The human being, in its evolving quest to broaden and refine the ways in which it is able to celebrate its existence, seems driven to increase the number of awards for which it is eligible every year. We are the only animal that cannot contain our need to establish ever more competitive festivals and halls of fame.
According to one list I found on Google, there were 97 separate televised award shows in 2014. These did not include the Nobel Prizes for achievement in physics, medicine, and chemistry, perhaps because no one would know what the winners were talking about. They also did not include any prestigious literary awards like the Pulitzer, the Man-Booker Prize, or the Pen awards, all of which offer the winners considerable prize money. Nor did they include the less flashy, more geeky cerebral cousin of the SAG Awards, the Writers Guild Awards. Of all the people who toil in the national entertainment factory, writers have yet to figure out how to attract a large audience eager to see which rumpled sport coat they have selected to wear with which pair of running shoes.
As we wait for all that to evolve, each year brings plenty of newer, smaller award shows lurking in the wings, hoping that if they grow their brands via the internet, eventually they will be eligible for a televised moment like the big boys. Among these shows is the new Sexual Health Expo awards, honoring "the very best in products designed for a healthy sex life," which I attended earlier this month.
By late afternoon, a modest but reasonably well-appointed crowd of about 75 people had gathered in a posh hotel in West Hollywood. The crowd was comprised of members of every gender, race, age, and weight class of sex product professional and consumer; representatives of the buff, the anorexic, and the Tweedle Dum communities, resplendent in everything from short leopard-skin sheaths with five-inch stilettos to sweatshirts and flip-flops were in evidence. White women in their 50s who may have stopped by on their way home from a ceramics class sipped pricey cocktails beside stylish Latino teenagers as they pretended to spank each other for a photo they would immediately post on Instagram.
At 6:30, we all began to drift to the downstairs lounge where the "lavish gala for attendees and participants" was still setting up. This was where it became clear that the SHE awards would be unburdened by antiquated formalities like "seat fillers," those formally dressed nonentities paid by the Emmys and the Oscars to occupy empty seats lest the audience look sparse.
At 6:45, as the podium was placed on a riser, and the awards were being removed from their packing containers, the emcee for the evening—"Sex and Relationship Expert" Reid Mihalko—strolled in, instantly identifiable as the only man in attendance wearing a tux. I noticed that listed alongside his assorted talk show appearances was "The Creator of the Cuddle Party." Tomorrow, he would be teaching a seminar here called "Making Threesomes Happen."
With showtime fast approaching, Reid conferred briefly back stage with his co-host and expo spokesperson Emily Morse, sex and relationship expert, podcaster, occasional reality show star, and doctor of human sexuality from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, a learning center that calls itself "The Harvard of Human Sexology Study" (presumably because Harvard itself still declines to offer degrees in "Certified Sexological Hypnotism" and "Certified Love Coach").
"How about if you introduce me as the Richard Dawson of The Sexual Healing Expo?" I heard him ask her.
"No one knows who that is," she replied.
"OK, then how about that guy from Jackass?" he suggested.
Then, to the audience: "I was tasked with making this the shortest award show ever." And true to his word, he moved immediately to the first award, Best Luxury Sex Toy, the Best Supporting Actress equivalent of the SHE awards.
Nominees included the SOL Sonic Vibrator (the only vibrator "that operates at the frequency of OM, the energy that joins and holds things together") and the Vesper ("both a gorgeous piece of jewelry and a strong, slim vibrator").
"And the winner is… Pino from Lelo," a vibrator so bling-intensive it came with both silver cufflinks and a money clip. That kind of luxury is hard to top, even if you vibrate at the frequency of OM.
Unfortunately, no one from Lelo was here to accept the award.
Reid turned to Emily, who was standing beside a camera, prepared to interview all the winners like the Ryan Seacrest of the SHE awards. He suggested that she accept the award for the absent Lelo winners, after which she might interview herself.
And so, on behalf of the Lelo family, Emily gratefully thanked the academy.
Next up was the Best Sex Enhancement Product, which I used as a chance to run to the restroom. While I was in the middle of washing my hands, I looked up and was so dazzled by the gently diffused light coming off the sconces by the mirror, I took this opportunity to give the Sofitel Ladies' Room by the Lounge my special prize for the Most Flattering Lighting in a Ladies' Room in Los Angeles in 2015. I left feeling much more attractive than I did when I first entered, making it an award-winning occasion for me too.
By the time I returned to the show, Emily was again gratefully thanking the academy, on behalf of pjur Original. Quickly, we moved on to Best Sex Toy for Couples, the SHE award version of Best Original Screenplay.
Would the Hello Touch, a futuristic looking, battery-operated arm bracelet that makes your fingertips vibrate, take home a SHE award? No, the winner was the We-Vibe 4, a couples' vibrator that can be remotely controlled with an app. Two sensible looking women came forward to receive the award.
In their acceptance speech, the winners revealed that they'd sold 3 million units so far. "You guys, this has an app that lets you vibrate someone who is on the other side of the country!" Emily gushed to the audience.
Seconds later, Reid recited the nominees for the SHE Award equivalent of Best Actor: "Best Sex Toy for Men."
"Cobra Libre for Men," he read, raising his eyebrows a little and grinning as he offered a personal testimonial: "I've actually used this one. It was great."
There was solid competition from the Autoblow 2 with its catchy slogan, "Enjoy unlimited blowjobs on demand." But the SHE Award went to the FleshPilot by Fleshlight: "Turbulently pleasurable, providing the variety men crave and deserve."
Unfortunately no one from the Fleshlight team was in attendance. So once again, Emily rose to the occasion.
"If I had a penis, I would stay home all day and use the FleshPilot," she said. "But I don't have a penis."
And with that, we moved on to Best Sex Toy for Women, the SHE equivalent of Best Actress. Would multiple nominee SOL finally get to take home an award for their patented OM generator? Or might it be SORAYA by Lelo with its guarantee of "the most satisfying climax time after time?"
The winner was a modern update of an old classic: the Magic Wand. Someone was actually there to accept award, and Emily visibly relaxed at the chance to interview someone besides herself.
This brought us to the Eco-Friendly Toy Award. Critics who felt the masturbation-industrial complex had been slow to embrace the idea of local sourcing and sustainability were eagerly awaiting the results of this unusual category. Would the winner be "Mesmerize" by Nob Essence, visually reminiscent of both a surgically removed appendix and medium-sized North American brown snake? Or the Corkscrew Glass Dildo by Fucking Sculptures, which bore an unfortunate resemblance to something that might have been created in an intestine?
"And the SHE Award goes to… the LEAF by BMS Factory! Come on down," said Reid cheerfully to no one.
"Congratulations LEAF, you made a vibrator that looks like a leaf!" said Emily enthusiastically, stepping up to the podium one more time. "That's so eco!"
"Thank you. We're so proud," Emily replied to herself.
The next award was for the Best Sexual Health Product for Men. This had to be a bittersweet category for Emily, since her own product—Emily and Tony's DownUnder Comfort, "a cream for your "intimate areas"—had been nominated, locked in competition with the Hyrdromax Pump, touted as "the definitive starter pump for the world of penile enhancement."
"The winner is… Progasm Junior," said Reid, as Emily smiled bravely. A Progasm guy was here to accept, which must have been a mixed blessing for Emily, as she now interviewed her victorious competitor. Chivalrously, she turned to the audience. "You should get it. You'll love it," she said, covering her disappointment while gallantly reminding everyone not to be "afraid of your prostate."
Best Sexual Health Product for Women came next, and the winner was RegularGlide, a "regenerative water-based personal lubricant."
Unfortunately, no one was here to accept. Again.
"Wow. Regular Glide. It's amazing, everyone! You should try it!" said Emily, now looking a little worn from having to improvise so many different but equally overjoyed prize-winning sex product speeches.
"MOST INNOVATIVE SEX TOY!" shouted Reid, before reading the nominees for the SHE Award equivalent of Best Picture. Nominated again was Vesper Crave (it's a necklace AND a vibrator!) and the much touted SOL Sonic Vibrator, with its signature OM. Would this finally be their cosmic moment?
"The winner is… Hello Touch from JimmyJane," said Reid.
A group of five approached the stage. Emily let out a sigh of relief.
The women were dressed in hot pink and black, the signature colors seen in their line of vibrators. But it was the man in the purple shirt who thanked the academy.
"It's really an amazing product," added Emily, "and there's no awkwardness afterward."
The evening ended with Sexpert of the Year, the SHE equivalent of Best Director. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this award because The SHE Academy chose not to acknowledge many of the exhibitors in attendance today—many of whom also fit the category of "sexpert," several of whom were present in the audience tonight. Andrea Renae and Girl Boner were both snubbed by the Academy, as was author Lynn Rosenberg (who wrote MySexual Awakening at 70) and podcaster Sex Nerd Sandra.
The actual nominees were a group of "media personalities/authors and sex educators," many of whom claimed to have been on The Howard Stern Show. But there could be only one winner, and for the first time all evening, I found myself rooting for a nominee.
Emily was among the nominated. I crossed my fingers that she might finally have a chance to make an acceptance speech as herself.
"And the winner is… Ava Cadell," said Reid as the "media therapist, worldwide speaker, and founder of Loveology University" approached the podium.
And with that, the First Annual SHE Awards rumbled to a close. Any attendees who wanted to bask in the after glow were invited to mingle at the bar and buy themselves drinks.
As for me: I knew what I must do. I had other plans. I could not wait to return to the Ladies Room to re-experience myself looking far better than I ever did before or will again.
Then, having boosted my self esteem, I would take my swag bag full of free samples of Stroke 29 and something called "Gun Oil," my complementary Fifty Shades of Grey Ben Wa balls, and my Certified Ethical Vegan and Fair Trade condom, and begin the long drive back home.
Follow Merrill Markoe on Twitter.