I have visited a number of sex shops over the years. In fact, I have a whole article series devoted to the sex shops (and sexuality events) I’ve been to. I’ve noticed over time that there are some big signifiers as to the quality of a sex shop. If you’ve never been shopping for a sex toy, how do you know what to look for in choosing which sex shop to go to? Unfortunately, a lot of people who don’t make a career out of reviewing sex toys don’t know what exactly they’re looking for–especially if they’ve never been to a sex shop before. Because of this, choosing a sex shop can make a big difference in the quality of the product you go home with. Here are some of the major things that make or break a sex shop for me.
You wouldn’t believe the state of some of the sex shops out there. Sticky floors, yellowing packaging, and I’ve even been to one sex shop that had old crusty condoms tacked up on the wall. Sometimes sketchier shops even have underground sexual services or glory holes on site–making these small-town shops a literal hole-in-the-wall.
If the shop seems dirty, I encourage you to bail. There are usually other sex shops in the area to choose from, but if there aren’t I’d highly recommend buying from a reputable online retailer as opposed to a shop that doesn’t take safety or cleanliness seriously.
Atmosphere is more than just the cleanliness of a shop. Even if things are technically clean, the whole feel of a shop can vary based on the setup and general decorating. Is it large and very commercial with strong Walmart vibes? Does it feel more personal and open? Is the general feel of the shop centered around gag gifts and comedy or does it seem more sensual and pleasure-based? A good sex shop will help you feel at ease about your shopping experience.
The selection of products that a shop has is an important signifier of its quality. While some sex shops commit to only carrying toys made of body safe materials, others will stock cheap, potentially toxic toys.
I also take note of shops that lock their body safe toys in a case at the front of the store, limiting customer access to safe toys. Alternatively, I am always impressed with shops that have floor models of their products on display for customers to inspect and feel in their hands for a better idea of what will suit their needs.
Staff can make or break a sex shop experience, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. While some sex shop employees will avoid contact unless you reach out first, I feel like the right kind of staff will check in and offer assistance.
Some people get nervous talking about sex toys with a total stranger but places with friendly, knowledgeable staff can help you feel more at ease. You’re highly encouraged to ask questions, even if you feel silly doing so. So long as you are respectful in asking, a good employee will be happy to answer anything you need to know about the products they carry.
Sex shops can be an invaluable source of information to their customers. Lot of feminist sex shops will host workshops, lectures, demos, and sex-positive social events that you can attend to learn more about toys, general sex education, or BDSM.
In addition to hosting their own events, local sex shops are a good place to hear about other events as well. Many shops have a bulletin board of flyers, business cards, or brochures for sexuality professionals and organizations that you can check out. If you feel comfortable asking directly, employees are often knowledgeable on sexuality events around town as well.
Believe it or not, the best sex shops are not always the cheapest. Some shops will carry jelly dongs for $10 that may appeal to a newbie on a budget, but sex toys are often worth the investment of a body-safe alternative to cheap, toxic materials.
Also keep in mind that some retailers have agreements with some manufacturers about their pricing. Just because you can buy a toy directly from the manufacturer for a low price point doesn’t mean the sex shop you go to can sell it for the same price.
Keep in mind that your patronage at these feminist sex shops is important for maintaining these spaces of sex-positivity and the educational resources the provide to the community. Some even contribute to other organizations. If you can afford to buy from these small businesses instead of major companies like Amazon (who are notorious for selling toxic sex toy knock-offs), you’d be doing a great service to those who rely on these shops for their educational resources.
What do you think makes a good sex shop? Have you had a particularly good or bad experience with a sex shop? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!
This article was sponsored.
As always, all writing and opinions are my own.