Note: The contents of the following article may be considered NSFW.
My first job out of college was a “pleasure specialist,” which sounds way worse than it is. I sold sex toys.
There was nothing quite like the shocked faces of relatives when I told them how I was spending my post-grad time. But while there are a lot of misconceptions around adult stores, the days of the “sleazy porn store” are numbered.
For a lot 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 is not only do you get to see and compare the products firsthand, but you also get expert knowledge — in most stores, anyway.
I learned a lot while I was there — about sex, the business of sex and people in general. Here’s a guide to the proper store etiquette if you ever find yourself shopping for a pleasure product.
Note: This article is written using cisgender language, because most sex shops cater to cisgender couples and individuals. This is not to say the average shop will not help or do not have products for all kinds of identities, but make sure you research (Yelp, Google, etc.) the shop you intend to go to if this is important to you.
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.
But also, just ask your partner. When you get to the store, a salesperson can provide product suggestions.
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. All sales are final and you would hate paying for a NSFW paperweight.
Keep in mind that sex toys are currently not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like proper medical equipment is, so companies can pretty much use whatever they want and put buzz terms like “phalate-free” or “body-safe material” on the packaging and consumers are none the wiser. Learn about the difference in materials and you can save yourself from itching, burning or even a hospital visit later on.
Adult stores are usually locally owned. We are fully aware you can find many of our products, especially high-end ones, online for cheaper. But try to #GoLocal.
I like to compare sex toys and adult products to food; if you spend a little more on the higher quality, you’ll be a lot happier with the outcome, especially longterm. Jelly vibrators are the fast food burgers of the sex toy world; they are very porous and trap a lot of bacteria and should be used sparingly or not at all. Silicone is the safest soft material but still requires cleaning.
However, there are plenty of other toys under $100 that are better than luxury brands — enough factors and exceptions play in that it’s important to seek professional advice.
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.
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.
We already have to deal with middle schoolers prank calling us. Don’t come in just to ask, “Has anyone ever bought the three-foot dildo?!” What if another customer came in while you were giggling, heard you mocking a product, and therefore got too embarrassed to buy anything and left? Many people are nervous to be there to begin with, so do not be Michael from The Office.
That being said, laughing is a natural reaction, so we understand. And some of our products are funny (my favorite is the blow-up punching bag with a place to put a picture of your ex). There’s a difference between laughing because you’re surrounded by sex and just flat out making fun of the products. Don’t laugh at my dildos, please!
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.
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.
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.