Especially at in-home gatherings
By: Kim Lamb Gregory
Sales representative Aubri Webb stood before a group of 10 women relaxing in a living room in Oxnard. Behind her, next to the television, Webb had set up a display of adult toys, oils, fragrances and other sexual enhancement products.
“If anyone has a cell phone,” Webb said, “I do recommend you put it to — “
“Vibrate!” several replied spontaneously, giggling.
The women were at a Passion Party, which is kind of like a Tupperware party that has nothing to do with burping lids. Passion Parties are in-home, women-only get-togethers in which sales representatives like Webb explain and display a number of gadgets, potions, lotions, oils and other items designed to increase sexual pleasure.
After the presentation, the representative takes the women back individually to another room, which allows them privacy as they order whatever they’d like.
“I have noticed women have taken more responsibility for the financial part of the relationship,” said Pat Davis, president of Las Vegas-based Passion Parties. “I think women are now also taking more responsibility for sexual satisfaction in relationships.”
This particular party was given this winter by Daisy Hernandez, 23, who had attended a friend’s party and really enjoyed it.
“The whole socializing part was great,” Hernandez said, “and learning about these different toys.”
There are several such home-based companies specializing in sexual enhancement products for women, including Slumber Parties, Pure Romance, Temptations Parties, Fantasia Home Parties and Naughty Girl Parties, to name just a few.
Exact numbers of and sales statistics on these types of in-home businesses are hard to come by; the organization that tracks home-based businesses, the Direct Selling Association, will not allow companies like these to join because of their merchandise.
“It’s in the bylaws,” explained Amy Robinson, DSA vice president of communications and media relations, who read a passage from the bylaws: “Basically it says we don’t allow companies that sell products that are pornographic or marketed for the purpose of sexual acts.'”
Davis takes exception to the “pornographic” label, insisting the idea behind home-based pleasure product businesses is to remove some of the shame women often have about craving good sex.
“Good girls can have great sex,” she said. “Sex is good for you. It’s OK to have sex.”
There do seem to be a lot of good girls in search of good sex if Passion Parties’ sales numbers are an indication.
Founded in 1994, Passion Parties is one of the nation’s largest of this type of company. Davis did not give specific sales numbers of the privately held firm but did say that sales are close to $100 million and that hundreds of sales representatives all over the U.S. and Canada put on about 100,000 parties a month.
Among her sales reps, 38 have sales totalling more than $1 million apiece and three have sales exceeding $5 million apiece.
There is a roughly 25 percent increase in business during February, due to Valentine’s Day, Davis said.
Slumber Parties sales representative Tiffiny Royer got into the business because she didn’t feel comfortable walking into an adult store and buying anything.
“There’s always some creepy guy behind the counter,” the Oxnard woman said.
Royer’s reaction is exactly why these parties are popular with women, according to Davis.
“If you walk into an adult toy store, the packaging has the porn stars on it,” Davis said. “It’s very much for men. We’re about love and romance.”
When her company purchases products from the manufacturer, Davis said, the first thing they do is ditch the porn-star cases and replace them with hearts-and-flowers-type packaging.
The other reason for the success of companies like hers, Davis said, is that sales representatives are trained to offer some educational tips.
It can still be a little uncomfortable, even among girlfriends, so at Hernandez’s party Webb tried to put everybody at ease with a little party foreplay, so to speak. She had everybody rate their love lives on a points system.
“If you’ve made love on a major appliance, give yourself 25 points,” Webb said. “If you’ve only made love in the bedroom, give yourself 15 points and consider yourself out of the game.”
Guest Mary Flores, 40, is happy to see women speaking openly and tastefully about sexual gratification. When she married, she said, sex had never really been discussed with her.
“I got married when I was 19,” said Flores of Oxnard. “I thought I was going to do housework and wash clothes.”
Now divorced, Flores went on to work for Planned Parenthood for 10 years in an effort to give other young women sexual information she never had.
“The more you know, the better,” agreed guest Jessica Johnson, who is a Ventura marriage and family therapist. “Education is everything and the more you have, the more potential your relationship can have.”
‘Professional and tasteful’
When giving guests a bit of education or explaining the products, Royer and Webb say they keep it light.
“We pride ourselves in being professional and tasteful,” Royer said. “We use special terms for the anatomy to make it funny but educational, too.”
Webb used a few “down theres,” dramatic throat-clearing and strategic eyebrow lifts rather than let the explanations get too clinical or graphic.
“We’re here to help you with the things Mama never taught you,” said Webb, who was born in Simi Valley but now lives in Ontario, Calif.
Among the items Webb showed were oils packed with pheromones; a soy candle that burns into a warm massage oil; and edible lubricants in flavors like strawberry, pear and vanilla.
Davis said that 60 percent of Passion Parties’ product sales are lotions and potions.
“A lot of edibles; the No. 1 selling flavor is strawberry,” Davis said.
Davis said 40 percent of their products require batteries and 17 percent are phallic.
Loosening the cultural corset
Of course, Passion Parties are not everyone’s cup of tea.
When asked what he thought about them, Pastor Lewis McClendon of Ventura Baptist Church said he had not heard of them before but his initial response was dismay at their popularity.
To him, it sounded like one more hedonistic pursuit in a nation already saturated with them.
“Our culture is a selfish, pleasure-seeking culture,” he said. “I see this fitting into that mold. Instead of seeking to be godly or saying, What can I do for others?’ we have these things.”
That’s not to say there is anything wrong with sex, under the right circumstances, he said.
“I think sex is a great gift God has given to couples within marriage,” he said.
He did not think these parties were appropriate for unmarried women in particular. Asked whether he felt it was OK for married couples to seek a little sexual adventure with these types of items, McClendon chuckled.
“It’s tough to get a quote from a pastor on that!” he said, adding, “It’s up to each couple to decide what their personal boundaries are.”
Far from encouraging promiscuity, Davis believes her products can support monogamy.
“You can create interest. You don’t need to go outside the marriage to find spice,” she said.
UC Santa Barbara film professor Constance Penley believes parties like this might be what she calls a “domestication of sex or porn.”
When 8 mm projectors became available to households in the 1930s and ’40s, pornography could be viewed in homes by men and women, she said. This trend is similar to that in that women are accessing sexual information and accessories in the home.
“There’s a way you can see this as a cross between a Tupperware party and a feminist consciousness-raising group,” said Penley, who pioneered pornography as a legitimate area of film study and was, in 1998, named one of the eight “most dangerous minds” in America by Rolling Stone magazine.
There’s one area of concern Webb often addresses when selling these products. She finds some men worry they will be well replaced.
She assures people that these products are tools, nothing more. “There’s no replacement for somebody to hold you, somebody to love you,” Webb told the women at Hernandez’s party. “These are accessories.”
“Ooooh!” Flores said. “I want to go do homework!”