Patty Brisben is a churchgoing mother of four who has made millions selling sex toys at private in-home gatherings not unlike Tupperware parties. On Super Bowl Sunday, Ms. Brisben will star in Mother Knows Sex, a TLC reality show about Pure Romance, her Cincinnati-based family business that now employs 30,000 consultants across the United States. Ms. Brisben spoke to The Globe and Mail about the school-bus bullies who teased her son about his "dildo lady" mom, her husband's role and what's selling.
How did you get into the sex biz?
In 1983, I was home on maternity leave with my youngest daughter, Lauren. I was watching the Phil Donahue show and there were these four women on that had started an in-home party plan [called Fun Parties] They were like your Mary Kay people but they weren't selling makeup; they were selling, you know, bedroom toys and lubricants. I was just taken aback by how empowered they were, not only being able to take control in the bedroom, but also financially. I was working a lot of hours [as a pediatrician's medical assistant]and I wanted to have more quality time with my own family. When the show was over I decided to call the 1-800 number and I became a consultant. I was going into people's homes and I was taking my store with me. Then I started [Pure Romance]out of the basement of my home in 1993.
What do your kids do in the company?
My oldest son, Chris, is my right-hand man and the president. Nick is concentrating on the managerial part of our business. The next one is Matthew, and he is doing daily operations for the warehouse and Lauren is working in the training department.
They got teased as children.
When the kids were little, I did a lot of radio shows. Chris happened to catch the bus with these high-school kids and they go, "Hey, I heard your mom on the radio last night. She sells those vibrators." Chris came home; he was so upset. He was in junior high. I looked at him and [told him]that I go out every single night and I help parents with their relationships. And I said, "I want you to go to the bus stop tomorrow and I want you tell these kids that their moms have been to my parties and that I will go and speak to their moms." Instead, he went to the bus stop and said, "My mom said that she's going to show every single order form of what your moms bought at her party." I never got phone calls from any of the parents, but the taunting stopped, too.
Does your husband work at the company?
Believe it or not, [Bob Brisben]does all of our defectives, anything that comes in broken.
How do the sales work?
We're an in-home party plan. What the girls do is they go into people's homes and they book parties. The hosts earn 10 per cent of their total party sales and they also get a thank-you gift for booking a party. The only requirement is we ask for at least 10 people to be present, and I can promise you there's not a problem with that. Women want that safe environment.
TLC mentions you're a devoted churchgoer. Did you get flak from your fellow parishioners?
People know who I am and know what I do, and no, I don't get flak. People are very supportive.
How do you reconcile religion with what you're selling?
The way I look at it is I'm promoting healthier relationships. If you or anybody thinks that by any [stretch]of the imagination, one piece of paper is going to bond you for life, you're crazy. That's not going to happen. Even if you stayed together, you want to keep stagnation out of your relationship. Think about it this way: You maintenance your house. Your car's not going to run unless you rotate the tires. You need to maintain your relationship. I'm not saying because you don't own a bedroom toy or a particular lubricant that you're any less of a person. I'm just saying incorporating some of this into your lifestyle is fun. It's healthy and good to do.
Who are your clients?
They're 18 to 80, all walks of life. We have doctors, lawyers, salespeople, police officers. School teachers are huge. Nurses - huge partygoers.
Our arousal creams sell really well. We are a nation of low libido. People are tired, they're overworked, they're stressed out. Intimacy hits the back door. [The creams]are so much nicer than ingesting medication.