It’s a commonly-spouted truism that working retail sucks, and I can’t argue with that. But some types of retail establishment suck less than others. As far as retail goes, if I get a choice, I’ll choose sex toy retail every time.
Sex shops are truly a weird universe unto themselves. You’re expected not only to sell customers the perfect products for their needs, but also to give them makeshift therapy of sorts. Folks come in not only with questions but with heart-rending monologues, long and storied histories, and years of baggage to pick apart. I would wager sex toy retail requires more emotional labor than practically any other category of retail.
But with great investments come great rewards, and I have indeed found sex toy retail to be some of the most fulfilling service-industry work I’ve done. I’ve often come away feeling like I’ve genuinely helped people and made their lives brighter.
On top of all that, I’ve had some of the raddest coworkers ever while working in sex shops. As you might imagine, these establishments are hubs for cool, offbeat, open-minded people. I’ve made some connections that are very dear to me in those environments.
Here are three of my favorite stories from working sex toy retail…
1. A young, straight-seeming couple came into the shop once, looking for a realistic dildo. I helped them choose one to fit their specifications: a particular shape and size they wanted, and a color that matched the guy’s skin tone. I didn’t think much of it – maybe he was having erectile issues, I thought, or couldn’t last as long as his partner wanted, or maybe they both just thought it would be hot to incorporate a dildo into sex. It didn’t seem relevant for me to know the details, so I didn’t ask.
It wasn’t until they inquired about harnesses that I began to suspect the guy might be trans, but I wasn’t sure, and again, it didn’t really matter for my purposes. I led him to the fitting rooms to try on a couple different harnesses, and his girlfriend waited outside the door to provide opinions as needed.
Leaving them to it, I wandered off to help another customer. But a few minutes later, as this couple walked toward the cash register with harness and dildo in hand, they caught my eye and approached me. “I just wanted to say thank you for being so helpful,” the guy said. “Some shops make me feel really awkward about being trans, and I didn’t feel that here.”
I immediately burst into tears, because I’m a sap. I’ve had multiple close trans and nonbinary friends over the years and it’s always so infuriating when they get misgendered and/or mistreated in public (or at all); it makes me want to punch people in their throats, which, y’know, isn’t exactly socially sanctioned. “That makes me so happy,” I gasped. “Thank you.” I hoped my manager couldn’t see me openly weeping on the sales floor, but ultimately I didn’t really care. The couple bought their stuff and left, and it was all I could do to compose myself for another few hours on the clock.
2. Another straight-seeming couple came into the store, all shifty and giggly. She beelined for the back, where one of my coworkers started helping her out. He, meanwhile, came to me.
“Me and my girlfriend are each shopping for something to surprise the other with,” he explained. “Oh, cute!” I chirped, and asked him for more details about his lady’s toy preferences. #RelationshipGoals, I thought.
In the end, we arrived at two possible options. She’d mentioned wanting to try a clit pump, but she also liked clitoral vibration, so he was torn between a pump and a strong bullet vibe I’d recommended. Offhandedly, he disclosed, “She already has a Magic Wand, and she loves it.”
My eyes went wide. “Oh, if she’s got a Magic Wand already, she probably doesn’t need this,” I told him, tapping the bullet. “Go with the clit pump. That’s gonna be a totally new sensation for her.”
At that moment, his girlfriend came striding toward us, and we both instinctively ducked, hiding the toys before she saw. “Shit,” he said, and we giggled.
“Also,” I whispered conspiratorially, “if you put the clit pump on her and hold the Magic Wand on it, the pump will vibrate, which feels really cool.”
He grinned. “Sold.” I watched them purchase their selections, backs to each other – “No peeking!” – and walk out arm-in-arm holding their plastic shopping bags. I hoped she would like the pump, and I wondered what she’d picked out for him.
3. I was blessed enough, at one point, to have coworkers who would consensually flog me with various products from the shop on slow nights. It certainly livened things up.
Once, I saw my tallest, buffest, domliest coworker perusing the impact play section of the store. I was bent over the glass dildo display case at the time, my chin cupped in one hand in a gesture of repose that said, Why the fuck aren’t there any customers tonight?! I watched coolly as Domly-Dom Coworker picked up the heaviest flogger we carried and weighed it in his big, broad hands.
He happened to glance my way. Wordlessly, I bent slightly further over the display case in a mildly suggestive pose. Wordlessly, he quirked an eyebrow at me and gestured with the flogger. Wordlessly, I nodded. Wordlessly, he strode over to me and cocked the flogger in both hands. I nodded again. He brought the falls down with a satisfying crack. I squealed. He smirked. We went back to work.
He and other coworkers took to hitting me with other things on occasion. A sex-ed hardcover in a dust jacket (“This one’s real thick; it should be good”). A heavy clotheshanger from the lingerie section (“I’m not sure this is strictly safe”). A giant PVC dildo the length of an arm (“This probably isn’t what people mean when they say they ‘play with double ended dildos‘”).
One day, a couple came in and inquired about the studded rubber paddle we carried. “Oh, it’s actually really cool!” I enthused. “Look, my manager just hit me with it a few hours ago and I still have these red marks on my arm! See?!” They were not as excited as I was, and did not buy that paddle. Oh well. Their loss.
This post was graciously sponsored by the folks at DearLady (who also supplied all the product photos in this post)! As always, all writing and opinions are my own.