"Take off that uniform. And fuck me," the fiftysomething man in front of me intones. He has a bemused look; his glasses slip along his sweat-sheened nose, and he wipes his palms on his jeans-clad thighs repeatedly.

Beside him, his wife smiles brightly. At the front of the room, an instructor holds a pen to an oversized notebook propped up on a stand. "Good!" she says. "Now let's all whisper, 'Titties.'"

"Titties," some 25 people whisper at once.

Here we are--all clean-cut, red-faced, and, according to coordinator Lizz Randall, shyer than the usual Toys in Babeland workshop crowd, hoping to learn "the art of talkin' dirty." Toys, the woman-owned, woman-run sex shop, is known for its unusual monthly educational fare: classes in masturbation, spanking, and cunnilingus. Tonight, the class is "Talk Dirty to Me: Get Your Mind into the Gutter!"

I had been wanting to attend a workshop at Toys, and "Talk Dirty," I thought, would certainly be easier than the alarmingly blue-collar sounding "Backdoor Basics: Intro to Anal Pleasures." I have a potty mouth generally, anyway, although it has never been put to specific use. "It's a sort of semiotic approach to erotics," I said to friends, trying to get them to go with me. "It'll be fun!"

All of them declined, as I was unable to answer in the negative their unanimous question: "Will I have to talk?"

Of course you'll have to talk. Toys in Babeland is all about interaction. The warmly painted interior of the shop, highlighted by multi-hued dildos displayed along the east wall, invites sense exploration--which can be, admittedly, a little disconcerting when the place is full of people. Waiting for the class to begin, I wandered around tables lined with objects. Some of the objects had switches, and eventually I picked one up and flipped it on. The thing instantly came alive with a loud vibration, and clacked against the glass tabletop. I turned it off quickly and sat down. No one met my eyes.

Since my own boyfriend was among those who had declined to attend the event, I was surprised to see at least eight men in the milling throng. They looked sort of normal, but that didn't make it any easier when a well-dressed young man sat down beside me. Fortunately, he seemed to be paired with a charming Mrs. Robinson to his left, so I remained free to avoid eye contact by staring vaguely (but openly! and supportively!) into the middle of the room.

"Okay, just so I can get an idea of what we need to address, I wonder if some of you would share why you're attending this workshop," Lizz began. There was a pause, and then a girl in the back row spoke up: "Well, I don't have a problem speaking my mind anywhere else, except in bed." Nervous laughter. A man in the front row said that he liked using seductive language to "build anticipation" during the day, and he wanted to "hone his skills." He made it sound like a business seminar.

Why was I here? What did I hope to learn? Certainly, talking dirty seemed an invaluable skill, one I had employed only to unfocused effect in the heat of drunken passion. But it's always disconcerting to wake up and realize that while you may not remember your overnight guest's name, you do remember screaming, "TAKE ME TO THE RACETRACK, MY FINE PONY!" while slapping said guest on the ass while wearing panties like a cowboy hat. This, it seems to me, is the primary problem with "smut talk": How will it play the next morning?

Lizz and dirty-talk connoisseur Brandie Taylor suggest discussing which terminology is or isn't okay with your partner beforehand. What would be a turnoff? What's going to be embarrassing? Dirty talk should direct and titillate, not trigger bad memories, or--god forbid-- induce giggling.

In freeform brainstorming, our class came up with the following euphemisms for breasts: tits, melons, boobs, Tonka trucks, apples, knockers, jugs, hooters, "mouthwatering mounds of female flesh" (shouted by a guy in the back row). A vagina was a nook, cunt, kitty, love tunnel, twat, slit, Narnia, hair pie, muff, honey pot, hot pocket, pussy ("Let's all say 'wet pussy,'" encouraged Brandy).

A penis was a cock, johnson, war club, willy, tool, trouser minnow, rod, dick, rocket, pistol, prick, meat, skin flute, tube steak, member, little soldier... until Lizz interrupted with, "All right, that's enough." Balls were little more than the family jewels and cojones, although someone did offer "nuggets."

Intercourse was fucking, humping, bumping, grinding, the horizontal, shag, doing the nasty, gettin' busy, making love, romping, getting your rocks off, getting laid, jumping bones, porking, boinking, screwing, hooking up, plowing, getting nailed, banging, balling, boning, or sleeping together ("If you're sleeping you ain't doin' it right!" shouted the "mounds" guy).

It was becoming clear to me what the problem was. The forbidden language we've created for sex and body parts is, well, kind of stupid. Why do we resort to baby talk when referring to anything biological? True, it's easier to say "boink" than "intercourse," and more fun, too, but both words tie in directly to the eighth-grade gene, ruler of a world in which substitute teachers named "Mrs. Blankenship" cannot survive. Do we devolve when faced with intimacy because love is of the reptilian brain?

Things did not get much more sophisticated in the next exercise. "Turn to the person next to you--preferably a stranger--and share with them your sexual fantasy," Lizz instructed.

I turned to Mrs. Robinson's date. He looked even more reluctant than I felt. "Uh, okay," I said. "My fantasy is that, uh, I'm in an elevator. And it breaks--it stops, you know? And the lights go out, and, um... did I forget to mention there's someone in the elevator with me? We don't know each other. Then we have sex." Where did this fantasy come from? I thought. I have never in my life had an elevator fantasy. Clearly, it was borne out of the necessity for subterfuge.

My partner's fantasy was that he meets a woman at a bar, they flirt, get drunk, and go home and have sex.

"And? You never see her again?" I ask, hoping for more.

"No, that's not part of it," he says.


All around, people are still talking, or rather, juicily whispering their complicated sexual fantasies to one another. I look over at the studded harnesses and fur whips on the wall, and think, maybe I should have gone for "Anal Pleasures." My partner and I sit in awkward silence, as if we are at a very, very bad job interview. Both of us have the suspicion that we will not be hired.

The next Toys in Babeland workshop is "Lusty Lit: Erotic Writing Workshop," Sun Feb 11 at 8 pm, $20. Call 328-2914 for more information.