Cheap, smokey and blokey. If you asked me to reflect on what adult stores were like 25-years ago, I would’ve said that they were much like public bars of the ‘70s; shady places frequented mostly by men. But unlike the redundant public bar, folks were actually allowed to go into adult shops, even if they were, unfortunately for many, unwelcoming places.
Like the public bars of my adolescence, adult stores of the ‘90s felt like a destination, designed exclusively for blokes; somewhere they bought explicit magazines and videos; maybe a sex toy for ‘the missus’. But, with time, conversation and advances in technology, this destination is changing.
Imagine stepping off Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street and into a real-life PornHub (if it existed IRL), a black-windowed abyss complete with tits, spread legs, giant dicks and glory holes, back entrances and booths. And if you were really lucky, you could catch the latest skin-flick at the in-house cinema – next to some guy pulling one off. This was the average adult shop of the ‘90s. But, just like PornHub and public bars, it’s fair to say that life – and the adult industry – has evolved a lot.
The year Passionfruit opened, Bill Clinton was getting down and dirty with Monica Lewinsky, Celine Dion topped the charts and you could smoke in restaurants. It was a time when sexism was embedded within our psyche, but we didn’t understand the extent of it, let alone have the words to describe it. And while it was the year that Sex and The City first aired, it was an age before women would tweet, blog and share their experiences; before we’d established vernacular around ‘coercive control’, ‘gaslighting’ and ‘inappropriate behaviour’.
There was no #metoo, #slutwalk or #thesexismproject. And so, in 1998, a sex shop for women wasn’t something the imagination could easily conjure (a bit like trying to imagine a female toilet queue without a line in 2023), but it was something that our society was lacking and slowly shifting towards.
Since establishing Passionfruit, we have seen literally millions of virtual sex shops aimed at the female market,with a never ending range of products both good and not-so-good. Today, the act of walking into one and choosing products for yourself remains, in my mind, a radical feminist act. Yet, there are still surprisingly few bricks and mortar stores and pleasure is still a right that we need to fight for, just like our right to vote, divorce and work.
Reflecting on 25-years of Passionfruit encompasses so much more than just considering the evolution of the sex toy or the ‘wellness’ industry; it has since become a part of it all. Passionfruit is a reflection of female sexual expression in the new millennium; a response to Google entering our lives and catalysing our conversations about sex, oppression and rage.
Today, the sexual representation of women that Passionfruit was founded on has expanded to resonate within all of us – the women, men and all of the full and glorious identities across the LGBTQIA+ community – that the industry has previously ignored and failed to find the words for. Our business was created as an act of rebellion, reflection and recognition of all of us who weren’t made for the underground sex shops of yesteryear. The folks who felt left out of mainstream erotica, inexperienced and undersexed. Those of us who felt both too much and not enough for the sex shops available to us at the time.
Only with hindsight, can we see that the past quarter of a century signifies not only a tremendous leap for both female and queer sexual autonomy, but for our enlightenment about sensuality, sexual health, passion and pleasure as a society. That’s what makes it so difficult to reflect upon. A revolution has happened and we haven’t even noticed. Maybe it’s because every year brings exciting progress, or reminders that some things never change.
What we’ve learned is that the industry is growing and making room for more of us than ever before. And we’ve not only witnessed it, but been part of it, every step of the way. In the last 25-years, we may have changed our range, image and, more recently, our location. But, what hasn’t changed is our connection with community, and our belief that there’s room for all of us; our discoveries, our preferences, our identities, our experiences, our pleasures.