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55 Things I Saw At A Real Live Porn Studio

Kink.com is the largest producer of BDSM pornography in the world. Here's a look behind the scenes of its San Francisco headquarters.

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When I heard that San Francisco is home to Kink.com, the largest fetish porn studio in the world, I was intrigued.

And when I heard that anyone could go inside it — pun intended — and take a tour, I signed the fuck up.

I don't really watch porn, for long and nuanced reasons that can probably be summed up as: It's just not my jam. But still, who wouldn't be curious about this? Would I see actual BDSM scenes being filmed? Is there a Clueless-like computer that matches your ball gag to your cat-o'-nine tails?

As someone who's not a bondage porn consumer, I decided I'd make the perfect, unjaded initiant to the world of fetish video. And so, a little nervous, I made my way to the Mission, home to the Armory's five-floor, 200,000-square-foot porn palace, with a tour ticket and an open mind.

1. When you arrive at the Armory (pictured below), you're ushered into a waiting room that's kind of like the break room at your office, but with paintings of people getting, well, BDSMed on the walls.

armorystudios.com

My tour group consists of bunches of giggling tourists, a few couples going fairly heavy on the PDA, two lone dudes who seem like Kink.com fanboys, and me. (It was a little uncomfortable being an unaccompanied female on this tour, only because I could feel the other guests' eyes on me, trying to figure out what kind of girl goes on a bondage porn studio tour by herself. Haha! Journalism.)

Kink's mission is to "demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities," and between the main site and its 18 subscription sites, it produces straight porn, gay porn, and queer porn, including porn featuring trans men and trans women. Our guide tells us we'll see a glimpse of the 50 sets that make up Kink and reminds us to be nice to each other on our tour and not steal things: "In general we're pro-asshole, but there's a time and a place."

4. The first studio is small and pretty simple.

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

My first impression of being on a porn set is how clinically bright the lights feel. My second impression? Everything is very, very clean, something our guide says Kink prides itself on. The air smells benign, a bit like cleaning products, and kind of like a doctor's office. (There's an actual doctor's office set, which you'll see later.)

About Cherry, a 2012 film about a rising porn actress which stars James Franco and Heather Graham, was apparently filmed on this set. It currently has a bleak 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Franco also produced his own documentary about the studio last year.

5. The floor of the set is squishy. At first I have an unsettling thought that this is from...fluids?

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

But it's not, says the tour guide. It's a soft floor to "manage sensations" so people don't get hurt when they're filming scenes that require them to be slammed into the floor, for instance.

6. In the hallway, we happen upon HUGE barrels of lube (one water-based, one silicone-based).

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

Each barrel holds 55 gallons, which serves as a three-month supply. I mean, I guess buying in bulk makes sense.

15. There's a small cage in the electrocution room for someone to have their head locked in while being held upside down.

As a person with mild claustrophobia, my only thought is NOPE.

31. Our guide tells us the studio also rents out local businesses, like laundromats or grocery stores, to film scenes in. After hours, of course.

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

Consent is highly important to Kink, our guide explains. All models have "yes/no/maybe" lists for the acts they will and won't perform, and they use safe words: "Yellow" or "mercy" mean pause; "red" means "turn off the cameras." In addition, models do on-camera testimonials before and after intense scenes, where they discuss how they feel about the scene and their expectations for it.

Still, there's controversy. Last year a group of workers charged Kink with various allegations, including failure to pay worker's compensation, unlawful termination, and coercion of some performers into scenes that caused injuries. (Kink has denied allegations of improper treatment.)

42. We descend to the musty-smelling basement, which houses remnants of an actual creek.

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

The basement used to function as the shooting range, when the armory was actually an armory. Today, there are stripes of groundwater that used to flow into Mission Creek.

43. Then, we file into the wrestling arena, which is used for — yep — wrestling porn.

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

"The winner fucks the loser," our guide says. At this point, a guy on my tour gets impatient. "Are we gonna see something filming?" he asks, deadpan. Our guide lets him down. He seems crushed.

45. Next, we come to the drill court. George Lucas filmed explosion scenes from The Empire Strikes Back here.

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

It's hard to convey in a photo how massive this space is. It takes up almost an acre, and it served as a barricade and safety point for officers during the San Francisco strike riots of 1934. Kink says it has longterm plans to transform the drill court into a place of public assembly for events benefiting local communities.

46. Finally, we head upstairs to the studio's crown jewel: the Victorian room.

Jessica Misener / BuzzFeed

Kink holds regular "play parties" here for people in the city. It looks very Downton Abbey.

The guide handed out cards with promo codes that will let us watch some free videos on Kink.com.

I took one and headed out into the cold fog of the city, letting a cleansing burst of fresh air wash over me. I expected to feel either mild revulsion or some sort of "yay can't wait to watch porn" paradigm shift at this moment, but instead I felt neither turned on nor turned off. Seeing how the porn sausage gets made, so to speak, wasn't really a sexy experience. Mostly it's like I'd just gone on a tour of a kinky hospital, thanks to all the bright lights and linoleum.

Later, I slipped the card into that teensy pocket on my suitcase that I always forget to check. Maybe some day I'll dig it out of there.

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