Recently on the Triple J show 'The Hook Up' I was asked if bricks and mortar stores were still relevant in a world where it's so easy to make such private purchases online and if so, why?
Of course I answered that yes they're absolutely important and rattled off a few reasons, but it got me thinking a lot more about why stores like Passionfruit are so vital.
One of the most common phrases I hear from customers when they stand looking uncertainly around is "I've never been into a store like this before". Every time I hear it I die a little inside because firstly, there are no stores "like this", and secondly, why do we feel so embarrassed anyway? It's a problem that I've pondered since first opening the store in 1998. How do we get past our fear of walking into a sex shop without shame?
I've made the store as opposite to a traditional sex shop as I've been able to. It's clean, bright, gorgeous, upmarket and filled with the best quality products available. The staff are informed, friendly and sex positive. Yet there remains a reluctance to be seen walking into one of 'those' shops, especially for women.
There are two reasons why I think this is so.
1. VIBRATORS ARE FOR PORN STARS, NOT ME.
Around about the 1920's, stag films began to circulate with many featuring vibrators. This led to physicians no longer selling them as a health benefit and magazines refusing to advertise them. Instead they were sold in porn shops, making it difficult for women to purchase sex toys and so their popularity diminished. Before that,
"The vibrator was enormously popular, and became the fifth electrical appliance to be introduced into the home, alongside the teakettle, sewing machine, fan, and toaster, and ads for the device ran in everything from Needlecraft and Sears, Roebuck and Co. to Woman’s Home Companion."
That reluctance to walk into a traditional sex shop persists to this day, not helped by the market which has failed to understand its primary customer, ie. women. When I opened in 1998, most of the women who had a vibrator did so because their male partner had bought it for them. Vibrators had become part of the porn industry rather than the health and well-being sector and it's been difficult to separate them since.
This is the type of packaging that was on every vibrator when I first opened Passionfruit . With names like "Beaver' and porn stars spreadeagled on the box it was no wonder women didn't want to buy them.
2. A WOMAN'S PLEASURE IS TABOO
Here are some of the names you're called if you're a woman, especially a young woman, who loves sex.
Slut. Mole. Whore. Town Bike. Cock Teaser. Tart. Loose.
And if you don't enjoy sex then you're 'frigid'. All ugly words that a young girl will go to great lengths to avoid: words and ideas that will inhibit her ability to really LOVE sex, often for her entire life. Piled on top of that are fears of pregnancy, STI's and being 'found out' to be 'bad'.
For that girl to buy a vibrator for her own pleasure becomes a statement of desire, self-love and sexual autonomy. Walking into a sex shop tells the world that yes, she masturbates, enjoys sex or at least wants to enjoy it. But should she love sex? Society says no. Even a sexually active adult female is labelled 'naughty' or 'bad' as if it's something to be ashamed of.
Having said that, we are riding a wave of sexual independence. Slutwalk and the #metoo campaign for example, have women rethinking the age-old narratives of gender equality. Those of us that live a life of sexual autonomy can seek out communities that support us, watch mainstream shows like BroadCity and Sex & The City and shop for products that are beautifully designed and marketed (in great stores)!
How vibrators are designed and packaged these days.
Certainly over twenty years of talking to customers I've noticed a growing trend towards women actively seeking more positive sexual experiences. There has been a definite shift in the way women define themselves sexually and the way they go about giving and receiving the kinds of experiences they desire (and choosing not to have the sex they don't want).
So here's why bricks and mortar stores are so important. Not just because of the service and advice you get that's not possible on the internet, or the ability to touch and feel before you buy, but because it is still A RADICAL FEMINIST ACT to walk into a sex store and shop for your sexual self. It's how we can smash the narrative of women having to hide the fact that they love sex and pleasure so that they really can finally, wholeheartedly, enjoy it. Feminist sex stores must exist as a powerful and radical symbol of female sexuality.
Internet shopping may be taking over the world, but on this International Women's Day, I'm suggesting that sex shopping should be undertaken with public pride and joy. If walking into an adult store is still something that makes you feel embarrassed, put on those big girl pants and get radical. Reclaim your right to pleasure. Admit that you LOVE SEX and repeat it to yourself often. The experience of shopping for your pleasure must not be underrated and your sex life will improve as a result. If you've got a daughter, bring her too.