I attended The Academy Awards of Sex Toys

Posted February 18th, 2015

I wrote this piece for VICE. You can read it here. But since they decided to only run a few of my photos, I thought I’d publish the original version of the piece below.

Award season is upon us, sucking up all the oxygen it can before Valentines Day hogs the stage.

The human being, in its evolving quest to broaden and refine the ways in which it is able to celebrate its existence, seems driven to increase the number of awards for which it is eligible every year. We are the only animal that can not contain our need to establish ever more competitive festivals, and Halls of Fame. Of the many thousands of awards we bestow upon ourselves annually, the televised ones get the most attention.

According to one list I found on Google, there were 97 separate televised award shows in 2014. These did not include The Nobel Prizes for achievement in physics, medicine and chemistry, perhaps because no one would know what the winners were talking about. They also did not include any prestigious literary awards like The Pulitzer, The Man-Booker Prize or The Pen awards, all of which bestow considerable prize money. They even excluded the less flashy more cerebral cousin of The Sag Awards, The Writers Guild Awards. Of all the people who toil in the national entertainment factory, writers have yet to figure out how to attract a large audience eager to see which rumpled sport coat they have selected to wear with which pair of running shoes.

In the ever expanding world of televised award shows, the most publicized now function almost like a version of a national holiday. Within this pantheon, The Kennedy Center Honors/ The Tony’s/The Screen Actors Guild Awards/The Miss America pageant represent the third-tier holidays, like President’s Day or Columbus Day . These are holidays where the post office is closed but there is no other real sign that anyone observes their existence. A tiny step above that would be The People’s Choice Awards/The Country Music Awards/The Miss America Pageant/The MTV awards which are more like Mother’s Day/ /Labor Day/Memorial Day. Their level of holiday is big enough to inspire department store sales and the occasional barbecue but that’s about it. Further up the ladder, The Grammy’s/ The Emmys/ The Golden Globes take a medium sized step up to a July4/Halloween/Valentines Day level of prominence. And, of course, at the pinnacle is the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years Eve of the award shows: The Academy Awards. Parties are thrown, guests are invited, ritual food is prepared. Bets are placed and personal reputations are staked on the outcome. The mood becomes so giddy and contagious that an argument can be made that the whole “War on Christmas” that Fox news trots out every year is simply old-style-Christmas’ attempting to retro-fit itself as a televised award show in which Jesus/Moses/Mohammed/ Buddha and Krishna will all compete for a shot at dominating the season. Representatives of the winner will get to dress up, walk the red carpet and give a humble but gratitude filled speech.

As we wait for all that to evolve, each year brings plenty of newer, smaller award shows lurking in the wings, hoping to grow their brand via the internet until that hoped for televised moment opens up. The Adult Video Awards (AVA) are at the head of this category. It can’t be long until someone offers porn stars a chance to sashay the red carpet. And several tiers below them, a brand new planet has begun to form in the same universe. I refer now to the brand new SHE awards, which I attended last Saturday.

SHE, of course, standing for Sexual Healing Expo, honoring “ the very best in products designed for a healthy sex life.” The event was held in West Hollywood, at “the stylish Sofitel hotel” directly across the street from The Beverly Center; a mall where you’d be well advised to spend the rest of your money buying the provocative clothes and shoes you will need if you ever hope to attract the kind of partner who will agree to try out the items being honored tonight.The She awards1

Every gender, race, age and weight class of sex product professional and consumer was in evidence; representatives of the buff, the anorexic and the Tweedle Dum communities, resplendent in everything from short leopard skin sheaths with 5 inch stilettos , to sweatshirts and running shoes. White women in their fifties who may have stopped by on their way home from a ceramics class sipped pricey cocktails beside stylish Latino teenagers who pretended to spank each other for a photo they would immediately post on Instagram.

By 6:30 we all began to drift to the downstairs lounge where the “lavish gala for attendees and participants” was still setting up. This is where it became clear that The SHE awards would be unburdened by antiquated formalities like “seat fillers”, those formally dressed non-entities who The Emmies and The Oscars pay to occupy empty seats, lest the audience ever look sparse. .the audience

At 6:45, as the podium is placed on a riser, and the awards are removed from their packing containers, the MC for the evening “Sex and Relationship Expert” Reid Mihalko arrives. He is instantly identifiable as he is the only man in attendance wearing a tux. Among the credits he lists on his website, along side assorted talk show appearances, is “The Creator of The Cuddle Party“. Tomorrow he will be teaching a seminar here called “Making Threesomes Happen.”

Before the show begins, Reid confers briefly with his co-host and Expo Spokesperson Emily Morse.

“How about if you ntroduce me as “The Richard Dawson of The Sexual Healing Expo.“ he suggests.

“No one knows who that is” Emily replies.

“Okay, then how about that guy from Jackass?” he replies.

Emily is Dr. Emily Morse, sex and relationship expert, podcaster, occasional reality show star and Doctor of Human Sexuality from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, a learning center which calls itself “The Harvard of Human Sexology Study” (presumably because Harvard itself still declines to offer degrees in “Certified Sexological Hypnotism” and “Certified Love Coach.” )

“I was tasked with making this the shortest award show ever.” Says our MC, after he is introduced by Emily at 7:30. And true to his word, he immediately announces the first award.  “Best Luxury Sex Toy” (apparently “The Best Supporting Actress” of the SHE awards.)

BEST MC reads awardsNominees include: The SOL Sonic Vibrator; the only vibrator “that operates at the frequency of OM, the energy that joins and holds things together.”

And The Vesper, a double threat since it claims to be “Both a gorgeous piece of jewelry and a strong slim vibrator.”

But the winner is Pino from Lelo, a vibrator so bling-intensive it comes with both Silver Cufflinks and a Money Clip. That kind of luxury is hard to top, even if you vibrate at OM.

Unfortunately no one from Lelo is here to accept the award.

Quickly, the MC designates Emily, who stands beside a camera, prepared to interview the winners, “The Ryan Seacrest of the SHE awards”. He suggests that she accept the award for the absent Lelo winners, after which she can interview herself.

Emily agrees.

And on behalf of the Lelo family, Emily gratefully thanks the academy.

emily accepts first awardNext up: Best Sex Enhancement Product. ( The Best Cinematography of The SHE awards.)

I decide to use this award as a chance to run to the restroom. While I am in the middle of washing my hands, I look up and am amazed to learn that The Ladies Room by the Lounge at the Sofitel Hotel is the winner of The Best Lighting in a Ladies Room in Los Angeles. The gentle front lighting coming off sconces by the mirror is so flattering that I leave feeling much more attractive than I did when I first entered. By the time I return with my newly improved self esteem, Emily is again gratefully thanking the academy, this time on behalf of “pjur Original”, by the pjur group.

And so we move on to Best Sex Toy for Couples, the SHE award version of Best Original Screenplay.

Will it be ”The Hello-touch”, a futuristic looking battery operated arm bracelet that makes your finger tips vibrate?eolectrostimulator award

No, the winner is The We-Vibe®.4 ”Together you both share the vibe.” Two surprisingly sensible looking women come forward to receive the award.

2 ladies, first to accept an awardIn their acceptance speech, the winners reveal they have sold 3 million units so far. Emily is enthusiastic. “You guys, this has an app that lets you vibrate someone who is on the other side of the country!” Emily gushes.

Seconds later, without further hesitation, Reid recites the nominees for The SHE Award equivalent of Best Actor: “Best Sex Toy for Men.”.

“Cobra Libre for Men,” he reads, raising his eyebrows a little as he offers a testimonial, “I’ve actually used this one. It was great.”

But there is tough competition from “AUTO BLOW 2” with its catchy slogan, “Enjoy unlimited blow jobs on demand.”

And the SHE Award goes to…. “Flight Pilot” by Flesh Light .”Turbulently pleasurable, providing the variety men crave and deserve.”

Unfortunately once again, no one is here to accept the award.

Emily rises to the occasion.MC jokes with Emily

“If I had a penis, I would stay home all day and use “The Flesh Pilot” she says, showing great empathy as she again thanks the academy, “ But I don’t have a penis.”

And so we move on to: “Best Sex Toy for Women.” The SHE equivalent of Best Actress.

Will SOL finally take home an award this time for their patented OM generator?

Or perhaps SORAYA by Lelo with its guarantee of “the most satisfying climax time after time?”

No. The Winner is a modern update of an old classic: The Magic Wand. AND someone is here to accept award! Emily visibly relaxes as a representative from Vibramax comes forward.guy # 1 accepts award

,Factoid: Known as “The Cadillac of Vibrators,” the Magic Wand originated in 1968. And in a serendipitous twist of fate, so did the outfit of the guy who accepted the award!

This brings us to: The Eco Friendly Toy Award, the SHE award equivalent of best foreign language film. Much like the foreign language film category itself, these entries contain a lot of disturbing imagery.

Critics who felt the masturbation-industrial complex had been slow to embrace the idea of local sourcing and sustainability were eagerly awaiting the results of this unusual category.

Nominee “Mesmerize” by Nob Essence, brought to mind both a surgically removed appendix and medium sized N.American brown snake.Eco friendly #1 worm

 Nominee “ Corkscrew Glass Dildo” by a company called Fucking Sculptures has been waging a campaign declaring ‘2015 “The Year of the Dildo”. Yet they still had to overcome the fact that their product resembles something that might have been created in an intestine.turd dildo

So it came as no surprise that the winner was the less visually jarring LEAF by BMS Factory.THE LEAF

“Come on down” says Reid to no oneemilie accepts award 3

“Congratulations LEAF, you made a vibrator that looks like a LEAF!” says Emily enthusiastically.”That’s so ECO!”

“Thank you. We’re so proud” Emily replies, channeling the award winning Leaf People.

The next award is for “Best Sexual Health Product for Men”. Says Reid, racing in to The She Award equivalent of ‘Best Special Effects’.

Factoid: This is a bittersweet category for Emily’s since her own product “Emily and Tony’s Down Under Comfort.“a cream for your “intimate areas” is locked in competition with The Hyrdromax Pump, touted as “the definitive starter pump for the world of penile enhancement.”

And the winner is: Progasm Junior. AND someone is here to accept.guy accepts progasm by Aeros

Emily must interview him, even as she is facing down a personal defeat. Bravely she turns to the audience. “You’ll love it” she says, covering her disappointing while also reminding everyone, “Don’t be afraid of your prostate.,”

Now its time for “Best Sexual Health Product for Women” says Reid as he introduces one of the lower key awards. This is perhaps the SHE awards version of “The Best Sound Editing”

And the winner is “RegularGlide…a regenerative water based personal lubricant”

Unfortunately, no one is here to accept .

“Its amazing, everyone! You should try it!” says Emily, now looking a little bit weary from having to improvise so many different but overjoyed prize winning sex product creators.emilie accepts award 2

We have now arrived at “MOST INNOVATIVE SEX TOY”, the SHE Award equivalent of Best Picture.

Nominated again is Vesper Crave (It’s a necklace AND a vibrator! )

And the much touted “SOL Sonic Vibrator,” with its signature OM. Will this finally be their cosmic moment?

The winner is….the also twice nominated “Hello Touch from Jimmy Jane.

Emily breathes a great sigh of relief as a large group comes forward to accept.jimmy jane family wins

 There are five of them. The women are dressed in hot pink and black, the same colors as the vibrators they are selling. But it’s the man in the purple shirt who thanks the academy.

“Its really an amazing product.” Adds Emily, supportively,” And there’s no awkwardness afterward.”

The evening ends with SEXPERT OF THE YEAR, the SHE equivalent of Best Director.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding this award because The Academy chose not to acknowledge many of the Exhibitors in attendance today at The Expo…many of who also fit the category . ‘Andrea Renae’ and ‘Girl Boner’ were both snubbed by the academy.

As was author Lynn Rosenberg, and her ‘Sexual Awakening at 70.’ And “Sex Nerd Sandra”.girl boner  sex nerd sandra  sex at 70 lady andrea the sexpert 2

The actual nominees were a group of podcaster/media personalities/authors and sex educators, many of whom claimed to have been on everything including The Howard Stern show. There would be only one winner.

For the first time I found myself rooting for one of them.emily interviews self again

Co-host Emily Morse is nominated. Fingers crossed she will now have a chance to make an acceptance speech as herself.

And the winner is: Ava Cadell, “media therapist, worldwide speaker and founder of Loveology University” .best ava cadell wins

And with that, the evening comes to a close.

The First Annual SHE awards is over. Any attendees who would like to bask in the after glow have been invited to gravitate toward the bar and mingle.texting by vibrator sign

As for me: I have other plans. I can not wait to return to The Ladies Room where I will re-experience myself looking far better than I ever will again.

Then, having boosted my self esteem, I will take my swag bag full of free samples of “Stroke 29” and something called “Gun oil”, my complementary Fifty Shades of Grey Ben Wa balls and my Certified Ethical Vegan & Fair Trade condom and begin the long drive across town .Glyde the vegan condom


An examination of Fifty Shades of Grey via its merchandise

Posted February 18th, 2015

I wrote a piece for GRANTLAND.com about the peculiar and hilarious FIFTY SHADES OF GREY merchandise on sale , all of it specially approved by its author.

But I barely scratched the surface. There is more…so much more…that never made it into the piece. Of the thousands of different items I saw, this ad was a stand out.

Perusing the new McDonald’s Web Pages

Posted February 5th, 2015
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I originally wrote this piece for VICE, who declined to publish it for reasons of their own. In it, I examine last fall’s new “frank and honest web page” marketing strategy by McDonald’s.

What if, one evening, in a fit of romantic nostalgia, you Googled your high school sweetheart and were led to a website with a FAQ page? And then what if those frequently asked questions were “Do you really have a personality disorder?” and “Are there any restraining orders against you?” and “What about the rumor you have a dungeon under your house?” Would you still want to send your old crush an invitation to get together for a drink?

That kind of describes how I felt yesterday opening the new McDonalds website to check out their answers to a lot of “tough questions.’ And no, they aren’t weighing in on ‘Free will versus fate’ or ‘Evolution versus Intelligent Design.’

I’ve never been a big McDonald’s fan. In fact, I’m a vegetarian. But obviously its impossible to grow up in this (or any) country without being aware of how many otherwise sensible people, from heads of state to notables in entertainment, regard the McDonald’s experience as a sacred ritual in the one true indigenous American religion.

For those people, McDonald’s is linked at the cellular level with happy childhood memories from irresistible junk food that comes with a free toy. Plus they hired a clown as a spokesman years before the clown lobby surrendered its ‘poorly dressed, unfunny physical comedy franchise’ to Carrot Top and rebranded themselves as rictus grinning symbols of terror.

But despite all this, recent headlines reported a big slide in fall quarter profits for McDonalds. Part of the reason involved a recent scandal in China, involving an Illinois based McDonald’s meat supplier caught mixing old meat, beyond its expiration date, with fresh meat.

To rebound from this and other bad press, McDonald’s decided to be pro-active and launch some brand new web pages .

A careful review of them offers a crystal clear cautionary tale about the difficulty of defending your reputation on line in the age of Google .

Let’s begin with the big purple-on-purple web page entitled “Our food. Your questions.” where six suggested links are being offered.

The top one is


I’ve heard many unsavory if not downright nasty things about McDonalds over the years; from that lawsuit involving their dangerously hot coffee to Morgan Spurlock’s terrifying documentary “Super Size Me” where he proves that if you eat nothing but McDonalds three times a day you wind up with a career as a cable TV personality. Yet a burger full of worms was such a disturbing new image for me that even after McDonald’s emphatic denials, it continued to live in my head making me feel like Medusa.

I escaped by moving forward to: “IS THE McRIB MADE FROM REAL PORK?”

Here McDonald’s was very clear in rebuttal that the McRib is “pork shoulder”. But having read that, I became curious about why people were asking this question. And so I Googled : ‘What is a McRib made of?’

Had I discovered it was mostly art gum erasers and silly putty, I might have tried one. Instead I learned that the 70 ingredient recipe is a “congealed slurry” of “disposable innards of the pig including tripe, heart and scalded stomach.”

“Scalded stomach”promptly leapt to the head of my 2014 list of “Hideous phrases I hope never to hear again.” where it made itself comfortable next to that burger full of worms I was trying not to see.

Next thing I knew, I was reading a 2012 Business Insider report about the McRib’s use of “restructured meat technology’…a new take on sausage making for which its inventor, Prominent Meat Luminary Richard Mandigo, won a coveted place in the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. When I stumbled upon a description of “baby pigs tossed into carts like rag dolls.” I decided it was time to flee the topic entirely.

Back in the safe embrace of the McDonald’s website, I was now forced to confront another worrisome question it had never occurred to me to ask : “Do McDonalds buns contain the same chemicals used to make yoga mats?

The answer turned out to be yes… with an explanation. Azodicarbonamide is a chemical which the McDonald’s bakers (along with those who supply Wendy’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Chick Fil A, Dunken Donuts, Jack in the Box, Carl Jr., Hardees and White Castle) use to keep their dough “consistent”. And whaddya know: its also found in rubber soles and foam plastics like yoga mats. McDonalds sums it up thusly: “Some people have suggested… that the ingredient is unsafe. It’s simply not the case. Think of salt: the salt you use in your food at home is a variation of the salt you may use to de-ice your sidewalk. The same is true of ADA — it can be used in different ways.”

A follow up Google search showed ADA linked to respiratory illnesses and banned as a food additive in Europe and Australia, a charge which McDonald’s also responds to on a page called “ Why does your food in the US. Contain some ingredients that are banned in other parts of the world?” Naturally, once again, the answer was surprisingly simple: “Different countries may have different food and agricultural requirements.” Whew. Another silly regional difference! Obviously, yoga mats are considered food in the U.S. although not in fussy old Australia or Europe!

Next question: “Do you use so called pink slime in your burgers or beef treated with ammonia?” (Related:”Is pink slime in a chicken McNugget?”)

Ah…pink slime and ammonia: two old friends I still remember. My Google refresher course reminded me that a bath of ammonium hydroxide, also found in fertilizer and household cleaners, is used to reduce the large number of bacteria and pathogens such as E Coli and Salmonella found in certain “inedible cuts of meat” which, before 2001, were used legally only in dog food. Renamed “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (nicknamed ‘pink slime’) after being put thru a grinder, the mixture was then added to regular ground beef and approved for human consumption in the U.S. by former ‘undersecretary of agriculture Joann Smith over the objection of USDA scientists. In an amazing coincidence, Ms. Smith then stepped down from her government job and joined the board of directors of BEEF PRODUCTS, the company that makes ‘pink slime’.

On this subject, McDonald’s is once again clear. It no longer uses pink slime. Although a near by page on their site that asks “Have you EVER used so-called pink slime in your burgers?” confesses that they used to dabble a bit…. during a teensy little seven year period (2004-2011) when, at their stated rate of 225 million burgers sold a year, a mere 1,575,000,000 burgers containing pink slime were sold to McDonald’s customers.

It was in the midst of exploring this that I tripped and fell into a dank internet cavity full of high resolution microscope views of McNugget matter being compared to views of actual chicken and showing no resemblance.

Racing back to the comfort of the website, there were still more tough questions. For example: “Why doesn’t your food rot?”  and “How much do you care about the people who eat your food?”  Lots, since 2011!

To review: No worms. Some scalded stomachs and slurry. Yes on yoga mats and variable food regulations, hormones in beef, GMOs, carcinogenic acrylamides, trans-fats and defoamer in oil. No on pink slime or expired meat from Illinois. For now.

At this point, because the range of things connected to a McDonald’s burger had begun to seem infinite and inexhaustible I decided to try some random combination- Googling. I am relieved to report there were no links to mustard gas, or rattlesnake venom, only one link to a Chem Trail and only one to toxic gas in a bathroom in a McDonalds in Georgia killing one and hospitalizing nine.

Clearly we have entered a time when the bad things that we are not = the good things we are.

That is why my suggestion for McDonald’s is that they expand the new website even further to include the fact that all of its menu items are 100% free of cyanide, aluminum shavings and ebola. They should point out that not one elephant or African child soldier was killed to make A Happy Meal. And really, shouldn’t that be enough?