The X-Rated Industry's 5 Most Influential People

If the sex industry is the oldest profession, x-rated entertainment must be a close second. The producing and selling of titillating images has evolved significantly through the generations. What was once relegated to a dimly lit movie theatre, then to a dark corner of your neighborhood video rental or behind the faux velvet curtain of an even shadier corner store is now streamed onto phones and computers - no discreet paper bags needed.

The adult entertainment industry is now worth $97 billion dollars on a global scale, with an estimated $10-12 billion the result of U.S.-based sales. And as you may have guessed, most of this expanding industry is taking place on the world wide web. Experts estimate that between 4-12% of all websites are x-rated with an estimated 13% of web searches related to finding sexual content. Not surprisingly, 2 out of 3 visitors to adult websites are male, with 70% of guys aged 18-24 admitting to visiting adult sites every month. Like the song from the hit Broadway musical Avenue Q, proclaims, “The internet is for p***!”

Our list below compiles profiles on some of the most influential players in the adult entertainment industry - from those who have pushed the boundaries and broken taboos, to those who've been instrumental in bringing x-rated entertainment into the 21st century.

5 5- Larry Flynt- founder of Hustler Magazine

The founder of Hustler Magazine, Larry Flynt, grew up penniless in Eastern Kentucky and entered the x-rated business as a young man after a childhood that was, by his own admission, rife with physical and sexual abuse. His influence on the adult industry comes from his desire to push the boundaries of the first amendment. His magazine often portrayed scandalous subject matter that was - and continues to be - much more taboo than the more mainstream centerfold-type shoots in Playboy (he recently called Hugh Hefner “boring” in an interview).

Flynt has stated, “Hustler is offensive, even to the point of being iconoclastic. That’s our purpose- to be offensive...that’s what built our reputation and it’s what our core readership like.” This attitude, while making Flynt a lot of money, has also landed in him in serious trouble. In 1978, Flynt was shot in the stomach. While nobody was formally charged with the crime, a white supremacist who was angry about a photo spread featuring an interracial couple claimed responsibility for the shooting. Flynt survived but had several feet of intestine removed and has been wheelchair-bound ever since. Flynt’s racy material and outrageous personal life were the subject of a 1996 film, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love, which followed the story of his supreme court case.

While the digital age has decreased the popularity of magazines like Hustler, Flynt’s lasting influence on the industry can be seen in the increasingly daring nature of the material available. And don’t worry about Larry’s financial portfolio - Hustler still makes reportedly $100 million a year in profits.

4 Peter Acworth- CEO of kink.com

Acworth, who holds a PhD from Columbia University, is the owner and operator of kink.com, a BDSM site. Kink.com is the largest site for S&M on the internet and is revolutionary for its commitment to transparency within the genre. All actors post before and after interviews online so that the audience can see that all acts portrayed in the films are consensual and done with safety in mind. Kink.com also prides itself in promoting information about how people can safely get involved in the BDSM lifestyle themselves.

In 2006, Acworth’s organization purchased the San Francisco Armory building for $14.5 million dollars, and the company operates out of this formerly abandoned landmark building. Despite San Francisco's reputation as a bastion of gay culture and openness regarding sexuality, the sale of the building caused public outrage. Perhaps an attempt to promote feelings of goodwill, the company often hosts parties at the Armory which are open to members of the public, although it's likely the same people who are offended by kink.com’s residence in the SF landmark are not the demographic who'd enjoy checking out the high tech dungeons in the building's basement...

3 Free Speech Coalition- Lobbying Group

The Free Speech Coalition is a non-profit trade association that lobbies on behalf of the adult entertainment industry. Formed in 1991, the coalition’s first battles centered around censorship and obscenity laws, and they began formally lobbying in 1994 in order to fight excise taxes for explicit material that were being proposed at the time. The FSC’s main fights revolve around first amendment rights and anti-piracy laws.

They're also involved with making sure there are strict standards for health and safety in the adult film industry, especially regarding the potential for HIV transmission. All adult film actors must have an HIV test every month, and these results are carefully logged and documented. As a result of the group's legal sway, the industry has a surprisingly low rate of HIV and other STD outbreaks, especially considering that the industry standard prefers filming without the use of condoms. The Free Speech Coalition is also known for giving out yearly lifetime achievement awards within the adult entertainment industry.

2 Steven Hirsch- Head of Vivid Entertainment

1 MindGeek- Owners of Several Popular Adult Websites

Formerly known as Manwin, this company owns many of the most popular adult tube such as YouP**n and P**nHub, which specialize in amateur videos. As YouTube has proved, user-generated content is the way of the future. Low production costs and an endless supply of new material make tube sites the hottest thing in the adult entertainment industry today.

MindGeek also owns sites with more 'fringe' appeal which are definitely NSFW. YouP**n is currently one of the most popular adult tube sites on the web, getting about 2 billion page views each month. MindGeek also manages the online branch of Playboy Entertainment's business interests. Formerly run by German national Fabian Thylmann, he sold his shares in the company after being arrested for tax evasion in 2012. The company’s rebranding as MindGeek happened in 2013, right around the same time as Thylmann’s exit from the company. MindGeek's domination of the online adult market is made profitable by their business model of making an endless supply of content available for free, with paid ads offering other adult movies that users would have to pay for. Judging by their success, this model will continue to thrive for some time to come.

More in Most Influential