Katie Toth, Sex Columnist
Do you like shopping? Do you like malls? Do you like sex?
Only if you said yes to all three of these things is the Everything To Do With Sex Show catering to you.
A couple of weeks ago, the Everything To Do With Sex Show came to Halifax for its second year. This trade show hooks up (mostly local) sex stores, vendors, and other goods and services with the public of Halifax in a way that’s meant to be fun, non-intimidating and exciting.
Sex is a pretty individualized experience. You can’t sell a generic sex toy the way you push apple cider or an eggplant: it’s an industry where people have to find exactly what they’re looking for.
You would think, then, that the sort of aggressive marketplace of multiple vendors found at the Everything To Do With Sex Show would be ideal. With so many toys and products, the exact item you’re looking for must be out there somewhere, right?
The problem with that logic is that within an environment of direct competition, helping you find what you’re looking for has been relegated to a niche of far less importance than promoting and pushing product. It’s a basic difference between “Come talk to us and we’ll see if what we have will fulfil your needs,” and “Hey! Over here! You need this to shave your nether regions!”
“Every toy we have you’re also going to find the same thing an inch longer, or in a million different colours,” said one sex store representative. “It’s overwhelming.” And potentially unnecessary.
I approach one gentleman, who is selling what appears to be a whisk-like prod labelled the “Orgasmatron”.
“Do you want to tell me about your product?” I ask him, showing off my shiny media pass.
“Sit down and let me show you,” he insists.
I tell him that I’m not comfortable doing so, and I’d prefer if he would first explain to me what it was about. As I’m mid sentence, his colleague comes up from behind me, takes the whisk-like item and rushes it through my hair.
Maybe I should clarify something to you, readers: I don’t like it when strangers touch me without asking first. My spine is tingling and I feel like I’m going to throw up. I try to explain to this jerk that I feel violated and don’t appreciate his tactics.
“It probably just felt too good, eh?” he asks in his fake French accent. “Sit down and I can violate you some more”.
I grumble later about this heinous experience to my friend. “That’s really odd,” he responds. I agree – you’d think that a vendor at a sex store would comprehend common concepts of consent. My friend, however, has noticed something else that completely slipped my mind: this was only one of many vendors that just didn’t feel comfortable talking about sex.
He could have told me how the Orgasmatron works. He could have explained the sexual nature of the situation. But doing that would take the mystery out of sex, which wouldn’t sell. It would also mean feeling comfortable enough with a complete stranger to engage in such a dialogue.
Consistently, I would go up to someone and try to talk about sex, and they didn’t want to talk about sex. They wanted to talk about the product.
Hair Artistic & Laser Clinic is promoting their laser hair removal services, right beside the booth for the Halifax Sexual Health Centre. I’m a bit bewildered as to the connection, so I decide to be candid. As I ask them what their product has to do with sex, they blush and squirm.
“Men don’t want stubble,” one woman explains to me like it’s a no-brainer, shutting down the conversation.
One of them talks about how the sex show “isn’t just about the kink and the vinyl – we have Planned Parenthood here, too.”
We certainly do, but the Halifax Sexual Health Centre (formerly Planned Parenthood) is about sexual education and cheap birth control. The hair removal product just seems to be about making you feel bad about your stubbly calves. I don’t get it. And they don’t seem to need me to.
So I asked Mikey Singer, the show manager, why some of these products are here.
“This isn’t a porn show – it’s a sex show,” Singer explains.
For Singer, all the products here are related to sex if they’re related to improving or spicing up relationships.
“Nobody wants to go to a sex-toy flea market,” he explains to me.
He’s totally right, of course. But I’m not sure whether the answer is to merely sell a wider range of products or not.
I move on to the seminar room, where Venus Envy’s Shannon Pringle is giving an inclusive oral sex workshop. I notice the same distance. It’s not from Shannon – she’s great, and her PowerPoint presentation is informative, too. But we have these strangers wafting in and out of the curtained off area. People stare straight ahead, not making eye contact.
I saw this workshop at my school and it was fantastic. People asked questions. They made jokes. The audience was alive and excited. When this was just a bonus for attending the trade show, it had a completely different vibe. There was no comfort, no community or confession. In such an anonymous and market-based environment, there was no room for sharing.
Maybe I just need to up the ante a little, I tell myself. I enter The Dungeon, a space to educate and inform people about safe kink play.
In the back-left corner, a man in a leather body suit is ritualistically flogging a woman who lies against a wooden cross. Just beside me, a beautiful trans woman is being gently electrocuted by an invention described as the “Violet Wand”.
That’s when I begin to realize I’m bored. Surrounded by some of the most supposedly scandalizing demos of these products available outside The Dungeon has left me not titillated, but tired.
Just because I think selling sex is dull doesn’t make it bad thing. If some people feel less intimidated in a giant convention centre full of people than they would at home on their laptop or walking down to the quiet neighbourhood sex store, then damn it, I want them to have that convention centre, and I want it to be beautiful.
I’m glad the Everything To Do With Sex Show came to Halifax, and I hope that, as Singer put it, the show can help this “underserved market” get hooked up with fantastic local businesses.
But selling sex doesn’t necessarily make it more intimate or fun, either. I guess I was craving a Sex Comic-con, some environment where sex is more than just a catalyst for capitalism, but also a chance to find intimacy and community.
I came to the sex show hoping for dialogue. It did its job and I did mine.
In return, I got four free condoms, 30 minutes of free online porn from www.HotMovies.com, and a $10 coupon off my next $50 sex toy at Venus Envy. Too bad I can’t get back my Friday night.