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Toy Story

Shannon Mullen’s Sex-Ed Salons, where women get together over mimosas and vibrators, are meant to make buying a sex toy as comfortable and easy as possible.

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If the Tupperware party was the girls’ night of the seventies, today’s girls’ night is the schtupperware party, where participants test vibrators instead of burp plastic. The women who attend are more likely to be single than married and are less interested in the particulars of food storage (most can’t even cook) than in the location of the G-spot. Though the business model is the same as Earl Tupper’s, the selling point is built around how to have fun between boyfriends instead of learning to keep a good house in order to get one.

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Safina.com: Sign up for a salon or shop for a toy.

The leader of this movement in New York is 33-year-old Shannon Mullen, an energetic, down-to-earth redhead who launched her company, Safina, in September to bring sex toys into women’s homes by way of educational salons. She plans to train a national sales force and eventually open stores. “I want to create the Ann Taylor of sex,” she says, “an environment where regular middle-class American women will be able to shop for sex toys with the same comfort level they have when shopping for pants or shoes.”

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I accompany Mullen to one of her Sex-Ed Salons, held at an apartment in the West Village. There are posters of Party Girl and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the walls, and the décor is chic post-collegiate. The hostess, Jennifer, is a voluptuous 26-year-old lawyer wearing a tight jersey that says I MUST NOT CHASE THE BOYS over and over again. As the guests arrive, they grab bagels and Mimosas and circle the table of sex toys set up in the center of the room. Some are brash, saying things like, “I already have this one,” while others eye the toys nervously and say nothing.

After 45 minutes, about twenty women in their twenties and thirties are crowding every corner of the room, practically vibrating with excitement themselves. Mullen begins with a pop quiz on anatomy: “What is the clitoris attached to?”

A buxom brunette pipes up: “The labia?” Mullen claps her hands excitedly and throws her a small packet of lube as a reward. “Can I have a condom instead?” she says. “I might need it tonight.” There are peals of laughter.

After distributing catalogues, she describes each product, turning it on and passing it around. The Micro Dolphin is attached to leg harnesses and can be operated hands-free (“You can wear it when you’re doing the dishes!”). The Blueberry I-Vibe is “a good one to use on a man’s perineum. Try putting it on him. At first, he’ll say ‘Ooh,’ but then he’ll say ‘OOOOOH.’

One of the biggest hits of the party is a black glove with small vibrators stitched into each finger that resembles a Halloween novelty. Mullen points out that it’s washable (with the parts removed). “The way I do laundry,” says a slim brunette by the door, “I’d only have one orgasm every month and a half!”

Picking up a small, angular vibe, Mullen launches into a lecture on the G-spot, describing its location and how to get to it. “How many of you have discovered your G-spot?” she asks. Half the hands in the room go up. There are a few cries of “I might have!”

“I found mine about ten years ago with a guy,” Mullen says. “I thought it was the guy, but then later another guy found it. I thought, It’s back! And then I realized it’s mine!”

She demonstrates some of the vibrators designed for G-spot stimulation, including models called Clearly G and Cosmic G (sparkly-colored), and two duals, the Rabbit Habit and its more intense counterpart, the Princess. “How come they all have animal faces?” someone asks.

“In Japan, there are rules against vibrators’ being too realistic, so they put faces on them and make them silly colors.”

Mullen passes out order forms, and the girls begin to decide on their purchases (which, she assures them, will arrive in a plain white box). A knockout ivory-skinned woman holds the Princess and scratches her head. “It’s $148.95,” she says. “I like sex, but come on!” But within a half-hour, almost everyone has bought something. Several participants give Mullen contact information so they can host their own salons, and a few want to be trained as sales associates.

“I think these parties are the best thing since the women’s-rights movement,” says Michelle, a rosy-cheeked 27-year-old law student. “There’s such a huge industry devoted to men’s sexual pleasure. An analogous industry for women would normalize things. Women are more open with each other than they used to be, but it’s still a big breakthrough to say to a friend, ‘I had a one-person party last night at home watching Skinemax.’ ”

“The best thing about this is, you learn so much about your friends,” says Robin, a fit personal trainer in a low-cut V-neck. “I had no idea Michelle was such a sexual person.”

Hillary, 28, the brunette who doesn’t like doing laundry, is a self-described “vibe virgin,” but now she’s thinking of hosting one of the salons for a friend’s bridal shower: “I was afraid it would be smutty and sleazy, but it wasn’t. I was afraid it was going to be a lecture from some quasi porn star who gets off by sitting on the washing machine.”

The only married woman in the group, Tamara, 28, winds up not purchasing anything but leaves with a freebie of lube, which she looks forward to using with her husband. “It will be less obtrusive than a tube of KY,” she says. She enjoyed the party but thinks it would have a different feel with married participants. “People wouldn’t feel as open because when you’re married, you go out in couples and you wouldn’t want to be sitting there—”

“—nudging your friend,” Hillary pipes in, “thinking, I wonder what her husband thought of the Clearly G.”

“And you wouldn’t introduce sex toys after you’ve already been married six years,” she says. “Maybe early on, but not that far into a relationship.” With all these reservations, why did she come? “Because I knew I might never be invited to another thing like this.”

“That’s why I came, too,” Hillary says, nodding. “And also for the bagels and doughnuts."


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