In high school, while my friends were worried about what to wear to dances, how to get the guy they liked to give them attention and discussing what their "first times" might be like, I was plotting my ascent into the world of sexuality.
Sex has always interested me, even when I wasn’t doing it. It's not the act of sex that fascinates me (although it’s part of it) it’s the diversity. Fetishes, kinks, turn-ons, turn-offs - as humans we all have our own set, and they can change, adapt and evolve over time and with different partners. I write about sex and major in sex at university (yes there is such a program) so it only made sense that I would work at a sex shop too.
I went into the job thinking I would be selling dildos, giving advice on lube and helping shy or conservative people find what they were looking for. This job has turned out to be that and so much more. Who knew working in a sex shop would be such a life-changing experience? Here's what I've learned.
There's Something for EveryoneThe first thing I learned was that I didn’t know half as much about sex as I thought I did. The saying that "there is something for everyone" turned out to be even more true than I imagined. Whatever you're into, you can probably find it in some sex shop. I mean anything.
I quickly realized that what I knew about sex came from my own perspective and experience. It didn't take long to figure out that there's a huge world out there when it comes to human sexuality - and the toys and products to go along with it.
There are aromatherapy products, lotions, potions and creams, libido enhancers and vibrators galore. We even sell one that is a replica of a 22-gauge shotgun. (Why that would be easier to explain to someone than carrying a vibrator I have no clue.)
Then there are oral sex kits, candles, instructional DVDs, lube and anything else you need to set a romantic mood.
In the back of the store is where things get more interesting. Situated between vibrators and G-spot stimulators is an impressive dong wall. Have you ever seen a 14.5-inch realistic looking dong before? I hadn't before I got this job, but I wish I'd gotten the chance to personally high-five the customer who ended up purchasing it.
On the kinkier side, there are BDSM, torture and pain tools, and body modification tools like nipple enlargers, pussy and clit pumps and testicle binders. Actually, there's more than you even imagine, and one store is just a fraction of it. But trust me, it's an amazing, sexy world out there.
Nothing Shocks MeIt is very rare that a customer is able to shock, embarrass or surprise me anymore. I never knew what a "spreader" was until a customer asked me if we had any anal plugs that would help her get to the point of being able to do it. (In case you don't know, a spreader is someone who is able to stretch and contort their anus into much larger sizes. There is a whole genre of kink porn dedicated to it (and yes, we sell that too).)
Doing this job, you learn to get personal with people, and push past things that may make you uncomfortable. A female customer once asked a co-worker of mine for advice on G-spot toys and how she could reach a squirting orgasm.
"Is this it?" she asked my co-worker while pointing at a close up shot of her vagina on her phone.
"Yep…that’s it," my co-worker answered, and they continued their search on the G-spot wall.
Trust me, there is nothing I haven’t seen, heard or been asked yet. If I haven’t I’m sure it’s on its way. Keep that in mind the next time you have questions you feel too embarrassed to ask a clerk at your local sex shop! (Wanna find a great sex shop? Be a snob. Read more in Why I'm a Sex Shop Snob (and You Should Be Too).)
There's Never a Dull MomentThe absolute favorite part of my job is the diversity in the type of people I come across. Where else would meet a soccer mom, a married couple, a Dominatrix, an escort, a drag queen and porn star in one shift? There aren't too many jobs that can offer that kind of variety.
Giving Advice Comes With the JobWhat I learned very quickly after taking the job was that not only was I a sales associate, I was also a sex and relationship therapist. People rarely come in just looking for a toy or product. Because of the nature of the store customers do feel comfortable enough to share their reasons behind the products they seek.
My most memorable customer was a woman who had just undergone a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy, all within a one-year period, and was having problems with her libido.
"I don’t know, since the surgeries I haven’t been myself. I can’t make love to my husband like I could before and I’m scared he’s going to leave me," she told me holding back tears.
After discussing this with her further and going through a ton of tissue, we came to the conclusion that the real underlying issues was just that she didn’t feel like a woman anymore. Her surgery had changed the way she looked at herself, making sex difficult.
I got her to invite her husband to join us in the store and for the next hour I helped the two of them pick out products. They ended up buying massage oils, bath bubbles, some toys made specifically for couples, and lingerie.
She called the shop two days later telling me that she and her husband had shared the most beautiful night they had in years and it was like they were newlyweds all over again. I felt amazing. (Read more about how to bring toys into a relationship in How Sex Toys Can Help You Play Nice With a Partner.)
There Are a Few CreepsI meet a lot of amazing people, but there are also (of course) the pervs that find their way into the store. They often believe that the women who work in sex shops must be for sale alongside the products on the shelves.
One frequent male customer gets off on getting my coworkers or I to open packages and show him how toys work. He also enjoys hearing us say specific works like "cock ring" or "pussy pocket". He never buys anything and he sits in his car for a while after being in the store. I’m sure we all have an idea of what he’s doing in there. I never understood why my coworkers avoided him like the plague until I had the misfortune of dealing with him myself.
I’ve also had a male customer ask me if I was a bad girl and then answer his own question with "You must be a bad girl if you work in a place like this ..."
And then he topped it off with "I love bad girls."
These disrespectful interactions aren't fun, but they come with the territory.
There Are a Lot of FirstsMy first customer was a woman who walked into the store hesitantly, hid her face and went straight to the back of the store.
When I tried to ask her if she needed help she looked extremely embarrassed and ashamed. After reassuring her that I didn’t want to pass any judgment and that there was nothing she could tell me that could make me uncomfortable, she let me help her find her first dildo. Now she's a regular and no longer covers her face. She even brought in a group of friends and gave them an informative lesson on the products we carry!
Another time, a grandmotherly type who came in looking for her first anal toy said to me, "Your mother must be so proud of you!"
Yes, my mother is proud. And while not everyone I deal with is as charming as those two, our most frequent customers are very nice couples looking to spice up their sex lives. It's those people, along with the shy buyers, the sex toy pros and everything else in-between that make up for the few creeps I encounter and make my job so much fun.
I Learn as Much From My Customers as They Learn From MeAs a sex shop salesperson, I do a lot more than sell pleasure items. I teach women how to be proud of their sexuality and not to feel ashamed that they are sexual beings. I teach couples new and exciting ways to connect sexually and intimately. I teach beginners how to explore places outside of their comfort zones. I teach people how to get their sexual groove back. I teach wanna-be doms and subs how to really take on their roles. I fit trans women into lingerie, helping them express to the world their femininity and I teach curious minds about everything that has to do with sex.
The biggest thing I've learned is that a sex shop can be a lot more than just a place to buy sex toys. It also gives people a space to feel comfortable to speak openly, freely and honestly about sex. The only downfall so far? I tend to spend my whole paycheck at work. With my staff discount and so many fun things to play with I can’t resist!