Noe Valley Voice February 1998

Things Are Humming At Good Vibrations

By Rayne Wolfe

When you travel through Baja Noe, it's easy to overlook Good Vibrations, the "sexuality boutique" at 1210 Valencia St. After all, the building's facade is nondescript, and the storefront windows are completely opaque. But the employees deny, deny, deny ducking Kenneth Starr and his army of subpoena servers. The truth is, they've covered up the windows out of consideration for their neighbors across the street -- a city grammar school.

The crew at Good Vibrations is on a mission. They want to increase communication about s-e-x. They've been a class act since 1977, when sex therapist Joani Blank christened the original 200-square-foot store at 3416 22nd St. And 20 years later, the tradition of good taste continues.

In a woman-owned-and-operated business, there's no room for the out-and-out sleaze typical of most sex aid purveyors. In other words, if you're looking for blow-up dolls, catch a bus to North Beach.

Consider the results of a recent Ladies Home Journal readership poll: 47% of women use erotica or pornography to heighten lovemaking, 30% of women use sex toys -- and surprise, surprise -- 42% of women want more sex.

If you live near Good Vibrations, you might want to practice that old grammar school drill -- duck and cover! -- because the stock is flying off the shelves.

Currently, 72 employees (six of whom are men) work in this unique co-op environment. With sales split 60/40 between female and male customers, the staff is happy to assist customers of all stripes. The workers pride themselves on service without any sexual chips on their shoulders. Remember their motto: "Sex toys are a universal pleasure."

Once inside, shoppers can browse through four product areas, as mellow music floats through the softly carpeted room. Newcomers may find that the book corner -- with everything from coffee-table tomes on the history of pin-ups to hardcore erotica -- is the least intimidating spot to start. There's a bench tucked under a potted palm to allow for relaxed review of titles. Thumb through Best American Erotica 1993­1997 or The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, the first in the Anne Rice triology. Or check out my current favorite: The Best of American Girlie Magazines, a chunky paperback on the art and history of '50s pulp magazines.

Those who prefer audio/visual stimulation can scan the video library. The store has movies for purchase or rent. Or if you've made more than one bad viewing decision based on the video box photos, you can flip through the Good Vibrations Guide to Adult Videos. This notebook gives customer reviews of videos grouped by category, such as "amateur," "golden age," "couples," "educational," and "woman-centered."

Then there's the lotion and oils area, chock full of everything needed for massage and lubrication. This is not your cherry licorice­flavored underpants kind of thing, though. As Cosmopolitan magazine noted, what you'll find here is "more Body Shop than Pink Pussycat."

Of course, one rear corner of the shop offers a floor-to-ceiling display of dildos, in all sizes, colors, and plastic consistencies. (Some are hung in black leather harnesses and point to the center of the room, perhaps making more than one person feel like a whale swimming into a harpoon convention.)

But the biggest draw at Good Vibrations has got to be the vibrator collection. Customers crowd around to test the speed and sound of dozens of pink, black, and fluorescent-green "vibes" perched on the shelves. You can closely inspect the waterproof Aquassager, or fire up the Turbo Rocket. Or even try out a remote-controlled vibrator with a range of 20 feet!

On tables throughout the room is evidence of just how busy the buyers at Good Vibrations must be, combing the world for the latest products to bundle into special gift packs. They've already set out an assortment for Valentine's Day. Maybe the love of your life would appreciate the "Cupid's Stash Pack" or a "Hot Date Kit." There's always "Good Vibes to Go," a sexual pleasure starter kit that even Aunt Hazel might like.

If heavy rains or just plain shyness prevent you from strolling down to Good Vibrations, you can log on to the store's web site, Open Enterprises -- an umbrella company for Good Vibrations, Down There Press, and the Sexuality Library -- launched the site in 1996 and pulled in a whopping six grand the first month. Open Enterprises' current monthly online sales are $42,000, a figure that helped thrust the company onto PC Computing magazine's Top 100 Cyberstores list. (The Good Vibrations store, which also runs a mail-order division, has been named one of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Businesses and the Top 50 Woman-Owned Businesses in the Bay Area, two lists published by the San Francisco Business Times.)

The web site's popularity is understandable. Most people can't resist clicking on the antique vibrator museum. According to Good Vibrations' house hystorians, vibrators were invented by American doctors seeking a "labor-saving device for their treatment of 'female disorders.' Genital massage was a standard medical practice at the turn of the century, and its objective was to induce 'hysterical paroxysm' (now better known as orgasm) in the patient. Vibrators were marketed as home appliances in women's magazines and mail-order catalogs, where they were hyped much like patent medicine, as cure-alls for headaches, asthma, 'fading beauty,' and even tuberculosis!"

Well, Good Vibrations the store is the home of the original museum. And the shop regularly exhibits artists' work. Photographer Laurie Toby Edison will display pictures of male nudes in February.

And don't forget Good Vibes' calendar of classes and speakers. This month you can sign up for Male Erotic Massage (Feb. 9), Lesbian Porn 101 (Feb. 16), or the Romance of Restraint (Feb. 23) -- a nice opportunity to learn your basic knots.

You can also enter the shop's Guess the Condoms (in the jar) Contest in honor of National Condom Week, Feb. 14 to 21.

The store, located on Valencia near 23rd, is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Need more information, Mr. Starr? Give Good Vibrations a buzz at 974-8980.