The “LA X…Press” Revisited: A Local Icon For Sex Workers and Patrons

Los Angeles’ own weekly for sex workers and their patrons was omnipresent in the 1990s.

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I moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, New York in 1989. Disillusioned by culture shock, I moved back to New York for two years in 1991 before permanently returning to L.A. to pursue a writing career.

From 1989–1991, however, I could barely abide how laid-back the county was. This was not true, of course, as So Cal owns more than its share of chaos. I was used to urban hustle and bustle, and simply did not recognize it upon that first excursion.

People jammed the beach in the middle of the day, and hung out at bars.

Did any of these people actually, like, work?

I should note this two-year experience was prior to my working in the film and television industries as a writer-producer, my current vocation, where the mishegas (Yiddish for craziness) has been equal to anything I had ever experienced on the east coast.

But I digress.

The one other thing that stood out to me was my first glimpse of exactly how liberal Los Angeles was.

No issue there as I’m liberal myself, but this … this was a whole other beast.

If you visited Los Angeles during this period, you may well have returned to your hometown with a wrong impression.

If you lived there, you likely would not have taken a second look at those oft-graffiti-ridden vending machines that seemingly pervaded every block.

The L.A. X…Press was a pornographic weekly newspaper available for free at newsstands, news racks, and vending machines throughout the Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Marina del Rey areas.

And, likely, beyond.

I found out about this publication through the local Marina del Rey library, of all things, where stacks of the latest issues were placed on the floor just beyond the front entrance, alongside poster promos for new independent bands and reading groups, and advertisements for upcoming kids books.

Any child or any prude could walk in (I’m being a tad disingenuous; just maybe that placement was not exactly appropriate) and grab a copy.

After a break or two the LA X…Press is again publishing. Many of their machines have become trash receptacles, but as ever you can find them during any casual stroll in some of the aforementioned cities.

To the possibly pressing question: Yes, I frequently snapped up new issues weekly and read them, cover to cover in the interest of doubt. No, I did not solicit any sex workers.

The paper inspired me to make a documentary on the trade. My film, “Scopophilia: Undressing the Adult Entertainment Industry,” was released in 1996. We had shot it during my second sojourn in L.A.

The publication proved a big help in networking for on-camera interviewees but, the help aside, I continued to find the LA X…Press fascinating in itself.

So did my dad. When I visited my parents back home in New York, I used to bring over some issues to stir the pot. He’d look at them — my mother thought it was par for the course between father and son who shared a twisted sense of humor — we’d laugh, and then he trashed them.

Inside, pages and pages of sexually explicit ads offered everything from “cheap, quality blowjobs,” to “full-service” and “happy endings.” When I moved to Los Angeles the first time and noticed this paper everywhere, I picked one up and kept up the routine throughout the shooting of my documentary.

Many of the porn stars and models we interviewed for the film advertised extensively in the LA X…Press. As the porn performers — some of the biggest names in that business at the time — often supplemented their film pay with dancing and other, more explicit personal appearances, the paper became a strong, secondary source of income for them.

Via the documentary, primarily, and my knowledge of the LA X…Press by virtue of being a Hollywood resident, several of the prostitutes and porn performers extended overtures for me to work with them. Among the “opportunities” offered were to appear in a porn film alongside one performer who is presently in jail over multiple rape charges and a $6.6 million bail, and his buddy whose penis was severed over accusations of abuse.

You know who they both are; neither are worth mentioning by name.

The offer was to join in a scene with them and three women as the men casually watched the trio perform lesbian acts from the comfort of a couch.

No thanks. I remained safely ensconced behind the camera.

A point should be made here: The LA X…Press has been in business for over 30 years. It remains a free paper, which leads to the assumption those women paying for ads (or their pimps, in some cases) are earning enough from the paper to continue advertising in it. Meaning, the patrons of these advertisers have carried the press for the duration of its existence.

Should prostitution be legalized? As in, licensed, taxed, and regulated?

Perhaps this is a foolish question to ask in the midst of a global pandemic, but the novel coronavirus will not last forever. I reiterate the question: Should sex work be legalized and regulated?

I judge neither the workers or their patrons. If there is one lesson my documentary taught me is the reality of the matter is far more complex than a question of morality. Personally, from the perspective of a happily-married man of nearly 20 years who has never been compelled to cheat or patronize a sex worker: I absolutely believe it should. Perhaps, if so, sex work would surface from where in large part it presently resides — which, in Los Angeles (as well as New York) is on street corners from desperate women (and men) looking to get a drug fix.

This is what needs to be fixed. Regulation can go a long way in doing so ... though in our present political climate it is more unlikely than ever to happen.

Note: I am discounting so-called “high-class escorts” from this equation — the Beverly Hills and entertainment industry-types — who historically have not advertised in the LA X…Press but whose work nonetheless I also believe should be legalized, taxed, and regulated.

To wrap up, does the LA X…Press actually serve a purpose, or is it strictly a published rag for prurient interests only?

Both, if it in any way furthers the above conversation.

Thank you for reading.

Written by

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

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