3 Times Working Sex Toy Retail Made Me Feel All Warm and Fuzzy

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.

Top Toronto Spots For… Sex Nerds

me wearing a "Sex Geek" T-shirt

It’s so much easier to be a sex-positive weirdo when your city is brimming with other sex-positive weirdos. And Toronto certainly fucking is! Here are some sex-nerdy spots you should check out, if you decide to visit Toronto for the porn festival in April or for any other occasion…

me dressed eclectically and looking apprehensive
On my way to an art party at Good For Her in 2009.

Sex shop: Good For HerWe used to have some other great feminist sex shops – like Come As You Are, which shuttered its brick-and-mortar location and converted to all-online this past year – but right now, Good For Her’s the only one still standing. It has a relaxed, low-pressure ambiance that’s super important when you’re shopping for something as sensitive as sex products. The staff always offer me water or tea when I walk in, which is just lovely. They carry a lot of different sex toys, kink items, sexual health supplies, sex books, and menstrual products. They also run workshops on various topics related to sex, dating, and sensuality. And I love that the hours from 12 to 2 PM every Sunday are only for customers who identify as women or trans folks – sometimes you just need to shop in an environment that is guaranteed to be free of cis dudes.

Leather/fetish gear: Northbound Leather. I was introduced to this shop by my friend Taylor J. Mace, who knows his shit when it comes to kink! I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford anything from this upscale leather store, but it’s sure fun to window-shop at. If you have a leather fetish or just want to breathe in the sweet, soothing scent of fancy-ass leather, put this shop on your itinerary.

Condoms and lube: the Condom Shack. This Queen West shop is exactly what it sounds like. Do your research before visiting, because they carry a bunch of cheap, shitty stuff alongside their higher-quality wares – but if you need a quick top-up of, say, Blossom Organics lube or Crown condoms, you can make a pitstop here.

my friend Dan and I drinking ciders
Drinking ciders with Dan at the Glad Day.

Queer books: Glad Day Bookshop. Did you know that we have the world’s oldest LGBT bookstore here in Toronto?! Glad Day is such a wonderful place, and I recommend supporting them whenever you get the chance. Their current space on Church Street is sprawling and beautiful, and you can get coffee and tea there in addition to books. It’s a lovely place to sit with your hot beverage for a few hours, reading or writing or hanging out with friends. They also host plenty of fun events for the local queer and sex-positive community – as does the 519, just up the street.

STI testing and contraception: Hassle-Free Clinic or Planned ParenthoodI have not accessed services at either of these places (I get my testing done through my family doctor), but they come highly recommended by friends of mine. You will be treated well at either clinic, and you can also grab a handful of free condoms at either one. The Hassle-Free may be of particular interest to you if you’re visiting from outside the country: their services are free, even if you don’t have a Canadian health card. Oh, Canada, how I adore thee.

Dane Joe and I smiling at each other
With Dane Joe at Oasis, about to get it on.

Sex club (with caveats): Oasis AqualoungeIt would be strange to write about sexy spots in Toronto without mentioning Oasis, our local water-themed sex club – but this recommendation isn’t a whole-hearted one. Oasis has some transphobic policies, is rumored (in my communities) to employ someone who has committed sexual assaults in the past, and even did a “Slave Princess Leia”-themed event mere days after Carrie Fisher’s death (YIKES). All of these issues are apparently being addressed but I’ll still have my reservations about Oasis until I see them take action to fix and apologize for these problems. However, there are few – if any – other spaces like Oasis in Toronto, unfortunately. They have a nice pool and hot tub, a well-stocked bar, and several rooms to get bizzy in. Go if you must… although I’m sure there are more ethical places where you could fuck.

a tag with the number 4 on it, pinned to my chest
My number tag at Crush.

Sex-positive socializin’: Crush and Puppy Love. These are fun dance-y parties designed to help you mix ‘n’ mingle with other sex-positive cuties. Crush is more introvert-friendly, with icebreaker games like Truth or Dare and Twister on offer, and a system of anonymous “crush notes” where you can tell someone you think they’re cute even if you’re shy. Meanwhile, Puppy Love has more of a clubby vibe, and is great if you want to dance the night away.

Queer-specific socializin’: Queer Slowdance and the Butch/Femme Salon. These are fun places to make new friends and/or get your flirt on if you’re a queerdo. I love that the Queer Slowdance has volunteer “designated dancers” whose entire job is to seek out nervous wallflowers, make them feel comfortable, and invite them to dance. I am the introvertiest introvert but I find this environment less anxiety-provoking than most parties.

Queer history: the Canadian Lesbian & Gay ArchivesI haven’t been here but I hear good things! Our LGBTQ foreparents did such important things for the cause, and they deserve to be celebrated for generations to come. Visiting the archives is a way you can honor and learn about those who came before you in the canon of queer history.

Smutty laughs: Bed PostThis variety show at the Social Capital Theatre mixes sex-centric storytelling and comedy with other art forms, like burlesque, music, and dance. It’s hosted by the ever-charming Erin Pim. There are always giveaways of sex products, too. It’s a real mixed bag of an evening!

my beautiful blonde friend Georgia animatedly telling a story in front of a crowd
Georgia telling a story at Tell Me Something Good.

Sexy storytelling: Tell Me Something GoodA highlight of my month every month, TMSG is where a bunch of super-supportive sex-positive cuties get together in a room and listen to some brave volunteers tell true sex stories from their lives. There’s a different theme each month, hilarious guest judges, and X-rated prizes to be won. Whether you decide to tell a story yourself or just opt to sit in the crowd and laugh the evening away, it’s always a supremely fun night out.

Fellow Toronto-dwellers: what are your favorite sex-nerdy spots in our city?

5 Ways to Know You’re Buying From an Ethical Sex Toy Shop

image

You always remember your first… The first sex shop you went to, that is.

Mine was well-lit and well-stocked. Friendly sales associates checked in with me just enough to make sure I was doing okay. Products were labeled descriptively and helpfully. I felt neither rushed nor judged as I perused the wares, picked out what I wanted, and paid for it.

I don’t recall many details, because what matters is how that shop made me feel. Sex is so tied up in our emotions – everything from shame to joy – that a sex shop needs to not only be good but feel good, too. You are giving these businesses not only your money, but also your vulnerability and your trust. They have to earn that shit.

Here are five ways that sex shops can prove they’ve earned that shit.

They emphasize body-safe products. Despite the known dangers of phthalates and porous toys, some shops continue to sell products that are demonstrably unhealthy. Jelly vibes, rubber dildos, butt plugs that lack a flared base, lubes chock full of glycerine, “numbing” creams for anal sex – none of these things should be present in the stock of a decent sex shop. High-quality shops carry toys made of body-safe materials like silicone, hard plastic, glass, and stainless steel. Your body deserves only the best, and trustworthy shops know that!

They offer plentiful, accurate information about their products. Brick-and-mortar shops should have salespeople who are knowledgeable about toy materials and how their products can be used (both on- and off-label uses). Online shops should list product materials and/or ingredients on each product page, so you can make informed decisions. You shouldn’t have to ask a barrage of questions or click through a zillion pages to find the information you need: good shops want to equip you to make the best sex toy decisions for you. This should be true whether you’re buying something small, like a bullet vibe, or something pricey, like a fancy realistic dildo.

Their language is sex-positive and inclusive. It’s problematic as hell to say (or even just to imply) that only women have vaginas, only men have penises, all couples are cis straight couples, all bodies are thin and mobile, or every member of “x” group likes “y” sex act. Sex is a sensitive topic, full of nuance and variation, and the employees of any good sex shop will be aware of that. Steer clear of shops whose salespeople, marketing copy, or website makes assumptions about what kind of body you have or what kind of sex you have. Also avoid any shop that plays up themes of “naughtiness” or shame around sex – you deserve to get your toys from stores that ensure they’re accessible, joyful and welcoming for everyone.

Sex toy professionals speak well of them. Some shops send products to reviewers (like me!), and our opinions on those shops will tell you a lot about them. Ethical companies treat their reviewers, suppliers, affiliates and colleagues with respect and kindness. You already know we’re a wealth of information about sex toys themselves, but we also know shit about companies and shops. If you’re looking for a quick opinion, ask a sex toy pro who you trust!

They fix their mistakes. I’ve seen sex shops make countless missteps, from partnering with transphobic corporate sponsors to abruptly changing their rewards program to accidentally invoking sexual assault in their newsletter. The measure of a good shop is how they react to these mistakes. It’s no good to sweep errors under the rug, tell complainants they’re overreacting, or shut down the dialogue entirely: shops should step up and take accountability for what they’ve done, express genuine regret, and explain how they’re going to do better in the future. This is about so much more than sex toys; it’s about creating a shopping environment that feels safe and respectful. That is absolutely vital, especially in the sometimes-fraught world of sex.

What are your red flags and green lights when it comes to sex shops?

Sponsored by EdenFantasys.com

You know you’re a sex nerd when…

…you use the words “cunnilingus” and “fellatio” all the time in regular conversation.

…you’re taken aback by any woman who’s upset she can’t climax from intercourse alone, and throw statistics at her.

…you spend a disproportionate amount of time idly surfing Lelo, Njoy, Liberator, and Jimmyjane’s websites.

…you go to a sex shop with a friend and spend the entire time doing mini-reviews of every toy you see, regardless of whether or not you yourself have used it.

…your friends know to ask you if they have a sexual problem or need a toy recommendation.

…you own both The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio and The Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus, have read both thoroughly, and lend them out as needed.

…you quote Violet Blue, Kidder Kaper, Dan Savage, and Tristan Taormino in everyday life.

…you periodically make a huge event out of putting your sex toys in boiling water to sterilize them.

…you react in utter horror to jelly toys.

…you explain to your partner, during sex, the benefits and drawbacks of the position you’re in, and suggest possible alternatives and alterations.

…you have a favorite kind of condom, and you order it in bulk online.

…you’ve repurposed your Lelo boxes into storage for lube and butt plugs.

…the slightest hesitance on your partner’s part causes you to ask them a series of questions to make sure you’re respecting their boundaries.

…you’ve done MojoUpgrade at least 5 times.

…you’ve taken one of your parents to a sex shop before, at their request.

…you know the layout of your local sex boutique so well that you’re thrown off when they change it at all.

…you know the nutritional information and caloric content of semen, menstrual blood, female ejaculatory fluid, and various kinds of flavored lube.

…you own several thick, dark, large towels.

…your first response to any plea for sexual advice is “Ask your partner what they think!”

…you know the efficacy rates of all the birth control methods off the top of your head.

…your masturbation sessions are more like lab experiments.