Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Sex Toy Parties Might Tell Us About Race/Ethnicity, Culture, Socio-Economics and Birth Order

Before you all start think this is going to be some freaky NSFW blog post, I assure you that’s not the case.

I will offer a disclosure that there are links to fun pop culture points of reference that might be deemed offensive. If you’re averse to strong language or content that might be deemed offensive, don’t click on them.

Lastly, I’m sure there will be plenty who will accuse this post of being simplistic, racist, enforcing stereotypes, short-sighted and I’m sure the list will go on. To you, I urge you to comment and make your case. What I can tell you for certain is that this post will pose far more questions than it answers but I look forward to a lively debate. And away we go…

Several years ago my wife had an opportunity to go two sex toy parties.

The first was a portion of a bachelorette party among a group of women who were white and from well-to-do backgrounds. Picture the scene from the movie Old School with Andy Dick (except sans Andy Dick). Regardless, it was shall we say, tempered and at times awkward.

The second was among a very diverse group of women. One is the wife of a good friend who’s a local creative director. We’ll call her Allie. She’s Puerto Rican and Jewish and grew up on Manhattan’s lower East Side well before it was a fashionable place to be. She’s stunningly attractive and smart as a whip and has a mouth that would make a sailor blush. She could go to a Lisa Lampanelli show (strong language/content) and if Lampanelli started to give her the business as comedians are wont to do, Lampanelli would get it right back and the show would end with the two of them best friends. Allie is one of the funniest people I know by far. Among the other women at the party were a few women that I worked with and much like Allie would routinely make the guys in the agency feel like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas when he enlists the services of Elizabeth Shue and she describes what she’s willing to do (strong language/content). There were also a handful of other women of various ethnicities, mostly Black and Hispanic and none afraid to make their opinions known.

My understanding about this second sex toy party was that it was remarkably graphic, honest and funny to the point that more than one woman had to excuse themselves to relieve themselves lest they soil a couch from laughing so hard.

What I find most interesting about the foray into this topic is that most will fail to ask the question, “Yes, but why?”

I met a sociology professor a few years ago and we were talking about a variety of things and I posed the question to him of “Why Jews were so intent on dating/marrying/procreating only other Jews?” I had dated a couple of Jewish women during college and after and was curious why they seemed doom to fail. I naively believed what popular culture had told me. Nice Jewish boys want to marry their moms and nice Jewish girls want to be provided for the way their fathers had provided for them. The professor smirked and then provided a much simpler and enlightening answer. “If your race were almost systematically eliminated by a single force of evil and tyranny, wouldn’t you do anything in your power to restore the foundation of the lineage?”

I won’t digress into a debate of interracial dating in which all trends point to a ridiculous literal melting pot but I got his point. The insight was a much deeper understanding of what drove the behavior. And if I were tasked with creating advertising for a Jewish personals web site, that insight would no doubt influence the creative, perhaps not explicitly but at the very least tonally.

So my question about the sex toys party is yes, but why? Why was there such a remarkable difference?

Was it race, socio-economics, culture, birth order, a combination? Are white upper-class folks really so uptight and can’t let it all hang out? Are they inherently repressed? (strong language)

Are the Tyler Perrys or Tracy Morgans or Mo’Niques truly representative of black folks? I will say, put a bunch of black folks on a dance floor and we’ll make this summer’s most popular line dance look good. Still the question is valid, have black folks gotten white folks to chill out perhaps as Sin LaSalle played by Cedric the Entertainer from the movie “Be Cool” might suggest (strong language)?

To further confuse things, for the purposes of this post, let’s use the formal definitions of culture as:

  1. “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.”
  2. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.”

In other words I’m not solely limiting culture to say that of say “country of origin” which I believe is highly limiting. I myself would say that I’m defined by at least 10 different cultures/sub-cultures built up throughout my exposure to a variety of people and experiences throughout my life. This would include, Black culture specifically as it relates to the Civil Rights movement, Beat Generation writers, 60s drug culture, 80s preppy culture, 80s punk culture, early action sports culture, traditional sports culture, feminist culture, Italian-American culture, Higher Ed Academia and so on.

My wife was raised Catholic, the youngest of four kids. While young she knew modest beginnings having grown up in central Massachusetts to fiscally conservative parents. Her mom can reuse a sheet of tinfoil longer than anyone. As she got older however she became accustomed to a very fortunate lifestyle and was exposed to yacht clubs and country clubs. While she graduated from a regional high school outside of Worcester, MA, she summered on the Cape and graduated from the best private undergraduate and graduate schools and is considerably well travelled. She’s also highly philanthropic and having done Teach For America and continues work as a guidance counselor at a struggling high school in a neighboring town that would literally qualify as “the other side of the tracks”. My wife has the gift of being universally and unconditionally accepting and accepted and can float from class sphere to class sphere effortlessly.

Knowing this let’s look at some similar themes of the two groups:

The first group was predominantly white women from the more insular communities my wife was a part. It’s accurate to say that this community represents the top five percent of the country from a socio-economic perspective. This is a group where I can attest first hand that there is a degree to what is deemed acceptable behavior/conduct.

If the second group was unified by any one thing, it is likely socio-economic. Not necessarily by current status but by background. Almost everyone in the group despite their current status came from relatively humble beginnings. Additionally, I suspect in some cases, birth order and gender played a role among several of the women in the second group as well including my wife. If you look at each of my wife’s siblings starting from the oldest, they are each more relaxed than the next with my wife being the most relaxed and most influenced (socially) by her older brother closest in age. Call it a stereotype but the most crass women I’ve ever known almost unanimously have at least one older brother.

Are there anomalies? Of course. Fellas, if you were going to Vegas for a guy’s weekend would you prefer to go with Clarence Thomas or Tracy Morgan. Ladies would you prefer a Vegas weekend with Condoleeza Rice or Mo’Nique? The former in each case have no doubt been taught and have continued to elect to conform to elite societal norms.

Maybe that’s my problem is my reluctance to conform to societal norms. But I digress.

As I said, this post creates far more questions than it answers and here’s short list of mine. Feel free to add, answer, debate.

  1. As a universal culture, are we becoming more relaxed and less pressured by societal constraints of certain etiquette?
  2. What are the drivers of relatively newfound acceptance or the ability to feel less uncomfortable at things that a mere 10 years ago would make most squirm? Is it the effect of media in popular culture? Reality television?
  3. As a result of the impending Census outcome, how will we define cultural groups especially from a marketing perspective?
  4. There are no clear cut means of segmentation. There are always anomalies. Every segmentation is meant to ensure capturing the greatest number of people (customers) as possible. Will it be defined by country of origin? Generation? Race? Socio-economics?
  5. Will marketing segmentation exacerbate a class war, pitting the Wal-Marts against The Nordstrom's?
  6. Will there be such a thing as “class acculturation” the way the there are degrees of acculturation among Asians and Hispanics?
  7. Will America be divided by level of educational attainment, as some suggest?

I'm not sure about the answers to all of the questions. I have a hypothesis or two but much remains to be seen about how nimble large corporations will be.

In any event, to pile on to the “stereotypes” as Mike Myers would say in his SNL “Coffee Talk” skits as Linda Richman



  1. Wow. Truly interesting and provocative--though I get it. What I would want to know as a marketer is what does this all mean to me? Also a question that might be raised among those you raise at the end is what does all this mean to civility. Several campuses I know are on civility campaigns--treating people with respect and what that means. Is that an uptight old idea? --Marcia Cantarella, PhD

  2. First of all, thanks for the links to Sure Things and SNL skit. Good old memories! There is a lot to digest and "Discuss" on what you brought up in this post. 2 things for now (and already running long!): I do find many of the "white" people have the so-called "white polite" attitude. Don't yell at me for saying this. A lady of Greek descent taught me this term when I tried to explain what my in-law families are like, then she said, "Oh, they are white polite." I couldn't stop laughing. Because it says so much... Polite with a distance. yeah, we are ok with you being here, but don't expect us to be all chummy and start a party with you. It may have nothing to do with me being non-white. It's that "repression". Don't talk to random strangers. Don't randomly "adopt" people into your close circuit. Hope I am making any sense. Secondly, I do believe that the line will be drawn more and more across socio-economic lines. The key is to know how to behave in different groups. I have heard many African Americans (or do you prefer Blacks?) talking about how they behave differently in and outside of the Black community. Ervin Goffman's seminal book "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" still applies today, and actually, I believe even more so in this allegedly "integrated" society we live in. I will return your favor and offer up this link to Wanda Sykes:

    And you lucked out, because I have a PhD too. ;-)

  3. Sorry. Forgot to add this one bit: White people still have the privilege of moving back and forth between the most groups. KWIM? That's why I am always incensed when Americans (most of the time White Americans) insist on other communities opening up the doors to, e.g. sacred and private spaces to them.