Everything You Need to Know About Shopping for Sex Toys But Are Afraid to Ask

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Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

There are a lot of industries that have been revolutionized by the Internet (what’s up, print journalism), but perhaps none more so than that of adult entertainment. The advent of free and easy access to porn in one’s own home resulted in (among many, many other things) the shuttering of countless pornographic movie theaters and adult video stores. The sudden availability of online porn took care of two problems associated with buying porn from a shop, namely, any embarrassment factor disappeared as the entire transaction took place from the comfort of one’s own home, and also the comfort of one’s own home never needed to be abandoned. The laziness of the American consumer can never be underestimated.

But so it stands to reason that the purchase of sex toys and accessories would similarly only take place online, and yet every Brooklyn sex shop that I visited in the last couple of weeks was full of people—Babeland in Park Slope was even packed at 6 o’clock on a cold, snowy Sunday evening. And who can forget hearing that Beyoncé and Jay-Z dropped about $6,000 at the West Village Babeland in December? No one. No one can forget that because Bey and Jay won’t let us think about anything other than all the sex they’re having on their kitchen floor and all the breasteses that are being treated like breakfast-es. So what are the benefits of going to a sex shop instead of just ordering a neck massager from Amazon Prime and calling it a day? Many! There are so many benefits.

Hands-On Experience:
Maybe this is just a general problem with me but—in the same way that I’m bad at gauging distances (everything always seems like it’s about ten blocks away)—I have a really hard time imagining the size of something from its given measurements. This could be a problem when ordering sex toys, to say nothing of other important tactile attributes like texture and, um, firmness. Sure, you could order things from a website, but you’re much better off seeing samples and getting a better idea of what you’re purchasing.

Ultra-Knowledgeable, Non-Judgmental Sales Staff:
When I was in Babeland the other evening, I overheard a couple ask one of the employees about the best way to clean their newly purchased anal beads. “Just boil in a pot of water for a few minutes…like you’re making pasta al dente.” This is not the kind of thing you will read on a website or on the anal bead packaging. This is so much better. And really, the people who work at these places have seen and heard it all. They are smart and open-minded and probably know what you need or want better than you do. It’s a retail experience that’s far superior to anything you’ll find online, or even in most other types of stores. Take advantage of the accumulated wisdom of these men and women. You won’t regret it.

It’s Totally Acceptable to Browse Without Buying:
There are stores that I’ve gone into where I feel almost obligated to purchase something—anything!—because of some weird, unwritten retail code that I know doesn’t exist, but I’ve felt every time I’ve been followed around a store by some helpful employee who asks me a million times if I need help finding something. Or Sephora. God, the tyranny of shopping at Sephora and being unable to walk out without a $24 clay-based mascara is unreal. Anyway. This is not the feeling one gets in a sex shop. Employees here are used to people who come in and are curious but don’t know what they want. Take a look at the pocket-size vibrators, some with remote controls. Compare different sheepskin condom brands. Clap on a couple different wrist restraints to see which feels better. Don’t feel bad about dipping your toes in without taking the plunge. There’s time for that. Just look around.

It’s Not Just About Toys:
Maybe one of the ways that sex shops have been able to flourish when so many brick-and-mortars have faltered is by diversifying what’s on offer. So beyond selling toys and DVDs and books and lubricants and oh so many other things, many sex shops host classes and workshops. Babeland has a couple different oral sex classes scheduled this month (one focused on blow jobs, the other more equal opportunity) and Williamsburg’s Shag has some shibari (Japanese rope-tying) workshops as well as a class debunking relationship myths. Something for everyone, right? Right.

It’s a Very Sanitized Experience:
Long gone are the days of creepy back rooms in regular video stores (ha! remember video stores? RIP) where men in trench coats would disappear for hours at a time. Actually, those places still exist in Sunset Park, under the BQE, but we don’t frequent those, so can’t speak to their…cleanliness. The sex shops we do frequent have a completely different atmosphere, one that could almost be considered maybe a little too clean if it wasn’t so relaxed and friendly. Of course, part of the fun of sex shops and sex toys and, well, sex, is the feeling of transgression, and most of the new, popular sex shops don’t really seem to provide that type of experience, what with all the shiny surfaces and bright pink and blue decorative touches. But you know what? Things can be dirty without being covered in actual, you know, dirt. When you think about it, it’s a pretty fair tradeoff to be able to shop for a butt plug without worrying if it might have been up someone else’s butt first.

Every Different Type of Person You Can Imagine Will Be Shopping With You:
And finally, perhaps the best part of going to a sex shop in real life is the overwhelming sense of community one feels. I’m serious! There is always such a mix of people in a sex shop—all different races, ages, sexual orientations—that it feels like a heart-warming testament both to the diversity of Brooklyn and the near-universal appeal of getting laid. Plus, it’s kind of great to finish shopping and then head to Gorilla Coffee where you see the couple who are planning on boiling their newly purchased anal beads like so many little silicone orecchiette and they see you and know that you bought about eight penis lollipops (what? they’re gifts!) and you silently enjoy the fact that we’re all human, and we all have needs and wants, and it’s nice to not feel shame when exploring those things. And it’s even nicer when you can then grab a quick maple latte before heading home.

Babeland: 462 Bergen Street, Park Slope
Shag: 108 Roebling Street, Williamsburg
Honey: 110 N. 6th Street, Williamsburg

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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