Lance Johnson, a movie producer from Southern California, doesn't mince words when explaining his enthusiasm for 3-D. "Avatar was a total game changer," he says. "The film's success exposed a lot of people to the magic of today's 3-D technology. Seeing is believing." Johnson, who looks like a bespectacled and less buff Fabio, may have been inspired by Avatar, but the movies he makes couldn't be more different from James Cameron's mainstream epic. He's a producer and the president of Bad Girls in 3D, a company that distributes hard-core porn videos with titles like What My Baby Wants and Girlfriends Are a Good Thing.

Last January, Bad Girls in 3D made a splash at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, where the company unveiled its new home entertainment system, which includes a 60-inch Mitsubishi 3-D-ready HDTV and shutter glasses and provides a gateway to 3-D adult content that can be downloaded from the Bad Girls website. Costing just under $4,000—and that's before the $20 monthly subscription fee for the actual porn—it's not cheap by anybody's standards, but Johnson isn't worried that consumers will be scared away by the hefty price tag. "3-D," he says confidently, "is the future of porn."

That's a pretty bold statement, but judging by recent developments, he's not the only person in the industry who believes it. Hustler Video is working on a 3-D porn parody of Avatar, called This Ain't Avatar XXX, which it says will be available by September. Hong Kong-based producer Stephen Shiu Jr. has started work on a feature called 3D Zen and Sex, whose budget is reported to be in the ballpark of $4 million (a fortune compared with the $25,000-to-$30,000 budget for a typical skin flick). Porn actors Tommy Gunn and Marcus London formed a production company called London Gunn Films solely to create and release 3-D porno films. Tinto Brass, the 77-year-old Italian director of Caligula—the 1979 classic that featured Helen Mirren and Peter O'Toole—has announced plans for a 3-D remake, which is purportedly already in production. Even Playboy has jumped on the 3-D bandwagon, publishing its first 3-D centerfold in the June issue.

Of course, 3-D pornography is nothing new. In 1969, a 3-D feature called The Stewardesses became an unexpected commercial hit, outgrossing many Hollywood studio films at the time. The fad continued through the mid-seventies, with 3-D blue movies like Disco Dolls in Hot Skin and The Starlets, which were usually more silly than erotic, unless you enjoyed watching an actor shoot a gigantic sperm projectile directly at you. 3-D was eventually abandoned by the adult industry, partly because the technology was so primitive and headache-inducing and partly because porn hounds began caring less about production values when they were able to get their smut in the relative privacy of a video store, rather than at a public theater.

Bill Margold, an actor who starred in several 3-D adult films during the seventies, doesn't think 3-D deserves to make a comeback. "I don't want to see a pop shot in my face unless it's my own," he says, laughing. "And looking at a vagina in 3-D? I'd sooner go to the Grand Canyon! At least there I'll get some fresh air."

But in much the same way that Avatar can't be compared with the campy aesthetics of mid-century 3-D movies like House of Wax and Revenge of the Creature, modern porn producers are using 3-D technology for something more sophisticated than the gargantuan erections leaping from the screen featured in such 3-D adult films from the seventies as The Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy.

"It's more of a voyeuristic experience," Lance Johnson says. "It feels like you're looking through a window and there's a lot of depth to it. You really feel like you're there. It's more immersive than regular porn."

Immersive is definitely the appropriate adjective. Tommy Gunn's 3-D feature Cummin' at You!, which was nominated for six Adult Video News awards (the porn industry's Oscars), uses 3-D effects to make audience members feel like active participants, rather than just passive viewers. The movie includes a surprisingly hot point-of-view cunnilingus scene in which it actually appears as if the female performer is resting her feet on your shoulders. There's also a wealth of interactive options. Do you want the action from the man's or the woman's point of view? Would you prefer missionary, doggy-style, or cowgirl? A money shot on her face, tits, ass, or pussy? You even get to choose the color of a dildo.

Creating all that interactive POV 3-D action is neither easy nor cheap. It costs a company like Bad Girls in 3D around $15,000 to shoot a standard 20-minute boy-girl scene, a sum that would have funded an entire feature in the eighties and nineties. And it requires more attention to detail than the "let's grab a camcorder and shoot some sex" approach to most porn productions. The staging has to be absolutely precise, with the cameras perfectly aligned and the blocking meticulously choreographed. "If the convergence or interocular distance is off, you're going to have issues with the image," Lance Johnson says. "These things can be fixed in post-production, but that's another added expense." Breanne Benson, an actress who's performed in several 3-D movies for Bad Girls, found it awkward to adjust to the new technology. "For one of my sex scenes, the guy had to wear a camera on his head," she says. "It fit over his head like a helmet, and it had what looked like a little blinking flashlight right in the middle of the forehead. So we're having sex and he's looking down at me and I'm trying to keep my composure and not laugh at this stupid funny helmet."