When I say "sex shop" what do you picture? Do you see darkened windows, pornographic displays, questionable cleanliness, gruff staff, no guidance and a place you want to grab what you came in for as quickly as possible and leave? If you're a woman, do you even feel comfortable going in there?

Well, there are certainly sex shops out there like that. But there's another kind too. Here’s what I picture when I say "sex shop": A visually appealing, well-lit space full of high-quality products made with body-safe materials, education in the form of hand-outs, classes from guest speakers and knowledgeable staff, libraries well stocked with both books and pornography, an open, accepting environments for folks to learn, explore and play. In other words, I see a place where I want to go hang out.

Yeah, I’m spoiled. I’m a sex shop snob and I want you to be one too. Why? Because you deserve quality materials, accurate education and awesome experiences! You deserve an experience that's enlightening and fun, not yucky. The good news is that good sex shops are out there. They are all over the country. If they aren’t near you, many of them are online too.

So, what separates a good sex shop from the rest? Let me explain.

Quality Materials

Toys R Us doesn't sell "Baby's First Bag of Broken Glass Shards" for a reason. How fast would folks be on the news trying to put them out of business for selling something that unsafe? Nevertheless, sex shops all over the country shops are selling "Bright Pink Jelly Wand of Bacteria-Laden Chemicals for Inserting into Your Vagina." Yuck. Shouldn't you be shopping somewhere that provides you with safe, quality materials, not potentially harmful crap? A good sex shop knows its materials, can tell you what’s what (and how to care for what) and aims to carry products that are body-safe. (Get some tips on sex toy shopping in Buying Your First Vibrator.)

Accurate Education

The only thing worse than being in a shop where no one can answer your questions is being in a shop where folks are dispensing inaccurate information.

"You can totally sterilize Cyberskin!"

Nope. You totally can't.

"Numbing products are terrific for anal!"

Um. No. Not unless you enjoy injury. Don’t do this. Ever. (And read more about how to have safe anal sex in Why You Shouldn't Have Anal Sex.)

"You can absolutely use silicone lube with this silicone toy!"

I guess. But your toy will kind of, um, dissolve.

OK. Enough. A good sex shop educates its staff and provides its customers with informed, accurate and detailed answers to all these sorts of questions. Most of these shops feature both detailed how-to guides and extensive event schedules too.

Awesome Experiences

Have you ever been somewhere and just felt like no one wanted you there? A good sex shop creates a welcoming environment. It is a safe space. A good sex shop makes sure everyone feels comfortable learning, playing and exploring. In fact, the shops I love state this as part of their mission.

So, How Do You Find a Good Sex Shop?

Great question. Here are few simple ways to find the best sex shop near you.

Shop Around

The shops I’ve mentioned above are just the beginning; there are a ton more throughout the country. See what's available in your city, ask your friends, and look to connect with sex-positive organizations in your area that can point you in the right direction. You can also do some shopping around online. Check out what stores have to offer, what their values are and find one that feels like a fit for you. (The Progressive Pleasure Club is a budding resource I also like.)

Come on tour with me!

I’m setting out on a mission to visit and profile the country’s best sex shops. I have compiled a list of shops that are committed to high-quality products, accurate education and awesome experiences. These are the shops that I consider to be sex superheroes and this spring, with the help of We-Vibe, Blossom Organics and Glyde Vegan Condoms, I'm embarking on the first leg of The Superhero Sex Shops Tour!

I am visiting 16 awesome shops covering the East Coast, the Midwest and a little bit of Canada in between. I’m going from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon! Throughout the tour I’ll be sharing information about each shop, telling you about the cool products I find along the way, posting interviews with awesome shop owners and staff, and generally spreading the sex-positive word.

So call me an expert. I've seen it all. Good sex shops are out there and you deserve nothing less. So go out and find yourself one, OK?

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