Kylah Benes-Trapp

An Intimate Convo With An Adult Industry Reviewer

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Sex is a topic steeped in judgment. Any conversations about it are never-ending debates of what's right and what's wrong.

That's why I've created this column: a judgment-free forum to discuss sexual trysts, both conventional and not, through intimate Q&As with some openminded individuals.

Like art, porn can be subjective. We all have our own preferences.

So reviewing porn would be no different than art — it just so happens to be a lot more fun.

This being the case, I wanted to speak with a professional porn reviewer on what constitutes a good porn film (and about a million other things, if I'm being honest).

To accomplish this task, I spoke to Sherri Shaulis, a porn reviewer for AVN magazine who's been reviewing both porn and sex toys for over nine years.

Despite her unorthodox career, Shaulis insists her work routine is fairly traditional, working Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

She adds there are instances she must take work home with her (see: sex toys and porn videos), and is thankful her boyfriend is A-OK with it all.

To date, Shaulis estimates she's watched close to 10,000 porn films and looks forward to seeing where the industry is headed next.

Bobby Box: How did you get this fantastic job? As far as I know, there's no university program for such a position.

Sherri Shaulis: When I was studying journalism oh so many years ago in college, the staff of the student newspaper discussed what our dream jobs would be.

While some mentioned The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, I said, “I want to go to Hollywood and write about porn for AVN Magazine.”

For the most part, I was joking. But when I found myself in Northern California and wanting to find a job and relocate to Los Angeles, I searched for openings on a journalism website and came across a listing for “Editor in Chatsworth.”

I thought, “I know what they do in Chatsworth,” so I clicked on it, and sure enough it was for AVN. I applied and was lucky enough to get hired.

BB: How do you set yourself up to review a porn film (do you have a notebook, snacks, toys, etc.)? Paint us a picture.

Shaulis: I'm totally old school. If I'm at work, I pop the DVD into a portable player, throw on the headphones and take notes with a pen and a reporter's notebook. If I'm at home, I'll skip the headphones, but have by feet propped up on a pillow on the coffee table.

During our nominations meetings, though, I am in a room at our office with about 10 other people, sitting at a conference table and watching the movies and scenes projected onto the wall.

Those are the times when we have plenty of snacks. (Popcorn and Cheetos are always popular.)

BB: What makes for a good porn film? What are the key factors you look out for?

Shaulis: I think it helps if the performers really look like they are into the scene, both enjoying themselves and the sex.

It makes it easier to enjoy the scenes if I'm not sitting there thinking, “Well THAT orgasm was totally fake.”

BB: Why do all/most porn films follow the same sexual structure? Is there a reason for this standard choreography?

Shaulis: You've heard the saying, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” right? There are definitely some unwritten rules for porn, such as a certain number of scenes per DVD, a few positions that need to be featured and more.

People crave familiarity, and that goes for their porn, too. But I think because I have access to so many types of porn, it doesn't get boring for me. I mean, a good BDSM scene is going to be different from a parody.

People crave familiarity, and that goes for their porn, too.

BB: What makes for a good porn actor?

Shaulis: Someone who's capable of delivering at least a few lines of dialogue, but more importantly, someone who lets herself get into the scenes she performs.

You don't have to do everything on camera, but whatever you do, do it well.

BB: In your opinion, who are some of the best porn actors currently in the biz?

Shaulis: Now you're trying to get me in trouble! [laughs]. My personal list of “the best of the best” changes all the time.

Just a few of the people I know will consistently produce a great scene or movie are: Tommy Pistol, Ryan Driller, Derrick Pierce, Jessica Drake, Vanessa Veracruz, Jessa Rhodes and Vicki Chase… It's hard to keep this list short.

BB: Is there an excuse for such bad acting? I mean, sometimes, it almost seems intentional.

Shaulis: Sure, there are some people who are much better at sex than they are acting, but I've seen some truly amazing acting performances in the past few years.

We've come a long way from the pizza delivery guy or plumber making bad puns before getting naked.

BB: What is your favorite porn film of all time?

Shaulis: Just one? I don't know if I could pick just one. I am old-school, so I do still love the classics. "Behind The Green Door," "The Devil In Miss Jones" and "The Opening of Misty Beethoven" are at the top of the list.

As for more recent releases, there are some parodies I really love, including "Godfather: A DreamZone Parody," "Austin Powers XXX: A Porn Parody" and "The Rocki Whore Picture Show: A Hardcore Parody."

BB: Have you ever been moved emotionally by a porn film?

Shaulis: It's a very rare occurrence, but it does happen. And it's not always a sappy emotion. There have been some really hard-hitting and emotional scripts in the past few years that have brought me close to tears in a few cases.

BB: Like art, porn can be subjective — you know, different strokes for different folks. How do you consider that when reviewing something you may not personally be interested in?

Shaulis: Everyone I work with knows I don't like foot fetish porn; it creeps me out. But I get that other people are really into it, and I know people who are into it, so I check in with them on what it is they like.

I think I've always been the type of person who understands what I think is great will be garbage to someone else, and that's part of what makes for a good reviewer.

Porn reviews are personal to some degree, but you need to understand you're writing for a much larger audience than just yourself.

BB: Since you watch incredible amounts of porn, do you still find yourself stimulated by it? Or has it become, as most things do, a job?

Shaulis: I do get stimulated by it, but if I'm watching porn to get in the mood, chances are I'm going to go back to my roots.

I still own several of the first VHS porn tapes I ever bought. But if I'm watching a new movie for review and find myself getting turned on, I'm even happier.

If I'm watching a new movie for review and find myself getting turned on, I'm even happier.

BB: Is it “unprofessional” to masturbate while you review? I mean, do you?

Shaulis: I think it would be considered unprofessional if I masturbated while I was in the office [laughs].

There's been more than a few times while reviewing at home that I've taken a break from taking notes to rub one out. If a movie gets me riled up enough for sex, you can bet it's getting the highest rating I can give it!

BB: How much porn do you watch in the average week/month as a reviewer?

Shaulis: My main focus is on reviewing sex toys, but I review movies throughout the year.

For about four months each year, I am part of the nominations committee for the AVN Awards (you might have heard about the “Oscars of Porn,” which take place in Las Vegas every January) and during that period, I am watching porn about 12 to 16 hours every day.

BB: How do you feel about porn parodies?

Shaulis: I LOVE so many of them. I think they are a great way for couples to find porn they can watch and enjoy together. And there's so many types of parodies to choose from: Comedies, dramas, TV shows, movies, super heroes, fairy tales, etc.

That said, there are some parodies I could have lived my entire life without seeing.

BB: What's your stance on California Proposition 60 (a ballot that would require the use of condoms and other protective measures during the filming of pornographic films)?

Shaulis: I am very much in the No On 60 camp, and would be even if I didn't work in the adult industry.

Proponents like to try and present 60 as if it's meant to protect performers, when the reality is it could subject them to personal and financial harm just because of their chosen profession.

It also creates the job of “porn czar” for Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the only organization that supports and is providing funding for Prop 60.

The state's major political parties and several major newspapers have come out against Prop 60, and with good reason.

BB: What are some of the biggest changes you've noticed in porn films over the years? How has it evolved to what it is currently?

Shaulis: Tastes change, so genres such as parody or "Fifty Shades of Grey"-inspired porn aren't as popular as they were a few years ago.

And there are definitely fewer adult studios than there were even five years ago because of piracy and the economic downturn we are still recovering from.

Some of the biggest changes in the industry are in the form of how adult material is distributed. There are still plenty of DVDs being created each year, but these days there is a lot of quality content that's available online at various membership or video-on-demand sites.

BB: What's your stance on free porn streaming websites?

Shaulis: I think there are some instances where it works. Performers who are trying to make a name for themselves can offer content to build their fanbase and showcase their skills and talents.

Studios can offer free content online that can then be purchased and packaged together on a DVD. But as for things like torrent sites that offer free content because they uploaded without owning the copyright, forget about it. That's theft, plain and simple.

 

 

 

 

BB: As a professional porn reviewer, you've undoubtedly been subject to VR porn. As far as I've read, the reviews are mixed. What's your opinion on it?

Shaulis: It's still relatively new to the adult industry, so I'm not quite sure how I feel about it.

It might end up being too big of a change for me, but I can see how the generations behind me — who grew up wearing headsets for so many things online — would see it as the next natural step.

We actually created a new category for Best Virtual Reality Sex Scene for the AVN Awards this year, so it's definitely growing in popularity, but it remains to be seen if it will continue.

BB: In your expert opinion, where do you see porn heading?

Shaulis: Personally, I think we will continue to see more content released online. Also, "camming" will continue to increase in popularity.

Generations who grew up with tablets, laptops and smartphones are coming of age and they are trained to have much more interaction online than past generations.

We might very well eventually see the demise of the traditional porn performer in favor of the girl next door performing in front of a webcam in her bedroom, but I doubt a complete takeover will happen in my lifetime.