by Suzanne Podhaizer
In 2014, Jan Lloyd of Plainfield decided that it was time for somebody in Central Vermont to offer high quality sex toys and gear. She also wanted to provide an opportunity to dig into questions about bodies, pleasure, and power: topics that can be difficult to broach in a culture in which people are simultaneously obsessed with sex and sexuality, and ashamed of it.
That year, Lloyd founded a business called Rocket Erotic, and hosted her premier event at Nutty Steph’s in Middlesex. “I want everyone to feel welcome,” says Lloyd. “All bodies, all budgets, all genders, all identities…I have something for everyone.” The model worked, and when Lloyd met Kelly Arbor, a sex educator and activist, at the University of Vermont’s Translating Identities Conference, they eventually became relationship and business partners.
The pair and their wares pop-up at drag balls, restaurants, hair salons, bachelorette parties, and universities, among other places, offering a unique brand of positive, queer, kink-friendly advice, as well as books and zines, their own hand-crafted leather goods, and toys from reputable companies.
One hallmark of the Rocket Erotic brand is an empathetic, open-minded approach to navigating the complexities of communication. In the era of #metoo, discussions about consent, boundaries, and desire have become commonplace, and are occurring in the public sphere—particularly on Facebook—in new ways.
The fact is, few Americans have grown up with healthy role modeling for talking about sex. But, when you’re getting close to another human and trying to mesh together complicated needs and desires, things can get kinda tricky. Lloyd and Arbor believe that uncomfortable moments are the perfect time to start skilling up.
“We have some teaching tools we use around this,” says Lloyd. For one, there’s an activity called “erotic mapping,” in which each person uses a drawing of the human body to chart out the sensations that they enjoy, in a way that can be easily shared.
Then, there’s the idea of hanging out at a café and making a “yes/no/maybe” list of activities. After all, one person’s “hell yeah” might be another person’s “definitely not.” Exploring those things outside of the bedroom, Lloyd and Arbor suggest, can minimize hurt feelings. It makes it “about the activity,” not about the other person, Arbor explains.
Another tactic: making sure you have a basic understanding of your own likes and dislikes. “Exploring erotic pleasure solo is a way to start thinking about what comes up in your fantasies, and what you feel in your body,” says Lloyd. “To be able to speak up for yourself, you have to know what you want.
”Once you do, she explains, there are plenty of ways to share that information with lovers. Not ready to voice your desires aloud? “Draw pictures, write a little piece of erotica, send a text, have a Snapchat,” Lloyd says.
What about in the moment? Arbor recommends maintaining eye contact, and using that as a non-verbal way to check-in. In addition, Lloyd encourages people to get into the habit of “speaking more in bed,” generally. “If you’re saying that something is really good, and that you like it, you’re going to get more of it,” she explains. And, when something isn’t working, it’s easier to mention it when you’ve already got a patter going.
Most importantly, they say, make sure that you’re with somebody who is willing to listen and work with you. Arbor pays very close attention to how people act in everyday conversation, as a way of understanding if they’ll be a thoughtful sex partner. “There are certain indicators that tell me if a person is totally self-absorbed. That’s going to be indicative of how they behave in the bedroom,” Arbor says.
Overall, the Rocket Erotic message is one of thoughtful teamwork that builds towards better relationships, generally, and great sex, specifically. “We’re coming from the approach of compassion as well as accountability,” Arbor notes. “If people don’t know the rules[of good communication], they’re going to push the lines. We’ve been raised in a culture that has created ideas of power and privilege. How can we shift that, rather than shame it, while holding people accountable?”
Lloyd adds: “That’s why being in a community is really important, because we can mentor each other. Nobody’s a pro, but we can practice using our voices, and gain confidence and understanding.
”Rocket Erotic will have a pop-up shop onFebruary 10, 5-9 pm, at Ondine Salon in Montpelier