opinion

Platforming the Pleasure Industry With Our Collective Voice

Platforming the Pleasure Industry With Our Collective Voice

Very early in my business career, I learned not to mix business with politics or religion. This was a foundational tenet that just made sense. For much of my career, that was easy. However, it has become increasingly difficult to avoid bringing politics into business.

I started in the adult industry in 1990, when I was brought on board as vice president of the Michigan-based distributor Nalpac. I knew the original owner well and was hired to rebrand and rebuild the company. Nalpac was a major “smoke company,” selling rolling papers, pipes, roach clips, bongs and other counterculture gifts and novelties. Distributors Nalpac and Eldorado, along with manufacturer Pipedream, were among the leaders in this space.

By leveraging our collective voice, we can work toward safeguarding our industry from potential threats posed by moralistic conservative political agendas and the culture war.

I was very familiar with the smoke industry, as I put myself through college by manufacturing pipes and clips for a competitor of Nalpac. This was an extremely lucrative business throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By the late ’80s, however, a very conservative political movement was sweeping through the country. Distributors and manufacturers were busted by state and federal authorities for selling “drug paraphernalia.” In Nalpac’s case, the feds seized over $500,000 of stock, which was eventually destroyed, and the original owner was indicted and ultimately convicted on federal charges. Nalpac and other companies were left on life support.

This was my first introduction to how our government could arbitrarily wreak havoc on an entire industry, its owners and employees, all because of a distorted sense of morality. It was a very dark time.

Fast-forward to the present. The pleasure products and sexual wellness industry is thriving and growing, with incredible people and creative entrepreneurs. We provide tremendous service, choices and empowerment to our customers. Further, we have grown into a highly sophisticated industry that puts healthy ingredients, quality materials and wellness at the forefront. Our industry continues to grow, moving inexorably into the mainstream on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory. This is something we can and should be very proud of.

Unfortunately, we could also be next in the government’s crosshairs.

In certain municipalities and areas of our country, retailers have already been fighting arbitrary and unfair rules and restrictions for many years. Now, with a heavily right-leaning Supreme Court and mainstream politicians stripping women of their rights and making voting harder for minorities and the poor, how hard is it to imagine a day when they decide that our blasphemous and pornographic industry needs to be more tightly regulated — or even made illegal?

This may sound like bluster and hyperbole, but it is not. Just ask those who survived the smoke industry crackdown of the late ’80s.

Think about it. A woman’s right to make her own decisions regarding abortion, reproductive rights and healthcare choices has tremendous majority support in this country, and yet those rights are being undermined by the minority viewpoint and minority control. The same can happen to our industry. We cannot count on the courts, legislatures or other institutions to protect us.

So, how do we avert that outcome?

For a start, vote! Not just for president, but for Congress, state legislators, secretaries of state, the dog catcher and everything in between. Know what your representatives stand for — and if they do not represent your views, vote them out of office. Work to get those of like mind in positions of power.

Tell your friends and family, and become active in the process. Donate money or time if you can. If possible, engage in grassroots advocacy efforts. We can all help educate the public about protecting the pleasure and sexual wellness industry — and their own rights as consumers and citizens. Support groups that protect those rights, such as the Free Speech Coalition.

By leveraging our collective voice, we can work toward safeguarding our industry from potential threats posed by moralistic conservative political agendas and the culture war. Our democracy thrives when every voice is heard and every vote is counted. Let’s secure our industry’s future by actively participating in the democratic process. Our industry, and American democracy itself, could hang in the balance.

Ken Sahn is the president of pleasure products distributor Holiday Products.

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