“Tell Me What To Do” Toys

Several very popular items at Good Vibes fall into a category I’ve begun to call “Tell Me What To Do.” Unlike traditional how-to books, whose main function is to teach you to have a particular kind or kinds of sex, these help script your encounters. We do carry a lot of how-to books as well, from my own Exhibitionism for the Shy to Pat Califia’s Sensuous Magic to Lonnie Barbach’s For Yourself. But when you buy one of these, you pretty much have already decided you’d like to try the book’s main how-to topic, whatever it is.

“Tell Me What To Do” products are different. They don’t instruct you on how to do a particular activity so much as they instruct you to have a particular kind of sex or intimate encounter, period. The best examples are Laura Corn’s book 101 Nights of Grrreat Sex and the perennial favorite, Dirty Words Dice Game.

101 Nights is an engaging book with a really clever gimmick. From the outside it looks like any other large-format paperback, but once you open it, you find that its pages are sealed together and have to be torn out of the book and opened before you can read them. Half the pages are geared to the woman in a couple and the other half are for the man (and there you have its intended audience — heterosexual couples; sure, a gay couple can enjoy it together, but they’ll have to translate half the pronouns). Every week each partner takes a sheet out of the book, which instructs them in a particular activity or fantasy with which to surprise the other. If any extras — sex toys, props, costumes, etc. — are required, author Corn lists them like recipe ingredients. Voila! Plenty of books suggest you spice things up, vary the routine — this one provides the shopping list.

The Dirty Words Dice Game is exactly the same, only much more compact and without the list of ingredients. Some dice have an erotic activity — like “lick,” “kiss,” and “squeeze” — on each of facet. The other dice have body parts. Put ’em together, roll the dice, and what do you have? A simple, sexy instruction that should get anyone started. No gender specifics, either, so every variety of couple can use them.

It’s not the fact that “Tell Me What To Do” toys are numerous that makes me single them out for comment; it’s how popular they are. Even before we got these two items in stock, we noticed steady sales on the single board game we carried, Enchanting Evening (and also joined by Passion Play and several others), and on the book Tricks, which offers couples a smorgasbord of erotic roles and suggestions for games to play and scenarios to act out. How could I resist the obvious conclusion: people want to be told what to do! Not all people, of course — but I think the popularity of these items, aside from their novelty value, rests in the way they take sexual decision-making out of our hands and help us out with a script or some suggested activities. And if a role or a Laura Corn-suggested activity or a roll of the dice doesn’t work out, well, there’s always the next one!

I’m not suggesting that we should be relying on books, games and gizmos to score our sexual symphonies — and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t. If one of these toys helps a shy person feel more outgoing or jazzes up a lackluster love life, it’s obviously a success! Trading off taking charge with a partner can be wonderful fun, eye-opening, intimacy-producing — and whether you draw a card, tear a page out of 101 Nights, hand your sweetie the dice, or just whisper “Your turn,” you’re giving each other the gift of balance. You can lie back and enjoy, and you can initiate; you can wash his or her back, and she or he can wash yours. Whether you call it “switching,” as S/M players do, or “you do me and I’ll do you,” it’s a wonderful way to treat your lover.

Your move!

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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