studio that elevated the profile of fetish entertainment and BDSM and provided stable jobs and a safe workplace for LGBT people and sex workers.
Acworth, who is from the UK, launched the company in 1997 out of a grad school dorm room. In 2006, he purchased the 200,000 sq ft Armory, which is a 1914 reproduction of a medieval castle.
The national landmark became the headquarters for his growing network of BDSM and fetish subscriptions sites, including an interactive live page and a news site, and has housed public tours, shows, workshops and other porn events.
“There are so many of us that have come out of Kink and started out there,” said Arabelle Raphael, who began performing for the site in 2010. “A lot of models went through their own BDSM journeys through the company.”
Kink built its reputation as the rare porn company with a mission statement – to “demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities by providing the most ethical and authentic kinky adult entertainment”. Although it operated much like a mainstream porn business, Kink was rooted in a San Francisco scene that was distinct from the Los Angeles and Las Vegas industries – with more radical content and a more diverse workforce.
A lot of the Castro was built on the back of porn companies. But one by one, they upped and left
Peter Acworth, founder and CEO of Kink
Notably, Kink performers do interviews after the shoots to candidly discuss the experience, which has helped break down stigmas associated with BDSM and fetishes and has allowed the company to emphasize the importance of consent in kinky sex.
“Kink, with its shear reach, has done so much to educate people,” said Eric Paul Leue, Kink’s former director of sexual health and advocacy. “That’s a beautiful legacy.”
Still, the company has weathered controversies over the years. Some workers have complained of mistreatment, and Kink last year severed ties with porn star James Deen after multiple women accused him of sexual assault. The website has also repeatedly clashed with state regulators about its scenes without condoms, though Kink and its performers have long maintained that the shoots are safe and that they are facing political attacks from anti-porn groups.
But it was the proliferation of free online content that ultimately made it impossible for Kink to stay afloat in San Francisco, which once had a thriving porn industry centered in the historically gay Castro district.
“A lot of the Castro was built on the back of porn companies. But one by one, they upped and left,” said Acworth. “There’s so much content out there. The human body only has so many orifices and so many limbs you can tie in so many ways.”
In recent years, San Francisco has also lost numerous beloved LGBT bars and a famous strip club that was unionized and run as a worker-run cooperative. Some of the city’s queer events are now dominated by the tech industry, which has a reputation for being prudish, and government crackdowns on sex work have also eliminated jobs.
Lee said she recently left San Francisco because of these dramatic changes. “A lot of these models have lived in San Francisco specifically because they were seeking out the community that was in San Francisco, which is very queer and diverse in terms of body type.”
To some, Kink seemed like one of the few remaining gathering spaces for this crowd.
“It’s been slowly feeling like the death of San Francisco,” said Raphael. “This just feels like the end of an era.”
href=”https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/jan/25/porn-bdsm-kink-armory-closing-san-francisco”>’End of an era’: porn actors lament the loss of legendary San Francisco Armory | Culture | The Guardian