I've thrown my share of cocktail hours, but none has ever been met with as much enthusiasm as the one I hosted this past February: 15 RSVPs within minutes of sending my e-vite! The night of the gathering, I lit candles and laid out an impressive spread: wine, cheese, olives, and chocolate-dipped strawberries. The only thing missing was a vibrator Ã¢â‚¬” or thirty.
This wasn't just any get-together; this was a "romance party." The adult industry has dubbed these private sex toy sales gatherings the "Tupperware parties" of our generation. Top pleasure party companies boast annual sales of up to $60 million and yearly growth rates of more than 60 percent. Their spiel? During the 1950s, sealable plastic containers were crucial to a housewife's arsenal. Selling them gave her extra pocket money without sacrificing family time. And the products offered a convenient way to invest in her family's well-being Ã¢â‚¬” and her marriage Ã¢â‚¬” through food. Tupperware is still going strong Ã¢â‚¬” selling $195 million worth of product in 2004 in North America alone. But now, armed with body paints and vibrating panties, women are looking to heat things up outside the kitchen.
How do these companies work? Sales consultants (or reps) buy products wholesale and travel from party to party, turning guests into customers by selling the stuff at a markup. They make a commission based on sales, with incentives like pink Pontiacs and Caribbean vacations to encourage their money-making mojo. A party hostess provides the guests, the venue, and the food Ã¢â‚¬” in return, she receives free products and other incentives, like the chance to win a cruise.
Sounds great, but because of Tupperware's housewifey reputation, I figured home-based romance parties weren't for my friends and me: a free-spirited, no-bullshit, sexually confident bunch of 20- and 30-somethings. Half are single, and all own at least one vibrator. Even those in marriages and long-term relationships whip out the Kama Sutra kit now and then. What could these shindigs offer that we didn't already know? And what better way to find out than by throwing one myself?
The Right Vibe
Like any good hostess, I research which company will best suit my guests before I commit to a brand. This means I wind up listening to gimmicky reps tell me that it's a real hoot to surprise my man with a blindfold. And if I'm lucky, he'll drop the remote when he sees me in a baby-doll dress with bows over my peppermint-flavored nipples! Spare me. Which is why I'm thrilled when Pure Romance's spokesperson tells me about its affiliation with Indiana University (home of the Kinsey Institute), its breast cancer outreach program, and its naughty but tasteful products. She says 70 percent of sales are items used for clitoral stimulation and that most customers are between the ages of 28 and 41. Yes! She mentions that Pure Romance doles out over $1 million in prizes and incentives Ã¢â‚¬” including jewelry, cars, and five-star holidays. Yes! She adds that I'll receive a hostess gift and a gift certificate, plus qualify to win a $2,500 shopping spree or $250 cash card. Yes! Yes! Yes!
The day of the party, Michelle Clements, a Pure Romance consultant, flies in from her Ohio headquarters with a suitcase full of booty: body paints, ticklers, bondage kits, card games, vibrating sponges, and more Ã¢â‚¬” all of which must have confused the hell out of the security people at the airport. She starts by telling us to designate one hand a "licker" and the other a "sniffer." Beyond smirking at Michelle's odd vocab, we do as we're told. We try fruit-scented powders, lubricants, body mists, and shaving creams. Aside from a few nervous laughs, we test and examine the stuff with the intensity of researchers working on a new wonder drug. Hey, we take these things seriously.
Judging by the rate at which my guests lick, sniff, and discuss, a cinnamon-flavored lube is the big hit. It warms the penis when you rub it and becomes hot when you blow on it. Other must-haves: Sinfully Sweet body paints that taste like poolside cocktails and 5 Flavor Great Head multipack gels that relax the gag reflex. Flavor plus function revs our imaginations, and here's where at-home parties excel: We can test these products in the privacy of someone's home. Otherwise, we might overlook a real, um, bang-for-your-buck $12 purchase.
The Loot of Love
After we take a short break to top off our wine, the party hits its stride. Michelle tosses us each a whizzing vibe Ã¢â‚¬” which my guests inspect carefully, the way they'd shop for the perfect pair of slingbacks. Amy, a newlywed, even takes camera-phone shots and sends them to her hubby for approval (there's no way men ever cared this much about ice-cube trays). The most buzzed-about vibrators are the waterproof G-Money, which curves to stimulate the G-spot, and Decadent Indulgence, which boasts three motions, rotating beads, and a Mitsubishi motor. We juggle the toys among us and swap our own tips and anecdotes about using vibrating rings and giving handjobs. "For a topic so personal, the atmosphere makes it easy to be down, dirty, and honest," my friend Karen whispers to me. "And Michelle really seems to know her stuff. If she tells me that the Hot Buttered Rum lube can cure my near-sightedness, I'll goop some in my eyes."
Michelle makes individual sales to guests who rush to be first in line. My friend Gillian announces that she's considering rep work, and I overhear Liz say she plans to throw a party. My friends are open-minded, but I never knew they were so sexually entrepreneurial. The comfortable atmosphere Ã¢â‚¬” along with product variety and purchasing convenience Ã¢â‚¬” buoyed our buying enthusiasm. And given the range of companies pitching to a mainstream audi_ence, it's clear that women are willing to invest in their own well-being Ã¢â‚¬” with or without a partner. To hell with frozen turkey casseroles. We'll order pizza and put the time saved to better use in bed.