My whole life, I’ve shopped for sex toys online. Never ventured into a brick and mortar store until recently. Such a shame. Unless you live in the South. Down here, sex shops feel kind of sketchy.
But hang on. Maybe I’m rushing into generalizations. Sex shops might look sketchy everywhere. Sad squat buildings far away from civilization, usually right off the highway, beneath a big billboard.
Then again, no. When I spent a pinch of time in Europe, you practically tripped over sex. It wasn’t a big deal. Escorts practically handed you business cards. Okay, not practically. Literally.
And they were really nice cards, too.
Classy, just loved their choice of font.
Now back to the states. Sex shops occupy the absolute worst buildings. Concrete, cinder-block nightmares. Ugly pink trim. Somewhere in the distance, a church looms. With a cross so big, it looks specially designed to blow over and crush the sex shop in a bad thunderstorm.
If you were thinking about having sex before you came here, you’re having second thoughts now. Everything about sex shops looks like they were made to make you feel cheap, stupid, and nasty.
And not the good kinda nasty. I’m talking about the “did that guy just pick his nose before touching his French fries?” kinda nasty.
Obviously, I haven’t visited every sex store below the Mason-Dixon. But I’ve been to enough on both sides by now. It just seems like sex shops in big cities kick our ass when it comes to presentation, charm, and overall pizazz.
This one store in Seattle, let me tell you. The window displays made me blush. I was on my way to a job interview, but the mannequins lured me in. A well-dressed man in a vest and tie greeted me. Soft jazz played through warm lighting. Such class. An aesthetically pleasing experience.
Ten minutes inside that place made me feel like I’d had sex. I didn’t buy anything, because who wants a sex toy to spill out of their bag during a job interview? Not me. Not that kinda job.
Sex shops should feel exciting. They should play Miles Davis and employ suave newly weds who show you how to use the latest products. There should be a middle-aged woman who offers sex counseling and therapy with a British accent and a wry smile. They should serve drinks. There should be a dance club next door.
Fine, maybe not all of that. But sex shops should have some energy. That’s hard to find when you live in the Bible belt, where you’re lucky to have one at all. The irony? Strip clubs are bursting with the kind of energy I’d like to see in sex shops. But that might never happen.
Just imagine. Strobe lights. Smoke. Live dancers and DJs. A release party for the latest porno. Maybe some porn stars show up and sign things.
That’s how I imagined my first trip to this sex shop when we moved to a new town, a mid-size city in the south.
Oh, such disappointment. The place stood across the street from a Captain D’s, next to a Chinese buffet.
I’m just saying, not prime real estate. In fact, the buffet looked way more appealing. And much cleaner. Every single letter of their neon sign worked. I couldn’t say the same about the sex shop.
So there you have it.
Going to a sex shop made me want Chinese.
You’d think sex shops would brim with flirty young couples just waiting to make new friends. Nope, not at all. You see, my current partner and I honestly thought that. We thought traipsing into a sex store on a Saturday afternoon would make for a jolly good time, right?
The place was empty. So empty you could tell just by glancing around the parking lot. The trash-strewn parking lot.
A girl in her early 20s worked the register. She didn’t look like a stripper, or a porn star. WTF? Her outfit was a hoodie over loose jeans.
Maybe an off-duty stripper. Or just a normal girl trying to figure out life. We actually did wind up talking for a few minutes, me and the girl. The way she talked, sex shops wasn’t a career choice.
“I’m so tired of the phone calls,” she said. “Last week, this same guy called and asked me to read porn titles from our collection, until something sounded interesting. I’m pretty sure he was jerking off. So I talked to my manager, and I don’t have to do that anymore.”
“Oh, that’s good.” I tried to laugh. “Any crazy stories?”
She thought a minute and shrugged. “We caught some guy trying to shoplift a butt plug…. But mostly, it’s just pervy phone calls.”
My partner and I browsed. There’s something so strange about seeing dildos on display, completely removed from context. They look so much better on a website, or a bed. On a shelf, they’re just meh.
Honestly, the store mainly housed porn DVDs. We skimmed the covers. He showed me a handful and I shrugged. “I don’t really like her hair,” I said. Or “His smile looks kind of weird.”
We kept looking through DVDs and found a couple of maybes. But then he asked, “Don’t we find way better stuff online?”
I shushed him. “Oh, my God. Lower your voice. The clerk girl’s, like, right over there.” I didn’t want to sound judgmental of their collection. With all the online business, and Amazon, I was sure that retail locations weren’t doing so hot. Not at all.
We bought one or two things. I can’t even remember what. We made a little more conversation with the clerk. Part of me wanted to ask her about her dreams, her life’s ambitions. But that felt weird. So we just paid and left. Then we drove home to watch some light porn and have sex.
The sex was great. Sex is always great. I mean, usually.
Hey, it’s way better than shopping at a sex store mid-afternoon.
Afterward, I felt like my normal self again. Oh, that’s right. Sex is fun. It’s not depressing at all. People enjoy the act of sex.
Everything was fine.
What am I getting at here? In the end, I don’t think sex shops should turn into strip clubs, or start hiring strippers to trick single men into buying all kinds of sex gadgets they’ll never use.
But I do want to point out some ironies. First, look at the way our culture promotes sex. Magazine covers. Albums. Commercials. Movies. Music. We use sex to sell everything. Places like Hooter’s profit mercilessly off women’s bodies. I mean, are the wings that good? One day, I’ll make a special trip to Hooters to find out.
Marketers use sex and sensuality to sell almost everything except the actual tools for sex. Sure, online sex shops and porn sites make you feel excited to be there. But when you go to an actual sex shop, specifically to buy stuff to have sex, you find a seedy little concrete bunker shoved out of sight and out of mind, made as unappealing as possible. What gives? If nothing else, that tells me something still needs to change in our larger mindsets. If we’re going to use sex to sell everything, even cheeseburgers, then maybe we shouldn’t marginalize sex shops.