Friday, October 13, 2006

Latest Craze - Home Sex Toy Parties.

Customers order lattes as Stephanie Vaernet, fashionably dressed in black and pink, sits at a small table in the back of the room. The light is soft and yellow, like it should be in a coffee house. The place is crowded with both male and female patrons, and none of them can guess what she's here to talk about.

Sex toys.

"Novelties," as Vaernet and other sex toy sellers would call them. Vaernet sells novelties to women at sex toy parties as a personal consultant for Pure Romance, one of several companies that markets "romance and relationship enhancement products," according to their Web site. With her open and friendly manner, she has an easy time explaining her industry.

That, however, doesn't mean the rest of the world is comfortable with it.

While she's practically speaking in code about her job, are the people around her aware of what the real topic is? Did the woman at the next table move because she finished her drink, or because she was offended? The crowded Seattle's Best Coffee shop makes a person appreciate the appeal of sex toy parties.

Similar to Mary Kay or Tupperware parties, sex toy parties are gatherings where a consultant comes to someone's home and shows products. Usually female-only, these parties involve alcoholic beverages and games to keep the mood lighthearted and fun. Most importantly, they provide privacy and information.

"I certainly think that the sex toy party appeals to women who would be embarrassed to go into a store," says Nancy Daley, a UT educational psychology professor who teaches a course on human sexuality. "That's the huge appeal to women - to be able to look at these things and touch them and ask questions not of a stranger but with a room full of your pals and a few margaritas,"

Vaernet points out that customers get a chance to "sample" some of the products rather than just look at the packaging.

"You get to taste the edibles, you get to smell and feel the bath and body products, you get to pass around the bedroom accessories. You get to look at things and feel comfortable," Vaernet said.

To the average person, "sex toy party" doesn't conjure the warm image of women feeling safe, sharing camaraderie and secrets. A lot of misconceptions and myths about sex toys make people wary, hesitant or even judgmental about them. Stacey Keith, a biology senior and a UT sexual health peer educator, said one misconception is that only single people or sexual deviants use and buy them.

"Many people seem to believe that sex toys are only for masturbation. Some people think that the people who buy sex toys must be sexually aggressive or lonely," Keith said. "There are many toys that can be incorporated into intimate relationships."

Originally, sex toys were used to treat hysteria in women, Daley says. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the home vibrator was invented, which was sold in the privacy of the home.

"It wouldn't have been a sex toy party, but a traveling salesmen would have come along with this muscle relaxing, vibrating thing," says Daley.

Sex toys are still helpful with sexual health when it comes to difficulty in arousal and sexual functioning, but they can be potentially unhealthy when people become reliant on them, Daley said.

Myths label consultants as promiscuous, so people might be surprised to learn that Vaernet has been married for nine years to her husband, a UT electrical engineering senior. She said she hasn't run into much negativity, but she understands people's hesitancy.

"When you're inviting your friends, if you find somebody that's a little more conservative, share with them your experience," Vaernet said. "[Tell them] how the information was presented, that they purchase one at a time, and there's an opportunity to ask questions privately."

Those who are still not ready for a sex toy party can come to the Pure Romance tailgate during the UT-Baylor game. Austin marks the first Texas stop on the bus tour. The event is open to the general public for everyone to come by, chat away and learn more.

"People can come by, and grab a [free] Silver Bullet. It's going to be full of consultants. We will be there if people are interested and have questions about booking parties or the business opportunity," Vaernet said.

Toygasms! The Insider's Guide to Sex Toys and Techniques