LAS VEGAS—One thing that all of the participants on the final panel of the Adult Novelty Expo could agree on was that customers looking to buy adult novelties are often woefully ignorant about their own bodies, not to mention sexuality in general—and that the remedy can mean increased sales for retailers.
AVN Pleasure Products Division head Sherri Shaulis moderated the panel, which consisted of two company reps, GVA-TWN's Scott Bowman and Je Joue's Dan Gasper; sex bloggers Diva of Tied Up Events; and authors/bloggers/podcasters Kidder Kaper of SexIsFun.net and Jamye Waxman, a frequent AVN seminar host.
"Twenty-five, thirty years ago, there really wasn't much of a thing known as 'sex ed'," Shaulis began. "At that time, there was a point where 'sex ed' was a banana and a condom, so we've come a long way from that, and what I'd like to get from each of you is what you think of when you hear 'sex ed' and what it means to you?"
"As my children get closer and closer to being teenagers," Kaper began, "teen sex ed is becoming more and more important, so I'm feeling myself driven to produce media to not only help teens but parents of teens, people raising sexually healthy children."
The two educational "maps" are very different, he maintained, noting that in his adult sex ed activities, "age appropriateness isn't an issue, but with teens, it very much is." His solution: A teen sex ed comicbook series, the first issue of which explored how to use a tampon, because he wanted to show teens that "the vulvas you see in porn and in magazines ... are airbrushed and fit a certain type of archetype, and you're not a freak; they're all beautiful."
Kaper stated, and others agreed, that as far as sex ed is concerned, teens "aren't getting any in school," and "not everything you're going to learn in porn is made for education, so it's not a reality for them."
"The generation that's going to come of age very soon do not know what I knew about when I was 17," he noted. "And I think it's really important that we have age-appropriate sex ed for kids ... I love that I can make a four-page document that teaches more in those four pages than 300-page books, in some cases, and I can put that online and give it to the world. That's amazing; that's so powerful that I'm having trouble contemplating helpful that is," he added later.
Growing up pre-internet, Diva said she'd "had a lot of sex ed, [but] in my generation, parents didn't talk to their kids about sex except, 'Don't you dare have it."
She said she discovered sex toys late in her life, and as a sex blogger, she and her correspondents talk about toys, how to use them and what they like and dislike about various ones.
"I think of sex ed as a dialogue, a conversation, an education, and something that we all have to work on as our own personal coursework for the rest of our lives," Waxman said, opining that it was fine to teach teens abstinence, but that adults, "over the course of our lifetimes, [should] continue to learn about ourselves, our bodies [because] we're always changing, right?"
Bowman admitted that his sex education was reading his mom's copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and was gratified that sex ed is "now so out in the public, so out in the open; you can watch Oprah and learn about the clitoris and the G-spot and orgasms."
Bowman was the first to touch on the necessity for store clerks to be well-educated about the toys and other sex aids that they sell, recalling that when he went in one to buy a vibrator for his wife, the clerk asked whether he wanted "internal or external stimulation"?
"That's the kind of sex education that a lot of the people we deal with are getting," he summarized. "It's from clerks and managers and the internet and on TV and it permeates where we are and who we are, so that's what we try to do as a wholesaler or retailer: To put our employees in the best position to make the sale but also educate because that's the way the industry's going."
"When I think about sex education, I think about the challenge," Gasper agreed. "In order to move forward, we need to educate the general population about how wonderful the products [are] and how to make them accessible to them."
He said his staff at Je Joue are highly trained—both buyers and clerks—but "the most important person in my world is that staff member who meets you. If you've never seen a sex toy before, the first two or three minutes in the sex toy shop [is] the most important couple of minutes of education you're going to get."
Shaulis took an informal poll of the seminar attendees and found that most but not all of the retailers provided educational programs for their staffs and customers. She noted that stores now offer much more diversity in pleasure devices than the "Pocket Rocket and the Rabbit... I'll admit, I get things in my office for review and I look at them and I go, 'I have no idea; I don't know what goes where.'"
She then asked for tips on how store owners can educate their staffs, and several of the panelists agreed with Kaper's statement that, "If you're not educating people on how to use [your products], you're not going to get a return visitor. If they don't have a good experience with their first vibrator, or if they buy the wrong product, they're never going to come back to your store—and it was hard enough for them to get there in the first place."
"An in-house education program set-up, even if it's just one person training staff for more than one hour, it's really important," Waxman stated, and advised product manufacturers, "The more you allow staff to test [products] at the store, the more often your products will sell—a lot."
"Within the last few years, we've seen an increase in the cost of novelties and vibrators," Bowman observed. "Now, we're looking at $150, $200, $250 for some of the latest lines, and a customer who wants to spend that kind of money wants more. They want to be educated. They want to know, 'If I'm giving you $250, what do I get back from it?' And you have to take your customer service and your education to the next level, because if you don't you're going to lose that customer, you're going to lose that sale, and someone who spends $250, $300 on a visit is someone you want to take care of and have that return visit."
The seminar was clearly aimed at helping retailers convert visitors to customers, and the panelists had some excellent ideas on the subject, several of which involved the internet.
"That's how I found out about my sex toys, originally, was online," Diva said, "and I think now you have reviews, video reviews—it's all out there, and by the time your consumer comes in the store, they probably have a concept of, 'Oh, I've seen this toy and I've seen everybody talking about the same toy.' And the other side of that is, you see stores now leading with education programs, where on their slow nights, Monday and Tuesday nights, they're offering free in-house education to consumers. You get them in, you talk about blowjobs, masturbation, whatever, and then they're selling the product... The next level is, put it on the internet. There's a lot of people, moms who can't get out of the house—they've got three kids, and they want to improve their sex life, but at 10 o'clock at night, they can go on the internet and watch an educational video."
And speaking of education...
"We did a campaign last year called 'The G-spot does exist'," began Gasper, a comment which drew cheers of support from several in the audience.
"Getting people trained, I think—you've got to harness the people that have already been out there [and] involve them in your business," he continued. "It's only going to add weight and value to your enterprise."
"I think everybody can make those videos and write those reviews," agreed Waxman, "and for good or for bad, this is what the internet has done for us, which is give us a worldwide dialog in sex education. The internet was made for porn, and also we can learn ... You try a product and you have a store out there; you post a reply video. I have a YouTube channel up right now. All I do on it is, every Tuesday, I do a video review of a different sex product or sensual product. That's basically my whole channel. And if people want to do counter-reviews, that's a great way to build up community and to get more than one person's opinion."
Diva noted that companies with online presences are adding blogs to their sites and hiring writers to comment on various sexual devices or ideas, and it brings traffic to the site.
"People want to hear about these subjects," she stated. "People want to know things. But you've got to be careful... that you're hiring an actual sex educator or somebody who knows what they're talking about."
"Companies can open up their blogs for people to write about things, do reviews—you pay them in store credit," she later added. "Give them a $25 or $20 credit, they're going to buy that $60 toy because it's now only $25. You've got content, you've got traffic to your site and you made a sale of $25. Those are all possible ways of doing it using social media."
Speaking of social media ...
"The spiders, they go out and look for things that are updated frequently, things that are updated with content that is considered by them well-written—the spiders are actually checking content now; amazing a robot can do that," noted Kaper. "They're looking for the frequency of updating; basically, if they go there and read it and like it, you get traffic from places that get lots of traffic if they link back to you. Dot-edu's and dot-org's are worth 100 dot-com's—that's probably an underestimate, actually—if you can get them linked back to you, you are doing great... If you can find some sex educators that are blogging and any dot-edu is linking to them, then you've got the clout of a dot-edu linking back to you, which means every time this little spider goes out there and searches for things, they're going to rate you higher when someone types in that word."
The session had to be cut short for logistical reasons, but retailers who attended certainly came away with several new ideas they could incorporate into their business models—and hopefully will do so.
Pictured: Dan Gasper, Jamye Waxman, and the cover of Kidder Kaper's book Sex Is Fun.