Angie: What inspired Sssh.com was an interview I read with a woman who had said that since she was a child, her parents told her that masturbation was really bad and harmful to her. So she masturbated through a sheet because in her mind she wasn’t touching herself. That broke my heart. It really bothered me that in the 21st century women didn’t feel comfortable being sexual...
We run bondage sites so I had gone to the trade shows. I started talking to webmasters and I asked if anyone had tried a site for women. They said they had all tried and it didn’t work. But then I thought, well look at who I’m talking to. I’m talking to men. And no offense, but men haven’t figured out what women have wanted for the last thousand years. They are not going to start now.
So I asked the women in the office if they wanted to try a website for women. Everyone said, yeah, okay. So we started phoning friends and writers and asking if they wanted to pitch in. We had almost zero budget, but people started to believe so much in the project and what we were trying to accomplish that they submitted stuff for free.
SA: In the publishing world, romance novels and erotic fiction are huge, but on the web, porn is king. Have you run into problems enticing female readers to put down their books and start surfing for their erotica online?
A: It’s all about presentation. Our movies have storylines. There’s a reason for the sex. Our site is basically the romance novel come to life, except we’re explicit. Where Cinemax stops we continue. But we give the women a complete storyline. In many of our stories we try to pick things that really do happen like conflicts between couples... We want women to relate…
When Sssh.com first launched several female reviewers ask where all the hardcore content was… The guys saw the hardcore content because they didn’t read the text. They just looked at the pictures. The girls were getting so caught up in the stories they didn’t see that progression of it going from kissing or cuddling into hardcore. I had to go back to the reviewers and have them check out the site again. I didn’t want them to say we were soft-core, because that’s not what Sssh.com is about. We made Sssh.com as a way for women to explore their sexuality and to give them a safe place to do it.
SA: Sssh.com is branded as an online erotic journal. Do women have a problem classifying the stories or the visuals that arouse them as porn?
A: There is so much more to Sssh.com than just the hardcore stuff… What we’ve done is rated everything according to lips. Three lips, you’re going to see everything, except it will have a storyline to it. Two lips, you’ll see Cinemax. One lip you’ll see what is on NBC. We want women to rely on that. If I get a member who is not comfortable seeing male genitalia, I want her to click on those two lips.
SA: Do you ever run into the dilemma of wanting to use enticing models while not wanting to reinforce the stereotype that only young, skinny women are desirable?
A: We do, and in fact we try not to use porn stars. We actually have out a casting call right now for real couples. What we’re actually looking for is good looking guys. Even though our viewers want the girl to be pretty, they really want the man to be handsome. We want attractive couples that have chemistry. But is it okay if she is ten pounds over weight? Sure... If I have a choice between two good-looking women, one with real breasts and the other with fake, I’ll go with the woman with real breasts. We do work with one girl who is actually a stripper, but you know, she has a great personality and she is realy fun. When she first came out she had all her makeup on, and she had her fake eyelashes on and I was like, “How about you take off all that makeup and fake eyelashes and just be you?” I think that is all women want to see is just real women.
SA: Do you have interesting moments on set working with couples who are not professional porn stars or actors?
A: If we’ve got one strong person, they tend to lead the other. We get some great bloopers though, which are actually my favorite part, even though I bet they wouldn't be funny for viewers as they wouldn't have the context. Like when the girl falls off the bench and smacks her head and the guy who is supposed to be madly in love with her just stands there laughing. To me that’s hysterical. But to the viewer, they’re probably standing there, saying, that guy is such a jerk.
Bloopers are my favorite. We’ve had some doozies. This one is probably highly inappropriate but really funny. The guy was having a hard time and he was trying to fluff himself, and he was using an enormous amount of lubricant. The scene was taking place outside so he kept going into the studio and out. So I go in to use the bathroom and as soon as I tried to get back outside, the doorknob was so full of lube I was stuck. So I started pounding on the door to get back to the set.
SA: What is an example of the type of storyline in one of your films that justifies the sex?
A: We try to take real like situations and come up with storylines that are fun, like role-playing situations. We just did one where the girl’s car breaks down and the guy with the motorcycle pulls up behind her... Well things progress and in the middle of the love scene her beeper goes off. She turns around and says, “I’ve got to go. The Wilson’s are having their baby.” And he says. “Okay I promised your dad I would help him with his shutters.” Then you realize, “Oh my God, they’re actually married.” We want our members to look at that and say, “Wow. Role-playing. What a great idea.”
SA: Which content on Sssh.com—fiction, articles, video tutorial, shopping, photos, or movies—gets the most traffic?
A: According to our statistics, the movies and photos are number one, with the movies being just slightly ahead of the photos. Then the fiction and then the articles. Our video tutorials are hugely popular as well.
SA: Have you been surprised by the demography of your users?
A: Our demographics show that 80% of our members are first time adult site purchasers, which is exactly what we wanted. 86% is hetero-female. Lesbians, we have 1. Bisexual females: about 9%. Hetero-males: 3%. Gay males: 0. This is exactly what we wanted. I really wanted this to be a site for women, which was really hard. I mean women are the hardest creatures in the world to please... It’s true. We’re really hard to please. You can’t please us all.
SA: Do men have any influence on the site?
A: We have an "ask a man" panel, which is pretty much the only male input. Women will email questions posed to four different men in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. It's fascinating to read the answers and see how they mature, or not… I think that is one of our busiest areas. I think men are as much of an enigma to us as we are to them. I think the only question all the men agreed on was the one where a girl was considering leaving her boyfriend because she caught him masturbating in the shower. The guys were like, "Don’t worry about it, we just love to masturbate," and "It’s a great stress relief."
SA: What entices women to pay for a membership to your website?
A: One of the questions we ask all our members is, "What made you choose Sssh?" Consistently we get answers like: “It was the design... It didn’t make us feel dirty... It felt classy... You have Shakespearian quotes on the page... It made us feel safe." This is all the stuff I want to hear…
When the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts interviewed us, they were really surprised because they thought we had to have a large membership of gay men in order to be around for as long as we have. There is nothing on the website tour other than the man of the month that would even make a man think of joining Sssh.com unless he was in a relationship with a woman... We didn’t model Sssh.com on Playgirl. We didn’t really want gay men on the site. We really wanted it to be a place that women could call their own… I’m sure that a gay man would have no interest in reading the article, "Sex after Menopause," although I do think there is such a thing as man-opause. I think it’s something men suffer from all the time. I’m only kidding. But I think the bottom line is that both sexes are just an enigma. I just don’t think that we will ever truly understand men and I don’t think they will ever understand women.
SA: That’s what makes it exciting.
A: That’s right. It’s like communicating with a foreign diplomat.