The Venus Awards

Did you make it to our 20th anniversary party in March? Too bad we didn’t have the technology to broadcast it on the Web (or the connections to make live TV). It was a grand party at San Francisco’s Club Trocadero, site of many fetish events and sexy performance nights in recent years. We had terrific entertainment, including the one and only Annie Sprinkle (appearing with her lovely wife Kimberly Silver), one of the amazing and hot trapeze artists of Air Male, and San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, our MC.

The high point for me, though, was the Venus Awards, our first (but not last!) official ceremony to honor people who have done great deeds in the sex field. Whether they’re heroes for fighting censorship or providing much-needed sex education, our favorite sex writers or erotic cinema idols, recipients of the Venus Awards have made their mark in our quest for a sex-positive society. I had the honor of presenting the awards — truly a thrill, as one after another of my friends and inspirations joined me on stage. (Plus I got smooches from a lot of really fabulous people!)

Annie Sprinkle received an award, of course — her career spans porn starlet to superstar to post-porn performance artist, videographer, and teacher. Her video workshop Sluts and Goddesses is still wildly popular and wonderfully inspirational, and her latest projects, Post Modern Pin-Ups Playing Cards (I’m the Queen of Hearts!) and her postcard books XXXOOO, Volumes 1 and 2 make sexy, witty, inspirational gifts. Annie is on tour this year with a new show, “Hard Core from the Heart,” which explores her long career. It’s moving, thought-provoking and funny — catch it if you can.

Nina Hartley and Jeanna Fine, our two favorite porn queens, were also on hand to get Venus Awards — and Jeanna brought her mother who was on the west coast for a visit! She said her mom would probably be more comfortable at this awards ceremony than the ones she usually attends. Jeanna is one of the porn world’s great divas, winning accolades since the early days of her career in videos like Annie Sprinkle’s In Search of the Ultimate Sexual Experience and other Candida Royalle productions (Candida, of groundbreaking feminist company Femme, received an award as well); as a scorching dirty talker in Cat and Mouse; and in super-glossy, gorgeous Andrew Blake and Michael Ninn videos. Nina, of course, is America’s (and our!) X-Rated Sweetheart, bringing a fresh girl-next-door enthusiasm, tempered with intelligence and sexual sophistication, to the screen. Her new line of sex-ed videos utilize her nurse’s training and her porn experience; check out her tapes on oral sex, anal sex, and swinging. Another honoree from the porn world, who unfortunately couldn’t come to San Francisco for the ceremony, was Sean Michaels, a positive role model for African Americans as an actor and more recently a producer — not to mention his superior acting and “cocksmanship!” Don’t you just love that word? See Sean in R and R and The Man Who Loves Women, among other vids.

Michael Rosen’s explicit art photography earned him an award — his books Sexual Magic (about S/M play), Sexual Portraits(portraits of radical sex practitioners), and Sexual Art (photos mostly of diverse kinds of penetration) were among the first to sensitively show us images of sexual subcultures that many people had no real information about.

Of course, much as we love pictures, visuals aren’t everything; we also value writers, whose literary skills and imaginations help us fuel our fantasies, contemplate our sexual world, or learn more about ourselves. Marianna Beck and Jack Hafferkamp, producers of Libido magazine (www.sensualsource.com/libido/),were honored for the beautiful work they do marrying words and pictures. (They’ve also just produced an erotic sexual enhancement video, Sexual Ecstasy for Couples, in which I’m the guest sex educator.) We gave several writers Venus Awards for their cultural contributions. One was Pat Califia, whose important work spans two decades and includes education (the lesbian sex manual Sapphistry and the essential intro to S/M, Sensuous Magic), commentary (the fiercely articulate and thought-provoking Public Sex), and porn (Macho Sluts, Melting Point and Doc and Fluff). We also honored beloved writer and advice columnist Isadora Alman (Sex Information, May I Help You? and Let’s Talk Sex) and Jack Morin, whose book Anal Pleasure and Health remains the last word on anal play and whose more recent The Erotic Mind is a fascinating look at our various sources of sexual energy and arousal.

Susie Bright is another writer and editor close to our hearts — in fact, she used to work at Good Vibrations, and she’s responsible for both the Herotica series of women’s erotic fiction and also for our carefully-selected video porn collection. Her essay collections, including the brand-new Susie Bright’s Sexual State of the Union, are incisive and highly readable; Susie covers the sex-and-culture waterfront like no one else. If you haven’t met Susie yet (where have you been? Antarctica?), check out her other books Susie Bright’s Sexual Reality, Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World, and Susie Bright’s Sexwise.

Without Good Vibrations we wouldn’t have been gathered to celebrate anything or honor anyone, so of course our founder, Joani Blank, received a Venus Award. (So did Del Williams of Eve’s Garden in New York City, the first of the feminist sex toy stores.) Joani’s dream that Good Vibrations stores would spring up across the land hasn’t quite materialized yet, but Joani is still pursuing her vision of accessible sex information and resources. She still works with Down There Press, the publishing company she founded over 20 years ago (which published her own books, including Good Vibrations, the first-ever guide to vibrators, Morin’s Anal Pleasure and Health, and my own first book, Exhibitionism for the Shy). And she’s gotten into making videos — her Blank Tapes vid Faces of Ecstasy is a hot and fascinating look at the faces of orgasming women and men, and she also produced and directed my own Carol Queen’s Great Vibrations: An Explicit Consumer Tour of Vibrators. It just goes to show that, no matter what else she gets involved in, vibrators and orgasm will always be close to Joani’s heart!

And of course we honored Betty Dodson, the Mother of Masturbation, whose early self-published book Liberating Masturbation (now updated as Sex for One) was one of the only good sex books available for Joani to sell in the early days of Good Vibrations. Now we recommend her book and videos (Selfloving and Celebrating Orgasm) literally every day to customers who want to enhance their own sexual comfort and pleasure. Betty couldn’t be with us to accept her award, but when we announced her the crowd cheered so loudly, she probably heard us in New York!

Oh, yeah, almost forgot — I got an award too! It felt wonderful to be recognized by my fellow Good Vibes worker-owners for staying so busy for the last few years — thanks to everyone’s support and flexibility at this unique workplace, I’ve been able to write and publish extensively, tour and speak, and just about finish my PhD in sexology! My most recent finished project, the essays collected as Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, is just out, and I’m about to embark on a little book tour — check this space in May for more about that. In the fall I’ll have two more books out, edited with my friends Jack Davis (Sex Spoken Here: Tales from the Good Vibrations Erotic Reading Circle) and Lawrence Schimel (PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality). Watch for them!

Without the work of these writers, videographers, and educators, Good Vibrations would have a lot less to offer the public as we work to fulfill our mission: making good-quality sexual enhancement materials available to you. Enjoy the fruits of their labors!

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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