NSFW: Play Things

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As some of you may know, my day job is as an editor of Penthouse Forum, the dirty little sister to Penthouse magazine. And you may also know that part of that job involves writing about sex toys for a monthly column called “Guilty Pleasures.” After five years, I guess you can say I’m an expert on the subject. (In fact, the old Penthouse publicist once put me on Sirius OutQ’s Derek & Romaine Show as such.) As the resident “adult novelty” expert, I get to write the occasional vibrator/dildo/lube/etc. article in Penthouse, too.

My desk is frequently covered in boxes and boxes of products that I’m sent for consideration, like when people want you to vote for their movie for an Oscar, only with more butt plugs and less Anne Hathaway. So when my editor asked if I could do a roundup of couples’ toys, I knew it would be a piece of cake. The real problem was narrowing down my list of favorites to fit in a two-page spread. Which brings us to the topic of this post: How do I choose what to write about?

Mostly, I choose things that my friends like—or would like—as they are my porno guinea pigs. After a year on the job, I’d already seen it all, so there’s little that surprises or excites me at this point. I have a handful of friends who will take the spare toys I have lying around and report back on how well they get the job done. I also keep a stash of batteries at my desk and frequently turn on vibrators while I’m sitting there working to test how strong they are. It seems weird if you’re stuck at the desk next to mine, but thankfully, my coworkers know what’s going on and never question my strange methods.

There are other things to take into consideration, too. Material is an important one. Some materials just don’t hold up, while others will last a lifetime without showing any signs of wear. But silicone and glass cost an awful lot more than jelly-like rubber, and I try to always consider price. Not everyone can afford a $150 dildo, or even a $50 vibrator, so I try to mix it up and make sure that everyone I write for can find and afford at least one item on my list. My friends are good about helping me with that. One friend in particular burns through vibrators like nobody else I know, and has killed at least three Rabbits in the past four years. She’s also changed jobs about as many times, so her financial situation has fluctuated. Whenever she needs a replacement, I need to figure out not only the best product to please her, but also the product with the best value; she needs something she can afford that will last at least as long as her previous toy and will do as good a job or better. It’s tricky trying to find something that meets all her needs, but it keeps me on my toes as a reviewer.

Sometimes, a product will cross my desk and won’t seem like anything that spectacular, so I’ll set it aside until I need it. It won’t necessarily be a bad product, but it may not fit my needs that month, or it may be too similar to something I’ve written about recently. Sometimes, though, I’ll pass on a toy because it does seem a little cheap or unappealing. There are thousands of products out there, and I can only review so many, so I really need to be won over to grant a toy space in my magazine(s). When the toy chest gets too full, I give all the spares away in hopes of finding them good homes and making space for newer items. And that’s usually when I find the best stuff. My friends happily take my “trash” in hopes of finding something good, and often will send me messages telling me how great some reject vibrator or kink product was. Then I have to go back, find its twin, and give it another once-over. I may have missed an important feature on first glance, or something that appeared shoddy may actually have turned out to be of much higher quality than I realized. Or some cheap jelly vibe may actually get someone’s motor running better than its more expensive silicone counterpart. Whatever the situation, I trust my friends to be honest with me about what works, and they’ve never let me down.

My favorite test, though, is the flavored-lube test. It involves opening a lot of lubes and, you guessed it, tasting them. It probably looks really comical to see me at my desk, snacking on strawberry lube or chocolate oral-sex aids, but it’s all part of the job. The good ones usually make me hungry—and it’s a damn shame when I find a good watermelon lube in the winter and can’t find a good, actual watermelon to satisfy my craving—and the bad ones send me to coworkers’ desks to ask them if it’s just me or if a particular cherry lube really does taste like NyQuil.

Like I said, it’s a strange job, but someone has to do it, and I’m honored (in a way) that people trust my judgment on such intimate matters. And hopefully it helps people find something that will make sex a little more enjoyable. Because, really, isn’t that the point?

To read about my latest finds for couples, which ran in a special spread in the February 2013 issue of Penthouse, click here.

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Warrior Wire: Stolen Valor

0113 Stolen Valor

While my inbox contains dozens of emails from adult industry companies and publicists, I also subscribe to an equal (if not greater) number of military- and veterans-affairs newsletters. I read Stars & StripesThe Military Times, and get updates from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans Today Network, and Military.com, to name a few. And I read each and every one of those updates from top to bottom. I’m always on the lookout for stories, of course, but mostly, veterans affairs are a pet passion of mine, thanks to my Vietnam vet dad and my Iraq vet cousin. Still, the story ideas never hurt.

I was reading The Military Times one day when I came across a story about Doug Sterner, a Vietnam vet who was building a database to track medals of valor handed out within the military. No official list exists, and Sterner saw it as an important bit of historical record-keeping that needed to be done. His story inspired me, and I began learning more about the issue of stolen valor.

A few months after I read that first article, an email came through announcing that the Stolen Valor Act was on the verge of being passed, having been approved by the House of Representatives. It was something that my editor and I both thought warranted coverage, and I saw it as a great opportunity to interview Sterner, whose hard work utterly intrigued me. Not many people would put in the hours he does simply because they feel it’s the right thing to do. And I can’t imagine anyone giving up their retirement to work, for free, on a project that will likely get little national attention.

When I emailed Sterner to ask about scheduling an interview, he said he’d be happy to talk with me, but wanted to make sure I did all my research first. So he sent me several chapters of a book he’s working on about stolen valor and suggested I read it before our interview. I spent that weekend curled up on the couch with a printout of his book-in-progress, and I learned so much more than I’d ever imagined. Like the fact that Sterner’s wife, Pam, was almost entirely responsible for getting the Stolen Valor Act written in the first place. I was blown away by just how much the Sterner family had done for the cause, and it only made me want to talk to Doug all the more.

My interview with Sterner was as enlightening and inspiring as I’d imagined it would be, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, too. At one point, before cursing (I think he may have said “hell” or “shit”), Sterner asked if, since it was Penthouse he was speaking to, he could be a little loose with his language. I assured him he could say whatever he wanted to me, and he did. He may not have cursed like a sailor on leave, but he had a few choice words to share, and it made me happy to hear the passion come through as he spoke. If he was going to curse, it was going to be for a reason. I was honored that he was willing to speak so freely with me, and if I could have, I probably would have just printed the text of our interview and called it a day.

To read my article about the Stolen Valor Act, which appeared in the January 2013 issue of Penthouse, click here.