The unsexy world of porn wrestling

I watched naked women grapple with each other in a battle for "sexual humiliation." Erotic it was not

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published March 7, 2011 9:40PM (EST)

I'm looking forward to a quiet Friday night at home with sweats and a bottle of wine when I get the e-mail invite for live porno wrestling. Stephen Elliott, a writer friend who has reported on the world of kink, is looking for a companion to the event. This is how I find myself at the Armory, a brick-and-mortar behemoth that takes up a city block in San Francisco's Mission District and houses the world's biggest producer of BDSM porn:

Once a month, fans gather for Ultimate Surrender at the porn palace and watch women tussle in the nude with the ultimate aim of "sexual humiliation." (There's another series with just men called Naked Kombat.) This is not jello wrestling: Fingers are stuck in orifices, breasts are groped, faces are sat on and cheeks are licked -- all for "style points." The final round culminates with rough group sex -- although it is tame compared to the "device bondage" and "slave training" that is known for. The wrestling venue looks like a normal gymnasium -- padded floor, bleachers, a scoreboard -- save for the elevated platform for a cameraman and a large flat-screen TV showing what the Web audience is seeing as the event streams live. The bleachers are packed and fans are sitting on the floor around the ring, taking up every available space.

The crowd is scattered with faces I recognize from the neighborhood -- the white-blond hipster girl from my local gourmet pizzeria -- and mixed groups of 20- and 30-somethings sipping tall cans of PBR in paper bags. Not to sound like a prude but: These are clean, attractive, normal-looking people! One woman is wearing a sheer black shirt under which her nipples are plainly visible, but she seems more out of place than I do in my jeans, T-shirt and sneakers. There are two refs: one fully clothed, mic'd up and controlling the scoreboard; the other a porn star wearing booty shorts and breasts bursting out of her striped top. The four wrestlers come out wearing string bikinis and black sneakers. They start with an arm wrestling match: Two girls get down on their hands and knees, backs arched, butts wagging in air. There is a scattering of cheers and claps as they clash, but for the most part, the audience is sedate. People are chatting to their friends, taking swigs of beer, laughing at the absurdity of the scene.

One woman crouches on ground, bracing for combat, and I'm reminded of a bullfight I saw in Spain. She is built more like a matador -- lean, fit -- but the contours of her back remind me of the rippling muscles of the bull. I lean over to Stephen and say in awe: "She's a beast." Before long, her face and chest are bright red. Sweat runs between her breasts -- which are modest and natural -- and her hair falls over her face, wet and matted. Eventually, the bikinis are stripped off -- using fingers, teeth, whatever it takes. That's when they start going for "sexual humiliation points." This is where things get pornographic.

A woman is pinned and a hand is jammed between her legs. The ref asks the woman straddling her: "Are you in?" The wrestler nods. The ref taps on the screen of his iPhone and the points show up on the scoreboard. He bends over to get a better look: "Two fingers in the pussy!" I laugh uncomfortably. She pumps her fingers in and out watching the scoreboard, watching the points rack up. Her teammate squeezes the woman's breast over and over -- squeeze, release, squeeze, release -- trying for additional points. It's sex as competition. It's mechanical and bizarre -- like porn in general.

The action stops a few times: An ankle is twisted and the extensively tattooed woman has to breathe through the pain and show the ref that she's OK to continue. The three other performers kiss her on the cheek in what seems a genuine show of camaraderie. Later on, a pixie blond is dropped on her shoulder and gets the wind knocked out of her. The action stops, the two refs and three wrestlers gather around her. The camerawoman pans to the scoreboard while she rocks on the floor.

It's fascinating watching these waxed and evenly tanned bodies engaged in such unerotic, unfeminine combat. When you think of porn stars, you think of pneumatic, gravity-defying breasts -- not jiggling thighs, sloshing breasts, rippling muscles and bright red faces. Weirdly, it all looks closer to "real" sex than any staged and carefully edited porno scene. The primal element -- the screams, the grunts -- seem more authentic than anything I've seen in commercial smut. Eventually, their nudity becomes secondary and I'm on the edge of my seat, my body tense as I watch them somersault in a knot of limbs.

In the final round, the two winners emerge wearing strap-ons. They stand with their feet apart, hands on their hips and the dildos swaying in front of them. The pixie grabs hers and strokes it -- a gesture akin to flexing and kissing her bicep. She has vanquished her opponents, and now she and her partner will screw them both. There are off-duty porn actors waiting in the wings backstage sipping on cocktails, poking their heads in to watch their co-workers go at it. This is their version of Friday cocktails at the office. As the sex gets underway, a couple of them join in. It's an orgy of thrusts, contortions, moans and buzzing. A Hitachi magic wand gives out at some point and an assistant promptly produces a new one.

In the wings, the sound guy yells, "Tell me when." The "when" in this scenario is complicated; there is no clear money shot. Someone has an orgasm, I think -- it's hard to tell through the frenzy of moans -- and a worker in the wings yells, "Now!" The sound guy doesn't hear, though. "Now, now!" they yell again. Belatedly, the victory music plays, the performers leave the ring and the crowd slowly filters out onto the street.

Later, the folks gather at a local watering hole and nosh on greasy bar food. One competitor has slipped on her oversize black-rimmed hipster glasses, the kind that seem designed to make women less attractive. Most are makeup-less and wearing sweat suits. They sit in a corner, quietly chatting in clusters, blending in with everyone else -- bikers, boozers, writers, artists. I'm introduced to the group and awkwardly offer, "Great show tonight." They nod politely. I'm a civilian; I don't really get it. But I can talk about everyday life stuff -- so I chat with one actress about her new boyfriend. She shows me photos of when they met. They are cute, giddy, flushed with love. "He doesn't yell at me," she says. "He isn't violent." Later she adds, "And he wanted to wait to have sex with me."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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