Sex Fiends

Tired of boring, plotless porn? Can't get an erection? Looking for a feminist perspective on sexuality? How about a clever way to teach teenagers about HIV? Think books like The Fine Art of Erotic Talk and The Guide To Getting It On might make for interesting reads?Now imagine walking into a hotel ballroom in suburban Virginia and finding it filled with vendors hawking the latest adult videos, hundreds of books about sex, free samples of Astroglide personal lubricant and Rejoyn, a "penile support sleeve for intercourse -- with or without an erection."The exhibition booths at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, last month probably came as no surprise to members of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS). Last month, they were at the hotel for their annual joint meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of sexologists and sexuality experts in the nation.At the conference's symposia and panel discussions, speakers described the latest in sex research, therapy, and education. But inside the exhibition hall, vendors showcased their latest products catering to the diverse needs of those across the sexual spectrum.At one end of the room, Candida Royalle stood by her display booth, which came complete with a small television set showing one of her films. On the screen, a sexy couple fucked nude outdoors under the bright sun.Royalle's company, Femme Productions, sells "erotic films for the woman who knows what she wants and the men who love her." An adult film star in the late 1970s, Royalle says she went into therapy feeling conflicted about her decision to work for the adult entertainment industry. Upon reflection, she concluded that the problem was not the genre but the plots, which were driven by male fantasies."Most material was very sex-negative and shame-based," and it exploited women by "completely ignoring our sexuality," she says. Her solution was to create her own films from a "couples, women, humanist" point of view that reflected women's sexuality and desires.Royalle says the feedback from viewers, both male and female, has been positive. Women use the word "class" to describe her movies, while "men are delighted to bring them home to their wives and girlfriends," she says. "My product is geared toward female sensibility. Men enjoy something more tender also."Not surprisingly, conference attendees took more than a passing glance at Royalle's booth, picking up order forms and perusing titles. Indeed, her films even garnered the praise of William Stayton, Th.D., president of ASSECT."I find Femme Films an invaluable contribution to a new generation of erotica. They are a celebration of human sexuality," says Stayton, who is on the faculty of the Human Sexuality Program at the University of Pennsylvania.Royalle says she is presently working on bigger-budget movies, and plans to expand into the vibrator market as well. She's creating a "discreet line of beautiful, well-made vibrators ... designed to fit the contours of a woman's body."What makes these vibrators discreet is that they look like cellular phones and computer mice. "They look like nothing else on the market," Royalle says. "Women have been conditioned to be embarrassed if it is discovered they like sex" -- if, for instance, their vibrators emerge as their suitcases are being unpacked at airport security checkpoints.Men, on the other hand, are embarrassed when they are unable to have sex, according to the makers of Rejoyn. Directly across the exhibition hall from Royalle's booth, representatives of American MedTech showcased this "penile support sleeve for intercourse -- with or without an erection."At this booth, no videos displayed the ins and outs of impotence, but a large photograph showed a woman and a silver-haired man. They were gazing into each other's eyes, as the woman prepared to remove her earring. "Not a cure ... but maybe a solution: Impotency affects 20 to 30 million couples," the ad read. Nearby stood Eli Coleman, Ph.D., director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and an advisor to American MedTech, and George Fettig, the company's president. Coleman explained the logistics: a man puts his penis inside a hollow, several-inches-long hard rubber sleeve. The sleeve is held in place by a strap around the scrotum. A "comfort cover" very similar to a condom in design is then placed over the sleeve. The results: for only $19.95, any man can be ready to penetrate.According to the advertisements for Rejoyn, potential solutions to impotence "can be invasive, expensive, or difficult to use." But Coleman says the biggest hurdle in solving men's impotence problems is the men themselves -- the fact that less than 10 percent of them seek medical treatment.Coleman touts Rejoyn as the first step, considering how easy it is to obtain it. It's over the counter (so it's something women can buy for their male partners) and is advertised in publications such as Reader's Digest and Modern Maturity.Because of this, Fettig also knows the potency of high sales. After less than a year on the market, 250,000 boxes of three sleeves, retailing for $19.95 a box, have sold.Fettig joined American MedTech after a single advertisement in Reader's Digest resulted in 26,500 calls from consumers seeking more information, he says. At the sexology conference, he laughed, reflecting on how the other people in the company hadn't known how remarkable this response rate was. "They said, 'Is this good?' And I said, 'Where do I sign?' " In addition to the mass market, the company is targeting senior citizens and diabetics, and Fettig says marketing to gay men is a future possibility as well. Coleman says Rejoyn can be used for anal intercourse as well as vaginal.Impotence, also known as "erectile dysfunction," seemed to be a common theme for many of the vendors at the conference. According to representatives of the Sinclair Institute, erectile dysfunction will be the subject of one of Sinclair's upcoming videos. A video on oral sex is also on the horizon.Sinclair produces adult "sex education materials in a non-clinical format that is appealing and empowering to mainstream America," according to company brochures."We try very carefully to produce videos that present unbiased, up-to-date information," says company president Peggy Oettinger. Video titles include 5 Steps to Unforgettable Sex, Making Sex Fun, and Exploring Sexual Fantasies.But just because impotence may be the subject of one of Sinclair's upcoming videos doesn't mean the company itself doesn't strug gle with the problem. When producing a video, Oettinger says, it can be a challenge, for example, to try "to do an oral sex demonstration [when] the man does not get an erection." Marketing assistant Anne Weston adds, "You do have expectations when you have a $10,000-day production crew standing around."Indeed, Sinclair's biggest challenge isn't selling its videos (some titles have sold over a million copies) but finding couples to perform in them. A nationwide publicity campaign resulted in only three calls. "It is not quite as romantic an event as you might imagine," says Oettinger. "It is very long, unglamorous work."Today, Sinclair is in search of older couples with "potbellies and gray hairs" for videos geared toward an aging Baby-Boomer market. "The culture is aging. Baby Boomers will be a big topic for us as time goes on," Weston says.As the Sinclair Institute prepares to market to future AARP members, Risky Zone Initiatives seeks to teach youth about HIV and sexuality issues. From her table in the exhibition hall, Claire Drew played a compact disc with rap, funk, and hip-hop songs about sexuality.The lyrics to these songs are the creation of David Vaughn, and they address topics such as condom use, sexual assault, HIV infection, and body image. The CDs come with curriculum guides, designed to promote reflection and discussion when used as part of a sexuality education program.The best feedback on the songs has come from teens themselves, according to Drew. "Kids dig it -- it's in their language and their beat. They have fun and smile," she says. Risky Zone also sells T-shirts under the label "Hot Talk Communication Wear."One T-shirt, for example, says, "This shirt does not come off until we talk about how sexual we want to be, our sexual pasts, have we had any STDs? Can we stop if we want to? Are you interested in me or sex? Do we have latex barriers? How will we feel later? And only then if we both still think it's a good idea."Down the aisle from Risky Zone, in a tie-dyed dress sat a pioneer in the world of sexuality, Joani Blank. Founder of Good Vibrations in San Francisco, Blank had been working in the family planning field when she'd decided to get into the business of sex.She says she wanted to create a place where people could "buy vibrators and sex toys from a person who knew what they were talking about in a place other than a sleazy bookstore." Twenty years later, Good Vibrations averages $6 million a year in sales from its retail outlets in San Francisco and its mail-order catalog. Today, it is run as a cooperative with a total of 60 workers -- 40 of whom are owners.Still, although Blank is pleased with the success of Good Vibrations, she says that she thought the concept would be more popular outside of San Francisco by now. "I used to think there would be a Good Vibrations in every major metropolitan area," she says. In reality, there are only three other stores: Toys in Babeland in Seattle, Come As You Are in Toronto, and Grand Opening! in Brookline, Massachusetts.Blank attributes this lack of stores to a number of factors. She says that many small businesses are founded by people whose goal is to make a lot of money."I didn't give a damn about making money. I did it because it was the right thing to do," she says. Also, Blank explains, in a "world fueled by testosterone," there are many profitable detours a store owner can take to cater primarily to the desires of men, such as selling lingerie or videos only, or playing up the sleaze factor, as in "the raunchier the better."On the table beside Blank, books on display included the Cunt Coloring Book, Nothing But the Girl: Blatant Lesbian Image, and I Am My Lover: Women Pleasure Themselves, the latter of which includes 130 photographs of women masturbating. Blank is the editor of this book, and as friends and colleagues approached the table, she eagerly told them about it.Having turned 60 in July, Blank is currently soliciting essays for a new anthology titled Still Doing It: Women and Men Over Sixty Write About Their Sexuality. At the conference, she spotted a man who looked like he might qualify for being over 60 and handed him a copy of the request for submissions. The man smiled -- indeed, he indicated that he was both over 60 and "still doing it."Blank was pleased. It was another successful day in the exhibition hall of the sexology conference.Marshall Miller has a Bachelor of Arts with honors in Sexuality and Society from Brown University. He continues to explore these issues through his writing and research.

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