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Hey, Faggot: I'm a normal heterosexual male in my 60s, and age has apparently affected some aspects of my sexuality. Specifically, while I am able to achieve an erection (with or without a partner), it is difficult to keep that erection in its original state. It's not a problem during masturbation, when I can easily reach orgasm. However, with a partner, I'd like to be able to maintain firmness and strength, which is not so easy to do.

I've heard and read about "cock rings," which I understand are useful in this regard. The principle seems to be that when you put the ring on, it constricts the base of the shaft of the penis and keeps the organ engorged and stiff. OK so far, but then what? How long does it stay on? Is it like a tourniquet and potentially dangerous? Do the devices come with instructions? In different sizes? Are they really effective?

Thanks for your advice. If these rings work, I'd be pleased to hear about it, as would my occasional sex partners.

DH

Hey, DH: Before using any sex toy, it's a good idea to seek out the advice of a sex-toy professional. When I have a toy question, I call Claire Cavanaugh and Rachel Venning, owners of the finest sex-toy store in North America, Seattle's Toys in Babeland. Last week, Claire and Rachel opened their second store, in great big New York City. Toys in Babeland is now a continent-spanning corporate sex-toy colossus! And on your behalf, I called Claire.

Claire on cock rings: "Basically, a cock ring goes around the base of a penis, behind the balls, and traps blood. With a cock ring, a penis is harder for a longer period of time, and, no, they're not dangerous -- or they're only dangerous if you can't get out of them." But don't let the potential dangers keep you from this low-tech, perfectly healthful, Viagra-free solution. "Use one that's the right fit, a cock ring tight enough to restrict blood flow out of the penis once you're erect, without cutting off blood flow entirely.

"Then once you have your orgasm," said Claire, "you'll gradually lose your erection as blood flow into the penis decreases, making it easier for the blood that's already there to get out. Then you remove the ring. For beginners, we usually recommend cock rings with snaps or Velcro closures for even easier removal."

As soon as we got through with your questions, I had some of my own for Claire. The first being, why open a sex shop in New York? "We filled a gaping hole in Seattle; we sell the highest-quality sex toys, books, and videos in a woman-owned, woman-powered environment. Since New York is a much bigger city, we figured it had a much bigger hole to fill! And New York didn't have a street-level, warm, friendly environment for women to buy sex toys in."

While Toys in Babeland is intended for women, men are welcome too. "The way our store is put together -- well-lit, hip, and attractive -- tends to have a repellent effect on creeps," said Claire. "Creeps don't feel comfortable here. But guys sincerely interested in improving their own sex lives, and the sex lives of their girlfriends or boyfriends, do feel welcome, and we're happy to have their business."

Considering New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's ongoing war on sex businesses -- new zoning laws are closing most of New York's peep shows and porn shops -- it seems a dangerous time to open a sex-toy shop in New York. Was Claire concerned? "We got good legal advice, and the language in New York's zoning laws doesn't apply to us. We are not in the smut business. Most of our inventory is toys, which aren't even mentioned in the law."

Any plans to invite Rudy to the opening? "No, we haven't been in touch with the mayor yet. I'm kind of afraid of him. After Seattle, it's a shock to be afraid of the mayor! The original Toys in Babeland was honored by the mayor of Seattle. He visited the store, and recognized us as a business that served the 'greater good of the community.' Somehow I don't think that's going to happen here."

New York's Toys in Babeland is located at 94 Rivington St., on the Lower East Side.

Hey, Faggot: I'm living in a new town (Chicago), and I'm under 21. Where do I meet people? I've tried cafes, and they haven't worked. I'm not ready to swallow my pride and admit I have to use personal ads. But I am sick of being alone. How do I do this?

Logan Square

Hey, LS: Either get yourself a fake ID or swallow your pride and use the personals. Meet people through the personals, and if you're not a freak, they'll introduce you to other people. There's nothing shameful about having to use personal ads. Get over it.

Hey, Faggot: In a recent Savage Love, you wrote that you hired Stephen Glass as your assistant [June 3]. Perhaps you should know something about his past journalistic work: Please read the enclosed article from The New Republic. Assuming it's the same Stephen Glass, you may wish to reconsider your employment of him -- that is, if you have any concern for accuracy or truthfulness.

MW

Hey, MW: When I hired Stephen in May, I was unaware he'd been dismissed from The New Republic, George, and Harper's for fabricating news stories. Needless to say, your letter gave me a shock. Stephen's resume listed The New Republic, George, and Harper's, and I checked his references. Now it seems obvious that something fishy was going on -- why did all these magazines share one phone number and the same personnel director? But hindsight is always 20/20, and no good will come of beating up on myself. I did nothing wrong, after all.

Reviewing Stephen's work, it is my sad duty to report that all eight columns I wrote with his assistance were a web of lies. Howard Stern has never slept with a blow-up doll, and I have never taken Viagra. Stephen fooled his editors at The New Republic, and he fooled me too: Gullibility is a common enough human failing, MW. All I can say is that I'm grateful to you for bringing this to my attention. Unlike me or the editors of The New Republic, you are not gullible, MW, and no one will ever pull the wool over your eyes. To the rest of our readers, we here at Savage Love want to say this: Once we established the facts, we promptly removed the culprit, and publicly acknowledged the problem. Savage Love's stringent tradition demanded nothing less.

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