A petite, braided woman is bent over in front of me, presenting her rump, and dozens of strangers are watching us. Koko, my instructor, who wears a black cheerleading outfit with the word “Daddy” across the chest, motions to me to spank the woman harder. I bend my knees and start making a waving motion, striking her with just my fingers, first with both hands and then with one hand at a time, until I end the session by softly massaging the strike zone. The crowd cheers.
Koko notes to the audience that my initial spanking awkwardness had melted away—I imagine I looked like a kid in front of a drum set for the first time until, after a while, I got the hang of it. I am not the first person to dish out some spanks at this place, nor will I be the last. Welcome to the Sexual Health Expo.
The author tries his hand at spanking. Image via Jason Duaine Hahn
The Sexual Health Expo (known as SHE) is a two-day event in Downtown Los Angeles where “sexperts” put on informational workshops covering all things, from erectile dysfunction and blow job techniques, to bondage and group sex, bringing along all the toys you can imagine in various shapes and sizes. I’m here on a quest to expand my sexual horizons, enhance what I thought I knew, and see if I can apply any of the sexperts’ lessons to my own life.
A colorful creature sex toy. Image via Jason Duaine Hahn
The exhibition is engulfed in color and sound. As I examine one thick, rainbow-colored creature dildo at the Bad Dragon Enterprises booth, the loud slaps of a woman being whipped echo from the L.A. Kink section a few booths down. The pale white skin of the woman’s rear is turning beet red, and she’s showing no signs of wanting to stop. Later, a man in a gimp mask takes her place to be whipped on his ass and thighs.
While my inhibitions prevent me from being on the receiving end of a public spanking, I want to learn more about kink, so I talk to Scarlett Black, a cosplayer, camgirl, and BBW (big beautiful woman). “Everybody has a little bit of kink inside of them, even if they don’t think so,” she says. “I want to help them explore, and not spends thousands of dollars.”
Baller handcuffs. Image via Jason Duaine Hahn
“When most people think of bondage, they think this,” she says, grabbing an expensive-looking pair of handcuffs off of the table. She then points to black bondage tape on the table. “See this? You can get it on Amazon for $7. Have you tried it before?”
No, I say, and I stick my wrists out to let her wrap them tightly together. It’s the first time I’ve ever been on the receiving end of this and it admittedly feels cool. Black tells me how connecting with people on Reddit and 4Chan helped her develop her tastes and become more comfortable opening up in the kink community. It’s one hell of a ride, moving from the privacy of a bedroom, to the computer screen, to tying up complete strangers at an expo.
OG sex therapist “Dr. Ruth” Westheimer. Image via Jason Duane Hahn
Over on the big workshop stage, the main event is going on. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 88-year-old world-renowned sex therapist, gives the keynote address, a seminar on sexual literacy. At the end of the address, she answers pre-submitted questions. Mine is first: “How do you talk dirty in bed when you’re not entirely sure what to say?”
“First of all, some people like to talk dirty,” she replies, “but you have to be very careful. Some people don’t like it. And then they should say, ‘Dr. Ruth said it’s OK to be old-fashioned and a square.’ Use those dirty words in your head, think about them, but keep your mouth shut!” Everyone erupts in laughter, though I’m pretty sure keeping silent during sex isn’t a great answer in 2017.
A rope bondage workshop. Image via Jason Duaine Hahn
The sex workshops are mostly hit or miss—some of the speakers come across like QVC marketers: Want to maintain an erection longer? Here are the reasons why you might be losing it, and, oh, look here, I just so happen to have a product you can buy right now to solve this very problem! They workshops are at their best when the speakers aren’t selling anything, and instead are focusing on facilitating exercises and introducing experiences. “A Guide to Wicked Blow Jobs” features the porn actress Jessica Drake simulating blow job techniques on dildos; “Bondage and Meditation” explores meditation with Japanese rope bondage; Reid Mihalko’s “Guide to Negotiating Successful Threesomes” leads me to look a sweet 60-year-old woman dead in the eyes and ask if she’d like a threesome with me while she sits next to her husband. (It’s just part of an exercise.)
A very limber SHE workshop. Image via Jason Duaine Hahn
The most provocative booth on the floor belongs to Mukee Okan, a sex educator. She plays clips from her latest documentary, The Pussy Talks, which features up-close shots of more than a dozen women’s vaginas. Okan asks her subjects what they want to say about their pussy, and what their pussy wants to say, without ever moving the camera from the women’s genitalia as they speak. Okan wants show the different shapes and forms of vaginas, and allow women to see that not all vaginas look the way that they appear in sex-ed books. This is in response to the growing trend of women getting labiaplasties, a cosmetic surgery that reduces the size of the labia, the flaps of skin at the vagina’s opening. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that, in 2015, 400 girls aged 18 and younger had labiaplasty.
And that lies the heart of it all. Between the dildos, floggers, vibrators, and edibles, there is one consistent theme: acceptance. The Sexual Health Expo is more than an exchange of products, it’s also an exchange of ideas and a community-building exercise. You can look to your left or your right and know these are like-minded people—your people—and that each one represents a new adventure that’s just a kiss, whip, or a spank away.