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The king of '90s-era online porn? The owner of Sex.com, of course

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Well before Google became shorthand, smut-hungry internet users needed to work for their online porn. And where else to begin their search than sex-dot-com?. It’s an amusing notion, especially given the free reign we have now, but that was 1995, the year that Stephen Cohen, by virtue of owning the domain, became online porn’s most viable player. It was a booming year for PC users, with the number of people who owned home computers steadily rising. Cohen was there to greet them, having sold his site as the “the single greatest destination for ‘sucking and fucking’ online.”

Cohen is one of the stars of David Kushner’s upcoming The Players Ball: A Genius, a Con Man, and the Secret History of the Internet’s Rise, an excerpt of which you can now find on Wired. The book explores the history of porn on the internet and how the “Wild West years online” were full of “innovators and outlaws” trying to make a profit from this new way to do business.

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Cohen is described as not being “too knowledgeable of the industry” of sex online, but he owned a very popular and easily searchable domain and was ready to turn it into a money-making machine by selling banner ad after banner ad for the site, with many ranging between $30,000 to $50,000 an ad. A total goon, he sued anyone who had sex in their URL and became a king in a land of pornography without making a single skin flick himself. Still, according to Kushner, he would strut around sex conventions like the king he thought himself to be, “Sex.com” polo and all. He flaunted the fact that he had the “most desired clubhouse online of all” and always conducted business and partnerships in a way that kept his leverage and power in any dealing.

The excerpt quotes a Wall Street Journal piece, which reads, “Cyberporn is fast becoming the envy of the Internet. While many other Web outposts are flailing, adult sites are taking in millions of dollars a month. Find a Web site that is in the black and, chances are, its business and content are distinctly blue.” Cohen, as gross as he sounds, knew this early on, thus becoming the first of many women and men to make millions off the internet’s thirst for smut. When they say sex sells, it’s the gospel truth.

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About the author

Alani Vargas

Alani Vargas is a freelance entertainment writer whose work appears on Bustle, INSIDER, Refinery29, Elite Daily, and The A.V. Club.