Since sex toys are sold as “novelty” items, the materials they are made of do not have to be regulated by the FDA If sex education is bad in this country, sex toy education is worse, leading to thousands of emergency room visits each year.
If you’ve ever been to a home sex toy party (think Passion Party), you know they’re an important means of disseminating information and education about sex toys. You may not know that home sex toy parties were started right here in Austin by Forbidden Fruit.
Founded in 1981, when sex toys were illegal in Texas, Forbidden Fruit originally marketed itself as a purveyor of goofy gags and novelties for bachelor/ette parties. In its original 6th Street location, Forbidden Fruit sold lingerie, naughty cards, and penis suckers and straws, with a couple of vibrators thrown in.
Owner Lynn Raridon remembered that founder Mark Garfinkel “wanted to create a place where any person of any sexual orientation can comfortably shop. Comfortably is the key word. This was 1981 – there were only hetero porn palaces back then.”
Garfinkel knew Raridon from the punk rock scene in Austin and she got her start in 1982, doing Forbidden Fruit home party sales. “I would go into people’s homes and sell butt-tons of stuff,” Raridon explained. “They didn’t even have to go to the store.” When Garfinkel went to get his law degree in 1985, he groomed Raridon to take over. She bought the store January 1, 1987.
Though Forbidden Fruit was always careful, the store was raided in 1989. A religious woman had filed a complaint because of a display at Palmer Auditorium (now the Long Center), which didn’t even include dildos. Raridon remembered that Austin’s Head of Vice at the time, Bubba Cates, was running a prostitution ring. “Cleaning up the city was a way to distract attention from himself,” she said, adding that Cates was busted a year later.
Raridon said the raid inspired a lot of outrage in the community. After going in front of the Grand Jury, however, Forbidden Fruit had to get even smarter regarding the obscenity laws in Texas to stay open.
The store started emphasizing the scientific and educational merits of their merchandise. Vibrators became personal massagers, and dildos were educational models for anatomy lessons or condom demonstrations. Raridon said the raid allowed the store to find more tasteful ways of presenting information, destigmatizing the products and their actions.
“There is so much stigma surrounding sex,” Raridon said. “Some people appreciate innuendo. Some want it. You have to gauge the customer.”
Forbidden Fruit even had a copy of the Texas obscenity law beside the “educational models”, and made customers sign a release that the merchandise was promoted and sold that way. If a customer asked for a dildo, Forbidden Fruit would not sell them one.
The 5th Circuit Court decriminalized sex toys in Texas on February 13, 2008. Raridon remembered all the people calling the store that Valentine’s Day for interviews, and telling them, “In Texas you don’t have to be fearful about your sexuality anymore.”
Raridon said the best thing to come out of the decriminalization is the increased clarity and education about their merchandise. The nature of the products has also changed, with more women participating in design and manufacturing, as well as more sexual orientations being reflected.
“We have people coming in saying, ‘Where’s the toys for men?’” Raridon said. “I tell them, ‘You can use all of these.’ Everybody can use these toys. You’re limited by your imagination for the most part. The sky’s the limit.”
In addition to her work at Forbidden Fruit, Raridon is a faculty member in the Kinesiology Department at Austin Community College. She is often asked to speak in the Human Sexuality class in the Psychology Department. “I love doing that,” Raridon said. “Going and talking and presenting in that environment – it’s the next wave.”
Forbidden Fruit started its own series of classes in 1995. It started with BDSM – from “Discovering Your Inner Dom” to classes about impact or sensation play. Raridon remembers how this scene from the movie Old School lead to Forbidden Fruit creating classes on oral sex.
Raridon said Forbidden Fruit brings in industry professionals, those respected and recognized in their fields and communities. “Staff are now teaching as well,” Raridon continued. “They’re sexperts in their own right – knowledgable about the techniques and products.”
The topics for classes are not always even overtly sexual. A recent addition is the Conscious Uncoupling class. “I’ve seen both sides,” Raridon said. “People who’ve stayed in a miserable marriage and people who blow it off at the first sign of trouble.”
Raridon emphasized that Forbidden Fruit listens to community input, which leads to decisions like hosting a woman-only fellatio class. “If that’s what helps them,” Raridon said. “We don’t want people to think we’re the sex positive police. It’s an ongoing conversation.”
Forbidden Fruit is finalizing their 2015 classes, and you can sign up for their e-newsletter to stay in the loop. Forbidden Fruit also offers specials for subscribers, including 20% off subscriber Sunday deals.
Forbidden Fruit stays active in the community as well. Find them December 13 at the Mowhawk for the National Air Sex Championship. Or, try for ‘best kinky costume’ December 14 at Rain on 4th for Dead Heart’s Club Sexy Sunday. December 18, Forbidden Fruit will be open late for the North Loop Holiday Stroll, which includes store specials and a BDSM toy demo from 7-9pm.
Forbidden Fruit is also a sponsor of the Texas Burlesque Festival, and Raridon is festival director. The festival will be April 9-11, featuring workshops and performances by international performers. Tickets are on sale now.
The next Forbidden Film Festival is coming up in November 2015. The festival is a place to show films about forbidden concepts, which are sometimes sexual or sensual. “We’re not looking for pornography,” Raridon said. “We’re not HUMP. We’re looking for the forbidden, the verboten.”
Raridon said if she wants to leave the community with any message, it’s that it’s important to support local businesses. “I think of it as ‘dance with who brung ya.’ Businesses like ours opened the door for other businesses, Raridon said. “New stores wouldn’t be here if we didn’t stick our necks out.”
“We don’t do this for the money,” Raridon continued. “We could have made this a mega store. But we want to put information into people’s hands and empower them to make decisions. Is a vibrator right for them? We will always be a boutique and give you the information and resources you need.”
This article was originally published by The Horn on 12/12/2014.