Thursday, October 25, 2007

Woman-friendly sex shops

A reader wrote to me:

You suggest that men and women shop together at sex shops. We would like to do that, but in the edition of your book that we have, there are no suggestions for Maryland and Washington DC. Have you information that has come to you for sex shops in those areas (and northern Va.) since the book was published? If so, please send them to me. We would like to visit them.

Good question! I don't know of a store in that area, but I'll open the question to my readers here. I list woman-friendly sex shops in Better Than I Ever Expected, and am updating my list for the new book. If any of you have a favorite shop to recommend, either in the Maryland/Washington, DC area for this reader or anywhere (in the world!) for other readers, please comment or email me the name of the store, location, website, and what you like about the store. I'll add yours to my list as well as post them here.

When I say "woman-friendly sex shop," I mean a store that sells sex toys and other tools and props that enhance sexual pleaure, emphasizes friendliness and education, is bright and welcoming to both singles of either gender and couples, and has well-trained staff that can answer questions straightforwardly and non-judgmentally.

I had the pleasure of speaking at several of these stores when Better Than I Ever Expected came out: Good Vibrations in San Francisco and Berkeley; A Woman's Touch in Madison and Milwaukee; Venus Envy in Ontario, Canada; Babeland in New York City; Pleasures of the Heart in San Rafael, CA; and Early to Bed in Chicago. And The Rubber Rose in San Diego has invited me to speak when I'm in the area.

Which stores do you love, and why?


  1. paula, age 55October 29, 2007

    Well I didn't want to be the first person to comment on this article because my news is somewhat negative, but since no one else has commented yet, here goes.

    I really encourage people who live in states that allow the sale of sex toys and other erotic accessories to visit the shops often, because erotic freedom is under fire in some states.

    My state, Alabama, has just passed a law that forbids the sale of sex toys in this state. The owner of one of the local shops appealed the law several times and I'm sure spent a lot of money doing this. The state refused to hear any more appeals and finally enacted the law.

    I haven't been shopping recently, but I'm told we can still buy sex toys if we sign a waiver. Apparently the law states that we can still purchase them “if the items have a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative or judicial purpose.”

    I'm imagining a courtroom full of people who bought toys for "legislative and judicial purposes" and are there as part of a class action lawsuit against the state for invasion of privacy and interfering with our personal erotic freedom, which I believe to be protected by the Constitution.

    But people usually are not that open about using sex toys. Sexuality is by nature a private matter.

    Luckily the law doesn't say you can't own sex toys, so I guess no one will be knocking on my door to bust me for having a couple of dildos and my silver bullet. But is it a stretch of the imagination to think that this sort of thing could be attempted?

    Predictably the Alabama law will hurt women more than men, as it does nothing to stop the sale of pornographic videos. I'm sure too that the strip clubs and phony "massage" places will find a way to keep operating. Legislators told us that the original intent of the law was to eliminate strip clubs and "massage" parlors, not sex toys, and that the sex toy part was just there because other states nearby had the same policy. The huge embarrassment and uproar caused by all the publicity didn't make them take that part out however.

    Please note that I'm not saying that all men watch porno and never use sex toys. Personally I see nothing wrong with porno if it doesn't portray abuse. Also I know women who like to go to strip clubs with their guys. Hey, whatever turns you on and does no harm, it's all good.

    Last night I was flipping through channels on the TV, and Oxygen (the same network that has Sue Johansen's "Talk Sex" program) had an infomercial selling elaborate dildos at about $100 each. This raises the question of whether residents of Alabama and other states with similar legal restrictions can still buy sex toys by mail order or on line.

    I guess woman friendly sex shops fall under the heading of "use it or lose it." Ultimately if these shops are doing a good business, it's more difficult for authority figures who feel threatened by the eroticism of others to eliminate them. There are about 40 million women over the age of 50 in the U.S., and most of us are educated and socially conscious. Many many of us are sexually active too, so this gives us a lot of clout in standing up for our erotic freedom, hand in hand with men our age. I'm sure the publicity that the Alabama law has received has increased sales at local stores and rasied a lot of awareness.

    I think it can be inspiring to visit a sex shop with your significant other. Check out the lingerie and let your lover tell you what he or she thinks would look sexy on you, or pick out a vibrator to use when you're together in bed. Lovers without partners can also enhance cultivation of their sexuality by selecting a few things to take home.

  2. I'm glad you brought this up, Paula. I was going to discuss the Alabama ban on sex toy sales, and it's even better coming from an Alabama reader. Thank goodness for Internet stores like Blowfish and Condomania, where you can buy all sorts of sex toys. The other sex shops I listed also ship sex toys.

    Still, there's nothing like wandering through a store turning on the toys, feeling how intense they are (the inside of your wrist is a nicely sensitive spot to test a toy in public), how they're shaped, etc.

    It's amazing to me that this is against the law in Alabama in 2007! I agree with Paula that it's important to vote with your feet and with your dollars if you want these stores to stay in existence.

  3. is a website designed by women for women - and the design is conducive to "wandering" through the products at your speed (you can avoid the raciest stuff on the top floor if you wish). A portion of the proceeds goes to four outstanding women's charities. I don't know if they can ship to Alabama, however. Check it out!

  4. paula, age 55November 06, 2007

    Thanks for the info about I just checked it out. Good selection of toys for hetero couples, lovers without partners (this stuff is geared more for women), and for lesbian couples. Very woman friendly. Enough choices and variety without being too overwhelming. Easy to navigate. Reasonable prices.

    A big plus for this company is that a portion of profits from sales are donated to women's charitable organizations.

    This website says that they will protect customers' privacy. If and when I order something I'll report back here about whether they (and maybe other online places) can/will ship toys to Alabama. My guess is that our state government doesn't have the resources (money) to monitor our on line purchases. I wish I had the resources to conduct a thorough investigation into online sales. Perhaps I could apply to the state for a grant.

    Here's an idea, go online together with your partner. You can't browse while having your feet massaged in a store.

    The next time I need to go shopping I want to try the local stores first and see how this law is actually panning out here. Like will I really need to sign the waiver? Let's see, am I buying this for a legal or judicial purpose? (class action lawsuit) Or for education? (What does this thing do anyway?) Or for medical reasons? (Joan says I have to have at least two orgasms a week to keep my nervous system in good order.) I heard that the law would only prohibit the sale of "anatomically correct" toys. (Legislators don't want to have to look at anything bigger than they are.) Right now my curiosity is as high as my credit card balance, but when the time comes I'll let readers know what I find out.

    Maybe Alabama and states with similar prohibitions need a "medical sex toy law" like the "medical marijuana laws" in other states.

    Though most women here are furious about our new era of prohibition, even women who don't usually use sex toys, we also have lots of jokes about this whole deal. Most of the men I know think the whole thing is stupid, and my lover says that sex toys save men a lot of work. I myself have a (historic collectors edition) dildo still in the box -- purchased before the law went into effect -- that could be displayed the way people do with Barbie dolls.

    As long as I'm being long winded, here's a story about karmic justice. More than a year ago one of the local news anchors, a beautiful terrific lady, was covering this story, very much from a woman's point of view. By pure coincidence it just so happened that on the day the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal challenging the state law, our city independently decided that the five story tall model rocket, which is a big (very phallic) landmark -- NASA being a big contributor to our economy, needed to be lit up with pink lights in honor of breast cancer awareness! So the evening newscasts started off with the sex toy story and ended with an image of the larger than life pink-lit rocket. It was too perfect. Mother Universe does indeed have a sense of humor.

  5. Paula, your comments are terrific! May I appoint you our official Alabama Sex Toys Undercover (so to speak) Agent? Go to stores, find out what you can and cannot buy, and report back to us. If you email me rather than post here, I can create a blog post from scratch that features your undercover activities!

    Again, thank you for providing such useful AND entertaining information!

  6. I live in the Washington DC area.

    Unfortunately, we've yet to get a store quite like Babeland, Good Vibrations, etc.

    However, we do have the next step down, which is a store that is comfortable for all to be in, and has knowledgeable staff, but is a store first and foremost instead of a place for sexual education. Not everything they sell is top quality, unlike places like Grand Opening! (Boston) and Early to Bed (Chicago). Also, they don't have the hands-on approach of Babeland... they don't have samples on the counter that you can touch and play with. (Tto me, personally, that's essential. I'm not going to buy a dildo unless I can see exactly how firm or squishy it is, or I'm not going to buy a vibrator until I can actually FEEL the various vibrations.)

    We have the Pleasure Place in Dupont Circle & Georgetown (the Georgetown location is a bigger store with a better selection). We also have Night Dreams in Bethesda and Tyson's Corner. If kink is more to a person's liking, we also have the Leather Rack, although it can be a bit intimidating, as its primary clientele is gay leathermen.

    There's a new store in Baltimore, however, called Sugar, that is owned by a woman and caters to a female clientele. I've also found that buying sex toys in Baltimore is cheaper than buying them in DC because of a lower cost of living.

  7. Other woman friendly sex stores you didn't mention:

    The Tool Shed in Milwaukee
    Come as You Are/Venez Tels Quels in Toronto
    Grand Opening! in Boston
    Babes N Horny in London (I'm pretty sure they have a storefront, but they may just be online. Either way, they have some of the most fun, colorful dildos I've ever seen!)
    Sh! in London (but they have a [I feel to be] sexist policy of no men allowed w/o a woman tagging along to make a "comfortable, safe environment for women". [As a woman, that kind of attitude makes me feel LESS comfortable and safe, not more. Way to make very butch women feel ostracized.])

    Also, Babeland's original location was/is in Seattle. So they have locations in Seattle, 2 in NYC, and one in Los Angeles.

    There's also a number of BDSM/kink stores that are friendly to women, if you're interested in having those listed for your readers. (I know I'm a kinky younger woman and I'm guessing that just because you get older, you don't stop being kinky.)

  8. I would also recommend Sh! ( in London, though they ship internationally. They have very friendly and non-judgmental staff and I quite like the no-men-without-a-woman-consort policy. Going into other sex shops, I always felt leared on by men lurking around and staring at the wonderous occurence of a single woman in a sex shop.

  9. When I visited Portland, I made it a point to visit that shop, which had just been blogged about here on Feministing. It's pretty amazing, and the only non-profit feminist bookstore left anywhere. I love how sex-positive and queer-friendly they are. They also are very male-friendly.


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