Thursday, May 13, 2010

Things that do not belong together. Or: The difference between reviewing and selling.

So, this post comes at the same time as some shiny new drama at EF, but it isn't actually directly related to them since I've never (and will never) work with them due to, well, all the drama.

What this post does have to do with is my experience selling sex toys, and the really obnoxious/bad/terrifying things that happen when corporate ethics are what corporate ethics are, namely, unethical.

You see, the place I used to work carried anal-eze, and jelly toys with pthalates in them (including some that seemed to leak chemicals so badly that they were wet when taken out of the packaging). This made me uncomfortable, especially since the company likes to bill its salespeople as knowledgeable and the company in general as sex-positive, body-positive etc. etc. I, a lowly sales person, didn't expect to be able to change what the company sold (though, it was a small enough company that I probably could have), but I had hopes that I could teach my co-workers about the dangers of some of these things so they could possibly give customers better advice, and at very least, I hoped to be able to avoid selling these things in general.

I at least managed to teach most of my co-workers what the hell a pthalate is, though "icky plasticizing agent" was a harder concept to grasp than I anticipated, and I did a decent job of not selling the products I had issues with, but that was mostly because most people coming in didn't know what they were looking for, or what their options were and would just let me lead them to something I thought would work for them. However, when people would specifically ask for some things, anal-eze in particular, I would try to nudge them in the direction of better options, like a very nice silicone lube we also carried, when they wanted "shrink creams" I'd try to point them in the direction of kegel balls, and when they went for the obnoxious, disturbingly cherry scented dong, I'd show them nicer, less scary things. When my boss heard me doing this, I got reprimanded for "scaring" the customers and not being "positive" enough. Yes, really, how dare I actually care about the health of my customers. The problem, it seemed, specifically with the anal-eze and "shrink creams" was that even though I would sell the significantly more expensive product, I could have sold both things.

And here is the problem of where the sale of sex toys and the running of a business collide. You see, we, like every business, had some sort of sales quota we were supposed to meet every week. This quota was in part just straight up monetary, but also partially how many items we sold, and if I had sold people both the anal-eze and the silicone lube, we would have done better on both counts. I understand, and to some extent accept, that businesses have to sell things, and that's fine, it's when companies want people to sell things for them but also want to act like these people have decently vast knowledge that I have trouble. Someone who is under pressure to make sales quotients or whatever is almost obligated to bend her standards, and the truth, in order to make sales. There's a reason we have things like CarFax for making big purchases, so the person doing the selling has a harder time lying to you in order to make their sale.

This is a large part of why I think sex toy reviews/reviewers are so important, and a big part of why I think there needs to be a decent degree of separation between reviewers and the companies they work for. If you can be punished, like I was, for being "negative" about a product that is dangerous or just plain sucks, then you can't tell the truth and you're not "reviewing" you're selling. We need to make the distinction between people who are supposed to be selling and people who are supposed to be reviewing.

Reviewers, in my mind, are more like sex educators. They give you the facts of their experience with and opinions of certain products, and the ones I follow most closely seem to be very interested in creating a truly sex-positive, friendly place where their readers can learn about what options are out there. Reviewers are like a good friend who takes you shopping and will actually tell you if what you're looking at buying is a piece of shit. They are, for lack of better analogy, the CarFax of the sex toy world. Of course some toys will work better for some people than for others, but in my mind, reviewing should be about being honest about your experience, not trying to play up how wonderful the toy is, even if it isn't that great.

For my part, I promise to always tell you where any toys I review come from, and to do my best to only work with companies that are okay if I say something bad about a product they sell. Additionally, now that I've found myself with more free time, I'm hoping to write some posts about sex toy basics - such as materials and styles - that can hopefully be of use to people looking to buy new toys/first toys/etc. If anyone reading has any questions I could address, or suggestions of any sort, please let me know.


Epiphora said...

Wow, this is a great post. You did the right thing, of course. Leading shrink cream people to kegel balls is nothing short of genius.

And I agree about being, well, truthful in reviews. I wasn't banned from EF for that, but some of the people who work at EF also tend to write suspiciously positive reviews more often than negative ones. So many reviewers fall into this rut where they think they have to "find the good" in all toys, and I think that's bullshit. Just be honest. If it sucks, it sucks.

Elodie said...

I'm hoping to write some posts about sex toy basics - such as materials and styles - that can hopefully be of use to people looking to buy new toys/first toys/etc

This would be awesome. I HATE when reviewers talk about icky phthalate-laden jelly toys as "great for beginners!" My first sex toy was an icky phthalate-laden jelly toy, and it made me itch and burn. It put me off sex toys for a very long time, because I thought they'd all do that.

Excellent post!