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Come All Ye Faithful

X-rated gift shopping has left the creepy confines of dirty book stores

By Kelly Luker

THERE ARE still a few old cranks out in talk radio land that blame women's liberation for the downfall of the American family. The rest of us know we have that movement to thank for the vast improvement in sex toys and the experience of shopping for them.

Once the province of dirty book stores that were run by and catered to men exclusively, adult pleasures have blossomed into a retail adventure that is fun, sexy, erotic and, most importantly, comfortable, for even the most nervous first-timer.

Just about the time women finally told men the truth about French ticklers (whose idea was that?) and all that overworked groaning in porn flicks (yeah, right), chicks started putting on their entrepreneurial caps and had at it themselves. The result? Retail stores like the mother-daughter-owned Pleasures from the Heart in San Jose, or the softly inviting Camouflage in Santa Cruz. And lest we forget; the 800-pound gorilla of women's sexual empowerment, Good Vibrations, that caters worldwide through its website.

The difference between those Pine Sol-reeking XXX-rated book/video-booth/novelty stores hidden on grimy backstreets and Cupid's Corner, a spacious, well-lit store in south San Jose, can be traced to a previously overlooked market looking for enjoyable sex that comprises about 54 percent of the population.

People like store manager Jeff Martinez realized that women shoppers aren't terribly interested in walking headlong into giant dildos, odd torturelike implements and blowup dolls. Instead, Cupid's Corner greets customers with racks and racks of lingerie. Nice, sexy lingerie with enough marabou and sheen to outfit a whole posse of Vegas showgirls. Although few of us would look like Vegas showgirls in these particular outfits, Martinez says this is no time to be shy.

"I encourage women to be bold and sexy," he says, although he adds he will give his honest opinion when women (or men) ask for it. he admires one outfit in particular, a see-through black negligee lined with hot-pink feathers.

"I'm over 200 pounds, and I'd wear it," he insists.

Which look does he think will be the hottest seller this holiday season? Martinez notes the mannequin in the window, dressed in a Catholic schoolgirl miniskirt and see-through blouse.

"We can't keep those in stock, thanks to Britney Spears [and her video]," says Martinez.

Like all retail stores that now cater to women and couples, the more explicit items and videos/DVDs are displayed in another room of Cupid's Corner.

"Vivid and Wave," says Martinez. "DVDs by those production companies are the best for couples to watch. If you're buying for the guy, look for 'compilations'--no plot, just action."

Like Cupid's Corner, Pleasures from the Heart attracts a lot of women and couples. Not surprising, since it's owned by Lindsay Laden and her daughter, Crystal Mangiameli. Heavy on the sensual gifts in the front part of the store--how-to books, bath salts, massage oils and candles--Pleasures' backroom is also well stocked with toys that range from interesting to bizarre.

Laden suggests the Utopia, a "hands-free, cordless, vibrating love ring," made for two. A little difficult to describe, shall we say. For the madcap couple who know how to have fun in public, Laden points to the remote-control, vibrating underwear.

"The woman wears the thong and the man could be sitting on the other side of the bar," explains Laden, "And she wouldn't know when he's gonna turn [on the remote-control]."

On the topic of holiday underclothes, Laden also suggests the G-string festooned with a lit-up Christmas tree, or the fake-fur-trimmed, thigh-high, red mesh stockings.

Although novelty gifts are limited only by the imagination, there are some sensuous presents that remain perennially popular.

Camouflage store manager Mimi Swenson says that the Kama Sutra products are one of her store's bestsellers. A favorite gift suggestion?

"The Kama Sutra tin, at $69.00--an appropriate price--includes massage oil, pleasure balm, honey dust, massage cream and edible oil that heats up when you blow on it," Swenson says.

Most of the retail merchants agree that flavored lubricants, games and books all make great stocking stuffers.

Laden recommends her line of "how-to" books, for better oral sex, anal sex and bondage. Martinez thinks that games like Lover's Dice ($7.99) and Paradice ($4.95) are a great way to get Christmas morning started with a bang. And Swenson thinks that everybody needs satin sheets this holiday. Or, for the discriminating lover perhaps, a jade, Pyrex or wooden dildo, with sticker prices ranging from $80 to $800.

Women like Swenson and Laden have gone to great lengths to make other women feel comfortable shopping for themselves or their sweetie. As Swenson likes to describe the atmosphere at Camouflage, "We're like a little nest, bringing in the little chickies and making them feel safe."

And still. Coming face to face with a Pyrex penis might be a bit much for the average romantic. For those, the wonderful world of E-commerce beckons. The whimsically named Toys in Babeland, a woman-owned-and-run sex toy store, has sent out a whole slew of suggestions for holiday gift bags, including Hot Buttered Buns (a "high-quality anal pleasure pack" for "adding pleasure to your reindeer games") and Jingle Bells Bondage ("all-in-one beginner's bondage bag [for] an unforgettable holiday experience"). Of course, don't forget the Amazon of woman-friendly retail sex, Good Vibrations. They've been putting smiles on women's' faces for a couple of decades now and have road-tested every model in stock.

Perhaps some might see a bit of sacrilege in gifting the beloved with butt plugs and vibrating undies for the religious holidays. But no less an authority than the Good Book itself admonishes us to "make a joyful noise ... "[Psalm 100].

Authentic moans only, of course.


A guide to a few of the women-and couples-friendly adult pleasures boutiques around the South Bay and on the web:

Cupid's Corner
408 Blossom Hill Rd., San Jose
408.226.5683

Pleasures from the Heart
1427 The Alameda, San Jose
408.292.4040
1575 Winchester St., San Jose
408.871.1826

Camouflage
1329 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz
831.423.7613
www.experiencethefantasy.com

Toys in Babeland
www.babeland.com

Good Vibrations
www.goodvibes.com


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From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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