“…I think the transition to more of a sexual health approach, in my view, brings the industry further into general public acceptance. Taking the health approach is a good way to allow the industry to become more acceptable and a move to becoming more widely seen in the high street or shopping mall.” Gary Waudby
I adore shopping for sexy new things, be they designed for solo play or intended to be shared. Garments draw the eye and seduce the skin, tasty powders and liquids entice the tongue, slippery lubricants invite fingers to explore, and naughty toys promise exciting new forms of stimulation during moments of intensely intimate discovery. Before my new prize is first tried out, even before the packing is ripped open and left to wait on the floor, there is the joy of the hunt, fueled by an eager anticipation of the erotic feast to come.
By the time I became old enough to visit my first sex store, I was already a college freshman living in New York. I walked on the side of the road down a steep hill to the local student-favored strip club with its adjoined smutshop, and marveled at the long center aisle of hardcore porn mags surrounded by walls decorated in dildos, plugs and vibes. A stripper wandered by on her break to flirt with male customers, and helped me pick out a few items and a magazine. Paper bag in hand, I trudged back up the hill, victorious. I hid my stash under my dirty laundry, safe from the eyes of the girl who shared my tiny dorm room.
Future trips were not as positive. Punctuated by threatening drunk men in the parking lot and obsessive male customers intent on getting me to join them in the foreboding back rooms, I searched for other options. It wasn’t long before I got my first bank card, complete with a Visa logo, and discovered GoodVibrations online. Suddenly, all the joys of sexy shopping were available to me with none of frustrations, and no giant hill to struggle back up with my little paper bag.
Over the years since my freshman term in the chilly, wonderful North, a lot has changed in the commercial areas of sexual health and well-being. Retail has taken a shift toward the high-tech, the high-end, and the highly arousing. “Vibrating sticks” pale next to silicone works of functional erotic art, and feminist sexuality boutiques continue to grow around the continent. In some areas, business associations have come to recognize and promote the value of these modern pleasure palaces both for their sales and their employment policies. Online shopping, too, has followed this trend with sites that offer rich content, enticing technology, community elements and a respectfully sensual shopping environment.
I’ve spent a bit of time exchanging emails with Gary Waudby, owner of Sexshop365.co.uk, the largest online sex store in the UK. During our conversations I’ve learned quite a bit about the ways in which online stores such as his are growing and changing to meet the needs of a new breed of sexy, savvy online shoppers. “Gone are the days of male only sex shopping,” he announced. “We try and make the website as couple friendly as possible and are finding that more and more female shoppers are spending with us.”
In no way is online shopping a replacement for brick-and-mortar independent sexuality stores. However, most of us don’t have the luxury of such venues, or prefer the privacy, convenience and leisure of online shopping. For me, the combination of hands-on and online allows me to explore all of my options and choose what works best for me. Each offers its own unique benefits. For those who prefer online shopping at least some of the time, there are many treasures to be found. Mr. Waudy agrees, noting that larger stores such as his (which has over 6,000 items in stock!), are designed to offer the latest and most innovative, along with standard classics. “We cater for all fantasies and fetishes,” he adds. Those are sweet words to any kinkster’s ears!
Thanks to evolving technology and all of that web 2.0 stuff, some stores are stepping up their customer service. During our emails, I learned that one of the biggest challenges for online stores is the task of getting accurate, engaging product information to users who can’t pick up toys to inspect them. Gary notes that at his site shoppers can explore products using “3D product videos and interview style product reviews.” Their monthly radio podcast, complete with interviews, can even be played while shopping! When asked where he sees sites like his headed over the next decade, he replied that “with broadband getting faster and faster it’s certainly going to be the media element of the site.”
Physical storefronts offer local community to those can get there and enjoy the face-to-face environment. Now, online sexuality stores like Sexshop365 have begun to offer their own approach to community, combined with the online anonymity. In addition to selling their wares, stores such as Gary’s offer a library of information and support. It’s no longer just for shopping, there is a strong element of community. Waudby explains, “As a community website, as well as a shopping site, we like to think people will visit to discuss and read about sexual health, tips and ideas rather than just shopping. As well as providing products to purchase to enhance peoples sex lives, we also provide free information to also enhance peoples’ experiences in the bedroom.” This can be a wonderful experience for first-time sex shoppers who are not as interested in unsolicited shopping tips from strippers on a smoking break as I was. “We have many community features to give new shoppers an insight into the adult world and to show people who may feel the subject is still a little taboo that it’s OK to explore themselves and their partner and to enhance their love life.” Well said!
The adult industry has remained a driving force behind internet technology since long before my good old membership with Prodigy (back when the choices were that or AOL. Oh my!). It is a pleasure to see the developing shift toward intimacy, health, and eroticism in retail industry, both online and in a growing number of traditional stores. My thanks to Mr. Waudby at Sexshop365 for his time and insights!
Disclosure: Nothing to disclose here! At the time of this article, there is no planned or existing business relationship with Sexshop365, nor did I get anything in exchange for this post. There was mutual interest in an interview, and here we are.