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Things You Should Know About Sex Shops

My first job out of uni was an Adult Shop Attendant. I sold sex toys.

There was nothing quite like the shocked faces of relatives when I told them how I was spending my post-study time. But while there are a lot of misconceptions around adult stores, the days of the “sleazy porn store” are numbered.

For a lot of people, the idea of going to a store and talking to a person one-on-one about their sex life is daunting. However, the advantage of going into a store rather than shopping online does not only do you get to see and compare the products firsthand, but you also get expert knowledge — in most stores, anyway.

If you’ve only ever frequented sex shops for gag gifts or bachelorette party garb, the thought of picking up a few things for your own pleasure (and admitting it out loud) can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. But once you get past the initial stigma of opening up to the sales rep about, well, the kinkiest details about your life, it can feel liberating.

That’s because sex shop employees are sharp, open-minded, and ready to help you upgrade your sex life from meh to day-um—all while putting up with the (many) misconceptions that come with the job.

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.

A sex shop can be a great way to check out a product before becoming very familiar with it, but going to one for the first time can also be intimidating. The entire premise behind this type of shopping is that you’ll go into a place of business and explain to a stranger who works there what would give you the best orgasm—definitely not a situation you encounter anywhere else in life.

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 It’s OK to bring a friend.

Shopping with your friends can make the experience far less awkward or intimidating, as you can help each other pick the right one and most importantly. Coming in with a friend is probably a lot more fun. You have someone for backup and you can giggle together. And you won’t have to feel that you’re all alone in this brand-new world of sex toys. The only downside is you might not want them to know the ins and outs of your sex life. But if you think you’d feel more comfortable, then, by all means, come in – we have whole groups turn up!

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Most people have been inside a sex shop at one point

I’ve seen my fair share of “deer in the headlights” customers. Usually, it comes in the form of “husband picking out a sex toy for his wife.” When shopping for others, whether it’s a partner or a bachelorette, get a feel for their sexual preferences and maybe even fantasies. Don’t assume.

For example, most women need clitoral stimulation in order to achieve orgasm, so many of us recommend a “clitoral/external stimulator” over the standard dildo or vibrator (internal stimulation). A good place to start is to educate yourself about the male and female erogenous zones.

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 lawnmowers 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 for the next week.

Think of it like regular shopping

No one should feel nervous approaching a sales assistant to ask for help. We’re here to sell you the best items, the same way someone in an electrical store would – just with slightly more intimate products. So there’s no harm in simply going up to the sales assistant and saying, ‘Hello, can you tell me about this product? Is it safe to use in this kind of sex act?’ For us, it’s just another product to sell and inform you on.

Feel free to touch: “If you go into any clothing store, you want to come in and touch the materials and look at the colours. It’s exactly like that. For people who work in sex shops, we don’t necessarily see the toys as sex toys, more like beautiful objects. It’s like handbags or shoes. Broach it like you would when you’re going shoe shopping i.e. ‘I’m looking for a pair of black heels, can you show me what’s around?’

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Talk to the staff

Don’t go to a shop where the employees are simply looking for a paycheck. Sex toys have actual science and complicated technology behind them (material, power, cleanliness, etc.), not to mention history. You want to learn these things from experts, not schmoes.

For instance, some kinds of sex toys are safest when using a condom because of how much bacteria they can trap and how difficult they are to clean. A good salesperson will share this kind of information with you, not fear a decrease in sales. Make sure your toy is tested before you leave the store, to make sure you don’t have a “dud.” Steer clear of the shops that don’t do this.

Adult stores are usually locally owned. We are fully aware you can find many of our products, especially high-end ones, online for cheaper. Sure, they sell sex-related swag, but working in a sex shop is no different than working in other retail establishments. Like any other sales job, they have to have certain credentials (such as an associates degree) and are trained to work in the store. My favourite part of the job is when people come in with concerns, like painful sex or vaginal dryness, and leave with products and information that will help them enjoy sex again.

Just as children these days are desensitized to violence, so sex shop workers are to the 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.

If you look like a rabbit in the headlights, we will know that you’re new to the toy game, so we will approach you with care and won’t go straight into the toy talk. It’s a bit like foreplay – there is a warm-up element which requires some TLC before you get the big climax. We’ll never ask any blunt questions. Instead, we take the customer around the store, and can tell from their body language which area they’re more interested in – then we can head back there. As we’re talking we’ll pass each toy to the customer to see if they outright reject it, as it’s always easier to say that you don’t like something. From there we can try and build a rapport to put the customer more at ease.

“The other thing we do with our customers is that when we say words like clitoris or orgasm, we make sure we’re looking at the toy rather than making eye contact, which can be a bit too much for customers that are shy talking about sex.”

There is no such thing as a stupid question. We’ve heard it all. Just be appropriate and respectful.

Don’t ask, “You stick it up WHERE?!” Try instead, “How is this toy used?” Ultimately we are retail workers who are trained and want to answer any question you have.

Different strokes for different folks” is quite literal here. There is no such thing as the “best” toy because what works for some people won’t for others. Pretty much everything regarding sexual pleasure is trial and error; find out what feels good for you and work with that.

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We have heard every question before

A lot of female customers think that needing lube makes them less womanly, or they’re concerned that their male partner will feel inadequate if they need lube to get slippery for sex. Although it’s a common belief that a woman’s wetness depends on her level of arousal, there are plenty of things that can eff with self-lubrication, including hormone fluctuations, pregnancy—even antihistamines and antidepressants. “Even naturally wet women can reach orgasm faster with lube,” says Kazoleas. “Plus, lube reduces the risk of condom failure.” Pass it on. 

There is a difference between lube brands. There’s one called purity8 that’s Australia’s first certified organic lube, and then there are ones that are more sensitive that will be great for people more prone to thrush. We recommend buying small samples to play with until you find the one you like.

There are lubes that cool down, warm up, tingle, taste good, or that double up as massage oil. It all depends on what you want it for; it’s a bit like when you put salt or pepper on your food or use a condiment – you do it because it makes your food taste better. The same rule applies to lube! If you know the basic difference between silicone, water-based, and oil, it will all just come down to price-point and quality. The more expensive ones will have better consistency and might be more economical because they’ll last longer.

A sex shop is still a retail shop

Really think about what you’re asking when you walk in and ask a worker this. This is still a retail shop; just because I’m selling pleasure products doesn’t mean A) I’ve tried all, some or any of them; and B) that’s none of your damn business. We will volunteer the information ourselves if we feel comfortable enough to tell you.

Most times people mean it in a “has this been tried and been proven to work?” kind of way, but the occasional creep asks these kinds of questions with the intent to use the mental image later…or in our parking lot. (Yes, that happened and is why I won’t answer these questions anymore.)

We’re selling sex products, not sex.

And the sex shop staff are still human

While it’s okay to ask for recommendations, it’s not okay to ask a sex shop employee what they love the most. Not only is it super-invasive, but the answer won’t help you determine which toy is right for you. “Everyone is different and is turned on by different things.

I had a woman ask me how many times I had to call the cops on people having sex in the parking lot and was upset that I “ruined her image of a sex shop” when I told her zero. I had another woman ask if our bathrooms had “men underneath to look up.” Really?! For every “creep,” we got 20 “normal” people, and those truly are relative terms.

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.

We expect uncomfortable partners or friends who get dragged along, but when they comment about how “disgusting” sex or the shop itself is, it’s incredibly frustrating. Please do not bring your personal issues with something as natural and fun as sex here. Be open.

I know several educators have been propositioned for sex by female and male clients,

Sex culture is changing pretty rapidly. Women are becoming more open to talking about and, more importantly, enjoying sex. It is perfectly okay for women to enjoy sex, either alone or with another person. Further, sex toys are not just a “chick thing;” there are plenty of toys designed for men.

Sex is fun. Don’t let social norms prevent you from being open to or trying new things.

The key is finding a store you feel comfortable shopping in and clerks you feel safe talking to. Well-trained, thoughtful staff will ask you basic questions about your experiences, preferences, and intentions before they begin suggesting products, and there are usually items on display to touch and feel so you can make an informed decision. “You may pay a little more than you would online, but you’ll gain knowledge, confidence, and likely end up with a better product. 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.

Ask Questions

You likely came into the store because you had a question, had your eye on a product, or were curious about what the shop is actually like—that’s great! So ask that question or find out what to do with that thing; lots of rookies don’t. “It’s clear it’s someone’s first time if they walk in and walk right out without asking for assistance,” says Tobar. You’re allowed to find an employee first thing and ask them for help—they’re probably more than happy to tell you which condoms are customer favourites or which vibrators they’d personally recommend.

Is this a good sex store?

One way to tell if you’re in a reputable, sex-positive establishment is if the shop is organized using gender-neutral categories, says Kazoleas. If a sex shop describes their vibrators as being “for women,” they’re not well educated in gender identity or anal stimulation. “Any vibrator with a flared based can be enjoyed anally by anyone, and even vibrators intended to stimulate the clitoris can be used to stimulate other erogenous zones (think: nipples, perineum).

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Is it worth going in-store?

The limitation with online shopping is that you can’t hold it in your hand, feel it, turn it on, and know if you’ll love it or not. There’s a reason most good online stores try to make returns easy. We know how difficult it is to find the perfect sex toy (or any item) when you can’t touch it first.

Shopping in person gives you the opportunity to really decide if this vibrator or that masturbation stroker is the perfect one for you. No, you can’t test drive it in the store. But with a sales person’s help, they can take let you hold it. They may also be able to put batteries in or plug it in, so you can feel how powerful it is or what kind of settings are available before you buy.

On the other hand, buying online comes with privacy, both online and in-store have their pros and cons, but the point of this article is that everybody does it, a sex shop is nothing to be scared of. You will actually find that after visiting a sex shop and talking to the professional and knowledgable staff you will get the feeling that “that wasn’t so bad”, and probably end up with a better product.