VEGAS, BABY! Porn and Vibes in Bling City

Every year, right around the time of the Consumer Electronics Show, adult industry people and fans swarm Vegas. Why then? Because pretty much every time a new consumer electronic device is dreamed up, someone figures out an innovative way to watch porn on it. The two industries are inextricably linked. Plus the adult toy industry has been cooking up plenty of innovative electronics of its own, as any Good Vibrations’ regular knows.

I don’t go every year, but this time, I attended the AVN/ANE (Adult Video News/Adult Novelty Expo) show to be part of a panel discussion, “Keeping Up with the Krazes.” But before you can talk about porn in Las Vegas, you have to get there, and that can be fun in and of itself. I chatted the whole way with my seatmates, first-time visitors who I assumed at first were heading for the porn show, they were so excited — but no, they were going to a policing convention! One of them, though, had been to a home toy party and learned about the wonderful OhMiBod music-enabled toys and their line designed by Grammy Award winner Kandi Burruss — he’s a fan! That’s what I like to know about those who are sworn to protect and serve: that they also have good taste in sex toys (and music). Rock on, Officer! Plus, I love Virgin America, and I want to make sure you carefully watch their delightful “safety features” cartoon next time you fly with them, especially the matador and his bull who are traveling together — the bull is reading a titty mag!! It’s the cutest damn thing in the sky. Well done, Sir Branson.

Once I was on the ground I headed directly to my first gig, set up by my terrific friends and colleagues at the University of Nevada/Las Vegas. That school has several Sociology and Women’s Studies profs and grad students who are interested in sex-positive feminism and who research the sex industry, and they had arranged a graduate seminar for me. Topic: Hysterical Paroxysms: The Amazing History of the Vibrator. As Curator of the Antique Vibrator Museum, the vibe is definitely my favorite “socially camouflaged technology” — well, it’s not camouflaged at all here at Good Vibrations, and thanks to Rachel Maines, the historical cat is out of the bag. (The story of her research is told in the documentary “Passion and Power,” we carry her terrific book The Technology of Orgasm, and she’ll be joining us at the Antique Vibrator Museum on February 22, 6:30-8:30pm, for an in-person visit and talk. Come meet her!) From doctor’s office implement, where it was utilized from the 1880’s onward to treat the now-defunct “female trouble” called hysteria, to common household consumable promising “health, vigor, and beauty” — not to mention a star turn in early-20th-century stag movies and the superstar of the women’s sex toy revolution — the vibrator has had one of the most fascinating careers of any consumer product. It was great fun to engage with some sex-positive academics — the chair of the department event popped in! Big thanks to Barb Brents, Lynn Comella, and Crystal Jackson for getting this organized.

After that I went downtown to get settled in — I didn’t stay on the Strip this time, or at the Hard Rock, where the AVN/ANE shindig was held, but rather headed to old-school Vegas — Fremont Street, where the old neon still glows and the actual residents of Las Vegas go out to dinner. I stayed at the El Cortez, with its Rat Pack vibe and Elvis impersonator, but just a half-block away is my office, a.k.a. the hip cafe The Beat, with a warren of artists’ studios behind it and one corner devoted to the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

But back to my official reason for being there: those Krazes! By this, AVN pleasure products editor Sherri Shaulis, panel convener and moderator, meant: “The Fifty Shades phenomenon caught everyone off guard. By now, most people have adapted and started to ride the success of the books and the toys mentioned in its pages. Is there a way to anticipate the next big thing to hit the industry? And is there a way to better prepare ourselves for another craze?”

Well, I’ve certainly talked for hours this past year about the Fifty Shades explosion, and my take on what makes it such a HUGE CRAZE is this: It’s a perfect storm of separate-but-synergistic drivers that has taken this series of books and turned them into a truly extraordinary phenomenon. So that’s what I talked about; it combines the power, privacy and accessibility of e-books with erotica AND romance AND Twilight fan-fiction AND edgy BDSM; this all relies on our heightened comfort with sexual discourse culturally, which has been brewing since before the big Sex and the City rabbit vibe craze in the 1990s; and the press has gone nutso over these books, so that attention has made the books even more acceptable and notable. That they include sex and kink toys (notoriously, Kegel balls, which seemingly no store has been able to keep in stock all year — well, WE have them) just ensures that adult toy retailers will be caught up in the craze. And how to predict the next big thing? If those of us in the industry are too busy working on our budgets to stay tuned to pop culture tropes and hot topics, we must ask our kids, our hipster friends, and anyone else we can snag to keep us tuned in to what’s going on in the Zeitgeist. Ignoring all the other crazes won’t help prepare us for the next one that impacts the sex biz.

Pamela from OhMiBod was on the panel (they have something of a craze themselves, in Kandi Burruss); Dennis from Paradise Marketing recalled that in the 80’s, a craze for glow-in-the-dark condoms was spurred by a movie that featured them, even though they had yet to be invented (!); Kim Airs from Grand Opening spoke about ways to garner more public attention for your business; and the panel was rounded off by Larry from El Dorado, a distributor that has spent plenty of energy keeping shops supplied with these products. “When opportunity knocks, you have to be paying attention,” he noted sagely.

After the panel I sat in on the next one — Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals of Porn Valley Vantage, bringing some of the industry’s women together for “The New Normal – Women in Adult,” a seminar exploring women’s occupational diversity in porn. Then a quick lunch with UC Santa Barbara professor (and editor of the upcoming Feminist Porn Book — out next month, we’ll have it at Good Vibes ASAP) Constance Penley and her fabulous grad students, and then into the press room to do a face-to-face interview with one of my oldest journalist phone friends, David Moye. He’s writing for Huffington Post now, but he used to interview me every year during National Masturbation Month for his old gig, Wireless Flash. I would never have popped up on so many drive-time radio shows without David! Later that afternoon it was time for more great conversation (with a journo angle) with my friend Lynn Comella, who writes for Las Vegas Weekly when she’s not teaching at UNLV, working on her book, or appearing at the Good Vibrations Sex Summit or other conferences.

That night, for something completely different, I did my solo spoken word gig, Peep Show, about my long-ago days at the Lusty Lady Theatre, at the Erotic Heritage Museum, the fascinating art and history museum created by my alma mater, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Then — off to dinner with Nina Hartley and Sara Vibes. Big fun! By the way, you Nina fans and porn scholars might want to know about a show of her fan mail that’s about to open at the Center for Sex & Culture, “Letters to a Porn Star.” February 1st at CSC, 7-10 pm — some of her most amazing mail will be framed, on the wall! (Don’t worry, if you’ve written to Nina and your letter was chosen, your identifying information will be removed.)

How do you close off a great weekend like this? By finding the best breakfast place in Las Vegas, that’s how! Lynn turned me on to Eat, at S. 7th and Carson — just walk up Fremont Street, away from the Golden Nugget, and turn right once you’ve passed the rotating showgirl shoe. Delish! A pretty adorable staff, too. I’m home again, but already look forward to my next sojourn in Sin City.

Image: Nina Hartley, Carol Queen, Sara Vibes.

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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