Sex moves from the bedroom to the convention center

Expos and goofy legislation make sexuality either humdrum or criminal

Erin Adler

The biggest shocker at last month’s International Sex and So Much More expo wasn’t the woman crawling the catwalk in a black rubber suit, lapping milk out of an oversized bowl and eventually dumping it over her torpedo-shaped breasts.

It wasn’t the women faking unbelievable orgasms onstage to win prizes, either.

It was that so many sex references in such close proximity could feel so completely … unsexy.

Maybe it was the unintimate, stadiumlike venue (the Minneapolis Convention Center), or the horrible fluorescent lighting. It could have been the clientele, which didn’t quite live up to the “affluent, liberal-minded audience” the shows’ organizers promised.

But I remember going to Sex World at 19, a place that at times fits all of the above characteristics, and finding it sexy in a silly, self-conscious way. They checked IDs at the door, which felt naughty, and then you were on your own to explore. The experience retained both the private and the forbidden aspects of sex itself.

And those were two elements missing from the Sex and So Much More show. When dowdy, middle-aged women fail to blush at the phrase “anal beads” and instead helpfully gesture at a row of sex toys named after animals, sex is no longer sexy. It’s almost boring.

At the risk of sounding like an insipid sex columnist, this begs the question ” could too much frankness about sexuality make the subject pedestrian? Might we get so desensitized that the prospect of sex no longer excites anyone?

One trend that appeared at the show was sex toy and paraphernalia “parties” for groups of women. The parties, reminiscent of Tupperware or Mary Kay cosmetic parties, supposedly are a hit among women of all ages and sexual identities. Following the trend to an extreme, though, what would happen if discussions of flavored lubrication and vibrators became as ordinary as conversations about dishwasher-safe plastic pitchers? It’s easy to imagine the bar of what’s sexy, which for many is synonymous with taboo, being raised to new heights in a few short years.

Of course, it is not that simple. There is something quite empowering about getting women to be more comfortable with sex and sexuality, as several female vendors at the sex show told me. And though speaking frankly about sex seems commonplace in some locales, incidents occur regularly, proving many Americans are still either ignorant about sex or determined to keep other people in the dark.

Recent controversy over a line of condoms marketed to women by condom giant Trojan is a case in point. And not just a metaphorical case, a real court case. Sold under the name Elexa, the product is a condom that attaches to a disposable vibrating ring. The product ” and the sale of all sex toys for that matter ” is illegal in eight states, all in the South. In addition, some retail chains will not sell the product, though they carry ordinary Elexa condoms.

Further examples abound, such as the recent drama involving the sale of emergency contraception at Target pharmacies. A Missouri woman was denied emergency contraception recently by a Target pharmacist with differing personal beliefs. Target later confirmed its policy of allowing individual pharmacists to refuse to fill contraception prescriptions, but assured customers that another pharmacist will likely be available to fill prescriptions in such instances.

Judging by these new concerns, the real problem is not over-familiarity with sex, but the lack of a healthy, open attitude toward the subject.

So, which is it? Is there too much talk about sex, or not enough? Are convention centers brimming with sex toys, lingerie and pornographic videos, or are women (and men, too) being denied the right to very basic sex-related products and information?

The answer is both. We’ve created such extreme binaries when it comes to sex and sexuality, overexposure on one end and a virtual prohibition on the other, that any behaviors or attitudes resembling a happy, healthy medium must choose a side of the chasm to stand on.

The truth is, there is room in the middle for people who choose not to use birth control and those who attend the occasional “international” sex show without infringing on anyone’s right to information or access to products. The real problem, taken out of the context of a convention center, is not sex becoming too dull or too illicit. It’s when one group or person prevents another from making sex what they want it to be.

” Erin Adler welcomes comments at [email protected]