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5 Things I Learned at L.A.’s Upscale Sexual Health Expo

Dr. Ava Cadell shows off her award after being named Sexpert of the Year

Dr. Ava Cadell shows off her award after being named Sexpert of the Year

Spending almost 24 hours at L.A.’s one-of-a-kind Sexual Health Expo last weekend was a bit of what I expected: There were a ton of dildos, a ton of dildo jokes and a ton of free scented condoms. I spotted Ron Jeremy roaming the hotel lobby with a hot girl on his arm, and one creepy dude approached me to ask if I “wanted to get out of here” soon. (FYI, I politely declined and then immediately headed for the bar.)

But the inaugural SHE—which took place at the swanky Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills January 17th and 18th—was not what I expected it to be overall. The 2,000-person crowd was a mix of self-proclaimed cougars, gay couples, college students and curious singles in their twenties. The weekend’s meet-and-greet party set in modern event rooms with well-dressed men and women sipping cocktails on posh white couches helped deliver on the event’s promise to be luxurious. The “Sex and the City” themed cocktail party Saturday night overflowed with tipsy guests and sexperts. And the upscale mood was amplified by the presence of host Emily Morse, star of the Bravo TV show Miss Advised who kicked off the first-ever SHE awards where eager attendees and participants honored the top products designed for sexual intimacy. I now can say I know where Flesh Light and We Vibe stand compared to other products.

Overall, it felt way less like a gathering for horny singles in search of free toys and lube (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and way more like a boozy cocktail party with an extreme number of sexperts competing for your attention. Given my lack of experience at sexual health conventions, I knew I was bound to get schooled.

Here are the most interesting things I learned at this year’s event:

1. Size Does Matter

Almost every lecture was completely packed during the entire weekend

Almost every lecture was completely packed during the entire weekend

It was incredible to see a group of curious people from different sexual backgrounds seeking out ways to improve their sex lives. At her talk on Saturday, sex educator and speaker Ducky Doolittle congratulated everyone in the room for simply being brave enough to attend the expo. “Not many people will do this for themselves,” she said. In between a much needed mimosa and a panel, I realized how right she was: only a small fraction of the population that would attend a public sexual health event. And an even smaller sub-section is willing to openly speak about their sexuality to strangers. “I consider myself a cougar, and I’m proud of it,“ a blonde woman asked during a presentation by sociologist (and Playboy contributor) Chauntelle Tibbals, "But what does that term mean socially?”

Why is it possible for one woman to share how proud she is to be in charge of her sex life, while so many Americans won’t even see a sex therapist, admit to watching porn or even talk about their sex lives?

2. Respect People’s Toys.

Cariel from Nuru Massage shows off MagicGel, a unique type of wet massage gel

Cariel from Nuru Massage shows off MagicGel, a unique type of wet massage gel

At first the sheer amount of toys at SHE seemed excessive, but as I watched reps from WeVibe proudly accept their "Best Sex Toy for Couples” award, I realized I had underestimated the importance of sex toys for far too long. The booths at SHE carried everything from how-to DVDs to a mesmerizing massage goo called MagicGel that I couldn’t stop playing with. And as vendors pitched their products they emphasized that the most important part about sex toys is that they’ll make foreplay last. And if foreplay lasts longer and is more enjoyable, guess what? Your partner is more likely to come. My dildo appreciation has since escalated quite a bit.

3. Research and Sex Belong Together in Bed

A guest trying out The Hello Touch X Vibrator at the JimmyJane booth

A guest trying out The Hello Touch X Vibrator at the JimmyJane booth

Stats and studies help us better understand our sexual needs and desires. Often the challenge is communicating that science to a bigger audience, but speakers at SHE made these connections crystal clear. Dr. Ava Cadell (deservedly named Sexpert of the Year) blew my mind presenting, and shared an interesting statistic from a study on “breast orgasms” (29% of women in a small study said they’d experience one). At Dr. Tibbals’ talk “Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond,” she explained how some sex acts (like anal) and kinky porn have become more accepted over time. And if you haven’t read research on electrostimulation and its positive associations with arousal, skip the heavy reading and grab Jimmy Jane’s new touch vibrator that combines electrostimulation and vibration. See? Science can be sexy.

4. Who Knew Men Had a P-spot?

Dr. Charlie Glickman speaks during his SHE talk titled Male G-Spot: Prostate Pleasure

Dr. Charlie Glickman speaks during his SHE talk titled Male G-Spot: Prostate Pleasure

Most of us would like to believe we are complete sex gods and know everything there is to know about how to have insanely good sex. But sex and relationship coach Dr. Charlie Glickman made it clear there’s a lot we don’t know (and for some people, don’t want to know) about male pleasure. At an entertaining workshop on prostate play and anal penetration, he explained how the prostate is actually the male version of a woman’s G-spot. With handy anatomy diagrams that took me back to eighth grade sex-ed, I was exposed to a whole new category of men’s arousal. He even asked everyone in the room to practice breathing exercises in order to “open the ass up” for anal play, and went over the basics of prostate massage. Glickman’s goal is to take the taboo away from anal. “The world is going to be a better place if more men took it up the ass,” he said.

5. Talking About Kink in a Public Setting is Good

JimmyJane really got people talking at their booth with these whiteboards

JimmyJane really got people talking at their booth with these whiteboards

Openly talking about sexual wellness and health is difficult—and I’m not talking about high school seminars on how to properly use a condom. I’m talking about kink, gag balls and BDSM type of talk. Hearing Ducky talk about how a lover helped her get over an aversion to gag balls led the entire room into a healthy conversation about sexual acts they have always wanted to try. At the JimmyJane booth, whiteboards and markers were available for anyone to write down a sexual fantasy they wanted to try out and even include their deepest desires. It was an inviting way to see what others considered “kinky” or “out of the norm” when it came to sex, and it even got strangers engaging in dialogue about it. Since 64 percent of Americans claim they are dissatisfied with their sex lives, maybe expanding your threshold of kink in a public setting would do your partner and yourself some real good. Over the course of two eye-opening days I transformed from a semi-sheltered 23-year-old to a more sexually knowledgable young adult, just by simply putting myself out there with 2,000 other curious people.


Nicole Theodore is an editorial assistant at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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