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Joanne Webb Hot Topic at Passion Parties Conclave

Las Vegas- There were “oooohs” and “aaaahhhs” but no blushing at all.
In a meeting room here, about 200 saleswomen of a sex toy company called Passion Parties had gathered to watch mock presentations of how to pitch – and use – an array of new products.

“This is for those nights when he’s in the mood and you’re not,” said Tina Plummer, a representative from Appleton, Wisconsin, as she showed how to use a pink silicon contraption called “the Gigi.”

But more than new products were on some of the women’s minds.

Passion Parties, which is holding its annual convention here, represents a subset of the sex industry that uses Tupperware-style marketing and underscores how mainstream sex toys have become. What may have once been purchased from burly guys behind the counter in seedy porn shops is now for sale in the living rooms of teachers, grandmothers and housewives who say their business is more educational than titillating.

So it came as a shock to this sales cadre when one of their own was recently arrested by two undercover police officers in Burleson, Texas, and now faces a misdemeanor obscenity charge that could send her to jail for up to one year.

No one is more surprised than the woman herself, Joanne Webb, 43, a Passion Parties representative whose business had even joined the local Chamber of Commerce before law enforcement officials received an anonymous call about her in October. “It’s ludicrous,” said Webb, who is married, has three children and was welcomed here with hugs and donations to a defense fund. “Just the idea of being convicted of something like this is disgusting.”

Webb is accused of violating a state law that prohibits the sale of obscene devices, defined as items “designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”

Johnson County prosecutors in Texas refused to comment on the case, but Webb’s lawyer, BeAnn Sisemore, plans to challenge the law as unconstitutional. Sisemore said that even condoms could be considered an obscene device by the logic of the law. She said that Webb got in trouble not because she sold the items, which other suppliers sell as “novelties” to get around the law, but because she explained how to use them.

Many women who sell the sex toys – often along with product lines of lotions, creams and lingerie – said they chose the field because it was more fun than selling cosmetics or household goods and because they could make more of a difference in women’s lives.

Cyndi Welbourne, 44, from Lake Mills, Wisconsin, said she was lured to Passion Parties more than four years ago from a “depressing” job as a parole commission supervisor, and could not be prouder of her choice. “I had a woman in her 50’s who had never had an orgasm,” Welbourne said. “Sometimes you want to cry.”

But even in times of women-oriented sexual shows like HBO’s “Sex and the City” and technological advances that make possible such prospects as a remote-controlled vibrator for more effective cybersex, the stigma of toys for sexual pleasure has not completely faded.

Susan Clark, 33, who works for Passion Parties in Seattle, said her husband, an engineer, at first made it “very clear” that he did not want his family to know what she did – or have the products in their house.

That was before she built her business to clear $41,000 last year in commissions of 3 percent to 50 percent on the products sold by her and by representatives she sponsors into the company. Now, Clark said, her husband helps load the car.

“I can make $200 a hour without taking my clothes off,” she said.

High demand is partly why the business meeting was held here. The representatives, who attended sales workshops and heard speakers like Sue Johanson, the Canadian sex expert, said they hardly felt under siege because of Webb’s case.

The women all vouched for their products – one woman called spouses and partners “vice presidents for research” – and some said that they were netting six figures and that there was plenty of room in the market.

“Somebody turns 18 every day,” said Lisa Casson-Woodford, 41, a saleswoman from Delaware and the daughter of an Episcopal priest who she said approved of what she was doing because she was helping couples stay together.

Six other Passion Parties representatives serve the Burleson area in Texas, but Webb said they had nothing to fear.

She figures she was a target and ruffled some feathers in town because of her prominence as a Chamber of Commerce leader and because of her penchant for wearing midthigh miniskirts. “My husband is a leg man,” she said.

But she vowed to press on.

“Most of my customers are housewives just trying to spice up their relationship,” Webb said. “I do plan to continue to help women.”



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