PVV – Book22.com & varying notions of in/appropriate

Sex toys… Occasionally talk of sex toys reminds me of related topics, and today I got to thinking about something a friend brought to my attention a couple weeks back – Book22.com, a website that offers “intimacy products for married couples.”

Kevin and Joy Wilson started Book22 back in 2006. For those of you who don’t know, there is a chapter of Christian-based spiritual/religious text which is referred to as the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon (“The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.”). The Song of Solomon often appears as the 22nd chapter in bibles, but this varies depending on which edition and/or version you have.

Regardless, the Song of Solomon, or “Book 22” as it is also often referred, is believed by some to be an allegorical representation of the relationship that may exist between Jesus and the human soul. The text is also thought allow for two “types” of love: the sacrificing/giving type and the erotic/sexy type.  This in turn can be interpreted as approval or “permission” to enjoy sexual pleasure and exploration

So, with this in mind, the Wilsons started their site as a way for Christian couples to explore their sexualities while “encourage[ing] God’s plan for people to remain sexually pure.”

Like most messages, it’s all in the delivery; and if this delivery is what it takes for some people to embrace sex, then that’s awesome. But the Gawker piece I read on Book22 was a little bit derisive, so I decided to take a detailed look at the website myself.

The euphemisms that Gawker poked fun at were the first things I noticed… vibrators and dildos are in fact referred to as “Aids,” and cock rings and the like are referred to as “Jelly Rings.”  Hehe but honestly, I’m ok with that – just because some of us can toss “cock ring” around with effortless aplomb, many people cannot. And whatsmore, they sell tongue vibes on Book22.com (that way you don’t have to talk at all).

I did start to get a little uncomfortable though when I realized that, as an unmarried person, I’m technically not “allowed” to look at or purchase items from the site (I was still thinking about that tongue vibe), but whatevs – this site is not meant for me, and that’s super fine.

But as I started prowling even further and really read some of the copy, Book22.com lost a little bit of its initial charm.  Two issues highlighted in copy excerpts really stuck out.

The first major issue had to do with this text here: “We ask for all of the products that we order to be polybagged this allows us to offer products without the inappropriate cardboard backing with images of nude or partially nude people on them. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to get every item in polybag so occasionally we will apply a sticker or remove packaging that we find inappropriate.” (sic)

So basically, if Book22 wanted to offer some door jam cuffs but found the packaging “inappropriate” (Exhibit A), they would send them to the consumer without the box… ok, but what if they don’t like the packaging for a crotchless harness, such as Exhibit B. They would probably send it out unpackaged as well, right?


(pictured: exhibits A and B)

cal ex

This practice of unpackaging on the basis of (perceived) “inappropriateness” raises two issues in my mind, the first having to do with health and safety and the second having to do with eliminating competition.

First of all, I’m not germaphobic or anything, but something about getting an unpackaged crotchless harness-type sex toy in the mail makes me squeamish.  Who knows what has already touched that thing, and you’re going to put it in your XXX?! Regardless of “inappropriate” imagery, it just seems like some implements need to stay in their respective boxes.

And less sticky but certainly more icky (to me) is the issue of marketing and the surreptitious elimination of competition. By removing manufacturers’ packaging materials, Book22 customers are relegated to getting their products from Kevin and Joy Wilson only.  Although I understand that distributors have certainly already received wholesale return from Book22 and that these separating-the-consumer-from-the-wholesaler type tactics happen all the time, hiding market competition behind assessments of “inappropriate” is itself less than appropriate.

The second major issue that really stands out to me has to do with these same notions of in/appropriate and this text here: “We believe that God intended that such love, as spoken of in Song of Solomon, be a beautiful and normal part of marital life. Unfortunately this gift from God has been grossly distorted and abused by both ancient and modern people.” (sic)

What I get from this passage is that there is (supposedly) one-and-only-one iteration of erotic love that is ok… with God. Now, I fully disagree with this one-and-only-one iteration-is-ok thing; but, just like “cock ring,” if this is what it takes to get some people to embrace and explore their sexualities, awesome.

What I find irksome about this though is Book22’s practice of engaging “inappropriate” businesses while simultaneously judging them. Is it ok for Book22 to employ (through wholesale purchase) the endless creative labor it took to make tongue vibes and then write the people who performed that labor off as “grossly distorted” and abusive?

This reminds me of a recent study by Benjamin Edelman (2009) that suggested political and cultural conservatives purchase more on-line porn than their less-conservative counterparts. Ironic and rather relevant, no?

Call me kooky, but when I think of grossly sexually distorted I usually think of someone like this guy (who is technically “allowed” to shop at Book22!)…

Woody Allen & daughter/wife

Who or what do you think of? Email me!!

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Edelman, Benjamin 2009, “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment” Journal of Economic Perspectives 23(1): 209-220.

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