“Get ready for the most prestigious sporting event on earth!” roared host Chris Trew.
And with that, the Los Angeles leg of the Air Sex World Championships was underway. It was the sixth stop in a country-wide tour sponsored by sex toy giant Fleshlight, which I attended with porn star Kayden Kross, in a darkened Silverlake bar. The competition is indeed a real thing, and will cover 22 U.S. cities in one month before pitting regional finalists against each other in an almighty “F-off” in Austin, Texas.
It goes like this: You pick your music. You develop a two-minute routine showcasing your favorite (or otherwise) sex moves, and pick a stage name to match. You replace your sexual partner or object with air. You display your simulated sex abilities in front of a roaring audience and panel of (primarily...
You might be wondering just how such a sporting event is judged. What are the criteria for being crowned the best at banging nothingness? One judge, Rob Gagnon, told competitors he was on the lookout for “detail, passion and commitment.” To Bill Hanstock, good air sex comes from “courteous lovers, who understand that it’s not all about themselves.” And if there was any doubt: “It’s not illegal if it’s invisible,” advised judge Sophie Johnson, reminding contestants that literally anything goes.
All of this and more was covered with varying degrees of style, grace and hilarity by the likes of Pussy Banker, Coach Driller, Bear Dick, Tina Got Turned Up and Dr. Bangenstein. Beneath the stage persona, Coach Driller was Dave Child, a 29-year-old stand-up comedian who took home the Los Angeles Air Sex title following his epic performance as an actual school sports coach, fully equipped with a whistle and legally questionable moves. “Pelvic thrusts are always good,” Coach Driller told me before he took the stage, as we discussed his plan of action. “I also like to do a surprise move at one point, so we’ll see if I’m able to pull that off this time around.” If said surprise move involved an unexpected (and apparently unwanted) sneak attack from behind by an aggressive penis, I can confirm that he pulled it off.
The comedy is not lost on the event’s primary sponsor and supporter, sex toy company Fleshlight, who connected with Air Sex when it was founded in 2009. “We thought it was a hilarious idea,” said the company’s interactive media manager Amanda Grenier. “It fit so well with our brand, because we, of course, end up as the butt of a lot of jokes.” And brand extension is clearly a non-issue for Fleshlight; they’ve just released the LaunchPAD, which essentially makes your iPad into a sex object.
The event is now in its sixth year. It’s produced by Studio 8 and the New Movement, and aptly hosted by Trew (who once flaunted his own air intercourse skills on "America’s Got Talent"). In what seems to be a stroke of genius, Air Sex blends comedy and sex in a manner that manages to remain somewhat PG: no real sex and no real orgasms make up the competition’s minimalist set of rules.
The winner of last year’s national Air Sex title (as well as four regional titles) was a 26-year-old business analyst from Chicago. Her real name is Kate Anderson, which is lovely, but a thousand times less fun than her stage name: Cuntastrophe. She talked me through the process of picking a soundtrack. One year she went with "Sail" by Awolnation, because: “It makes me feel like you should be tied up and pounded really hard!” Watching Kate’s routines on YouTube will, guaranteed, encourage you to be less of a wuss in your sexual life.
The very interesting thing about the Air Sex World Championships is that it’s not in the least bit distasteful. (OK, maybe in the least bit.) But I admittedly came prepared to hide my cringe face and applaud in spite of my own prudish horror. No forced appreciation was necessary, however, because they actually kind of nailed it. The comedy element is matched by what appears to be a fairly sensitive understanding of the vulnerability inherent in putting one’s most intimate form of self-expression on display. Trew didn’t take this lightly. As he invited would-be contestants to throw their underwear in the ring and sign up, he encouraged the idea of a supportive and welcoming arena. There’s nothing delicate about judging the way someone impales herself on an imaginary penis, but Trew exuded a level of sensitivity that I wasn’t really expecting. In no way did he or other organizers throw anybody under the bus in the name of comedy unless they went there themselves.
As Kayden (who is somewhat of an authority on the matter) and I prepared to watch people fake-fornicate, she relayed her thoughts on the experience that most of us can only hypothesize about: publicizing the way you have sex. Air Sex is the first I’ve heard of competitive sexual moves, but of course it’s not the first time sex has been judged.
“Empowerment happens at the other side of the act,” Kayden said. “At the beginning, you just hope you have courage.” She told me that she was “scared to the point of tunnel vision” in the lead-up to her first scene as a porn actress, which – granted – is hardly in the same ballpark as having fully clothed sex with the air in what is essentially a comedy act, but it surely taps into similar anxieties. “What if I do something wrong, what if it turns out I’ve been having sex wrong my whole life and nobody told me?” Kayden said, describing her own insecurities. Because it’s true; what is more terrifying than exposing not only your body but your personal sexual preferences – in graphic format – and inviting judgment?
Speaking about the subjectivity of the metrics involved in judging a sex competition, Kayden told me that the AVN Awards (the porn Oscars) can be equally puzzling. “A girl goes up to collect her award and she’s crying and saying, ‘I want to thank my whoever’ and you’re just like, ‘Dude, you got an award for getting f*cked in the butt the best, come on!’” It’s around this point that I realize how much I like Kayden, who has a 6-month-old baby girl and is currently directing a film ("Misha Cross: Wide Open") with her husband, Manuel Ferrara. She’s strong, smart, self-aware and knows her worth.
Kate (Cuntastrophe) had similar thoughts on the empowering nature of staged Air Sex. “You’re saying, ‘Hello world, I’d like to invite you into a private viewing of me having an orgasm. You're welcome.’” And she thinks everybody should do it once. “It’s very freeing,” she said, adding that the universally relatable nature of the act (and all the private variables it entails) makes for an encouraging audience. “I think it’s the most supportive audience I’ve ever performed in front of. A normal comedy audience is like, ‘prove it!’ whereas the Air Sex audience is like, ‘yesss!’ The more you do, the more the audience encourages you to keep going.” It’s true, I felt that. I wanted them to be great at fake sex, because if they sucked at it, there’s every chance I sucked more.