Toy stories

When I was 16, my stepmother sold sex toys for a living. She had other work, too, with a travel agency and before that a phone company, but, for a couple of years there, our five-bedroom suburban Southern California home was sex-toy central.

I’d come home once in a while to a house full of women laughing, talking about their sex lives and asking hilarious questions about the products laid out before them. Every now and then my not-always-appropriate stepmom would ask us girls (and even our boyfriends) for feedback on the newest tangerine-flavored “massage oil.”

She worked for a company called For Us Now, and its lingerie and other marital aids were sold at “FUN parties” (we kids had other names for them), often at our house.

At the time, her line of work was just another manifestation of how different my stepmom was from everyone else’s parents, how other people’s taboos didn’t apply to us. I didn’t think about what the toys or my stepmother’s openness or the gatherings themselves said about female empowerment in the ’90s or life in suburbia or monogamous bliss. I mostly worried about keeping my male friends out of the boxes stacked in our garage.

I hadn’t thought about those parties for quite some time. But recently, three separate things jogged my memory. First, a friend invited me to a toy party here in Sacramento. Then an old friend from my high-school days MySpaced me, asking, “Does your mom have any more hopping peters? LOL.” (Don’t ask.) And then I heard Jonathan Kiefer was planning to write about Passion Parties, a major player in the toy-party industry. (See “Divine secrets of the Ben Wa sisterhood.”) Apparently these gatherings are still going strong, especially in the Sacramento area.

When the story came my way for copy editing, I was excited to read it. It was interesting to see familiar scenes from an outsider’s perspective, especially a male one. Sure, it was a different company, town and era, but as I read his story, I saw my family’s tract-housing living room again and remembered the frank conversations that were my own introduction to the many things adults do in bed.