It’s 8 p.m. on Friday night in a quiet neighborhood near Nine Mile Road in Ferndale, and an unassuming house is filling up fast. Guests arrive every few minutes and are encouraged to relax and grab some snacks before the presentation starts. After viewing the wares, everyone will jot down their products of choice on order sheets.
However, this event isn’t brought to you by Mary Kay. It’s got nothing to do with candles, Christmas decorations or handbags, either.
Everyone’s here to buy sex toys.
Part of a growing trend across the country, sex toy parties operate much the same way as their G-rated counterparts, such as Tupperware parties. You have the hostess (in tonight’s case, three co-hosts); the rep, who pitches the products; and the partygoers, who attend knowing they’ll make an obligatory purchase before the night is out. The only difference seems to be that instead of Jell-O molds and dessert bowls, you’re shelling out for flavored body oils and dildos. Although tonight’s event is sponsored by the San Francisco-based Passion Parties, plenty of similar companies have sprung up in recent years, among them suggestively dubbed operations like Pajama Parties and Pure Romance.
The hosts for tonight are housemates Bob Porzondek and Joan Collis, and neighbor Britt Buckner. Although it’s their first time throwing a Passion Party, Collis has hosted a similar soiree for a competing company. Hosts aren’t awarded a monetary cut of Passion Party sales, but if an event brings in $350 or more, they get 10 percent in free goodies of their choice.
Tonight’s atmosphere feels a touch rowdier than your average Mary Kay shindig. One might expect to witness shy housewives furtively examining animal-shaped vibrators, but tonight’s guests are a mix of gay men and straight women, most in their 20s and 30s. It’s an ideal combination, according to Porzondek.
“From the straight male friends that I have I don’t think they would be this open about their sexuality,” he says. “Everyone’s comfortable.”
Everyone’s even more comfortable after the jewel-colored shot glasses filled with fruity alcohol have made the rounds. As the time comes for this evening’s presenter, Carrie Szeremet, to take center stage, the volume and innuendos have reached a frenzied pitch.
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever had,” Szeremet says. “This is great!”
“There’s more coming!” someone shouts, prompting an aftershock of giggles.
Szeremret, a pretty brunette, wears a club-friendly sheer green sequined halter, hip-hugging slacks and sandals with green rhinestones. She takes her place in front of the dining room table, which has been transformed into a veritable smorgasbord of naughty accoutrements in various sizes, shapes and colors. There are lotions, powders and toys of more traditional shapes, along with some items that look a little like Martian vegetables or spiky sea anemones.
Shouting to be heard over the increasingly inebriated din, Szemeret introduces each product on the table, and then passes it around for closer inspection. Highlights include a game that turns out to be a little like hot potato, where revelers pass a prize back and forth according to verbal cues in a story Szeremet reads. There’s also pheromone-infused lotion; a very large, very veiny vibrator called the “Chocolate Thriller;” something that looks like a vibrating bath mitt; and the Glow Boy, a glow-in-the-dark rubbery penis that can be stuck on any surface — kind of like those rubbery squishy toys you get from vending machines and throw against the wall. Bob attempts to stick it to a friend’s forehead, who responds, “You called me a dickhead, right? Did you call me a dickhead?” Sadly, the Glow Boy doesn’t stay put and drops to the floor with a soft thud.
Szeremet, who just started repping in August, works full time as an office services clerk for a retail development firm. She got involved after attending a party that a friend at work hosted. “I thought, ‘Wow! Easy money and it would be fun,’” she says. When starting out, a rep must plunk down from $100 to $450 to create her toy kit to show at parties. The more you invest, the more you earn — the most expensive kit means reps rake in 40 percent of the profits per party, which usually average between $300 and $600. Tonight’s total sales come to about $700, meaning Szeremet gets to pocket approximately $280. She says that although she doesn’t personally know anyone who makes their living as a consultant, the company literature is rife with examples of single moms and other women with a knack for sales who’ve invested enough energy to cash in big. According to company brochures, reps like Szeremet (termed “passion consultants”) can earn wads of cash along with other perks like a dream home, a company car and trips to exotic locales. But, as is usually the case with distribution ventures, you’ve got to rank pretty high in the sales food chain before snagging the more sizable bonuses.
Tonight, the room seems to be fairly split in terms of party virgins and experienced vets. One guest, an elegantly dressed African-American woman who identifies herself as Gloria, attended a similar event years ago and came here tonight with her daughter-in-law.
“I don’t think she wanted to come by herself, so she asked me, ’cause she knows I’m a freak and I don’t care,” Gloria says, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Unprompted (and undoubtedly having imbibed the evening’s refreshments), Gloria says she’s never been married and never intends to be, which doesn’t seem to be hindering her love life at all. “I’ve already decided on the white chocolate powder,” she says, adding that she already owns many of the products available.
Fun and debauchery aside, Porzondek sees larger, even political, implications for sex toy parties.
“Sexuality is something that’s very taboo in this country for some strange reason,” he says. “Take the state of Alabama for example, [where] sex toys are illegal, which is ridiculous.”
True, but wouldn’t it be fairly easy to make your own?
“Yeah, I suppose you could just use a cucumber,” he says. But happily, he doesn’t live in Alabama and gets to collect on his co-host status with a few freebies. He’s rather partial to a purple vibrator and “Gigi” — a silicone masturbation sleeve.
At the moment, the party is just starting to quiet down and people are busily filling out their forms. Above the giddy banter a lone voice yells out, “A blow job!” as if summing up the evening.
Apparently, it was good for everyone.
For more information on Passion Parties, call Carrie A. Szeremet at 248-672-7846. Christina Kallery is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org