The Record

The romance… the passion… the overnight shipping!

Naughty shopping parties are hot hot hot


Only one rule applied at the home shopping party in Hawthorne: no boys. Everything else – finger foods, sangria, raucous laughter, lewd comments, dirty jokes, sex toys, sexy lingerie, and sexual aids – was fair game. Pink with excitement, the 15 women sat in a semicircle, feeling, tasting, and toying with their potential purchases.

women-at-sext-toy-party“Which one’s the Hanky Panky?”

“I dropped my Coochy!”

“God bless the I-Bullet.”

“Do you have overnight shipping?”

Clearly, this is no Tupperware party. In the mid-20th century, home sales of these plastic containers epitomized middle-class domesticity. Considered a meek social activity for housewives and such, the parties were once criticized by feminists for perpetuating the stereotype of women as homemakers and keeping them in the kitchen.

If so, in 2003, home shopping parties might be keeping women in the bedroom. Fantasia, Safina, Passion Plus, and Passion Parties are among the popular companies bringing love toys out of the sex shops and into shiny suburban homes.

For the 27-year-old hostess of the Fantasia party in Hawthorne, her living room was where she and her girlfriends could be silly and naughty without having to face typically male store clerks. Her previous shopping experience had not been so pleasant.

“It was a bunch of perverted-looking men in there,” says the mother of two. “It was disgusting. And the nasty guy at the counter. … It just felt really weird. At least here, you’re with your friends, and you can laugh about it, and when you place your order, no one’s around.”

The structure of a Fantasia event is like all other home shopping parties. A consultant gives a presentation introducing the products, such as the aforementioned I-Bullet (vibrator), the Coochy (shaving cream), and the Hanky Panky (lingerie). Guests get to see, touch, test, and – of course – socialize.

At the Hawthorne party, women talked (and joked) about love, sex, and life in general. Many conversations revolved around the products, but some items were conversation stoppers.

When a toy called Twist and Shout (tag line: “It will twist, and you will shout”) was brought out, one guest silenced the room with, “Wait, wait, wait, I wanna hear about this!”

Adult-oriented fare is driving home shopping parties these days, but the pastime comes in many forms. There are companies for beauty, kitchenware, clothes, tapestry, handbags, scrapbooks, and even window blinds.

Although it offers neither the convenience nor the bargain opportunities of Internet shopping, the home party remains a popular medium. According to the Direct Selling Association, home parties account for 29 percent of the industry’s nearly $29 billion U.S. retail sales in 2002.

While many businesses plummeted after Sept. 11, 2001, Fantasia, for one, experienced a 90 percent increase in sales.

“People couldn’t go anywhere – they were afraid,” says Rina Valan-Hudson, company founder. “And then they realized who was really important in their life: their partner. So they were really looking forward to doing whatever it was to celebrate whatever they had.”

Natural Health Trends CEO Mark Woodburn makes similar points about the success of his company, which makes and distributes personal care products. Also, despite the convenience of Internet shopping and going to the mall, people make time for home parties to socialize.

“It’s people getting together with people,” Woodburn says. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Nancy Rhodes, a Fair Lawn mom at the Fantasia party, agreed. For her, the party was not about buying vibrators and edible body powder; it was about being with her friends and relaxing in the company of women.

“You let your hair down,” she says. “There’s a lot of food, a lot of booze, it’s a night out away from the kids and the husband.”

And for some, the shopping parties are also about networking. Jen Szabo said her Whipped Cream Bikini Inc. makes a large percentage of its sales from upscale boutique parties, which are attended by young professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs.

“It’s an opportunity for women to help each other and support each other in this tough economy. People have gotten jobs through other people at our parties and made friendships,” says Szabo, of Oradell, who named her lingerie company after a memorable scene featuring Ali Larter in the 1999 drama “Varsity Blues.”

More than half a century after the trend began, home shopping parties still are predominantly the domain of women. That may be because men rarely see shopping as a recreational activity, Szabo says. When they’re purchasing something personal, men prefer to do it alone and anonymously -usually via the Internet, she adds.

But many women feel strength in numbers. Women like to touch, feel, discuss. And when shopping for something intimate, there may be even more need for camaraderie.

“I think that surrounding, that setting of their friends, is more comfortable in talking about something like that,” Woodburn says. One of the company’s best-selling products is Alura, a cream that reportedly helps enhance sexual stimulation for women. “It’s not someone that they don’t know at Wal-Mart or the mother across the street looking at them.”

To say that the women at the Hawthorne party were comfortable would be an understatement. Massagers were tested, body powders tasted, wineglasses bottomless. At one point, Joann Spinella, the consultant, had to bellow, “Girls, control yourselves!” to continue her presentation.

At the end of the night, women waited their turn to place an order, as it is the company policy to do so in private. Some went out for a smoke, some to refill their glasses in the kitchen. Conversations carried on and the women kept their good spirits into the night – even after the crushing news that all orders take approximately three weeks for delivery.