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Website sells sex toys but only to believers

New York Times News Service, via the Toronto Star, USA
July 8, 2006
Megan H. Chan
www.thestar.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday July 10, 2006

Mother of 2 runs it from her home
Hot item: pleather vibrating panties

NEW YORK — Condoms. Lube. Vibrating panties. All are part of Joy Wilson’s mission to better serve the Christian community.

From her home in Ventura, Calif., the 35-year-old mother of two runs http://www.book22.com, where she sells sex toys for married Christian couples.

The rise of the Internet has spurred more open conversations about sex within the church community, and Wilson says her website aims to support that sexual communication.

Five years after Wilson gave birth to her first child, she and her husband, Kevin, wanted to spice up their nights in the boudoir, but did not want to go to a store and were offended by pornographic pop-ups on some online shops. To provide options suitable to their marriage bed, the two founded the site, which features everything from condoms to massage lotions to vibrators.

While there are several similar websites, the others have different product selection policies. A believer since age 8, Wilson patronizes only manufacturers that do not sell pornography and sometimes asks them to repackage products without explicit pictorial labels.

Named after the 22nd book of the Bible, “The Song of Solomon” — full of sexual and romantic verses — the website has annual revenue of $70,000, with the top seller being the jelly egg — a battery-powered vibrator. Wilson sells 10 a week.

Wilson, whose favourites include a warming lubricant and the Screaming O, a disposable vibrating ring that lasts for 25 to 30 minutes, said most of her website traffic is driven by word of mouth and links from http://www.themarriagebed.com, a popular romance and intimacy site for married Christian couples.

The founders of that site, Rev. Paul Byerly and his wife, Lori, of Austin, Texas, said they were happy when Wilson approached them for advice five years ago.

They frequently feature Wilson’s new products in their daily email lists, Generous Husband and Generous Wife.

One of Wilson’s most enthusiastic customers, Kim Preschern, said she and her husband wanted to add a little pizzazz to their already healthy sex life but always felt “yucky” about their experiences in sex stores. On http://www.book22.com, Preschern and her husband of eight years can find suitable toys without feeling “solicited” by providers of pornography.

The California couple’s favourite purchase? A pair of remote-control vibrating faux leather panties she wears out in public. “It’s fun and nobody else knows,” Preschern said.

Wilson is not without critics, many of whom, she says, write irate email messages objecting to the selection of dildos and other products.

Still, Wilson said she prayed to Jesus over each new addition and refused to include products that encouraged the involvement of a third party or anal sex. Her collection of dildos does not include any that have been moulded from a real penis.

Wilson’s company is often confused with the website of Book 22 Inc., a Tampa-based recording company.

That site, http://www.originallovesong.com, features lyrical and musical interpretations of the Song of Solomon written by Guy Bickel for his seventeenth anniversary. To avoid further confusion, Bickel and his team posted a note on their site that says they find Wilson’s site “vulgar, and feel that it totally misrepresents God’s intent with the Song of Solomon.”

But Wilson and many of her customers said they could not find any scripture that explicitly prohibits the kind of gadgets she sells.

And she has a powerful tool available — prayer — to guide her.

“When someone criticizes me, I say, `Lord, I’ll give it up tomorrow if you want. If you don’t want this, then I’m done,’” Wilson said. “But He keeps bringing people to me with concerns and questions.”

About 15 per cent of her customer correspondence involves helping others and she was surprised at the number of believers who needed help with their sexual relationships. One customer, Ron Hunt, 55, of La Grange, Calif., said he believed that it was important for married couples to have a pornography-free site to purchase sex toys.

“I believe that in the Bible, it’s made very clear that there is nothing dirty about sex between a husband and a wife,” Hunt said.

“I believe that it is good for the Christian family.”

Sherri and Michael Berner run http://www.mybelovedsgarden.net, a site that carries the widest array of products.

The couple, who splits their time between Vancouver, B.C., and Santa Barbara, Calif., include pictures of real lingerie models and original packaging materials on their website, although racier images and faces are blurred out online.

“Sex should be held in the sanctitude of marriage,” Sherri Berner said.

“It’s okay to talk about it and to use sex toys in order to achieve an orgasm. It’s not about exchanging love; it can be about having fun and playing together.”

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