Better Sex with Midori and Lee Harrington
The phrase “sex shop” tends to conjure up images of those little shacks that dot the edges of highways — the ones that are usually tucked beneath overpasses in the middle of nowhere with names like “Super Adult Videos & More.” They’re clandestine little spots with tinted windows, blinding fluorescent lights and a handful of miscreants shuffling through the aisles and avoiding eye contact at all costs — they’re almost designed to make you feel ashamed.
Without being too personal (we’re all pals here, right?), I’ve been to my fair share of these shops. I walk in, eyes fixed straight ahead, and make an effort to find the item I’m looking for. If it’s not there, I leave without asking questions and that’s that. Sex shops aren’t usually the kind of places you want to hang around in, and I’m certainly never in the mood to ask questions of the stoner clerk who’s wearing a t-shirt that says I’m a Samantha. In fact, in those kinds of places, it’s almost creepy to have someone ask if you need assistance.
That’s why, in an effort to create a comfortable, non-sleazy space in which to purchase, learn and talk about sex toys, Eiliss O’Herlihy and Molly Cassidy opened up the Tool Shed. Nestled into a cozy and tasteful storefront on Center Street in the heart of Riverwest, the Tool Shed became the first woman-owned, sex-positive store in Milwaukee.
“They wanted to provide a fun place for people of all genders to shop for high-quality, safe toys,” says Laura Anne Stuart, who purchased the Tool Shed from O’Herlihy and Cassidy in 2008.
The store was a welcome addition to Riverwest, and Stuart says the community responded with nothing but positive feedback.
“People come into the store all the time to tell me how glad they are to have a local place where they can buy products and get answers to questions about sex without embarrassment,” she says.
Let’s face it, sex — especially one’s personal sexuality — is difficult to talk about, and sometimes it’s downright embarrassing. Our society’s negative views about sexuality and what constitutes “normal” sexual practices often keep us from talking about it, much less exploring it.
Institutions like the Tool Shed are more than just hip stores that sell sex toys. Having a locally-owned, feminist and sex-positive outlet in Milwaukee helps to enrich our community and de-stigmatize many of the taboos associated with sex and sexuality in American culture. Sure, Milwaukee’s a pretty progressive town, and I’d like to think that our culture is becoming that way as well, but issues relating to sex and sexuality are a different story, too often relegated to the underground and talked about in whispers. Even some of the most open-minded folk clam up when faced with a room full of rubber (non-toxic!) phalluses and vibrating underpants.
“Sexuality is a vital part of our lives, yet we don’t often get the chance to talk about it in a meaningful way,” Laura says. “I think it’s important to have a store that celebrates sexuality as part of the normal fabric of our neighborhood.”
The Tool Shed moved from its original location to a larger space on the East Side in November 2008. With the added space, Laura has been able to ramp up the store’s educational programming, offering a huge variety of classes and workshops to meet the diverse needs of the community. Since the move, the store has offered a variety of classes and resources, ranging from burlesque dancing courses to monthly meetings for the Young Milwaukee Poly Group.
To launch the fall class season, the Tool Shed is hosting Sexy Summer School, a three-part series that began last Sunday and continues through this weekend. Authors and sex educatorsMidoriand Lee Harrington will be hosting classes about some creative ways to please yourself as well as the lucky men and women in your life. Both instructors have been teaching courses around the country for years, and this will be their second trip to the Tool Shed.
Midori is an author and artist based in San Francisco. She was born in Japan and came to the U.S. to attend UC-Berkeley, where she earned a degree in psychology. After college, she began working as a safe sex educator in the Bay area and has also authored several books, including The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink and the science fiction short story collection Master Han’s Daughter. She’s also been a contributing writer for Men’s Health magazine, Vogue, Playboy and Cosmopolitan. She’ll be teaching two classes this week: How to Eat a Peach: Pleasuring Her and the wildly popular Joystick Secrets: How to Thrill a Man.
“Midori was in Milwaukee for the first time ever in April, teaching her Joystick Secrets workshop at the Tool Shed, and she was just fabulous,” Laura says. “People have been asking me ever since when she will come back.”
Lee Harrington has been traveling the globe for nearly a decade, teaching over 70 different courses about kink, psychology and spirituality at universities and conferences. In addition, Lee has written several books on the topic of Japanese rope bondage, including Shibari You Can Use: Japanese Rope Bondage and Erotic Macrame and The Toybag Guide to Age Play. Lee taught the first class at the store’s new location, and Laura says that since then, his book on rope bondage has been flying off the shelves.
“It’s one of the friendliest, least intimidating primers available on the topic,” she says, “and his classes are equally accessible.”
I had the chance to chat with both Lee and Midori about their experiences as sexuality educators and what they’ll be offering to Milwaukee this week.
TCD: First thing’s first: how did you find yourself on this career path? How does one become a sexual guide?
MIDORI: I was born and raised in Japan with a family who taught me to appreciate the traditional arts but also to pursue independent thinking, social awareness and ethical living. I moved to San Francisco and fell into that vibrant cradle of the sex positive movement. I was really lucky for the fabulous and smart friends I made and sexy adventures I enjoyed. Volunteering as a safer sex educator and collaborating with creative friends and activists laid the groundwork for the work I do now.
LEE: On top of being a sexually diverse human myself, I started doing adult film work in 1999, and spent seven years in front of and behind the camera. During my time in adult modeling, I found myself traveling all over the globe, and when I was traveling, folks in the kink community would ask if I could teach a class on bondage. Once I had written my first book, I went from being someone to have visit if I happened to be coming through to an individual who was flown out to events.
TCD: What has inspired you in your teaching efforts?
MIDORI: We all want to experience greater pleasures, intimacy and fulfillment and none of us like to feel awkward as lovers. Seemingly simple and taken-for-granted sexual actions such as oral sex aren’t actually all that simple if you want to deliver exquisite pleasures. Bedroom pleasure skills are a lot like cooking skills. You can settle for the same or you can seek delightful new ways. Like cooking, there’s always room for improvement — and every teacher has some fun bit of info to enrich your own repertoire, so why not have a fun while learning to have more fun later?
TCD: Is the teaching experience different in the Midwest versus larger, more metropolitan cities? I’m curious as to whether you receive a negative response in more insular towns.
MIDORI: The city size isn’t so much the factor creating the attitude difference as much [it is] the general regional culture and the environment fostered by the specific host venue. Whether small or large, cities or towns with shops like the Tool Shed are lucky. These stores and the people involved in them create a sexuality positive, humanistic space where consensual pleasure and continuing learning is celebrated. Big cities without such venues, I think, suffer and have no idea what they’re missing.
LEE: To be honest, everywhere I go, from Christchurch, New Zealand to Eugene, Oregon, Berlin to Milwaukee, people are hungry. They want information, they want the sex lives that they know they deserve.The Midwest is the same. Perhaps I get a few more “basic sex ed” questions than I do in Seattle or New York City, but not a lot more. With the Internet, people have access to so much information, and once we get people behind closed doors talking about their desires, Midwesterners are just as fun and varied in their longings as anywhere else.
TCD: Tell me a bit about the classes you’ll be teaching this week. What kind of atmosphere do you strive to create and what should attendees expect?
MIDORI: The attendees will have hands-on and mouth-on practice of practical skills – on veggies, fruits and candy – that’ll translate to pleasures later when you do your in-person homework. I get pretty goofy, too, as I demonstrate things that can go oh-so-wrong. The Eat A Peach class is great for women to attend for their own pleasure, as I also address a great deal on how to better ask their partner to please them or for solo enjoyment.
I make sure to create a safe and comfortable space because I know that this can be an awkward topic for so many. There’s always a good lively dialogue during class and I always stick around to chat with attendees after class.
I am far more interested in helping people figure out what they want to do and making it happen rather than what I see sometimes in other classes on sex: people talking about what they can do and leaving the audience wondering where to go from there.
TCD: Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I would assume that you both receive a lot of static from folks outside of the pro-sex movement. What has been the general response to your teaching?
MIDORI: It’s been really positive! Who doesn’t want to connect with their loved ones and experience intimacy and fulfillment? Yeah, I’m a sexuality educator, but people really understand it that my work is a lot more than just the privates. I’m not interested in pushing anyone towards activities that they’re not into – rather to enjoy what they like even more exquisitely while enriching your heart and life all around.
LEE: The populations I work with are all adult. They are individuals who can make choices for themselves, and hands down the choices being made are for more knowledge, more information, and often, more variety. When I tell people I do adult sexual education, some folks blush. Some change the topic. It’s all hilarious and Victorian to me … those Victorians were a racy bunch, but only when their public face was being maintained. I think the U.S. is the same way.
We are all experimenting, finding our own authentic erotic voices. A lot of us just have no interest in being considered sexual deviants in the public eye, but many of us like to spice it up. We just don’t always want the neighbors, or our family, to know. That’s what’s great about classes like the ones offered at the Tool Shed. You can go anonymously, learn safe ways to explore your desires, and no one judges. No one needs to know… unless you want them to.