Anne Semans says she has spent most of her adult life "educating people about sex and its wonders."
She's worked at three women-run sex toy businesses over the past 15 years: Libida, Toys in Babeland, and Good Vibrations, during which she "answered hundreds of different questions about sexuality, reviewed stacks of sex books and product-tested my share of toys." These experiences culminated in opps for Semans to author and co-author several books on sex, "an exercise which my Stanford degree in English Lit prepared me for technically, but one which has scandalized a few former professors and classmates!" she says.
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Recently, Semans has launched a new "pet project" on the Web: Sex Toy Tales. Its wonderful premise is that, while describing sex toys for consumers provides a starting place of sorts for those who are curious about all things buzzing, whirring, and pleasuring, showing is better than telling any day.
"In my years of talking about sex toys," Semans relates, "I realized that telling people how to use a toy was all fine and good, but getting them to see one in action was even better.
"I wasn't about to do peep shows, and videos typically give sex toys short shrift; but I had read my fair share of other people's steamy toy stories. So that's what Sex Toy Tales is all about--showcasing the true life tales, hot fantasies, and steamy erotic writing of everyday folk who've discovered the joys of sex toys!"
Visitors are encouraged to read the current round of stories posted on the site (updated monthly) and vote for a favorite, and the winning entry receives a $25 gift certificate to a sex toy store (a ploy which Semans hopes will "inspire more tales!").
Here we ask Semans some questions about the site and its development.
AVN Online: How did you develop SexToyTales.com?
Anne Semans: Oh, Michelle [Johnson, the site designer] and I go way back. I wrote a book several years ago called A Woman's Guide to Sex on the Web and searched out some great sites for women. Michelle had one of the best sites I found – it was called Heartless Holey Haven (subtitle: A Site for Holes and the Things that Go In Holes!), and she really spoke up for what turns women on. She was funny and smart and outspoken about women's love of visual porn, she had hilarious tips on oral sex, and she started a calendar called Stupid Penis Tricks that just made you laugh out loud. Plus she had a graphic sensibility to die for.
Sadly she had to take most of it down, but she loves to share her expertise on projects that excite her, and she agreed to be my partner in this site. She designed my other site, which is about the sex books I've written with my co-author Cathy Winks.
So yeah, I had the idea and the content and thoughts about color, and Michelle and I met at a pub and "over the course of a few drinks" and the rest is history..
AO: What have been the advantages of the $25 contest, and what, if any, have been the drawbacks?
AS: The $25 reward is given in the form of a gift certificate to my favorite toy stores. The advantage that I see is that folks are giving me these great stories about really intimate sex toy experiences and then they get money to go out and buy more toys... so they can send me more stories! I've been preaching the gospel of sex toys for years, so this is a way to really "spread the word," both in action and deed.
The other advantage is that most erotica writers aren't used to getting any money for their work – at least fledgling writers, of which there are many – so this gives them an incentive to send me some work. I wish it were more, but that'll have to wait 'til the site gets real famous or I get a sex toy sugar daddy.
People are really excited when they win, so I think it's turned out to be a good incentive.
AO: Oh, come on, Anne. How many of these folks are "ringers"? Are there really stories on the site from people you don't know?
AS: There are no "ringers" – I don't know any of these folks! I've been online for a long time, and so have friends at lots of sites like Erotica Readers and Writers Association who'll post my calls for submission so the stories come in from all over the place.
But here's my little secret: I wrote a book called The Many Joys of Sex Toys (coming out in September 2004) that has some erotica in it – though it's mostly a great how-to of popular sex toy activities. But I got tons of submissions, so if I'm short on stories submitted through the site, I choose one left over from those I didn't publish and get permission from the author to publish it. It's nice as a back-up, but I like getting fresh material. One of my favorite new stories came through the site, and it was one woman's experience of using a "make your own dildo kit" with her partner. And it won!
AO: Do you have to spend a lot of time on site maintenance? What do you do for upkeep?
AS: I have no time! I probably spend about eight hours a month reading, editing, and preparing the copy for Michelle, and she spends the same amount getting it all up on the site so it looks real pretty. We're just a monthly, but when traffic picks up I'd love to add more stories, more toys, and bigger gift certificates!
I've got other gigs going, including a full-time job selling sex toys for Babeland.com, running the Sexuality.about.com site, and writing books... plus I'm the single mom of two young girls. I'm a busy gal who spends a lot of time on the computer at midnight.
AO: Any learning experiences you've had that would change the way you'd do this if you had it to do over?
AS: We'd start earlier! We wanted to launch by Valentine's Day, but we missed that deadline by two weeks. I don't think it mattered – it was just a fun personal goal for Michelle and me.
Semans notes in her personal bio that her own experience with sex work is that it has been "incredibly liberating and exciting to a girl raised in a Catholic family, where sex (and any mention of it) was as forbidden as that juicy red apple Eve plucked from the tree. Since I once was a curious teen who would have benefited immensely from decent sex information, I've never doubted the life-enhancing potential of my work. The World Wide Web is an ideal medium for sex education, research and networking, and I'm trying to expand my work into this arena as much as possible. I'm currently the Sexuality Guide at About.com, where you'll find the largest collection of my work online."
Keep on truckin', Anne.