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Passion 101

Couples go back to basics, starting with the kiss

By Dara Colwell

FOR MOST OF US, long gone are the voracious pillow-hugging days of adolescence when practicing kissing was a solitary experience. Now that we've graduated from linen-laced aftertastes to headier concoctions spiked with spearmint gum and stale Coronas, kissing seems like, well, something we just know how to do. But anyone with extensive experience in the field knows how many jaw-grinders, sloppy puppies and aspiring dental practitioners are out there. That's why sex educator Tracy Bartlett, who had a hot tub-inspired epiphany to spread her expertise, has hit the road with her seminar "The Art of Kissing" for the last seven years.

Bartlett recently graced San Francisco's Good Vibrations, the renowned women-owned cooperative specializing in things that go "buzzzz," to deliver her message. "We're going to make out!" she announces to her group of willing pupils in a scratchy, fuel-driven voice. The crowd--10 couples, or "kissing pals," as Bartlett likes to put it--looks nervously subdued. Despite being solo, with notebook in hand, I feel rather excited. A mouth full of Novocaine from my recent trip to the dentist's was my ticket straight to voyeurism. I'd be spending the next two hours gleefully watching a full-blown, spin-the-bottle make-out fest unravel before my very eyes.

Armed with Altoids mints, Bartlett lets the games begin. The point of the evening: dust off that old teenage fear of "going further" and take things slow. Surrounded by edible oils, multi-colored feathers and an array of space-age silicon dildoes, the couples--eyes closed, of course--start doing their own thing. At fifty bucks "tuition" a pair, time is money.

An intense silence fills the room. A few cars sweep by outside as pedestrians' voices float up through the windows. Only the soft sound of fabric sliding against fabric, the occasional whispered giggle and the slow, awkward squeak of metal folding chairs make any noise. A young professional couple, locked in a deliberate, poetic embrace, caresses each other passionately as their leather-clad neighbor strokes his purple-lacquered fingertips along his partner's face, his hands descending like rain.

"Make your mouth a Land Rover," Bartlett says. "But no tongues. That's skipping ahead."

Bartlett coaches the crowd to tickle their partners' lower lips with their eyelashes and breathe slowly into their ears. A thick, forty-something couple breaks into hysterics.

Then Bartlett, who has a master's degree in counseling from San Diego State University, asks the couples to stop, easing them out of the exercise into a feedback section. While the couples exchange information--"I liked it when you stroked my eyeballs," "I didn't like it when you cradled my ear"--I find myself smiling like a goof, just like the smirking, oiled guys in the "Bend Over Boyfriend" video stacked next to my chair.

The key to great kissing, Bartlett tells the class, is communication. "Sometimes it's too much for someone to come out from that cultural weight and describe what they like," she says. "It's hard to tell someone how to kiss. But," she adds quickly, "you really get what you ask for."

To strengthen people's drive to ask the seemingly forbidden, Bartlett also offers courses at Good Vibrations on fellatio and cunnilingus. "It's a scream watching a group of people sucking on zucchinis!" she says with a deep, raunchy laugh. The fellatio class is currently sold out, she tells me, but the cunnilingus course lacks as many takers.

With classes like Bartlett's, Good Vibrations is doing a brisk business. According to marketing manager Jessie Moss-Burton, the entire Good Vibes website, which PC Computing ranked in its Top 100 cyber stores, receives over 10 million hits a month. Visits range, on average, from one to six hours each. According to Moss-Burton, 10,832 Silicon Valley customers have ordered "something" from Good Vibrations. "We've gone down a storm," she says. "Geeky investment guys love us."

Next round. As the couples continue petting, now sliding their fingers into each other's mouths at Bartlett's instruction, one sound predominates. It's that smacking, sucking sound of kissing, nearly impossible to describe but instantly recognizable. One man, now on his knees, digs his hands firmly into his partner's groin; nearby, a retired woman gives her husband a long, ice-cream cone lick along his cheek. It's suddenly getting much steamier in here.

When Bartlett finally gets folks into "feedback" mode, she emphasizes that being sexy when asking for what you want takes practice. "When you're in that sexy haze, switching to a conversational voice and saying 'give me your tongue' may sound stupid," she says. Her advice? Practice being seductive on your own. Bartlett likes to practice her alluring voice while parking. She demonstrates. "Yessss ... ummm, a parking space!" she gurgles in delight.

If we take that advice to heart here in Silicon Valley, the freeways might empty soon. Well, it's a pipe dream.

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From the May 4-10, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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