Friday, May 1, 2009

Selling Sex To The Suburbs - Part I

Editor's Note: The following essay was originally submitted to the New York Times Sunday Styles "Modern Love" column. Previously unpublished, the piece will be posted in three parts. It is the story of how one woman went back to work, started a blog and confronted a host of issues regarding the mere act of talking about sex.....

It started with the exchange of a business card. A quick flick of the wrist, and flash of cardstock. It was smooth and alluring to touch. Absent-mindedly, I flipped it over in my hand as I held it. When I glanced down to scan the logo, a large, modern font loomed up at me. The letters spilled across the small space, crowding each other. “Intimate Surprises” it read. The sound of the words lingered in my head in the same lilting way one remembers the sound of fingers sweeping across piano keys. My first impression had been sophisticated and provocative. My reaction was immediate. I was hooked.

“Ever thought about getting out of this business?” a business contact had asked my husband earlier over coffee. After the obligatory small talk about the economy and the state of the financial services industry, he leaned in rather conspiratorially and said, “My wife and I have started a recession proof business.” The card would pass from him to my husband to me. I was looking to get back into consulting and they were looking to aggressively market their service. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

As my husband walked back to his office, the “IS” card in his front pocket, he immediately got me on my cell phone, “I think I have an interesting job prospect for you. It could be a little racy. I’ll email you the details.” I was out on errands, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me. I turned the car around and made a beeline for home. By the time I had placed the key in the front door, I had built up mountains of speculation as to what this new venture could be…lingerie, adult-themed birthday greetings, or was it just a weird, sexy twist on anti-bacterial soap?

I leapt onto Google as fast as my laptop could boot up and my fingers could type. Then, there it was…an idea that could transcend the very nature of what it was selling. An idea that would bring - as Victoria’s Secret did with the satin, underwire, push-up bra - adult relationship enhancing accoutrements or “sex toys,” for short, discreetly into the top dresser drawers of middle class Americans everywhere.

A week passed before I could muster up the nerve to call regarding my potential services. I had taped the card to my computer screen. It stood out from the myriad of “to do” notes and taunted me. When I finally reached the IS office on the phone, the wife made it sound so easy, so normal, and so new. I was drawn to her energy and the bouncy rhythm of her voice as the exotic terminology of glides, vibes, and lubes rolled off her tongue.

I felt like Eve being led slowly down the garden path and knew in that instant my narrow sexual worldview, shaped by an adolescence of Catholic guilt and an adulthood of cashmere sweater sets and kitten heels, was about to change forever. As a teen, the big “birds and bees talk” with my mother consisted of four words, “Do not do it!” My potential client, on the other had, was very cool and convincing – she was the big sister secretly sharing a dog-eared copy of Judy Blume’s “Forever.” I was beginning to realize that there was a whole group of people out there exploring various levels intimacy, and I, by my own censure, was missing out.

We had talked at length about the company’s underlying challenge: how to talk about sex, without really talking about it. Yet, days later, as I sat brainstorming palpable relationship terminology, those three letters, S-E-X, hung off my tongue in a silent noose. Each time I tried wording that seemed commonplace, despite the risqué nature, I couldn’t help but picture a scene from the Electric Company, in which two silhouetted heads are sounding out a three letter word. One says the harsh consonant “s”, while the other follows up with “ex.” However, unlike a word such as “cat” that would be easily sounded out and all the letters quickly placed together, the “s” and “ex” hang in limbo, unmoving and far apart.

“Will I be able to bridge that gap?” I thought as my husband gamely came up behind me with a silly grin on his face and a non-descript, cardboard box under one arm......(to be continued)

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