Talking At Lovers

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Two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Tacoma, Washington, a guest of Lovers—a large chain of high-end stores selling the latest vibrators and dildoes, whips and handcuffs, DVDs, lube, books, and a million brands of condoms.

They do a lot of bachelorette parties there, so they have tons of lingerie on display. Wearing corsets, bustiers, and fishnet hose, the mannequins looked really, really hot. Oops, did I just say that out loud? I only meant to think it.

The company is also committed to education. Their stated mission, in fact, is “to provide an exciting environment to explore human sexuality…and to acknowledge the freedom to do so.”

This is not your dirty-old-man dirty bookstore.

The founder and CEO is Phyllis Heppenstall, a feisty, fun-loving old gal (her words) in her sixties. Thirty years ago, she opened her first store in a Seattle area suburb—and was promptly thrown out of town. Welcome to America, where grownups can tolerate guns better than vibrators. This rejection only strengthened Phyllis’ motivation, who now has 32 stores across Northern Washington and Southern California (employing 1,000 people, by the way). Phyllis is a tireless fighter for American freedom. The flagship store, in fact, has a Sexual Freedom Museum.

As part of Lovers’ educational mission, they invited me up there to speak at two different stores. Saturday was Couples Night in Tacoma. Sunday was Ladies Night in Tukwila. About 100 women showed up at the large, classy store. Most were under 30, a funny mix of piercings and tattoos, ripped jeans and elegant skirts, and clunky shoes. And cell phones that apparently needed constant checking.

I spoke for about 20 minutes—the kinds of concerns my patients have, the types of things I tell them. The talk was part high school sex education, part behind-the-scenes of the therapist’s couch, part just us girls talking about sex as it really is. Oh, and part Borscht Belt. I love making people laugh, especially when I get to make a serious point (“Why does my boyfriend always touch his penis at random?” “I don’t know, but I assure you it isn’t random.”).

Everyone wrote down their questions, which we collected. They were pretty typical; for example:
* How do I get my boyfriend to do X? (Tell him to please do it)
* How do I get him to stop doing Y? (Ask him to please stop; if he won’t, ask him why he’s willing to undermine the relationship)
* Can you get addicted to a vibrator? (No. Attached, yes; Develop affection for, yes; Addicted, no.)
* Why don’t I climax from real sex? (You mean intercourse? Well, do you masturbate mostly with your vagina or your clitoris?)
* Is it gross to do it during your period? (Please define “gross”—is that just real life the way it actually is?)
* If my boyfriend wants my finger in his butt, is he gay? (He may be, but liking anal play isn’t a reliable ‘test’ for sexual orientation.)

Afterwards people came up to talk to me privately, and it was a familiar scene: a few people telling me I’d emboldened them to talk with their husbands; the usual suspects wanting to be sex therapists when they grow up; and the inevitable person or two revealing they were in a threesome, or enjoyed spanking, or that they ran amateur porn sites with cameras in their bedrooms.

They all looked pretty ordinary, and sounded like your neighbors. Maybe, in fact, they’re you.

Hi there.

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