Meet an Auckland woman bringing a feminine touch to the erotic industry.
Hayley Mowday manages to make plausible the idea of a very different kind of Christmas party at the bridge club. This purveyor of sex toys and saucy lingerie runs what she describes as New Zealand's first "seduction boutique" and hosts women-only "seduction parties". But it's not all riotous hen's nights.
Any thought that Mowday's new business venture might be a tad tacky starts to seem, well, a little prudish as she explains that some of the most curious of her customers are more mature women looking to better connect with their sexuality and reinvigorate their love lives. "We are all quite sensual beings," she maintains.
Women, though, need and deserve to feel safe in exploring their seductive side. "Not only for women entering or looking for a relationship, but for those in long-term relationships." Though mainstream sex shops have moved to become more female friendly in recent years, they are still, especially for women who grew up before porn became so pervasive, an often alien and threatening environment.
Mowday speaks from personal experience. The 37-year-old mother of two hatched the idea for her Orchid Boutique business around five years ago and positive feedback from female friends convinced her there would be a market. Her solid background in the beauty industry here and overseas, including a stint as marketing director for Jo Malone in London, gave her business savvy, but it took her marriage separation a year ago to nudge her into action.
So began her painstaking search for the right products. "It felt like entering a man's world."
She was horrified at how unregulated the pleasure products business was and said she struggled to find "beautiful and more elegant tools of seduction".
The last sex toy I'd seen - until Mowday pressed a curvy little hot-pink vibrator in my hand - was a flaccid elephant of a dildo waved around on stage at an Auckland play this month - the sort of thing that would make any sane woman run a mile or laugh out loud. With many sex toys more a homo-erotic or pornographic fantasy than any sort of realistic aid to a couple or an individual's satisfaction, it is no wonder she had her work cut out finding appealing alternatives.
"I wanted to bring in products that took into consideration the care and regulation that should be around the objects in the industry." That meant not only trying to find aesthetically pleasing devices, but also safe ones.
Products that are banned from children's toys are still used in the sex industry, she says, pointing to certain types of plasticisers known as phthalates. She looks for the use of medical-grade silicon and objects, unguents and attire designed with the comfort and health of a woman's body in mind. From Sweden she has sourced some intriguing electronic items that are submersible, from France lingerie and "skin jewellery". The Ines de Castilho stick-on tattoos are no tramp stamps, rather they are intricate lacy bejewelled hypoallergenic designs. This sort of decoration, which can be worn atop a Brazilian, is called "Vajazzling" and has become a bit of a fad in waxing bars overseas.
After selling online for several months, Mowday has ambitions to open a retail store down the track. Not the sort tucked down a back alley, mind, but located in a fashion district to underline that shopping for intimate pleasure should be no different than the frisson of picking up a pair of lust-have heels. "I see us as part of the fashion/beauty industry."
We're talking more burlesque than bawdy, and Mowday, who has a dance background, has dabbled in a bit of burlesque. She runs her parties and blogs using an alter ego called Orchid du Bois, and says burlesque appeals to her for helping popularise the art of seduction.
"It's about the tease, not the sleaze."
Forget about Outrageous Fortune's Hoochie Mama-style scratchy red lace crotchless knickers, think instead flexible and pricey Parisian corsetry. There's nary a naughty nurse's uniform to be seen, but still a bit of black lace and leather. Feather ticklers and beaded cuffs are among her most popular items. Then there are products for personal hygiene or pleasuring.
Gifts for weddings and engagements are also in demand and include a pen and torch set which allows a message applied with invisible ink on the body to be revealed under a little search light. Candles which drop warm massageable wax on the skin are another couples' item as are hot and cold sensation lipsticks.
To get her parties going, Mowday invites women to take a quiz to determine their seduction type. She likes working with groups of around a dozen, saying it is the best size to get conversation going.
Women aged 25-50 are Orchid Boutique's main customers, but older women are particularly receptive to learning more. Often they are in a long-standing relationship which they want to keep alive, or one has ended and they are facing uncertainties about re-engaging.
They may also have particular needs around the likes of lubrication and pelvic floor muscles, which dermatologically tested products and the likes of insertable beads can assist with.
Mowday says it can be empowering for such women to learn about what is on offer and to explore new areas of sexuality. Giggling and learning with a group of grown-up girls is reassuring, she says. "I'm a believer that seduction is all about confidence."
* For the latest seduction tools to be able to "take pride in being the cause of his torment" visit the Orchid Boutique website.