NEW YORK — After more than two years, Sex Expo made its in-person comeback with a rousing weekend featuring a wide variety of vendors for consumers to interact with, as well as engaging workshops, informative panel discussions, fun contests and giveaways.
As throngs of attendees lined up outside of the Metropolitan Pavilion, Sex Expo kicked off with a lively anti-censorship rally held outside the venue before the doors opened. Led by participating Sex Expo speakers from the sexual wellness community, protesters held signs with sayings such as “It’s Spelled ‘Sex,’ not ‘Seggs’! Censoring Sex Makes No Sense,” a reference to the unusual spellings often used to disguise sex-related posts on social media to prevent them from being deleted.
Instagram influencer and menopause activist Lou Featherstone was joined by Sex Expo emcee Kim Airs, along with The Vagina Blog’s April Davis, Pegstress Peggin Tha Stallion, and Maureen Pollack, co-founder and inventor of the WaterSlyde, who shared their social media censorship experiences with the crowd.
“I am not allowed to use the word ‘vagina’ on social media,” Davis yelled into a megaphone. “It is aggravating! I cannot say ‘sex,’ I cannot say ‘vulva.’ It is ridiculous. How are we supposed to educate our children? What are we going to do? Fix it!”
Featherstone then called on everyone in the crowd to yell, “Pussy!” in response to the unwarranted restrictions against using the word on social media. The crowd obliged with excitement, and expressed their frustration.
“We can’t say ‘vagina?’ Even though we have one?” one attendee wondered out loud. Another person replied, “And we all came from one!”
Sharing her own story of entering local politics in her city in order to create the change she wanted to see, Pollack encouraged everyone to be proactive. In regard to discriminatory guidelines on social media, Pollack told attendees that they can do their part by engaging with sex-positive posts, commenting and sharing them with others.
By 11 a.m., the official start time for Sex Expo, the crowd outside the Metropolitan Pavilion was at a fever pitch. Featherstone was once again on hand to lead the excitement during the ribbon cutting alongside Shirley Lara, chief of operations for Chaturbate — the presenting sponsor of Sex Expo.
Once the doors were open, attendees flooded the venue and made their way to the VIP and general admission ticket counters to pick up goodie bags that featured items from brands such as Satisfyer, Je Joue, Union Condoms, Momotaro Apotheca, Sssh.com and Joyboxx, among others. Sex Expo’s celebratory atmosphere was immediately felt as music, lights and cheering began emanating from Romantic Depot’s booth, which was manned by over a dozen of the New York retail chain’s staff.
“Romantic Depot always brings the party no matter where they are,” said Glen Buzzetti, the company’s CEO. “The staff’s enthusiasm is showcased in everything they do and that turns the energy of any room up to 11. The fun party vibe everyone experienced at Sex Expo is absolutely the atmosphere of any Romantic Depot store you’ll go into. If you're in any of the NYC boroughs and you’re looking for a quiet one-on-one shopping experience, I’d recommend going into any of the locations before the festivities get going late at night.”
Buzzetti applauded his staff’s energy and engagement with customers, which he says is a staple of Romantic Depot and is often documented on the retailer’s social media profiles.
“Stop in and browse the latest in sexy goodies, grab a drink and hang out with the most fun staff you’ll ever come across,” he said. “You might even make a TikTok with them if you’re lucky!”
With a photo booth, twerking and moaning contests, the Romantic Depot booth was indeed primed for social media. It was also a hub for fans of reality TV star Donna Marie Lombardi from VH1’s “Black Ink Crew,” who was on hand to meet Sex Expo attendees and pose for photos.
To keep attendees up to date on Sex Expo’s schedule of workshop and panels, as well as the raffles and contests being hosted at exhibitor booths throughout the show floor, Airs took to the microphone to direct people on where to go.
“There were really interesting, nonstop workshops from many smart and talented professionals in this industry and there was always a crowd in attendance,” Airs said. “The consumers who attended definitely enjoyed the variety of vendors, especially Chaturbate and Jimmyjane, and it seemed that all of them shopped at Romantic Depot to buy their goodies during the show.”
As part of her emceeing duties, Airs also interviewed vendors about their products, technologies and services as attendees looked on, vying to win some of those offerings by participating in contests and raffles.
“The days zoomed by because there was always something to do, listen to and learn from,”
Throughout the day, Sex Expo attendees shuffled back and forth between the workshop area, where they learned from sexperts such as Pegstress Peggin Tha Stallion, Zoë Ligon and Shadeen Francis, and the exhibitor area, where they could get a hands-on introduction to the array of products on display.
Stationed at the entrance of the show floor was Jimmyjane, a brand founded with a focus on the health and wellness benefits of sex. The company welcomed a steady stream of attendees to its booth, most of them drawn to Jimmyjane’s APEX, the SELF + JJ Vibrating Finger Massager and the Reflexx Rabbits 1 and 2, noted Jimmyjane Director of Marketing and Ecommerce Katerina Lin.
“We also had a lot of great responses on the Deimos C-ring,” she added.
With vendors such as The Handy, FirmTech, Stealth Shaft Support and Ageless Men’s Health, which specialize in meeting the needs of penis owners, attendees had a variety of products to choose from.
Firmtech Director of Pleasure Sean McKenzie said that attendees lined up on both days to see the FirmTech Tech Ring, which can enhance performance and track vital signs for erectile fitness. The company drew an especially big crowd when it announced the raffle winner who got to take home a FirmTech device of his very own.
“When you have a revolutionary product that enhances men's sexual pleasure and erectile health monitoring, the most important thing is to get the word out to customers and retailers,” McKenzie said, noting that Sex Expo attendees ranged from newbie and experienced consumers to sexperts, influencers and sellers. “Thanks to a successful weekend at Sex Expo, we accomplished both goals.”
The weekend offered attendees many other opportunities to win premium pleasure products at Sex Expo exhibitor booths, including Perfect Dimensions’ MateFix and LuvSlide couples toys, The Handy Interactive Masturbator, or a Classy Bunny vibe, Mini Bodywand Massager and Roadster Cock Ring from Kay’s Risque. Author and artist Biodun Abudu hosted a Secrets & Shots Game contest and an erotic poetry contest, while Blush hosted “Let's Paint Vulvas with Vibes,” inviting visitors to the company’s booth to get creative and win a prize. Sex Expo attendees also had the chance to score Sliquid’s 20th Anniversary Big Blue Box of products or a high-tech Lioness Smart Vibrator 2.0, while Chaturbate’s model-filled booth offered the chance to win a free MacBook Pro or a Logitech Brio 4K webcam.
At the Lioness booth, co-founder Anna Lee engaged with attendees who lined up to squeeze a handle to see if they could match the pressure of vaginal muscles contracting during an orgasm.
“It was such a hit,” Lee said. “Everyone wanted to play and some even came back to play again. People were also really excited to enter the raffle for the Lioness giveaway. Being able to interact with so many people at Sex Expo and see their eyes go wide when they see what Lioness orgasm data looks like for the first time was definitely a top highlight this year for me.”
Lee also took to the Sex Expo workshop stage for a session explaining different ways to vary one’s experience of orgasm and pleasure, and how the Lioness Smart Vibrator can identify an orgasm using advanced sensors and biofeedback. New York pop artist Von joined Lee onstage to reveal how she creates music with her own orgasm data. Focusing on “how the Lioness biofeedback vibrator can shift the taboo around sexual pleasure through art and science,” the presentation resonated with many attendees, according to Lee.
“We were able to chat with so many people after the talk who were inspired to self-experiment with their own orgasm data and learn about their own bodies!” she enthused.
Odile Toys CEO Ben Jay explained the ins and outs of anal wellness during a half-hour workshop, as well as at the company’s booth, which was among the first to greet Sex Expo attendees at the entrance of the exhibitor area.
“I had a great time interacting directly with consumers,” Jay said. “I could see how interested they were in discovering or rediscovering anal sex. This experience confirmed what we had known all along — that anal sex is a huge sexual fantasy for people of all possible genders and ages, which is amazing!”
Elsewhere on the show floor, attendees could get their hands on other essentials for anal play. Among these were Sliquid lubricants, which received an endorsement during Pegstress Peggin Tha Stallion’s workshop about — you guessed it — pegging; and Du, which grabbed the attention of passersby with an oversized douche showcased front and center at its booth.
At the KushKards booth, company founder Lauren Miele introduced attendees to the “Hallmark of Marijuana” with a booth filled with Halloween-themed cards and other gifts for the winter and romantic holidays. Next year, Miele said, KushKards will have a bigger booth to provide more of a shopping experience. With items retailing for $5-10, Miele said, cards, gift wrap and gift bags flew off the racks, with the “Ride That Dick Like a Broom Stick” and “Hocus Pocus, Let’s Smoke This” cards as the most popular offerings of the weekend.
Tyes by Tara founder Tara Acevedo noted that the sensual, dainty Cake Niptyes, which come packaged in a slice-shaped box, were among the most in-demand items at her booth. She credited a product review published in Sexual Health magazine for driving people her way.
“People keep coming up to me and telling me that they saw them in the magazine,” she said, pointing out the last two Cake Niptyes “slices” left over after Saturday’s rush.
Global Novelties offered an assortment of vibes and strokers that Autumn O’Bryan, the company’s owner, said were priced to sell, and which indeed drew flocks of shoppers. the company’s Shower Strokers were its top sellers for the weekend — with happy customers even coming back to report on their effectiveness, O’Bryan shared.
Other vendors at Sex Expo, like Kubiaksado and House of Syn, focused on kinky gear, while boutique brand Crystal Delights offered more delicate wares with its assortment of glass pleasure products.
Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations and online store, like Kay’s Risqué Toy Boutique and The White Unicorn, as well as companies like home party specialist Bedroom Kandi, brought along a wide assortment of products to introduce to attendees.
“As an online boutique, I always enjoy every opportunity to interact directly with customers,” said Zoey of The White Unicorn. “It is my chance to really tell them what The White Unicorn is all about. I love meeting new people and learning about their life experiences and what brought them to the show. Nothing makes me happier than to see the look of joy after someone finds a product that they are super excited to try for the first time.”
Zoey noted that the booth’s bestsellers were “novelty and feminine BDSM products, such as collars, handcuffs and paddles. Pasties are always a crowd favorite.” She added that the Rose Vibrator and other suction toys, bullet vibrators, Dildolls dildos, CBD lubes and creams and gift-giving items such as coloring books or candles were also popular.
Alongside the many pleasure products vendors, some Sex Expo booths were dedicated to worthy causes. The Woodhull Freedom Foundation was on hand to explain how it is working to fight censorship as well as discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, and to protect the right to engage in consensual sexual activity and expression.
“We want events such as Sex Expo to continue to be held without facing any possible obstructions,” Woodhull’s Mandy Salley said.
At the Momotaro Apotheca booth, attendees could not only purchase the brand’s certified organic, cruelty-free vaginal wellness products, but also buy “Support Your Local Sex Worker” merch with 100% of the proceeds donated to the Cupcake Girls organization, which provides support to those involved in the sex industry.
Attendees looking for holistic sexual wellness offerings could stop by the Amayu Institute booth to learn about ancient energy healing and guidance, or the Sacred Phoenix booth, which showcased remedies and techniques that stimulate growth, understanding and rediscovery of oneself.
Sex Expo’s offerings went beyond traditional sexual wellness goods and services, to include psychics, energy healers and advisors. Attendees could also indulge in tasty adult treats from Twisted Truffles and Spoonable Spirits, or get a hairstyle makeover at the Createinstyle Inc. booth.
After more than two years without Sex Expo, due to the pandemic, the event not only drew hordes of consumers, but also many professionals from within the sexual wellness community.
“I loved meeting so many educators, therapists, doulas, midwives and other sex-positive people,” The Vagina Blog’s April Davis said. “The energy was fun and upbeat across the show — lots of great people and vendors all around!”
In the days following Sex Expo, Lulu Batista, owner of Ooh Lulu Cherry Box, said that she was still smiling when she reflected on her experience at the show.
“After not having this event in some time, it was so fulfilling to be around people and all the new companies,” Batista said. “The energy was terrific, and my cup ran over with the remarkable off-the-wall connections that were made. The biggest highlight for me is that I got to meet people in person that I have been chatting with online for the last two years.”
Zoey of The White Unicorn described Sex Expo’s energy as “uplifting and full of excitement.”
“It is a great, sex-positive environment where people are free to be themselves,” she said. “Coming out of COVID, it was so nice to see people having fun and enjoying live events again.”
The Lioness’ Anna Lee echoed the sentiment, applauding Sex Expo’s energy as “unmatched, especially on Saturday.”
“The buzz was infectious and definitely carried throughout the entirety of the show,” Lee added. “We did not expect that number of attendees and the constant flow of people visiting and engaging at our booth.”
The openness of the crowd made them easy for vendors to interact with, Odile’s Ben Jay noted.
“People were there to have a good time, shop and learn,” he said. “It was easy to talk to them for several minutes. Everyone was a sex enthusiast and was open-minded. It was really good!”
Pegstress Peggin Tha Stallion said that the ecstatic energy of Sex Expo was even greater than in previous years.
“I love being a beacon of information, helping people become more comfortable with this journey of sex exploration,” she said. “I live for every fan interaction.”
In addition to participating in Sex Expo’s Saturday morning kick-off, Lou Featherstone was a speaker on the “Coping With Social Media’s Anti-Sexual-Wellness Policies” panel and also hosted her own workshop, “Uncensoring Middle Age on the Self-Love Revolution Tour.” When she wasn’t on stage, Featherstone could be found handing out “vulva fortunes” from a vulva purse furnished by Fun Factory.
“I walked around with this purse getting people to pull out their fortunes, and a chance to win a Fun Factory toy, so I spent the day asking people to put their hand in my vulva, which was obviously my favorite day of the tour so far,” she said.
“The highlight of the expo was the amount of people there from all corners of the world,” Featherstone continued. “There were couples, queer folk, disabled, middle-aged people, just everyone, and it made me so happy. I met so many fun people, all in search of pleasure. Everyone is there for fun, and looking for more fun in their lives, trying to find answers to questions they may have. I met the most amazing sex educators. It was so much fun.”
Other Sex Expo speakers were also glad to have had the chance to meet and reconnect with fans, followers and colleagues.
“It was great to see familiar faces and brands that have survived the pandemic,” pleasure coach Lidia Bonilla said. “The attendees were enthused and interested in sexual wellness. I was happy to see the crowd younger and browner than ever.”
Zoë Ligon was able to meet up with internet friends whom she hadn’t ever met in person.
“I'm so glad I got to connect face to face, and meet some really awesome new people in the sexuality space,” she said.
Lust for Learning
From pegging, impact play, talking dirty, blowjobs and squirting to choosing toys for partnered sex, and gender-diverse dating and sex, Sex Expo offered a wealth of knowledge and advice for attendees.
“I was a little nervous to speak at an event in person for the first time since COVID, but it went so, so well, and I had a whole lot of fun,” Ligon said. “It gave me a renewed drive to get back out there into IRL events and that has made me excited for more future in-person speaking events. I loved watching everyone else's presentations and workshops. It's so cool to see the different ways people teach, and I learn so much from watching fellow sexperts!”
Among the educators was Carly S., vice president, consultant and affiliate manager for Romantic Depot Online. She was thrilled when, via livestream, a viewer called her their favorite speaker of the weekend.
“How can you beat that? My workshops got amazing feedback and lots of people stopped by the Romantic Depot booth after both of my workshops, to check out some of the products I mentioned in my classes,” she said. “That’s how I know I did a good job — when I’ve piqued someone's interest enough to come to check it out. There were also plenty of questions after the workshop, which means I inspired them to be curious! So I’d say my first time teaching at an in-person event after three years of virtual events was absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait to do it again! Romantic Depot has been working on a workshop program that I’d be the featured educator on, so it might be sooner than we know.”
Among the weekend’s most eye-opening panel discussions was “The Time for Inclusivity in Sexual Wellness Is Now,” which featured Bonilla as well as Caz Killjoy, a disability activist, educator and writer.
“I was very inspired by the resilience the panelists have demonstrated to become experts in their respective specialties,” Bonilla said of her fellow speakers. “I was moved by how committed they are to bringing others along in their missions. I learned there is much more for me to learn about how the lack of inclusion impacts people who don't look like me.”
Killjoy credited fellow panelist Steph Zapata for getting it right “when she said that creating a space for the knowledge of sexperts of color to be centered — and paid! — is enormously important for everyone, not just for BIPOC educators and communities.”
According to Killjoy, while creating safer community spaces for people with marginalized identities is important, it’s imperative to honor their first-person experiences.
“To be inclusive, actual people with actual first-person experiences must be asked about our needs and then those with power in the sexual wellness industry — event producers, company owners, product developers, etc. — must create and follow through on plans to make their areas of sexual wellness more inclusive,” Killjoy explained. “I think every single one of us working in the sexual wellness industry would benefit from working on our own Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility plans, and publicizing those plans with the intent of receiving community feedback for improvement.
“Until the sexual wellness industry confronts its lack of inclusion and puts in the effort to improve, whole groups of people will continue to encounter barriers to accessing sexual wellness,” Killjoy continued. “This hurts not just people who encounter the barriers; it also causes providers of sexual wellness to miss out not just on increased education, better awareness of the world, and a greater sense of impact, but also on increased consumer numbers.”
Killjoy said they were pleasantly surprised by how many attendees approached them after the Inclusivity panel, with questions about how to make their work more inclusive.
“Most who approached me are new or are newer to the field and they were all concerned about ‘missing’ something important regarding inclusion,” they said. “I heard a lot of fear about doing inclusion ‘the right way’ so that practitioners aren't criticized, dragged or canceled due to missing a vital element of inclusion.
“While that fear is warranted, I tell everyone to think of inclusion and access like sex,” Killjoy added. “By approaching better inclusion and access practices similarly to the way we nurture ongoing sexual relationships, we develop sustainable practices and build better connections with those around us, be they clients, colleagues or customers.”
The weekend provided numerous opportunities to glean valuable knowledge about how sexual wellness can better one’s life, and sent attendees, speakers and vendors off on a mission to spread sex-positivity in the world — until next year, when the event makes its anticipated return.