Here’s the thing about working in a sex shop, you are asked the exact same questions, all day, every day. Here’s the thing about being asked the exact same questions, all day, every day, you get pretty damn good at answering them. Unfortunately, one of the most common questions I am asked is still one of the hardest for me to answer. Not because it’s actually a difficult question, but because it requires me to shut the fuck up. I’ve never been very good at that.
“I’m looking for something I can use with my partner” Says the blonde with the Coach bag and matching Jimmy Choos. Says the 19 year old in their brand new NYU hoodie. Says the couple, two drinks into their night out on the town.
“What does that even mean???” I want to scream in response.
I want to point out that they are telling me absolutely nothing about how they’re going to actually use the toy, or who will be using it. What parts of the body are we trying to target with this toy? What kind of scene are you trying to build? What kind of stimulation do you and your partner enjoy? The answers to these questions offer me so much more information to work with than simply the concept of a “couples toy.”
I want to monologue on the idea that a toy is inherently intrusive, that it makes partnered sex less natural or less pure. I want to rail against the entire marketing myth that you need something small and hands free if you want to use it with a partner, so that you can pretend it’s not even there. I want to tell them that it’s misogyny that teaches us that anything designed for clitoral pleasure is a burden or a bonus, but not a part of “normal” sex.
I want to explain that literally every toy in our store is a couples toy, to remind them that there is no sex toy police that will burst into their bedroom to tell them they’re doing sex wrong. I want to point out that blindfolds, harnesses, and floggers are rarely used alone, even though I’m sure that’s not what they want. I want to feign confusion and tell them “I don’t know what that means.” I want to make them feel as ridiculous as the question they just asked me.
I don’t say any of those things. I take a deep breath, I smile, and I say “Excellent! We have plenty of products you can use with a partner, are you looking for something that vibrates?”
I say this, even though I know what they’re looking for. They want me to show them the We-Vibe, and explain to them how it was the first of it’s kind and it’s still the best at what it does. They want me to show them a cock ring, and explain that no, it doesn’t hurt, and yes, it will fit. They want me to show them a petite clit vibrator, the kind that will slip comfortably between bodies during PIV, the kind that’s small enough not to threaten anyone’s pride.
I gather the We-Vibe Sync and the Mio while asking about their experience with toys (little to none). I show them how to properly wear a cock ring. I point out the Mimi and the Form 2 while I mention how they’ll target the external and internal structure of the clit. I explain the anatomy of the clit. I show them the Tango and explain what it means for a vibrator to be rumbly.
Sex positivity in sex education is about meeting people where they’re at. While I’d love to completely change the world and have each customer leave my store with a basic understanding of feminism, shame reduction, and gender theory, I don’t have the time and they don’t have the interest. Sometimes, it’s about using their own language to keep them engaged while sneaking in information to broaden their knowledge.
Sometimes, being sex positive means saying “We have products for people of all genders! Are you looking for something for a penis?” instead of “Toys don’t have gender and conflating manhood with having a penis is transphobic!”
Sometimes, being sex positive means making a joke about how “a human doesn’t vibrate, but if you know someone who does, please introduce me!” instead of saying “Is your partner’s masculinity that fragile that he is afraid of being replaced by a machine? Does he really do nothing else for you except get you off?”
Sometimes, being sex positive means saying “Well, a lot of people love that, and it’s perfectly safe, but I can see it’s not your thing, so lets look at something else.” instead of “Can you maybe not laugh at the butt toys and call them disgusting and slutty? Because I was fucked in the ass this morning and you’re being super shamey right now.”
Sometimes, being sex positive means getting out there and fighting the good fight. It means protesting against transphobia, calling out companies, and speaking up when someone makes a herpes joke.
Sometimes, it means saying “yes, this is a great couples toy” without explaining why that entire concept is bullshit.
Many thanks to Ella Paradis for graciously sponsoring this post, as always all thoughts and opinions are my own.