The Purple People Pleaser
Sex positivity, Seattle, and the Dr. Ruth version of the Death Star
I sometimes lose perspective on what a cool city I live in. A friend’s sister visited Seattle recently, and during her stay, she hit up some pubs in the hip neighborhood of Capitol Hill. She and her husband, hailing from a land far, far away, gawked at the crowd that I’ve come to take for granted. Like, who gives a damn that some lady has giant tattoos, blue streaks in her hair, and a hot girlfriend?
Important not to take the good stuff for granted, then. This city may have too many ironic mustaches and cloying cupcake shops and lousy Macklemore haircuts, but with that comes a pretty accepting, open, no-fuss crowd on an average day—and plenty of attractions and shops to match. Case in point: Babeland.
An institution all its own, the shop once known as Toys in Babeland recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in Seattle. You might not think the age is a good thing, considering the shop’s specialties: lube, dildos and motorized accessories. Who wants their sex-toy peddler to be a dated relic? But from the look of it, 1993 was a good time to plant a sex-positivity flag—and to set the tone as some of the country’s foremost sex toy geeks.
The shop takes care not to use photos of bodies on its walls or its products, instead presenting its wares plainly and simply on a series of multi-leveled tables, each focusing on a different toy category; plugs, vibrators, penetrative devices, harnesses, and on and on. As a small boutique, Babeland is arranged in a way where the “how can I help you” sets your spending spree’s tone. No giant, cavernous spaces where a terrified shopper can get caught in a phallic farm. The staff is insightful, good at waiting for the shopper to warm up to a sexual confessional.
I love Babeland. I love sexual geekdom—how orifices, experiments and positive body identity hold hands with each other, with nobody in the shop giggling or laughing at anybody bold enough to wonder (or wank). Sex is serious, sex is fun, and Babeland is both.
Here, then, was the perfect place to debut the Revel Body Sonic Vibrator, a new brand of vibrator also invented and refined in Seattle. Its creators, hailing from the town’s sleepy Ballard neighborhood, were on hand last week to pass out goodie bags (free lube!) and coffee (not Starbucks!) and unveil their new, purple toy.
“[Seattle is] known for software and Amazon, but we should be known for our motors, as well,” Revel CEO Robin Elenga said with a Diet Coke in one hand and his vibrator in the other. It looked like the Dr. Ruth version of the Death Star: perfectly round in gray tones, and a small, circular opening that contains its own fleshy piece of purple-pink rubber. All in all, a bit smaller than a tennis ball.
Elenga insisted the design was meant to look innocent if found on a desk or in a purse; I’m not sure this vague, purple ball wouldn’t fetch a second glance next to photos of the kids, but it’s not a giant dick, either. The 49-year-old Elenga, tall and lanky with thin, curly hair, held up a transparent, prototype version of the Sonic Vibrator to show off its innards. It was round as well, exposing its circuit board and rig of magnets, and the co-creator started rattling off the statistics he’s surely gone on about before: unlike other sex toys, he claims, his Sonic Vibrator can adjust frequency and amplitude, running from 25 Hz all the way to 200 Hz.
The way he went on about rotary motors and circuit boards, you might expect Elenga to be a longtime engineer, but he comes from a business school background down the road at Seattle’s University of Washington. He told a story about consulting for Philips when the company purchased the toothbrush company Sonicare, where he claimed that “consumers call Sonicare constantly [to say], ‘Your toothbrush is great… as a vibrator!’”
Now, really. This seems like the more amusing story—that people are abusing Philips’ 800-number hotline to pant into the receiver about their toothbrush misuse? Elenga insisted the story’s legit, though, and as a result, he set out to create a product that combined Sonicare’s more powerful, magnet-powered motor with a more adjustable rate of pressure. I “tested” the device by holding it against my nose—I only recently learned that the nose is a good spot for sex toy shoppers to check their sensitivity—and, uh, yeah. Not too shabby. Nice range of slow, thumpy taps and whoa-hey-now vibrations.
Just like Babeland, the device certainly seems like a next-level sex toy. No phallic obsession; focusing clearly and specifically on a wide range of vibrations, the most crucial sensation worth exploring and experimenting with in bed. I didn’t have, say, a Hitachi Magic Wand to test the Sonic Vibrator next to, but I did appreciate so much power in such a small, quiet unit all the same. Good start, Revel Body (and the company has more products coming).
Elenga outs himself as a pretty hokey dude when explaining his basement experimenting, a process that took him about five years before coming to market: “I’m very mechanically inclined. I’ve built a couple of houses, rebuilt a bunch of cars, and yakkety yak.”
Ladies and gents, your sexual reawakening might be courtesy of a guy who says things like “yakkety yak.” And is a pretty stereotypical business school grad, in terms of dry demeanor. And has a wife and two kids. And, hell, is a nice, straightforward guy with an open attitude about applying technology to sex while being a family man: “[My kids] know I’m trying to build a company and do something positive.”
There’s a temptation to point and giggle at Elenga, at not fitting into the expected Babeland mold, at using awkward double entendres like “we took the long and slow approach,” but then I’d just be like those out-of-towners I chided. Seattle has plenty of room for people to redefine what “cool” is, and I’m glad this consultant-turned-basement-vibrator-creator calls my city home.