PASADENA, CALIFORNIATwo weeks ago, the boy and I took a three-day vacation to Santa Barbara, andyikes!we forgot our toy bag at home. Instead of opting for free cable and technology-free fucking, we ventured to the Riviera, described on our complimentary tourist map as "California's most upscale, organized, and well-stocked adult store." I'm used to places like Toys in Babeland, where queer girls greet you at the door with a wink and a grin. But a funny thing happened when we walked in: It was comfortable. The guy behind the counter was friendly and helpful. There were other women shopping. The store carried recognizable, quality brands like the women-owned silicone-toy company Tantus. We got one of our favorite lubes, a vibrator, and a couple of dildos and headed back to the hotel. It's not that I want to stereotype all "traditional" adult stores, but it was an unexpectedly positive experience. Is the tide turning in the erotic-enhancement retail biz? To find the answer, I went to the source: the Adult Novelty Expo (ANE), a trade show where industry leaders showcase their wares and marketing skills, and in general put their best foot fetish gear forward.
At first, I was bummed when ANE organizers responded to my request for press credentials by saying, "Due to the B2B [business to business] nature of this event, we are limiting press exposure." But I was dying to see what the (near) future holds for coochie and cock gear and accessories. So I forked over $185 and got my golden ticket to rubber-dong nirvana. This is the first year for ANE, an event meant to happen in conjunction with the annual Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo, but it actually eclipsed the older event completely.
All the big players in pussy replicas and penis pumps were there, including Doc Johnson, California Exotic Novelties, and Topco, which garnered my award for most bizarre product. From its Boi Toyz line (marketed to gay men), the Squirter is a realistic rubber cock with a bulb syringe at its base. Fill the base with lube, and the cock squirts. There are other ejaculating dildos on the market, but this one comes with a special bonus: a complimentary bottle of semen-scented lubricant called Jizz. There are plenty of fragrant and flavored lubes out there too (like wild blackberry and bubble gum), but I had never heard of slippery stuff meant to smell like swimming sperm. A Topco employee was kind enough to let me sneak a whiff, and I can confirm a subtle, salty, and um, woody smell. Kind of like those smokehouse salted almonds you used to get on airplanes before they started cutting costs. It got me thinking: Don't you either want the taste of your honey's cum or a fruity flavor to mask it? And whose semen's smell does it mimic? I could have spent all day deciphering the hows and whys, but I had more stuff to see (and maybe smell!).
Plugging it up: Njoy's metal baby pacifiers for the butt
photo: Tristan Taormino
Alongside the big guns were smaller, homegrown outfits like Ruff Doggie Styles, with their pink-and-black s/m gear; San Franciscobased Tickle Kitty (publisher of books like Tickle His Pickle ); and Health Labs, makers of the Fresh Sex vibrating handheld bidet. While walking around the Pasadena Convention Center, filled with over 130 vendors, I got the sense that the majority of companies are selling a lot of the same stuff in different packaging. So when I saw anything unique, it caught my eye right awaylike Njoy, a new line of clever metal toys that look like steel baby pacifiers (for the butt) distributed by Miko Exoticwear ; the new S Chair, from Liberator Shapes , makers of cool bedroom furniture; and Good Vibrations ' Mile High Kit for sex on the go.
The most obvious trend that emerged is an encouraging one: The industry is moving forward, away from cheaply made "novelties" (as in, "This product is sold for novelty purposes only," a disclaimer that appears on the packaging of lots of items) toward well-made, functional, and innovative sex toys. In fact, now the two coexist in a weird transitional period, which was evident at this show, as bachelorette party gag gifts sat one booth away from female-created, market-tested silicone butt plugs. Expensive, high-end accessories are becoming more popular, like colorful, Pyrex-quality glass toys that look like pieces of art. Glass toys continue to be the "It" thing of the moment, with four all-glass manufacturers present and plenty of other exhibitors featuring some glass toys in their lineups. Elemental Pleasures is moving in a different direction, selling metallic vibrators in titanium, stainless steel, and top- quality aluminum. Taking a cue from Candida Royalle's Natural Contours vibrators, Swedish company Lelo, whose motto is "Lust Objectified," has designed powerful, quiet, rechargeable vibrators that retail for over $100 each. Instead of the commonly seen phallic shape, these stylish jerk-off devices are sleek and contoured to hug the clit.
While I'm jonesing for my own Lelo in purple, I'm thrilled to say that Paradise Marketing, maker of Astroglide, has come up with something I can't live without. I make no secret of the fact that thick, water-based Astroglide gel is my lube of choice, especially for anal endeavors. The company has just released the Astroglide Anal Gel Shooter, a small tube of lube with a long neck that acts as an applicator. No more hoping that you've shoved enough lube up your ass for whatever you're about to stick in; now you can shoot lube up there ahead of your hand (or whatever it is)! It's my wet dream. Literally. Another company at the show has a similar product called the Lube Shooter, a plastic syringe-like device that you can use with your lube of choice.
Speaking of keeping buttholes happy, I met the owner of shopinprivate.com, a site that actually has a product category in its menu bar called "Embarrassing." I discovered that, like Southern California salon Pink Cheeks (as reported in my last column), shopinprivate.com carries an anal bleaching cream. Plus, it's only $9.99! I brought home a bag of goodies, so excuse me while I test something called G-Spot Enhancement Gel. Stay tuned for the results.
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