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‘Tupperware parties’…Only Sexier

Porn Valley – For many, it was their first sex toy party.

They gathered in a small two-room apartment, dimly lit by a trail of candles that gently wrapped the room in a soft glow.

As the soulful tunes of Alicia Keys and Carlos Santana set the mood, all eyes fell on the black-velvet-covered coffee table at one end of the living room. The saleslady began displaying her products – instruction booklets, scented oils, and battery-operated devices.

Then, she welcomed all the guests to the intimate but educational evening.

The party was held Thursday night in fourth-year American literature and culture student Misti Bustamante’s cozy Santa Monica apartment, as part of a research project for an English seminar on representations of sexuality in society. It attracted nearly 25 guests, who nibbled on chips and sipped margaritas as they listened to ways they could improve their sex lives.

This new fad in sales parties can be likened to the Tupperware parties that became popular in the second half of the 20th century; only the kitchenware is replaced with items for the bedroom, and the homey sales lady is replaced by the seductive “love consultant.”

However, unlike most parties selling sexual aids, this erotic social gathering of mostly UCLA students was not lacking in academic features.

The function did not merely reflect a new trend that has given thousands of privately gathered women across the country a reason to enjoy themselves and laugh out loud; it also reflected the freedom with which students are allowed to explore sexuality and pornography in English Professor Christopher Mott’s course.

About half of the guests gathered were students from Bustamante’s class, “Pornography and Politics of Sexual Representation.” Others in attendance included students’ friends, significant others, and Mott’s wife, Jeanne Jernigan-Mott. Mott did not attend.

Bustamante is researching the women-centered sex toy industry, because of the contrast it presents to the pornography industry – which is focused more on catering to the male population.

This is the first time a student has hosted a sex toy party in Mott’s nine years of teaching the course, he said, but he added that the topic itself had been explored before.

Laughter and curiosity filled the crowded room as sales representative Tanya Finks, a self-proclaimed “love consultant,” passed scented lotions and differently-shaped gadgets around to the guests.

While party attendees smelled each others’ pheromone oils and licked samples of strawberry-flavored gel off their own hands, Finks offered personal anecdotes and informative tips for enhanced pleasure and better intercourse.

Finks, a representative of the locally based Pleasure Faire Home Parties, made $500 in sales Thursday night, but said that was below the average of what she usually takes in: about $1,000 to $1,200 a night.

This may have been because there is a larger demand for products from women who are a little older than the college crowd, Finks said.

“I actually haven’t had a lot of college students … It is generally women in their 30s that have the parties and shop more,” Finks said, adding that this age group may be better off financially and more comfortable with their bodies than college students.

These women have the means and desire to buy the products and have contributed to a recent surge in direct marketing sales for sexual aids.

“I do more and more parties,” Finks said, referring to an increase she’s noted since she began her work as a consultant in November 2002. “I’m booked all the way until April.”

Another home party provider, Passion Parties, is based in the Bay Area and reports to have made $20 million for 2003. The company has also reported 29 months of consecutive growth at or above the 50 percent mark, and has 3,200 active consultants making home demonstrations.

Finks attributes this continuous growth to the level of comfort women may feel buying sex toys in their homes as opposed to a sex shop.

“They get to sit and listen, and get a lot more information. They don’t have to ask questions. … Who doesn’t want to know how improve their sex lives?” she said.

Several students said they enjoyed the presentation and would attend such a party even if they had not been taking the seminar.

“Parties like this are important to raise women’s awareness about masturbation, pleasure and sex. Far too few women never have orgasms and do not know how to give themselves pleasure,” said Natalie Mikysa, a fourth-year American literature and culture student.

Mikysa added that, based on what she has learned in the seminar, she would attribute the increase in demand for these parties to the rise of feminism.

Many of Mott’s students believe their newfound ability to analyze society’s sexual trends exemplifies the strength of the course. This is the same course commonly known as the “porn seminar” that puts smirks on faces all across campus.

“People are great at analyzing things, bringing in history and philosophy … we have great discussions,” said Shonelle Redae, a fourth-year communication studies and American literature and culture student.

Redae conducted her research on society’s obsession with the size of male genitalia and the insecurities resulting from it.

Mott agreed that his course helps put “highly charged issues” into a cultural context for students.

“Because sexual representation is a highly emotionally-charged topic, it challenges the university to approach the topic without being compromising,” Mott said, adding that students must balance their emotions with rationality.

“They are doing a pretty dang good job of it,” he added.

The intellectual aspects of her class aside, Redae was, for the time being, reflecting on the sex toy display she had just seen. She described it as “very fun and educational.”

Party-goers who were interested in hosting their own free sexual aids get-togethers had the opportunity to make that request with Finks’ company at the end of the night.

Mikysa, who purchased several items Thursday, said her favorite aspect of the party was the change in atmosphere she noticed as the night progressed. She said she saw “people go from uncomfortable and nervous to at ease.”

“There is nothing about sex that is dirty, and it is unfortunate that people often feel ashamed to talk about their problems or desires,” she said.


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