The year: 1989. Ejaculation is no longer a mystery, thanks to a shower, a bar of soap, and my older sister's pack of Chippendales cards.

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Sexploration 101

Shop till you drop—to your knees!

The year: 1989. Ejaculation is no longer a mystery, thanks to a shower, a bar of soap, and my older sister's pack of Chippendales cards. I've snatched forbidden glimpses of Playboy nipples and Hustler clitori on junior high playgrounds, but something inside wants more: hunks sans g-strings, a velcro jockstrap, perhaps a glimpse of the accessories to man-on-man action. I step up to the dingy newsstand when no one's looking and see Penthouse Letters just in front of me. To its right, the Playmate of the Year blows a kiss. But on the top rack, a million miles out of reach, sealed in plastic, a gorgeous Italian stud winks at me from the cover of Honcho. Alas, what's a gay teen to do?

Today, the wait is over. While I peruse through gay-owned Toys in Babeland and The Crypt, my eyes widen and my loins stir as I absorb rooms packed with love oils, strap-on dildos, and that same Italian stud now greeting me with a dimpled smile from the box of an easily reachable porno. A day of sexploration has taught me that gay folk no longer need search the dusty corners of straight sex shops to find Inches or the perfect chain-linked sling. Toys and The Crypt cater not only to homos, but bis, transies, and heteros as well, providing a stimulating answer to every question, and an "Oh" if not an "A" for every student of sex.

Like a Pottery Barn that sells dildos

Women first, because unfortunately for them, due to closeted love interests, ten-seconds-of-love boyfriends, and a phallus-first world, orgasm so often comes last, if at all. But the time for release has arrived, ladies, and may I recommend Toys in Babeland for your sex shopping pleasure. In its catalog, Toys declares its mission to be providing "women (& men) with the information and products they need to explore their sexual selves in whatever way interests them." And after stepping inside this cozy Capitol Hill store with the atmosphere of a pal's living room, you will realize that there are indeed many ways of exploration. Jovial and resourceful Toys employee Anne pointed out to my boyfriend and me that Toys has the largest selection of dildos she's ever seen, ranging from "Johnny" ($70), the faux-fleshy pink monstrosity with actual shifting balls, to "Lilith" ($34-$45), a goddess-shaped dildo with "breasts cupped in hand and head thrown back as if emerging from the water." I was particularly impressed with the artistry in the interior patterns and colors of the glass "Venus" dildos ($45-$50), graceful schlongs that can be heated in warm water for easy gliding or, in my opinion, placed on your mantle or dining room table to impress your visiting aunt ("I never knew you did glassblowing").

If you're more concerned with the motion of the ocean than the size of the ship's deck or the shape of its sails, Toys offers a wide selection of vibrators to get the love muscles humming. Perfect for your new boss, the "Pink Pearl" (only $17!) gives feminine elegance a new twist with its cosmetic-pink complexion and a miniature egg shape that easily fits into purse pockets for those aggravating days at the office. If you're looking for a Renaissance vibrator, check out the "Rabbit Pearl" ($72), a combination of twirling dildo, fluttering rabbit ears attached to the side, and a rotating band of "pearls" meant to roll and tumble at the mouth of the vagina. Women who scoff at the healing power of vibrators, take note: Vibrators were invented in Victorian times so that doctors could treat "that pervasive female complaint—hysteria." We could all use "a room of one's own" every now and then, couldn't we?

If you're a moviegoer with an imagination rather than a gardener with a toolshed, why not pick up a video like How To Female Ejaculate ($59.95), consisting of a "roundtable conversation and a four-woman simultaneous masturbatory demonstration," or Suburban Dykes ($49.95), which might forever change your view of Kirkland's sexual topography.

Lubes, pornos, and butt plugs, oh my!

Although I found my sexpedition through Toys in Babeland illuminating and comforting, like afternoon tea with AnaﳠNin, I needed a little more to get the love juices pumping. That's not to say men don't have their place at the Babeland table. Anne stated that although the majority of Toys' clientele is gay women, more and more men and straight couples are popping their heads through the door these days. While I would compare Toys in Babeland to its "Leopard Fur Thumper" ($58), a graceful whip with a sassy leopard-spotted lash, I'd have to compare The Crypt to a studded black leather cock ring prepared to mercilessly choke the chicken. Not a fan of smut or cruisey environments, my boyfriend wandered around Toys like a trusting lamb. When I mentioned The Crypt as my next stop, he disappeared before I could say "wolf in heat."

Beyond the atmospheric clash of pink flesh, black leather, and cold metal, what struck me most about The Crypt was its vast supply of pornos both for sale and for rent: "Boy/boy," "Bi," "Lesbian" (the horny heterosexual male version ࠬa big-haired, silicone-breasted, Lee-Press-On-Nailed Pamela Andersons in 69s), "T.V." for our often overlooked transvestite/transsexual friends, and the infamous "boy/girl" videos. Like a lot of men, I'm a sucker for skin flicks, but I've always been the renting or borrowing type, too shy or broke to purchase one of the monster-sized boxes. Crypt employee Mike revealed that pornos (in this case gay) aren't quite as expensive as you might guess. Top-of-the-line videos like Kirsten Bjorn, Falcon, and Jocks (think muscles, Miami hotels, and Dirk Diggler dicks) are the priciest at around $75, but the cost can drop as low as $4.99 as the guys lose muscle tone, the camcorder replaces the camera, and you recognize one of the actors as that creepy drooling guy who lives in the apartment next to yours. If you're just looking for something to tuck under the mattress, guys, you might buy one of The Crypt's other megasellers: magazines. Unlike pornos, they're easy to conceal from houseguests or the unsuspecting boyfriend, like mine, who finds porn as sexy as popping zits. Browse bubble butts in Torso ($6.99), think Britney Spears in Barely Legal ($6.99), or save a penny through The Crypt's bargain "Three Packs" ($14.99).

Just because The Crypt sells movies, magazines, and cock rings (also see to believe the "Chrome Ball Stretcher," $86.99, that yow! does just what it says) like hotcakes, that doesn't mean guys can't participate in the same fun girls do via The Crypt's vast penetrating toys collection. You can leave the cucumbers and the bananas alone, guys, because The Crypt offers a hefty selection of dildos for back door action heroes. Thanks to Falcon studios, you can experience the "Jeff Stryker Cock and Balls" ($62.99) or dare the "Ken Ryker Supercock" ($62.99), carefully modeled after the porn stars' famous members. Toys in Babeland also offers its own uniquely crafted set of butt toys, such as the "Handle Bar" ($15), a sinister-looking anal probe for those nights when sex over a Harley is preferable to snuggling under the covers. And hetero men, you don't even have to be one of Dorothy's friends to play! Toys' Anne disclosed that more and more straight men are getting in touch with their G-spot, as the increased sales of Bend Over Boyfriend: Couples Guide to Male Anal Pleasure ($34.95) proves.

From reading circles to circle jerks

Although Toys and The Crypt serve up enough for the largest of masturbatory appetites, a party of two (or more) always delivers more fun than a party of one. Both stores carry an impressive stock of reasonably priced lube (remember: water-based lube equals a long-lasting Johnny hat, and ladies, stay healthy and avoid nonoxynol-9), condoms, and rubber essentials (latex gloves, rubber dams) to keep the slides slick and safe.

Women who are virgins using the strap-on dildo might want to invest in the basic "Triangle" harness ($27-$44) at Toys, men wanting to remain virgins should try on Toys' "Male Chastity Belt" ($95), a garment that binds the penis with five (!) cockrings that pull the penis upward into a "vulnerable position," simultaneously leaving the butt wide open for a much-deserved spanking.

If it's power play you're into, The Crypt offers an impressive array of S&M equipment, while Toys sells The Bottoming Book and The Topping Book (both $11.95). For you more delicate types who never participated in the Days of Grunge piercing extravaganza, The Crypt sells "The Cleopatra Collection" of nonpiercing clitoral and nipple jewelry ($5.99), or flutter into Toys for a little "Honey Dust" ($18), a "lightly sweet and all-natural" alternative to massage oil that tastes great sprinkled on vanilla sex. To help you realize that sex is about creation just as much as it is about procreation, Toys' "Edible Fingerpaints" ($15) might help you "unleash the artist within."

The year: 1979. Years before I fear that I'm losing a part of me as it goes swirling down the shower drain, I hear the word "orgasm" on a television show. At the dinner, I ask my dad just what exactly does "orgasm" mean? Does mom orgasm? Does the dog orgasm? Do YOU orgasm? Bite of pork chop in mouth, face red as the beet on his plate, he stammers, "It's complicated." Back then I chalked his response off to malicious parental secrecy. Now, sex graduate that I am, I've learned that he was telling the truth. It is complicated. And accessible. And affordable.

The Crypt: 1310 E Union, 206-325-3882. Toys in Babeland: 707 E Pike, 1-800-658-9119, www.babeland.com

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