I’m a huge fan of sex shops. Huge. Friends ask me to go with them all the time (especially if they have never been), giggly dates agree to go with me, and there have been one of two occasions where I have known more about a product than the salesperson. It’s so great to go somewhere where you can drop all pretense and directly ask, “How powerful is this vibrator?” and “These fuzzy cuffs – do they have a guarantee? They don’t look like they’ll hold up to my level of crazy.”
As fun as sex shops are, though, not everyone feels that way. Going to a store where the whole focus is on sex and where salespeople ask all kinds of personal questions, where inexperience is so glaringly obvious, can stir up a great deal of anxiety. Which – let’s admit it – is not only understandable, but probably how each of us felt the first (and maybe second) time we went to one. Totally normal. And as you may have noticed, some sex outlets prefer to be called a “sex shop” while some prefer to be called a “sex boutique.” Some are just little side rooms of otherwise unremarkable stores, or even a side room to a complementary service – like a lingerie store that has an “Adults Only” room. Go to a location that makes you feel comfortable, safe, and is well lit. Emily Morse, host of the podcast Sex with Emily, says her favorite store “in the whole world” is Good Vibrations in San Francisco. If you find a good store, stick with them and develop Returning Customer status.
I’ve been thinking about writing an article like this for a while, but whenever I sit down to do it, I’ll realize someone else has said it better. So, while it’s still fresh, here are a few ideas and “pep talk” from a recent visit with a friend.
It’s good to go with a friend or partner.
Look, doing something new doesn’t just make you anxious. It also causes you to have all kinds of questions, find new degrees of humor, and allows you to burn off nervous energy rather than shut down and get lost in your head. Go with someone you trust and you’re bound to have a memorable experience. Some of my friendships developed almost instantaneously with a (not exactly sober) visit to a sex shop.
Do some comparative shopping online beforehand and go with questions.
One of the most frustrating experiences in sales is when a customer fairly says they “Don’t know what they’re looking for” or are “Just looking around.” If you want the best experience, do your homework in advance. Go with questions prepared. “Is there a difference between the Large, Extra-Large, and the XXL models?”
Seriously. Ask questions, get someone’s opinion, and speak up.
Individuals who work at sex boutiques are walking experts. They are the front line of adult toys, and because of this they know what works and what doesn’t. Customers will tell them when a dildo company has rough, sharp edges or whether a waterproof guaranteed vibrator is just a guaranteed piece of junk. Don’t be afraid to ask about a product – this is not only how they make their money, it’s something they know 100x more about than the general salesperson. Also, feel free to share your own experience – did a “warming lube” burn too much for your preference? They need to know that to help future customers!
Ask for samples of the lube you want to try out.
There are all kinds of lube. Water based, organic, oil based, the kind that warms up, the kind that tingles, the kind that has a “cooling” effect. If it feels like there are hundreds of options, it’s because there are! Feel free to ask if there are free samples or see if they have small-dose samples at the counter. And if there is a product you want to see out of the box, there’s probably a model available. When in doubt, just ask. Whenever I’ve been to a store and asked for a sample, they’re quick to provide one.
Sidenote: My vote is for water-based lubes when a vagina is involved. I feel like organic is a selling point that I’m sure is great and everything, but water-based lube is always my first choice. Please, please, please ask for your local seller’s advice and be careful if you have a sensitive vagina, allergies, or if the lube “doesn’t feel right.”
No one is judging you, so put that out of your head.
Every single sex shop I’ve gone to, the salespeople have been super friendly, very open and receptive, very talkative, and probably already had someone out-kink me during their shift. “Do you have a vibrating buttplug?” isn’t that shocking when the customer before me asked what lube was best for anal fisting. The people that work at sex shops are super comfortable talking about sex and are not judging you. If they weren’t open-minded, they wouldn’t work there. Period.
Don’t ask about their personal life… unless you’re prepared for some Real Talk.
I once went to a sex shop on a first date and I was trying to be friendly. I’m not even sure anymore what it was that I asked, but before I knew it, my date and I were getting an earful of the salesperson’s life story – how she was polyamorous, had sex with both of her roommates but the guy she was ”dating” at the time was her “main Sugar Daddy. I have others, but he’s the one I’ll cancel appointments for because he treats me so well.”
“Why would anyone want to work in an adult store?” – by Annemarie Rodda
If you like a good story, ask about their life. But don’t be surprised if they give you TMI in return. After all, they hear about customer’s sex lives all day long. When you ask them a question and treat them like a human being, they’re bound to respond accordingly.
Bring a bag, a purse, a backpack, something to carry out your purchase.
A lot of stores only have branded bags and you might not want to get caught walking down Colorado Blvd. with a “Kinky McKinkerton’s Kinky Kink-Kink Store” bag in hand. Don’t assume their bags will be discrete. Once you’ve paid, just tell them “Hey, I’m tucking this away.” They’ll understand.
And now for the pep talk: You deserve a great sex life. Whether partnered or alone, there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun and enjoying the wonderful sensations your body was built to enjoy. The question isn’t, why should you visit a sex shop? It’s why are sex shops not a more frequent part of your consumption? You buy video games and apps, groceries, and shoes. But is the extent of your sexual activity limited to “watching porn for a while every night”?
Get to a sex shop, boutique, or trunk party as soon as possible. Start small – a small little “treat” for yourself. It doesn’t even have to be a toy or an erotic movie. Sex shops also sell erotic novels, cuddle pillows, and lingerie. I’m not saying buy a stripper pole your first time out of the gate! Maybe go just to look around and see what your local store has in stock, then buy a small tube of lube or get a product catalog on your way out. I’ve gone with dozens of friends and, every time, they will say “That wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be!”
Don’t be intimidated. And stop scrolling through product images on Amazon when you can go put your hands on it and see for yourself whether a toy will fit, “feels right” or will do what you want it to do.
No matter what happens, be safe, be healthy, and stay hydrated.
- “13 Things You Should Know About Sex Shops” on Buzzfeed
- “Sex Shop Dos and Don’ts” on XOJane
- “Shopping for Sex Toys 101” on College Candy
- “Just Do It: How to feel confident walking into a sex shop” on Bedsider
- “7 Surprising Things I Learned from Working at a Sex Shop” on Alternet
- “What to Expect on Your First Trip to a Sex Shop” on Better Sex Ed
- “The Long and Short of Buying Your First Dildo” on Kinkly