You’ve read the articles about designer sex toys. You’re cool enough to admit your love life could use a little something. Perhaps something . . . mechanical. But you — go into a sex shop? Never.
Yes, shopping for that first sex toy can be intimidating. It’s like buying your first bra, or car: You need one, but you’re not quite sure how the thing works and you’ll be damned if you’ll admit that to the salesperson. Which is why you need me.
Before my career at The Globe and Mail began, I was a journalism student struggling to pay the bills. How did I do it? I worked weekends at a sex store in downtown Toronto. Actually, I was the No. 1 vibrator saleswoman at Seduction, which bills itself as “North American’s largest love boutique.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know I learned a lot during those 12-hour shifts. People avoid sex shops for plenty of reasons, and most of them are wrong. Hereunder, the top sex-store myths, and why you should get over them and get on with the good times.
Only young people shop there. Simply not true. Most of my sweetest memories (yes, sweet things happen in sex stores) involved retirees getting ready for second honeymoons and true loves finding each other late in life.
One of my favourite stories is of a fiftysomething woman looking to replace her dearly departed Hitachi Magic Wand, an old-school vibrator sold as a “body massager.” We had similar models, but they sounded like lawn mowers and packed little oomph. I told her this, but she still had no interest in anything that could be easily recognized for what it was. Why? She was afraid of her daughter finding it when she died.
“How old is your daughter?” I asked. Twenty-six. “Trust me,” I said, “your daughter probably has one herself.” She ended up buying a pretty little floral number and came back to thank me the next week.
A sex shop is a wild and crazy place. Seduction is laid out like a department store — toys, clothing, home accessories, video, gifts — and most of the time that’s what it felt like. Yes, sometimes strippers would skip the change rooms when trying on clothes, but the majority of customers were straight couples. Coming in second were same-sex couples and single women (and a surprisingly large number of flight attendants). Truth is, most well-rounded sex shops are just big toy stores for grown-up women (most of our solitary male customers headed straight for the adult movie collection in the basement).
Sales staff make fun of customers. Just as children these days are desensitized to violence, so sex shop workers are to kinkiness. Looking to buy a sex swing? Good for you. It takes a lot to shock us. (Like what? Well, the time a gentleman ran in just before midnight needing a rubber arm. Don’t ask. We didn’t.) Plus, thanks to employee discounts, many clerks will own more stuff than you’d ever want.
The only time I was ever truly disturbed was when a fortysomething blonde came in with a younger girl. Lesbian lovers? No, mother and daughter. Mom was a mistress to a big Bay Street roller who had given her a credit card and told her to go crazy. She thought daughter should stock up too. Shopping for sex toys with your mom? That’s just wrong.
Talking to strangers about naughty things is weird. Even if you’re not shy, admitting you do certain things can be hard. You don’t talk about it with your friends, why would you tell a stranger? Because the stranger is — if you go to a reputable shop — a professional. Consider them a sexual pharmacist. It’s okay to talk to a pharmacist.
My trick to help customers relax was to crack a few jokes. Other salespeople play it straight. It helps if you come prepared with practical questions. “What is your best-selling (fill in the blank)?” is always a good one. Or “What would you recommend for a beginner?”
But if you really don’t feel comfortable asking questions, the magic of the Internet can help. With many good shops also hosting web sites, you can do your research at home and just run in, grab and go.
You have to be “kinky.” You could go into a sex store and buy some pretty far-out stuff. But you could also go in and just buy condoms or massage oil. And a lot of people do. A little goes a long way beneath the sheets, and a good store will cater to people at all points on the adventure scale. Plus you’ll find a greater selection of the essentials than the drugstore carries, such as manuals, superthin Japanese condoms and flavoured massage oils. And don’t underestimate yourself: Once you’re in there, you never know what might pique your interest.
You’ll run in to someone you know. This one could happen. But consider this: If you do bump into the boss, it means she’s also shopping in a sex store. You’re even.
Sexy shopping 101
“People are really different with what they are comfortable with and what they are not,” says Gill Lamon, a co-owner of Toronto’s Come As You Are. Lamon recommends that first-timers do their homework on the Internet; look for independent shops that have both a “sex-positive” and “woman-positive” mandate.
A reputable shop will have working samples on the shelf of every product it carries, Lamon says. And the staff will test what they sell.”It’s nice to know the people selling sex toys actually use sex toys,” she says.
And while Lamon points out that “just because something sells well doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” she admits.