Good Vibrations is a Bay Area institution: the original, female-owned, personal pleasure purveyor -- or a clean, well-lighted place for kicks. But as a single man, currently without a clitoris to stimulate (mine or a friend's), I've had little excuse to go inside. What actually goes on behind those white-papered windows? I've been dying to know.
So as thematically unlikely as it seemed (edible underwear does not a balanced meal make) I decided I just had to get myself in there for dinner. After a full year of plotting, the opportunity finally presented itself in the form of Good Vibrations' "continuing education" night. Carol Queen, Good Vibes' director of education, invited me along for the ride.
Each month the full Good Vibes staff come together ... I mean, join together, for an evening of conversation, education, and my good old friend, dinner. "It's mainly a way to keep the employees in touch with each other," Carol explained over the phone, "and to arm them with more information than they'd ever need on a particular sexuality topic."
As I searched endlessly on Valencia for that mythical Mission parking spot, my imagination wandered ahead to the impending event. It's times like this that paranoia sets in. "I'm going to be the only man," I thought. "Forty women talking about their vaginas. And me."
Why do I get myself into this shit?
The space finally appeared. I parked, and made my now-reluctant approach. "Do you work with us?" a young man outside the door asked.
"I'm sitting in tonight," I replied, hoping I wouldn't be asked for the secret password. Labia? Libido? Lubricant?
Inside I found a spacious showroom filled with toys. Signs hung high along the walls denoting various specialties: Edible; Anal; Non-Silicone Dildos; Harnesses. OK. I looked down.
Nervously surveying the crowd I quickly spotted a man, then another, and another. Phew. In fact nearly half of the 50 or so attendees appeared to be vaginally challenged, just like me. I relaxed. Somewhat.
Casually trying to blend in, I wandered over to the video section, my eyes instantly zeroing in on a film titled Viva la Vulva.
"Barry?" I heard over my shoulder.
"Uh, yes," I swung around like a 12-year-old caught with his father's Playboy.
"Hi. Carol. Nice to meet you."
"Right. Hi. Thanks for having me."
Carol gave me a quick tour around the store, introducing me to many of the Good Vibes staffers. In addition to retail clerks from both the San Francisco and Berkeley stores, the crowd included many employees from Good Vibrations' considerable mail-order business and its South of Market headquarters.
I also met Robert Morgan Lawrence, Carol's partner -- and partner in crime for the night. Both Robert and Carol are doctors of sexology, and together they would be lecturing on the night's selected topic: female genitalia.
While several people worked on the collective meal in a makeshift kitchen set up behind the counter, I stopped by the appetizer table to sample the black bean mango salsa. "All the dishes we're serving tonight," said Carol, "came from this cookbook." From one of the many bookshelves she pulled a volume titled Inter Courses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook. "Each dish has one or more main ingredients which were historically believed to be an aphrodisiac. But I may have to make an announcement that the group should refrain from getting all turned on until after the lecture."
A line formed around behind the counter as everyone loaded up his plate with homemade artichoke, feta, and thyme pizza and rosemary risotto, plus fresh salad and breads. Then we all found seats in the folding chairs set up for the event as Carol and Robert got ready to address the group.
Robert started by inviting questions on the topic, which definitely got the conversation flowing.
Question: My friend worked hard to achieve female ejaculation. Now she can't get it to stop.
Question: Besides clitoral and vaginal, is there a third kind of orgasm?
Question: Why is it hard to pee after sex?
Question: My friend couldn't have orgasms. Then she tried anal sex and had three. What's up?
For each question, Robert and Carol delivered a very educated, straightforward, and often hilarious answer. In responding to the last inquiry, Robert noted, "We have this idea that the clitoris is the seat of all power throughout the world."
"And those of us who have seen South Park know that's true," Carol quipped.
The bottom line, Carol explained, "is that everyone is different. Even we still hear about things we've never heard about and we're like, "Really? Wow.'"
"Yeah," Robert added, "there's even a condition called post-orgasmic migraine."
"Bummer," Carol deadpanned. "Not tonight, dear. I'm going to have a headache."
For about an hour the doctoral team explored every nook and cranny of the evening's topic. Carol illustrated each of their points with a big, fluffy, anatomically close "Pussy Puppet," which she wore on her left hand. To me it looked like a big old bunny slipper, except for the clitoris, which Carol pointed out "doesn't always look like a little, pink flower."
Meanwhile Robert played straight man, drawing detailed diagrams on a chalkboard and handing out photocopied sheets from Gray's Anatomy.
The crowd by definition was very comfortable with all the conversation, making me feel equally at ease. That was until the word "fister" hit the floor -- and I squirmed back to the kitchen for dessert.
Someone had prepared a very unique and quite delicious white-chocolate strawberry trifle, which was kind of like a soupy strawberry shortcake with a graham cracker crust. Next to the dessert table I spied a glass case displaying an array of antique vibrators. Now rusted, these crazy contraptions looked like the creations of some horny Thomas Edison. I briefly considered how my grandmother might have spent her younger days and quickly opted to rejoin the fisting conversation.
"You need to be careful with the whammity whammity," Carol was warning the group.
"These are technical terms," Robert added.
"Right," said Carol. "I believe it comes from the Latin."
Robert closed the lecture with a story about a scientific study on female sexuality that involved attaching tiny little vibrators to a number of rat vulvae. "They were happier rats," concluded Carol. "While they were alive."
The discussion broke as we all mingled around the store. Everyone I met at Good Vibrations was very friendly and very educated: They take their jobs seriously, but not themselves. At the end of the evening, I said goodbye to my new "sex-positive" friends and slipped slyly out the door onto Valencia, good food in my stomach -- and a little paper bag in my hand.
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