One of the wonderful things about sex is that it has the power to make good people do bad things. A second wonderful thing about sex is that it has nothing to do with non-stick cookware. These self-evident truths were apparently lost on the organizers of Toronto’s “The Everything To Do with Sex Show,” the self-described “naughty but nice” event that promised (and maybe this should have been warning number one) to be “all about romance and self-improvement.” Warning number two should have been the venue the cavernous, fluorescent-lit, dirty-thoughts-inhibiting interior of the Automotive Building on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition but hey, I’ve gotten turned on in stranger places (once, to my shame, while queuing for bullfight tickets).
And I’m curious: I’ve been in the sex trade myself for the past thirteen years, having sex for money with younger guys who are into older guys, and I’m wondering how much of what I know about sex will make it into a show with so comprehensive a title. So I pay my fifteen dollars at opening hour, eleven a.m., on opening day, and prepare to be, if not turned on, at least improved.
The first opportunity comes just inside the door at the Titanium Cookware booth, where it seems I can learn how to make candy apples without destroying my fry pans. My solution to this problem has been the admittedly cowardly one of never attempting to make candy apples, but it’s a life-choice I clearly share with thousands of others. Not even the promise that these fry pans have been “hand cast in Germany” (I wonder, briefly, if this is code for some S/M indulgence I’m unaware of) is sufficient to stop the hordes from streaming right on by, oblivious and eager to sample whatever delights might be delivered by the nearly two hundred other exhibitors who ranged, alphabetically, from Adults Only Video to Zolman Mines (purveyors of “chain mail for the naughty at heart”).
The most noise comes from Stage Two, where Dr. Kathryn Winton Dean, “Sexual Energy Guru,” is holding forth in the slightly hysterical tones of someone who knows she is being utterly ignored on how women need a good hour and a half to work up to a decent orgasm. Next, I find what I dub the “Jeffrey Dahmer Memorial Sex Shop”: it seems to trade principally in body parts. You can order a pussy and an anus, “modelled from Tyffany’s gorgeous body.” The open mouth of some gorgeous somebody-or-other is also for sale. You can leave weighed down by the penises of Jeremy Penn, Aiden Shaw, Brad Stone and several other cooperative contract employees of Falcon Video. (It occurs to me that it would be very easy, these days, to be a kind of po-mo Dr Frankenstein.)
Predictably, there is a Monica moment: one of the larger booths is occupied by Groucho and Co, “purveyors of premium cigars and accessories.” There are organizations willing to remove hair, and others to replace it. There is a seminar in which a serious, middle-aged gentleman is explaining that there are four stages of tumescence (and since, in stage one, the penis is completely soft, I feel I can now legitimately claim to have a permanent erection). At one point, I pass a show employee feverishly mopping up something from the carpet, but since this happens to be in front of the Davidson Financial booth (specializing in nothing more exciting than “Critical Illness Coverage”), I’m guessing that we’re not talking vital bodily fluids here. A mother pushes a pram, though she has draped a shawl over the hood, presumably to protect her infant from the trauma of seeing a contraption called The Bungee Sexperience. An antique gentleman shuffles about with the assistance of a walker held together by duct tape. A lot of very pretty girls take their clothes off. Only one booth is devoted to boys who like boys the Spa Excess, a gay bathhouse which most people seem to be mistaking for a fitness club and none at all specifically for girls who like girls.
All around mills a quite astonishing variety of people. Toronto is a very multi-cultural city, and this show is getting the full rainbow. I would guess there are almost as many women as men, and though most visitors are probably in the twenty-five to thirty-five age range, the ample tummies of the middle aged are also much in evidence. I spot just one very old couple, but they seem unable to tear themselves away from the Halt Security Ltd. booth:
“Great Romance Begins with Peace of Mind.”
And then I get it. This is the mall. The mall with a twist, but the mall nonetheless. Everything is mall-bright, mall-cheerful, and there is always music in the air. It’s terrifically welcoming and utterly neutral all at the same time. I speak to some dozen people, and every one of them has driven in from the mall-friendly suburbs. The entertainment may consist of girls who will shake their titties in your face instead of girls who are selling Girl Guide cookies, but let’s not get hung up on details. The Everything To Do With Sex Show is a tribute to the redemptive power of shopping, and it has made of the Automotive Building a temporary version of the mall, that cathedral of consumption.
Now it is easy to be snobby about malls and the suburbs, and I will be, but one has to concede there’s a certain convenience to one-stop shopping, particularly when you’re simultaneously out of bread, finishing nails, coffee filters and rental videos. Or, as the case may be, dildos, massage oil, chain mail and a home security system. But. But, but, but. There is so much about sex that isn’t about product, that isn’t bright, isn’t relentlessly perky, that doesn’t always have a soundtrack and isn’t a giggle and isn’t, often, very nice at all. Which is, often, exactly how you want it.
It is, in fact, exactly how the suburbs often want it. I know. I’ve been servicing them for more than a decade.
Another show opened in Toronto the same weekend as TETDWSS. It was a new film version of Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni. For those who don’t know the work, it’s the Don Juan story. The hero is a seducer, a rapist and a murderer and people can’t get enough of him. Good people do bad things for a chance to be with him. At the end, he’s given an opportunity to repent, and he doesn’t. He likes the way he is. He chooses Hell.
I’m no Don Giovanni, but I like to think men choose Hell when they choose me. They choose the way they are rather than the way they should be.
It’s a choice that takes us a long way from the mall (where the only thing threatened with burning are those candy apples). And, for all the leather outfits, dildos and fur-covered paddles on sale, it’s the one choice it didn’t seem possible to make at The Everything to Do With Sex Show.