When I was eighteen, I made my college roommate (also my childhood best friend, lovingly nicknamed “Coof”) take me to a sketchy sex shop chain sometime around midnight to buy our first vibrators. Back then, I didn’t know a thing about sex toys other than we both desperately needed one to survive a lonely first semester at college. Fast forward eight years: I’ve started taking Coof on Sex Tour with me to show her the beauty of amazing sex-positive feminist sex shops with knowledgeable staff and tons of body-safe toy options.
Condom World is not one of those shops.
SF: Okay, so I’m not good with navigating around cities I haven’t been to since my fifth grade field trip, but we must have passed the shop itself twice while looking for it. Mind you, this was while we had the shop pulled up on Google Maps on my phone. Like lost little travelers, we wandered mindlessly past it. Then again, no one had warned me that it was underground. Literally.
Next to a Newbury Comics, we found the sign for Condom World. From the street level, there was no visible shop. However, closer examination revealed that it was actually located down a flight of stairs (the shop isn’t handicapped-accessible). The dimly-lit windows plastered with stickers made me wonder if the shop was open. Unfortunately, it was.
Coof: I may have been in the downswing of a low blood sugar crash after eating nothing but chocolate genitals from Sweet ‘N Nasty, but this place was hard to find. And when we finally did, it looked closed–so much so that I had to reassure SF several times as we walked down the stairs, when we got to the barred door and saw the dim lights inside, and even as I pointed out the “Come in, we are OPEN” sign.
SF: When I was in college, one of my friends drunkenly joked about having a “conquest wall” in her dorm where she would tack condoms from her one-night-stands on the wall as a weird new-wave feminist artform. Condom World actually had one of these! But instead of tacks they used bent paper clips and nails to hang condom samples on the wall. This would have been slightly less creepy if the condoms hadn’t aged to a crusty yellow from what I can only assume is years spent hanging there. It did not bode well with me.
Coof: If I wanted to experience the sensation of being trapped in a serial killer’s basement without the actual danger of being murdered, I’d revisit Condom World. It was dark, humid, and the selection of items was strange and crude, as if they were chosen at random from a catalogue. “Serial Killer Magazine presents our Torture Device of the Month Club–available now!”
I know I’m being hard on this place, but I could easily imagine being murdered in a basement similar to this store. Torn, ancient condoms hung from the walls like gutted animals.There was a smell that hung heavy in the air. It was somehow sweet and stale at the same time. I can only imagine that an industrial-sized bucket of flavored lube got spilled on the floor ages ago and wasn’t cleaned up. Another girl commented on it as she walked by in a group of friends, all looking at the products hanging from the walls warily, their hands in their pockets. They probably wandered in on a whim, thinking it would be funny to check out what sounds like Disneyland for condoms.
SF: Like many low-grade sex shops, there was a heavy marijuana influence included in their many novelties. The plastic gem-encrusted body jewelry, gag gifts, and novelty t-shirts overshadowed the actual sex toys completely, in my opinion. While one “Varsity Swim Team” shirt with sperm on it was amusing to me, the inclusion of a shirt that said, “Cool story, babe, now make me a sandwich,” was really off-putting.
The actual sex toys they did have were mostly jelly or rubber, though I did spot two or three silicone models on the wall. Condom World carries a few LELO products, but they’re locked in a glass case in boxes so there’s no way to look at or test them.
Their kink selection was also a mess. Stocked mostly with costume-quality BDSM gear, there wasn’t much to choose from. I even found a small flogger that was barely in one piece. The falls of the flogger were cut from a single strip of faux leather and had been ripped out of place. Quality construction, there.
Coof: Checking out the selection at Condom World took me right back to our first trip to VIP, only here there was an even smaller range, and it was displayed in a basement. Under the hanging condom pelts, the actual condom selection seemed fairly varied. I’m allergic to latex, so I was pleased to see they had my particular brand, Trojan non-latex–but for twice the price it would be in a regular department store.
I took a closer look at some of the jelly toys, which seemed especially gross and unsafe after visiting the clean, feminist haven that is Good Vibrations. The package for one of the jelly toys boasted a “soft jelly texture that warms to your body during use.” Remember those slappy, sticky hands everybody got from gumball machines as kids? The ones you’d hook on a finger and throw with all your might to hit your friend in the face with a tiny, green hand? After a few good slaps, they’d be covered in lint, dirt, and whatever other gross shit kids got into and basically turned into a swinging petri dish. When I imagine jelly toys melting inside a body, I’m reminded of those filthy slappy hands.
So if by “warms to your body during use” they meant “slowly melts inside your vagina, leaching toxic chemicals into your intimate bits with every use,” then sure, it warms right to your body.
SF: There was one girl working the store. One. I briefly spoke to her about what I do with my Sex Tour series but she didn’t ask if we needed any help or if we had any questions. In fact, she didn’t say another word to us after giving us permission to snap some photos. As pleasant as she was when I spoke to her, she didn’t seem to offer any real customer service.
Coof: To be fair, it was a pretty small store, with very few people in it. Her job description is probably less focused on knowledgeability and helpfulness, and more geared towards stopping teenagers from dildo jousting with the merchandise. She probably just wants to get through the day, go home, and wash away the stench of stale lube and despair.