When skin is the perfect platter
One long-ago spring evening, I ran into an acquaintance on a commuter train. She was about 32 to my 22, with curly blond hair and tired eyes. “E,” who was a dominatrix, confided that she was on her way to see a client. This particular gentleman didn’t want to be whipped or spat on — he paid E to pelt him with overripe grapefruit while he was tied to a chair.
I tried to envision it: the world-weary dominatrix lobbing fruit, the grapefruit hitting his shoulder with a soft thud, his fevered sighs. Nary a drop of juice would hit his skin. What was sexy about that?
Some people like a little pain with their sex. Others, a little sugar. Food and sex have been paired since the days of fig-and-wine-fueled Greek orgies, or sheiks covering their harems in honey. Nowadays, lovers who introduce food into their play often go the less messy aphrodisiac route, with oysters, chocolate, maybe maca or watermelon. But for those willing to get their hands a little dirty, using food and edible sex toys steps things up a notch. Just ask anyone who has watched Ann-Margret writhe around in baked beans in the film Tommy,  or the intact egg yolk passed mouth-to-mouth between two lovers in Tampopo .
At 98.6 degrees and subtly salted, our skin is in ideal platter — for whipped cream, honey, chocolate, even sushi. “From flirting in the kitchen while cooking a meal together, to using your partner as a human smorgasbord, eating offers a wide array of options for heating things up in the bedroom,” offers Seven Days’ resident sex advice columnist Mistress Maeve. One example: feeding morsels to a blindfolded lover à la 9 1/2 Weeks .
One-third of respondents to this week’s sex survey have done it with a fruit or vegetable. This does not surprise Israel Helfand, a sex therapist in Cabot. “Obviously, fruits and vegetables are very sexy,” says Helfand, who has suggested that Vermonters are crafty when it comes to using cylindrical veggies for self-pleasure. (Do use a condom; don’t use anything that might get stuck, he advises.)
Helfand sees food as part of the larger pie, so to speak, of using imagination in the bedroom. “What we need to do more of is encourage brainstorming and creativity. Someone could make a spring salad between a woman’s legs and sprinkle a little olive oil on it,” he says. “That’s something a little different.”
Indeed. The Japanese call the body-as-platter nyotaimori, and it was practiced eons before Samantha Jones covered herself in sushi in the first Sex and the City movie. The Japanese have fused food and sex in other ways: A native Japanese yam called nagaimo becomes a gelatinous mess when grated and has been used as a natural lubricant since the 1600s.
In the spirit of journalistic curiosity, I went in search of nagaimo, but I couldn’t find the tuber locally, despite trying three Asian markets.
Easier to track down, however, are flavored lubes and body chocolate — though not without some raised eyebrows. “I’m really not comfortable talking about that,” says one chocolatier when I call to ask her about the topical use of cacao. “And no one ever asks.”
Perhaps she is missing an untapped market. Kayce Massey, manager at Burlington’s Good Stuff  sex shop, says that edible sex products are steady sellers. “They’re an easy way to create some sizzle,” she says.
Among the most popular are edible lubes that come in flavors ranging from blackberry to bacon to, yes, grapefruit. Massey adds that the System JO brand is a best seller because of its viscosity and flavor.
The key with lube — especially flavored varieties — is to avoid those with glycerin, says Massey. The sweet-tasting alcohol is unkind to the delicate female anatomy. Unfortunately, glycerin is added to many lubes to render them slippery; System JO’s glycerin level is minimal, while other lubes contain none at all.
I buy a System JO lube in the flavor Tangerine Dream, and it smells faintly of mandarins. On the tongue, however, the clear gel is more like a super-sweet Creamsicle laced with cough syrup. Not awful, but certainly unlike a freshly plucked (or thrown) piece of fruit.
Also on the sweet end of the scale are Good Stuff’s candy whips, which I picture as sinister strands of long black licorice. Instead, a Candy Whip ($7.99) is a cat o’ nine tails of Pez-type-candy held together by string. It’s a tasty snack if you happen to love Pez, but it’s unclear how one would use it as a weapon of lust.
Edible panties first made a dint on my consciousness in grade school when I watched Neighbors, the John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd comedy in which Aykroyd utters the unforgettable line, “Hey, Earl, want to try some of your daughter’s panties?”
You can pick up a passion-fruit-flavored pair of Edible Undies for $5 at Imago  in Colchester. The hot-pink package promises to be “sensuous with taste.” The item must be popular in Germany, because most of the ingredients are in Deutsch — such as “Pina-Colada-Geschmacksstroff” and “propylenglykolmonostearat.”
The long, die-cut strip of pink cellophane with adjustable straps smells like stale cotton candy. Put a strand in your mouth and it welds to the tongue with alarming speed, dissolving into a medicinal, artificial sweetness.
In the ready-made-body-chocolate department, the 50-year-old company Kama Sutra specializes in edible body paints, oils and chocolates. The Sweet Heart: Chocolate Body Treats for Lovers kit ($35, Imago) comes with small jars of Chocolate Crème Brûlée Body Souffle and Dark Chocolate Body Paint. The brown, heart-shaped box also contains a plastic baggie of chocolate Honey Dust in a brown organza bag, as well as a miniature paintbrush and an amber-colored feather tickler.
The Dark Chocolate paint tastes like gelatinous chocolate icing, both bitter and sweet but somehow not bittersweet. On the other hand, the feather-light Honey Dust looks and tastes like powdered hot chocolate. When I lick some from the back of my hand, it’s akin to a powdered soufflé, albeit blended with my own salt. The loser of the group is the Crème Brûlée: airy with a peaked-egg-white texture, it tingles and tastes like Splenda blended with eucalyptus. (Neither is an ingredient.)
For slathering the real thing on a nearby body, one might be better served using a favorite melted (and then slightly cooled) dark chocolate, or barely warmed honey or maple syrup. But avoid fats, particularly near the nether regions. “If you’re using latex condoms, you’ll want to avoid butter, cooking oils and whipped cream, as they break down latex, rendering the condom useless,” cautions Maeve. “Besides, these items can cause irritating allergic reactions and uncomfortable clogged glands and follicles — totally unappetizing.”
On the homemade front of sensual delights are the concoctions of Laura Brown, owner of Purple Shutter Herbs  in Winooski. She sells a steady stream of her Damiana Cordial, an infusion meant to increase the female libido. For the more culinarily inclined, she suggests a whip of kava kava, chocolate and tapioca. Kava kava “calms the mind down in terms of sensuality,” says Brown. “You can experience a higher level of functionality of the body, of physicality.”
Sting, the great modern lover of seven-hour tantric sessions, would probably approve. Grapefruit-loving masochists of the world would not.