sex convention

I am not the first, nor will I be the last backpacker to spend a night on a bench on a Brisbane train station. I was beyond broke, cleaning hostels in return for a bed, surviving off a solitary, dwindling bag of pasta, my job search fruitless and disheartening – I was, to summarize, well and truly screwed. Until, one fine day when aimlessly wandering around the city planning when to have my next pasta ration I noticed a flyer proclaiming: ‘Sexpo has come to Brisbane, sales reps needed’, and I thought, ‘why the heck not?’

I turned up to the interview, was briskly interrogated by a blonde woman and then sent on my way. To my surprise a day later I got a phone call asking me to report to the hall where the Sexpo was being held for my first shift of the long weekend. At this point I had very little information about what I was actually doing. I wasn’t entirely sure what a Sexpo even was and had alarming visions of myself involving a stage and a pole. But desperate times mean desperate measures, I had nothing non-pasta related to do with my day, so I thought I might as well show up just to see what I was actually supposed to be doing.

A Sexpo, it turned out, is a sex convention – think comicon but with more strippers and gimps. I arrived at the hall where it was being held and walked down aisles of people setting up, a selection of whips and paddles which later became a live S&M tutorial (massage then spank guys, massage then spank), rows of assorted flesh torches, an entire stall dedicated to nipple clamps, turned a corner and found myself nose to shaft with a large pink dildo. This was to be my dildo, there were many other dildos like it, but that one was mine and it was what I was going to be brandishing at people for the day. We alternated between the different products day to day, from pocket sized rabbits with vibrating ears to remote controlled butt plugs. After stacking and arranging the ‘discreet’ packages I was given a tasteful apron depicting a woman naked from the waist down with the slogan ‘Little Hussy’ emblazoned across it, and finally the hordes of eager sex connoisseurs were unleashed into the hall.

It was about this point that I decided I probably shouldn’t tell my grandmother about my new career path. Music blared, women naked except for tactical paint wondered down the aisles, a gimp and his mistress strolled past nonchalantly and lone men skulked in corners waiting for a meet and greet with their favorite porn star – with what aim I never could quite figure out. ‘Hello, I wanked over you last night, it was spectacular’ seems a slightly odd introduction, or maybe they were harboring some secret hope that they’d bump into her, offer to fix her computer and before they knew it be involved in a threesome with twins. You know, how sex really happens. Although really I think they just wanted to comfort themselves with the knowledge that object of their lonely lust and lube did actually exist outside the confines of their computer screens. There were live shows three times a day, strippers both male and female paraded around the stage, the headlining act involved three women and a toy horse. I have never been able to look at toy horses in the same way since nor here the phrase ‘feed the horsey’ without vivid flashbacks.

In the midst of it all I stood holding a pink dildo. I was, at first, completely mystified by what was unfolding around me. I watched as my colleagues strolled up to people walking by, waving a seahorse shaped dildo at them as if it were the most normal thing in the world. They happily chatted about the type of plastic, the numerous different settings, ‘you can charge it at the usb on your computer!’ they would exclaim to anyone who would listen. But, and this is something that became increasingly apparent as the weekend went on, there was absolutely no judgement within the Sexpo community. No matter whether you had a hardcore fetish or were just trying to spice up your relationship, people just didn’t mind. They were intrigued by each other and completely at ease with themselves and others. After about half an hour I was chatting away about the benefits of kegel balls as happily as anyone and running round putting dildos on people’s noses (the best way to feel the strength of the vibrations) with or without their consent – all to the calming sounds of ‘Feed the Horsey’.

The customers ranged from the experienced sex toy users to large groups of giggling women who were there for a fun day out. There were couples looking for inspiration to (and most bizarrely) mothers and daughters. I still shudder at the time I looked over to see a young woman pick up a pronged dildo and calling over to her mother ‘Mum! Is this big enough for you!’ who then turned around, laughed, and called back ‘No love! I don’t think so!’ I mean, I’m all for healthy mother and daughter relationships… but that was just a step too far. I remember a middle aged couple who came over and bought one of the remote controlled vibrators. The husband initially didn’t believe me when I told him it worked from 10m away and proceeded to run down the hall while I pressed the buttons. After buying it they came back, looking distinctly pleased with themselves, and the wife leant over and whispered to me ‘I’ve got it in!’ Wonderful.

By the end of the week I was completely desensitized to anything I saw. A woman riding a saddled man down the rows didn’t even merit a second glance. I had seen more boobs, stuck my finger into more flesh torches and eaten more penis shaped sweets than anyone ever should in a life time. I could hardly remember a time when I wasn’t holding something that vibrated or didn’t have an aversion to toy horses. But then suddenly it was over. People went back to their day to day lives, the strippers wondered off to make their fortune in outback mining towns and we were left to pack up the stall and share the free flavored condoms amongst ourselves, and I was left with a strange sense of loss. It had been an odd weekend, one of the oddest, but also the funnest job I’ve ever had. No two customers were the same, everyday had its own strange little occurrences and for the whole time there was this lovely atmosphere of openness and comradery. It’s rare to walk into something where strangers share that sense of community – even if it is based on a predilection for paddling. I emerged from the hall, now conspicuously respectable, with enough money to escape Brisbane, the apron stolen and stashed in my bag and an alarmingly comprehensive knowledge of sex toys.

Follow Giselle on twitter: @GiselleStormHyam

Illustration: Sophia Maria