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Secrets of the Sex-Toy Sisterhood



moremagazine“And these,” explains Constance Ramsey-Dixon to the women gathered in a cozy Pennsylvania living room in the foothills of the Poconos, “are for him. There’s the Power Ring, the Pleasure Ring, and my personal favorite, the Double Ringer. I call it the rooster booster.”

The elegant, six-foot-tall Fantasia Home Parties sales rep slips the central rubber ring around a blue, penis-shaped toy on the coffee table.

“When do you do this?” asks Nancy Nisula 43, a graphic artist. “When he’s hard or soft?”

“When he’s just getting hard,” Ramsey-Dixon replies, stretching the second ring over her mauve fingernails. “This part goes around behind the testicles. You tuck’em in nice and neat, so they don’t go flapping in the wind. You know what I mean?”

The ten women in her audience giggle as they take notes on their order sheets. Many of them are not new to the idea of passing around dildos with the baked brie. A few even offer insights of their own about Happy Penis Massage Lotion–“Mmmm, piña colada”–and the $100 remote-controlled vibrating panties. “My husband likes to take the remote with him when he’s mowing the lawn,” says one satisfied customer.

“So what exactly does it do?” asks Barbara Arhakos, 57, squinting at the $13 Double Ringer. She’s with her 21-year-o1d daughter, Tara, a college student. According to Ramsey-Dixon, mother and daughter pairs are not that unusual: One woman even gave Ramsey-Dixon her credit-card number, so her daughter could order anything she wanted. Mom was hoping that a good vibrator might discourage her daughter from sleeping around.

“Two things,” says Ramsey-Dixon. “You know how they can start out nice and hard and then halfway through, they get all mediocre? This keeps them hard the whole time. My husband can last as long as 45 minutes with this on.”

“Forty-five minutes!” one woman squeals. “I don’t know if I can take it that long!”

“I’ll take one for the team,” says Arhakos. The room, her daughter included, dissolves in laughter.

Move Over, Mary Kay

So what do you get when you cross a Tupperware-type party with a sex-toy catalog? A national explosion, covered by the media in rapt detail (The New York Times: “Everything a Happily Married Bible Belt Woman Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Was Afraid to Ask”). You get women from every corner of the country and from walks of life–teachers, lawyers, accountants and at-home moms–who buy about $70 worth of toys at their first party, then keep coming back for more. But what you haven’t heard is just how profitable this multi-million-dollar enterprise can be: Once a women has a sense of the products, she starts to realize the kind of money she might make as a sales rep. She and the thousands of American women just like her.

That’s what happened to 43-year-old Ramsey-Dixon, who’s based in Poughkeepsie, New York. When she tagged along with a friend to her first party in 2OO2, she was working for the Department of Social Services, which translated into long hours for little pay. A born salesperson–over the years she had sold cosmetics on the side for extra money–Ramsey-Dixon was a natural when it came to sex toys. “I first learned how my body worked when I bought a vibrator in my twenties,” she says. “Then I used that information with men.” So when the consultant at the party–Adele Morton, Fantasia’s top seller–started her pitch, Ramsey-Dixon chimed in with answers to other women’s questions.

One of the key ways to make money as a sales rep in party planning is to recruit “downline” who work under you and from whom you collect a percentage of sales. Morton knew a good thing when she saw it and approached Ramsey-Dixon after the party. “What Adele was telling me about the business sounded really good, and my husband said that he’d support whatever I wanted to do,” Ramsey-Dixon recalls. “Of course, neither of us had any idea it would be this lucrative.”

At her first party in 2002, she sold $1,000 worth of products, of which she made $250. By the summer of 2003, Ramsey-Dixon was consistantly making in one party what she earned in two days at her social-services job. Her dream of having more time for her husband, Gregory Dixon, an IBM support specialist, and her two stepchildren, Tyra, 18, and Denzel, 12, was finally in reach. “I didn’t want Denzel to be a latchkey kid anymore,” she says. “We had to send him to swim camp practically every summer because I wasn’t home.”

This July, Ramsey-Dixon quit her job and is now one of the company’s top reps, selling more than 1,000 vibrators per year. She averages ten parties a month, with as many as 25 guests at each event–and that’s not counting the commissions she collects from her ten-woman downline crew, the Love Pioneers. “I make more throwing parties part-time than I did working full-time,” she says. “But more important than money is time. I’ve always wanted a garden and a dog. and this year, I’m getting them.”


Big Business (Batteries Not Included)

The advent of the FIfties home party unleashed women’s seemingly infinite capacities for home shopping, networking and entrepreneurship. Today, the party-planning industry–which includes everything from aromatherapy candles to water-treatment systems–reports over $8.4 billion in sales annually. And what do women love even more than plastic leftover containers? Plastic sex toys. Ramsey-Dixon says her savviest customers “know what length, what width and whether they want it to vibrate or pulsate.” According to Jim Ohi, president of Golden Triangle, one of the largest adult-toy manufacturers, women have always made up 70 percent or more of his customer base. “However,” he says, “they’ve never been comfortable walking into an adult store. For years, the chief way of getting products was through mail order.”

Exact numbers on the size of the sex-toy party sector are unavailable–the companies are privately held, and the Direct Selling Association, a trade group, is apparently too prudish to admit them to membership–but national players, like Passion Parties of Brisbane, California, Pure Romance of Cincinnati and Slumber Parties of Baton Rouge, each claim to have thousands of reps and sales in the tens of millions. And despite the fact that all of them have overlapping product lines, it seems there’s always room for one more company.

fantasiasextoys“When I first got into this business, the labels were lewd and all of the lingerie was one-size-fits-all-for underwear models,” says Rina Valan, 50, who founded Fantasia Home Parties 20 years ago. “Do you think larger women don’t have sex?” I asked the manufacturers. I had to place an order for several gross of queen-size body stockings just to get the company to make them for me.”

Fantasia’s main office is located in a warehouse in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania. The walls are adorned with huge, war-room-style state maps, with pushpins marking upcoming party locales, and the space is filled with shelves labeled Coochy Sampler and Damaged Lotion. Two burly men in shop aprons pack orders into brown bags and load them into boxes bound for hostesses.

“In the past four years, business has increased 30 to 40 percent each year,” says Valan. “At trade shows, we used to be the women with the little house parties. Today, the manufacturers say, ‘If you don’t like the photo, we can change the packaging.’”

Kelly Anson, 41, of Carleton, Michigan, is a rep for Pure Romance, a company with $46.2 million in annual sales and 6,200 reps. When she started giving parties a few years after Valan entered the business, Anson was a single mother making $25,000 a year as a chain-restaurant supervisor. Today, she earns about $15,000 a month from the 400 women in her downline-whether she works or not.

“I still give a couple or parties a week, partly because it’s fun, and partly because that’s how I recruit people,” she says. “I really want to give women a chance at the kind of financial freedom that I’ve had. Whether you give one party a month for extra cash, or one a week to save for vacation, the money is great.”

Diane Schwartz, 42, would agree: With a 28-woman downline in five states, she’s making more than $2,000 a week as a Slumber Parties rep, based in Broomall, Pennsylvania. Not a bad deal for someone who left her position as a human-resources director four years ago, when she learned that she was expecting twins. About nine months after the twins were born–just as she began to scan the want ads–Schwartz attended her first party. “I’d never tried sales,” she says, “but I saw such potential in this that I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

These days, she rarely gives more than two parties a week, which leaves lots of time for her four boys. In fact, several women in her organization are doing very well, including one 70-year-old in New Jersey, who attributes her success to the fact that women her age would rather buy from her than from a younger woman.

As the sizzle of X-rated goodies are made available to Everywoman, sex-toy parties may also be changing the face of American marriages one vibrator at a time. “My husband is the most loyal guy in the world, but when I started going through ‘the change,’ he was suffering.” says Barbara Arhakos. “A little dab of Orgasmix (a topical gel for women that claims to increase arousal, and happens to be Ramsey-Dixon’s top seller at $18) made a big difference.” Valan can certainly relate. “When I was in my twenties, frigidity was a word people used. Now, it’s called stupidity,” she says. “If I had known then what I know today–that I just needed 20 more minutes than my three-minute husband was giving me–I might have saved my first marriage.”

Sex-Toy Scandal

But not everyone embraces the battery-operated, raspberry-flavored approach to marital happiness with equal enthusiasm. Ask Joanne Webb, a Passion Parties rep whose sex-toy career path has been more complicated than some. Last November, her party planning came to a halt when she was arrested on obscenity charges, a sting operation that almost ended with her spending a year in jail.

Burleson is a small Texas town with 23 churches and a “City of Character” slogan on its water tower. In some ways, the devotedly Christian and civic-minded Webb fit right in. In other ways, with her miniskirts and frank attitude about sexuality, the 44-year-old mother of three was always a little more than some locals could take.

In 1997, Webb left her job as a fifth grade teacher to work at her husband Chris’ construction company. But as the post-9/11 building slump dragged on, it became clear that they needed another source of income. Webb had attended a couple of sex-toy parties, but aside from just being fun, there was a deeper appeal: She believed the longevity of her 21-year marriage was due to her ability to communicate with Chris, especially about sex. Now, she wanted to share that asset with others. “I had watched kids being torn apart by divorce,” she says, “and I wanted to do something about it.”

Webb’s first party was on June 29, 2003, and she quickly booked six more for July. Since she’d been active as a volunteer at the Chamber of Commerce, she applied for membership for her new business. Then the backlash started. “You know that glaze that comes over someone’s eyes when they’re hearing gossip about you?” she asks. “All of the volunteers got that glaze–and many were my friends.”

When only one of the women showed up for Webb’s “ribbon-cutting,” she knew something was up. Then she heard that her strongest detractor, a pious and influential woman, was examining ordinances about sex-oriented businesses. Meanwhile, a motion had been made to change the chamber’s dress code: Skirts worn to meetings had to cover the knees.

On October 7, 2003, a couple in their late twenties whom Webb didn’t recognize walked into her husband’s construction office and asked her to sell them some toys. When Webb explained that she only did home parties, the woman showed interest in booking one. Then her husband said, “I wish we could get something today.” Sizing them up as rural folk who might really need some information, Webb showed them a catalog. When the first thing the man pointed to was an anal stimulator, the woman recoiled–and Webb launched into her pitch about women’s pleasure. Ultimately, they convinced her to go home and bring something back. “Sixty-three dollars and eleven cents later,” she says, “they walked out with a Double Hot and a Nubby G.”

They also left with what would soon be used as evidence against Webb–covert audio- and videotape.

One month later, the police asked Webb to turn herself in. The grounds were that she was violating an obscure Texas law, passed in 1978, stating that the use of, or owning more than, six obscene devices is a felony.

When the arresting officer mentioned that there might be a search and seizure, Chris hastily packed up Joanne’s inventory and drove it over the county line. “Ten years in the Army,” he sighs, “and I’d become a dildo runner.”

After talking to a local good ol’ boy lawyer, who advised her to just secure the bond and turn herself in. Webb hired BeAnn Sisemore. The take-no-prisoners lawyer, who came recommended by her Passion Parties director, promptly booked her on Good Morning America–and vowed to bring the case before the Supreme Court. The publicity that ensued was ferocious. A week after Webb’s arrest, Chris had a breakdown from the stress, which led to the bankruptcy of his business. The case hung over them for months, and then just weeks before the trial, Johnson County dropped the charges, citing the cost of prosecution. Sisemore suspects that what they really wanted to avoid was more media attention, and she has filed a case in federal court to challenge the law used against her client.

Though Passion Parties got an ironic windfall–after Webb’s case was covered on television, hundreds of women contacted the company to become hostesses–the Webbs are still getting back on their feet, having just replaced their repossessed cars, thanks to a loan from a relative. Yet Webb is more committed to giving parties than ever.

At a recent gathering in Little Elm, Texas, she presented her wares to 17 women at the home of Helena Andrews. Once Andrews poured some wine, and Webb rubbed each woman’s arm with a massage glove, things loosened up fast. But the women fell silent when she began her presentation about me G-spot and anal sex. It was obvious that they really wanted to know.

Back in Pennsylvania, as the Super Bowl approaches, Ramsey-Dixon is busy trying to re-create the success she had last year with an open-house party at a restaurant–with drink specials–to solicit bookings. “There were 200 women, and I confirmed 15 parties,” she says. “It should be bigger this year, considering that my Monday night football-widow parties were booked solid before the season even started.”

Neither the sex-toy industry, nor the football season, will ever be the same.

For more information, contact Fantasia: 1-800-77-PARTY or