Hotel_Porn

A Cultural History of Porn in the Hotel Room

The unlikely origins and all-too-predictable death of in-room pay-per-boink

In Osaka, Japan, in early 1971, a hotel accidentally began transmitting its closed-circuit TV signal to adjacent buildings, thanks to the signal being carried by the steel railing on the hotel’s roof. Thanks to this incident, a few things happened: One was that adult content was transmitted into nearby homes. Another was that Osaka police issued the hotel a polite warning to ensure it didn’t happen again. Finally — and most significantly to us — this incident eventually led to a lot more Americans jerking off in their hotel rooms.

The story begins just a little earlier, again in Osaka, in 1968. It was here that the appropriately titled “Love Hotel” opened its doors and offered couples a getaway from their large families. According to University of Oregon film studies professor Peter Alilunas, this was just the first of these kinds of hotels, which quickly spread throughout Japan. Then, in 1971, some of them decided to offer something no hotel in history had ever offered before: Porn on television.

Following the incident where the closed-circuit signal hit nearby apartments, Time covered the story on March 22, 1971, in a piece entitled “Sinerama in Osaka.” This would be the first notion Americans had ever gotten of the existence of hotel TV porn. Among those Americans who read that Time article was a lawyer named Don Leon, who represented a group of motel owners in L.A. Figuring the idea could fly here, he reached out to the hotel group and “convinced [them] to convert an AutoLodge at 930 West Olympic Boulevard… into an ‘adult motel,’ complete with water beds, fur bedspreads, mirrored ceilings and closed-circuit adult films played on Sony U-Matic machines,” Alilunas writes in his book Smutty Little Movies: The Creation and Regulation of Adult Video, where he catalogues much of this history.

Seeing the success of the AutoLodge, other hotels sprung up in the area offering a similar atmosphere. As Alilunas explains, “There’s a whole hidden history behind pornography in the adult hotels of Los Angeles, which was really the prehistory of pay-per-view pornography.” Much of this history was hidden — or at least little-known — because of the obvious taboos around porn, but as Alilunas explains in his book, it was in large part because of porn that home video recording came to be. Prior to 1977, the only thing that was available to play on a Sony U-Matic (or similar video playback device) was either porn or something that was bootlegged — there wouldn’t be an “official” video business until a few years later, when Fox signed a deal with video cassette pioneer Andre Blay in 1977 to release 50 of its most popular films on video tape.

Before that point, motel porn was all attained via a black market between hotels and pornographers — a market that pretty much only existed to serve such hotels and private stag parties, since video players were so expensive at the time. Still, it was profitable enough that at least one owner even got into the business himself. “In 1973, the owner of three locations admitted that he had started production on his own line of videotapes after a ‘well-known pornographer’ who stayed at his motel suggested the idea,” Alilunas writes. From that suggestion, the owner had, by 1973, created more than 50 adult films in his hotel, and had plans for 50 more.

Being something of a “wild west” period of video porn, it naturally faced its challenges. Since local authorities had already decided that sexual encounters in adult bookstore booths was public sex, adult motels would face similar busts, although it would usually just result in a $5 fine. Of a much greater impact to pornography was the 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California, where mail-order porn distributor Marvin Miller was brought before the Supreme Court for sending brochures advertising his business through the mail. Ultimately, Miller lost his case as the court decided that obscenity wasn’t covered by the First Amendment — hence, people couldn’t send obscene mail without it being requested.

Because of this ruling, many assumed that, since porn wasn’t protected by the First Amendment, it also lacked copyright protection. Such an assumption was bad for the big-time porn studios that created films like Deep Throat, but it was good for those little motels, as they could screen bootleg versions of those studio porn films without fear of retribution. It wouldn’t be until 1979 that things were finally made clear, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that porn was entitled to copyright protections, meaning porn studios could finally pursue bootleggers who threatened their profits.

Porn in general was becoming more mainstream around this time, too: It would be the very next year that the adult film The Devil and Miss Jones would be the seventh highest grossing film of the year, with Deep Throat reaching the number 11 slot. Its arrival in more mainstream hotel rooms, then, was an inevitability, especially considering how the seedier love motels began to thrive.

Still, many big hotel chains tried to fight it off: In 1971, the hotel conglomerate Trans-World told Variety that it wouldn’t show any X-rated or even R-rated films in its rooms, due to the fact that families stayed there. But, as Alilunas writes in his book, this was more of a sign of porn’s impending arrival than anything else. Indeed, on February 29, 1972, the Hotel Commodore in New York got a video system installed for its guests: Among movies like Airport that were made available to guests was the entire catalogue of famed sexploitation director Russ Meyer.

By July 1972, just six months into the Commodore’s offering of adult films, they were by far the most requested of rentals, so it wasn’t long after that, with more and more hotels offering porn, it became simply commonplace. Although the technology would evolve over the next few decades, hotel porn continued to dominate guests’ viewing habits, so much so that, Alilunas writes, by the year 2000, adult films in hotels brought in close to $200 million per year.

But just as money would be the motivating factor to get porn into mainstream hotel rooms, money would also be the reason it would eventually leave them. From the moment porn penetrated the hotel world, it was under assault from the more puritanical elements of our country. Companies like Hilton spent years on The National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s “Dirty Dozen” list for offering porn in it’s rooms — even Mitt Romney drew criticism in the 2008 presidential campaign due to having sat on the board of Marriott. These cries were mostly ignored… until, that is, hotels stopped making money on pay-per-view porn.

According to an interview on Breitbart, between 2007 to 2016, porn revenues were cut in half thanks to the rise in accessibility of internet porn (and especially, you would have to presume, the ease of watching it on your phone). With everyone basically carrying a vast pornography library in their pockets, hotels finally decided it was okay to let go of their skin flicks. Among the hotel chains to drop TV porn in recent years are Marriott (2011), Hyatt (2015), Hilton (2015) and InterContinental (2016). And while many of these hotel chains claimed they were dropping porn for moral reasons, more than one would just happen to mention that its WiFi connection was top-notch and would go unrestricted, which basically means that its guests are free to jerk off to their phones with abandon.

All in all, it seems pretty clear that the heyday of hotel porn is well behind us, and it’s unlikely that it will return. But for those unwilling to let go of the past, all hope isn’t lost: For one, Trump hotels have continued to offer porn (although you have to wonder if they’ve pulled titles starring Stormy Daniels) and some hotels in Las Vegas have begun offering VR porn in recent years.

So, for now, there are still some places that you can wank it old-school. And as I confirmed with the Trump Las Vegas location (the NYC location hung up on me — you’re welcome), the name of the movie still won’t appear on your bill.