When asked why I wanted to launch my own sex toy brand, there were several seminal experiences that informed my early opinion of “what” and “who” sex toys were for. I wouldn’t want to tar all the amazing retailers out there with the same brush because the world is changing year on year and only for the better but I really feel sex toy boutiques are an important resource and require honing to a tee. Unlike other types of retail experience, toy shopping catches you at a vulnerable moment, and because of this it’s all the more important we get the tone just right.
The first time I went into a “proper” sex shop is really scarred onto my memory. I was about 18 years old and I went into a local sex shop with my boyfriend. The type that had the windows blacked out and housed every discernible type of pornography one could possibly imagine. My boyfriend and I were about the same age, and both titillated by a mutual foray into the unknown, we planned to buy a couple’s toy of some sort. Upon entering the shop, I began to feel a little awkward as I was the only woman in sight. The middle-aged male shop assistant addressed my boyfriend from behind the counter asking if he wanted help with anything. He took one look at me up and down and pointed to a plus size blow up doll called BIG BERTHA, as if to say, should I get her down from the shelf for you. And then said;
“What you want mate is some “Feed Her, Fuck Her” porn”
He pointed to a selection of “feeder” films and gave him this dirty smile that said he understood. The covers of the DVDs had ostensibly “chubby” girls on all fours with mouths full of cream cakes. There was a bit of me that thought “you know what that looks quite fun” but another part of me was mortified.
At first, it was mostly the fact he’d overlooked me as a customer that bothered me. He just assumed we were there for my boyfriend’s sake alone. More than that, he assumed because of my body shape that my boyfriend had a thing for “Fat Girls”. In retrospect I’m pretty sure this guy didn’t know how to talk to female customers and wasn’t used to them buying products. I wasn’t too upset about his offensive comparison of BIG BERTHA and I. But that’s largely because even at 18 I’d already pigeonholed myself as a “That fat girl who’s always horny” and so in some way I expected things like that to happen wherever I went. My boyfriend and I laughed about it and bought a remote-control love egg of very dubious quality that latterly got stuck switched on whilst I was having tea with his grandparents.
After this experience, I went back to the comfort zone of Ann Summers. I still have a lot of time for Ann Summers, in that it’s an easy entry point for all age groups, body types and budgets and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The next memory that sticks out in my mind is of perusing the wares of a designer sex shop. I recall that I didn’t fit into any of the lingerie in store, they only did up to a C cup in most items and a D in a select few. I remember looking at the packaging, most of the toys had images of waif like nubile white women looking like they were having orgasms thrust upon them all over the labels. They looked aloof, everyone in the shop looked aloof, I giggled out of discomfort. I remember thinking to myself “Why does sex have to look so steely” - In every sense this was the opposite of what I’d experienced in the first store. After a different kind of elevator eyes from a woman that looked as though she was daring me to outstay my welcome, I left emptyhanded. I had that familiar feeling one associates with designer stores, “You don’t belong in here” – which was true I didn’t because I couldn’t afford any of the products. But the difference with designer sex unlike clothing or perfumes is that it’s really hard not to translate – “You aren’t our kind of customer” into “You aren’t sexy enough to deserve pleasure”.
Naturally, after this, I went online. This was great but the sheer amount of products out there felt overwhelming and I remember feeling fairly perplexed. There are some sex toy boutiques who have really worked on cultivating a safe and warm environment for their customers. I would quickly just mention Sh! Women’s Emporium, who championed a female only sex shop back when there was really very little support for female shoppers. Also, Other Nature in Berlin, which is a fully inclusive vegan sex shop. By vegan they mean to say that they don’t have leather goods and only sell vegan condoms. Both of these boutiques have super informed staff and provide herbal tea for their customers free of charge. But there are still so few outlets providing this kind of support for their customers and I feel that this needs to change. It isn’t just shopping, it’s important moments in people’s lives. It was buying my first strap on harness with my first girlfriend and not knowing how it should sit. It was getting the chance to see what’s size butt-plugs were available and speak to someone on a human-to-human level about what might be appropriate. Or, it’s admitting that sex has felt painful in some way and plucking up the courage to ask for help.
That is what’s so nice about ILOH, Jemma has curated a selection of objects and artfully presented them. They aren’t patronising, they don’t “baby” their audience and there’s a body of insightful information to help inform your shopping decision. Feeling comfortable is really only stage one in the evolution of pleasure shopping. I really feel that going forward sex toy shopping should be like having a favourite designer. It should be more than comfort it should be confidence. Somewhere you want to hang out or that represents your personality. Somewhere you’d be proud to be affiliated with. I’m just so excited to see where we’re heading and I’m really pleased, along with ILOH, to be a part of that changing landscape.
Shop Prudence by Fine Bone here.