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By Kate X Messer

AUGUST 14, 2000:  While my esteemed colleague, Mr. S. M., certainly has the online sex market -- ahem -- nailed, some of you may be thinking to yourselves, "Yes, that's all well and good, but I am a normal person. Where do normal people go on the Web to find products to turn our proverbial cranks?" Well, there's probably no hope for you, really: There are no normal people on the Web. But there are, fortunately, sites whose approach to sex and sexuality is a tad more discreet than your average smut shop.

For years and years, the worker-owned cooperative Good Vibrations has been putting their belief that "sexual pleasure is everyone's birthright" into practice. Since 1977, back when it was just one small retail store in San Francisco operated by (the now legendary) therapist Joani Blank, Good Vibrations has presented sex information and sex toys in a safe, relaxed, non-sticky atmosphere. This has been their mission from the start: to provide comfort and encouragement for people exploring sex and sexuality. Good Vibrations grew through the Eighties into one of the better-known sex-toy mail-order houses via their many small ads in the back of hipster, left-wing magazines. Today, they extend their scope via the Internet.

Their site (www.goodvibes.com), featuring their entire catalog of dildos, harnesses, buttplugs, massage oils, et al, is illustrated, for the most part, with cartoony graphics -- a welcome change from the pop-up, spawn-paged smut glut that rules the sex site roost. The GV site is loaded with all sorts of fun stuff too. So even if you're not a big online buyer, it's worth checking into their informative sex trivia (Who knew that codpieces were originally intended as a place for men of the 1600s to store their keys?!), cool columns (sex-poz babes Carol Queen and Pat Califia, just to mention a few), and harrowing Antique Vibrator Museum.

The Good Vibrations site is a part of the Sex Education Web Circle, where you can find other icy-hot Web worlds like: Jackinworld, the Ultimate Masturbation Resource, (www.jackinworld.com), Scarlet Letters, red-hot woman-centric erotica for the Hester Prynne in all of us -- sorry, but if the pic of the woman clamping down on the nipple doesn't get you stirring, you are one frozen side of beef (www.scarletletters.com), or Clean Sheets erotica mag -- one click got us to "Wide World of Water Sports" by Tristan Taormino (www.cleansheets.com).

Sassy Seattle sisters Toys in Babeland (www.babeland.com) are sort of the babydyke version of their cooperative California forebears. With just as much attitude and heart, Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning began TiB in response to the decidedly unfriendly attitude of Seattle sex shops toward women. Through their dealings they've grown in more ways than one -- happily "discover[ing] that many men also like their sex toys with a side of sleaze-free, sex-positive sex information, and caring." Again, the graphics are inviting and not revolting. (Someone on their design staff has a particular knack for making rows of dildos and piles of condoms look like yummy candy!) And also like Good Vibes, Toys in Babeland offers much more than just product. They offer hilariously sound advice like, "I consider virginity a social construct, and would try to put it out of my mind if I were in your shoes"; solid sex tips like, "Empty your bladder before sex, so you don't worry about peeing"; and fabulous links (www.chickclick.com, www.mondoerotica.net, www.aclu.org, among others).

Another sex biz that got its start in the backs of magazines is the North Carolina-based Adam & Eve (www.adameve.com), "discreet Online shopping for adult products." While the site looks like your average smut site, it is anything but. All of those banner ads keep you in-house, without all of those annoying spawn-of-Satan pages that you can't turn off. We think they have demonstrated remarkable restraint in this department. And we also have to give them kudos in the taste department: While subscribing for the most part to the men's magazine paradigm of flowing locks and impossible bosoms, Adam & Eve do sneak in the occasional luscious man and even more luscious small-breasted woman (Hello, Missy!). What we like most about Adam & Eve is their totally unabashed targeting of that very same single male market, while somehow managing to not completely disgust everyone else. Plus they still sell blow-up dolls (along with other goodies like Nina Hartley's Anal Sex Kit, the Love Me Naughty Gift Basket, and a little wind-up toy called Vicky & Her Vibe). The other cool thing is that A&E is geared towards "dabblers," "experimenters," if you will. It's not necessary to invest hundreds of bucks into harness and appendage, if you are only trying it out to see if you like the damn thing -- highly recommended for Net virgins. In keeping with their in-house ethos, there isn't a link section, but there is info on how you and your site can become an Adam & Eve affiliate!

So there. Web sex surfing doesn't have to be all fetish and fright. You can find some real titillation without all the nasty, smutty boy goo. Just let your fingers do the walking and remember to keep one hand on the mouse!


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