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In Woonsocket, a kinky empire

Sex and the city
By JOHN LARRABEE  |  February 6, 2013

Feature_Sex_City_main
Browsing the catalog for Athena's Home Novelties, you can almost hear Roy Orbison faintly warbling "Only the Lonely."

The pages are packed with buzzing, jiggling, squeezing devices designed for solo journeys to Nirvana. For guys, there's The Tunnel, a plastic sleeve described as "smooth and silky, like real skin." And for ladies, The Eroscillator, endorsed by Dr. Ruth. When set at optimal stimulation, it can deliver 3600 oscillations per minute.

With Valentine's Day — a day for two — upon us, reading about sex-for-one gadgets can be pretty depressing. But Jennifer Jolicoeur, president and founder of the Woonsocket company, insists otherwise. She'll tell you everything in the catalog works great for lovers in love.

"Toys can play a huge role in keeping a relationship fresh and fun and constantly sizzling," she said during a recent visit to the refurbished mill that houses her office and warehouse. "I just read an article in Psychology Today that explained why a hotel room can be so exciting for a couple. It's a whole different background. Crisp sheets. Nothing to clean up. Our products do the same thing."

Dildos, love lubes, kitten whips, kegel balls — the North Smithfield wife and mom has been peddling all that for the past 15 years. Before finding her path she toiled as an office assistant at CVS headquarters. She was in her mid-20s, and worried she was stuck. With no college degree, she knew she'd never climb the corporate ladder. An $8000 loan from her grandfather gave her a way out. She filled the trunk of her Geo Tracker with assorted vibrators and beauty products and took the stuff to bachelorette parties to sell.

Last year Athena's revenue topped $6.5 million; this year it looks to be heading even higher. A Providence Journal reporter once described the business as "the East Coast's largest sex toy company."

Marching alongside Jolicoeur is an army of 1200 sales representatives, mostly women. They're called "Goddesses" in company jargon. The handful of men are "Adoni." Most live in New England, but you'll find them in more than 30 other states. Goddesses and Adoni aren't employees and receive no wages or salaries. Instead, they're independents who get a commission on everything they sell. Toting an Athena's $99 sales kit, they hawk their wares at house parties, just as their president did back in the company's early days.

Athena's is one of five or six companies selling X-rated merchandise the same way Tupperware sells kitchen containers. Women from the neighborhood gather in someone's living room, sip white wine, and socialize. The sales rep will give her spiel. She may offer sex tips or tell PG jokes, but avoids any four-letter words. Then, one at a time, each guest will go into another room to purchase items in privacy. It's a whole world away from the grimy porn shop with peep shows in the back.

"Mostly we hear a lot of ooohing and aaahing and giggling," says an Athena sales rep who prefers to stay anonymous. "There are always a few women who are more reserved or nervous. We usually turn them around."

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Woonsocket, sex, Kink,  More more >
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ARTICLES BY JOHN LARRABEE
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 See all articles by: JOHN LARRABEE



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