The promoter for Sexapalooza, a trade show this past weekend at the Oregon Convention Center, made it very clear this was not a "sleazy" event: "No porn stars," reads the press release.
I found this perplexing as I walked the barely lit aisles of Sexapalooza. Surrounded by sex toys, a topless woman and a 6-foot-tall poster of a guy giving it to a woman from behind, I wondered what about porn stars was any sleazier.
Sexapalooza started in Canada and is spreading to a handful of cities in the U.S. It's riding the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, the erotic novel that show founder Liz Lewis says has "made women more open to their secret sexual desires." Portland's show, which was held this past weekend, features the staple burlesque shows, sex seminars and product vendors. Several local businesses and performers are represented, including the Wanderlust Circus, Miss Kennedy, and drag queen Poison Waters, who serves as emcee.
Iâm not a woman, so I canât say with certainty that Sexapalooza is the kind of thing women want. I can say, though, that as a gay man, the show has ancillary appeal. The only overt signs of queer marketing were issues of âOut Alohaâ and âOut Cityâ sitting on a table at the entrance.
Oddly, I feel like straight men would enjoy this show more. As I walked onto the show floor, I was greeted by a group of ladies dressed in skimpy lingerie. âWould you like to enter a raffle to get an erotic dance on stage with some of these beautiful ladies?â one of them asked.
âNot really my thing,â I replied.
I continued my adventure to a booth, where a vendor for G-Spot Lollipops explained how the candy-shaped tool fits perfectly into a womanâs kegel muscles, which (apparently) is where g-spot stimulation occurs. I then walked toward a large video projection in which a couple was going at it while wearing a harness (the Penetration Station, NSFW) that should only be necessary in a zero-gravity environment. At another booth, a nice young woman named Kim Marks told me the glass dildos she sells (As You Like It) are locally made in Hood River.
For the most part, the show isnât a big departure from your average Fantasy For Adults Only storeâkeeping in mind, of course, that there is âno pornâ at Sexapalooza. Its most risquÃ© departure is a room called âthe Dungeon,â in which cameras are not allowed. Itâs filled with what look like massage tables and higher-than-average leather stools. People are supposed to get on them and try out sex positions. There are some sanitary wipes on a table in the middle.
A young couple was mounting on a sex contraption that resembled a big âX.â I asked an older couple in the corner what it was.
âItâs a St. Andrewâs Cross,â she said the woman, with a British accent. âYou know, the cross is actually a pagan symbol that predates the Christianity. Thatâs how Christians got people to church.â
The man next to her nodded. He was wearing a black leather vest and sounded like a smoker. âBut we put it to good use here,â he said.
After the Dungeon, I headed toward the exit. But before I left, I asked the lingerie dancers if I could take a picture of them for this blog post. âOf course!â one of them said.
But their boss, a shirtless guy named Thomas, interrupted. He didnât believe I was writing for Willamette Week and told me I would have to pay a dollar.
âYou notice heâs talking to you,â he said to the dancers, âinstead of me.â I told him Iâd gladly take a picture of him. He said thatâs not what he meant.
I gave him a dollar and took a picture, but itâs blurry.