Thirteen women wander around Toronto's female-friendly sex shop, squeezing past each other near the porno shelf, excusing themselves as they reach for the Hello Kitty vibrator. I stand alone by the naughty greeting card stand and feign interest in the lesbian slogan fridge magnets. Carlyle Jansen enters the store. She sports boyish chestnut hair, mismatched earrings and checkered pants. She welcomes us to Sex Toys 101 and invites us upstairs.
There, we sit in a circle and introduce ourselves. Among the participants are a young couple from the University of Toronto and a well-dressed Asian woman. A 69-year-old who reminds me of Sue Johanson from W Network's Sunday Night Sex Show asks about using living things like spiders as sex toys. While the rest of us gasp with disgust, Carlyle calmly suggests snakes might be a better idea.
"We all have different tastes," she says. "Sexuality has no boundaries."
Carlyle brings out a box full of vibrators, dildos and straps. First she shows us the Hitachi Magic Wand. It's a big, loud, back-massager-style vibe.
"We tend to associate sex with 'natural,' but we use technology to wake us up, make us toast, get around town. You can learn to eroticize the hum," says Carlyle. "Just hearing that vibe right now makes me wet."
Carlyle became a sex workshop instructor after friends told her she was so comfortable talking about the topic that she ought to do it professionally.
So six and a half years ago she founded Good for Her and started conducting workshops upstairs. She has a well-informed, anything-goes air about her, like a high school poetry teacher coaxing her students to open up yet at the same time adhere to the conventions of style.
She passes around the silicone Gigolo vibrator, then a plastic leopard-print vibe ("if you want something to match your pencil case," she says), a lipstick-shaped one, an egg-shaped one, a tampon-sized vibe called the Mighty Mini and the Little Flirt Butt Plug.
The finger strap-on mini-vibe is popular with the crowd. Many try it on and hold out their hands to admire the fashion-forward accessory.
We are all talking loudly to overpower the rrzzzzzing throughout the little room. Friends raise their eyebrows at each other over the more intriguing models, legs get uncrossed, we smile and relax. Carlyle tells us, "Don't miss the most delicious part of the vagina: the first one-third."
She demonstrates the humdrum missionary position in the middle of the circle. Then she pulls her legs over her head and makes a thrusting action at herself with a red, textured dildo. "Look, you can hit your G-spot this way!"
After the workshop, Carlyle ends up at the cash register ringing through products for a lineup of ladies. She is now a hard-nosed retail superwoman. But the image of her mime-fucking herself with a red dildo remains stuck in my psyche until a month later, when I sit in on workshop no. 2, this time at Come as You Are.
The women coming through the door are a cross-section of the population - an assortment of races, ages and orientations - all here to master the art of female ejaculation.
A petite white woman enters wearing a black skirt. Her blond hair is pinned loosely atop her head: Shannon, the instructor.
She's also a political science professor at York University. Sometimes, she says, "people on the outside" don't understand her work.
She locks the door and stands at the front. Female ejaculate isn't "de-urinized" urine, as experts once believed, but is similar to male ejaculate, minus the sperm, she explains.
She goes into the history of how it came in and out of public discourse. Aristotle wrongly thought it was necessary to procreation. In the 1940s, Ernest Grafenberg, a German gynecologist, discovered the G-spot.
Next, it's time for the live demonstration. Suddenly Shannon's skirt is off and she's positioned on the floor with her legs spread, wearing thigh-high fishnet stockings. Her pubic hair has been freshly shaved, and some baby powder remains on her clitoris.
She sees this in the mirror she holds and wipes it with a dainty "Oops."
One of the staff places a white towel on the floor in front of Shannon and we all peer at her honest pink vagina.
She opens it with a speculum and tells us where her G-spot is (the spongy tissue on the top wall). We reposition ourselves for the best view.
Then, just like that, she ejaculates onto the speculum and the towel below. There are some surprised "Whoas" from the audience.
"She can just do it at will?" we're all thinking. She says speculums turn her on, and I laugh, not realizing she's being serious.
She removes the instrument and warns the women in the front row to watch their feet. She ejaculates again, but it sprays onto her own foot.
"I probably got my motorbike boots all dirty," she says, "but they're made to be ejaculated on."
She giggles and does it again. It's like there's no connection between her top and bottom halves.
Afterwards she answers audience questions, still naked on the floor.
One woman asks about a bump she sees inside Shannon's vagina.
Shannon orders her to grab a latex glove from a bag that sits on a chair beside her. "I'm presuming you're comfortable with this," says Shannon.
Joanna nods eagerly. She puts on the glove, bends down and puts her fingers in. Shannon tells her to push on the area in question. "Harder, harder, harder," she coaches.
Joanna nods and takes off the glove. She appears enlightened. This was her first time inside another woman.
In here we feel safe and comfortable. Once outside, I walk to the streetcar stop, past a homeless man holding a makeshift fishing rod.
He jiggles a KFC cup and asks me, "Want to get married?"
I keep my eyes straight ahead. I'll manage on my own, thanks.