Photo Credit: Drew Pritchard

Sex shops are quite prevalent in Toronto. They can be found on some of the busiest streets, like Yonge and Queen Street. Though I live only a street down from Yonge and frequent Queen Street almost every weekend, I have never frequented a sex shop.

The only thought I ever had about them was about the ironies they exude. The irony that there are a plethora of “adult entertainment stores,” yet a scarcity of adults admit they are clients of such stores. The irony that these presumably sex-positive places rarely describe themselves as sex stores, but instead as “adult entertainment stores,” evading the very word “sex.” And that such stores are only legally accessible to adults, an apt law if it were only adults that had sex. Could it be that these ironies surrounding such stores merely echo the deep-rooted irony endemic to the topic of sex itself?

With these thoughts in mind, I was compelled to explore sex shops and determine for myself whether one really should be covert about visiting one. Sex-shopping is so much more than what you do within the store—it also includes how you feel about going into those stores, who you tell or who you don’t and how to talk about it if you do. I aimed to figure out these basics, but first I had to get acquainted with the stores as I would with a person. Not unlike people, the sex shops across the city aren’t all the same. They have specialities, nuances and even personality. Here are some steps for how to go about experiencing sex shops for yourself:

Pick the right one for you.

Each store is unique, offering different products and services. Good for Her and Dick and Jane Romance boutiques provide workshops and educational seminars in addition to products. Northbound Leather, as their name suggests, specialize in leather, a niche that maybe isn’t for everyone. But stores such as Seduction are more generalized and cater to a wider audience. If you’re new to the scene, I recommend Seduction to browse your options and discover what resonates with you. It would be as absurd to carry your impressions from one store to next as it would be to judge one person based of off your experience with another. Try to explore a few different stores before presumptuously deciding this isn’t for you!

Stay open-minded.

As previously mentioned, there are a wide range of products meant to cater to all the various expressions of sexuality. No, they may not all be the way you choose to express your sexuality, but we must acknowledge that everyone has sex differently. I don’t simply mean the variance between heterosexual or homosexual relationships, because that is merely one preference among many others. It is best to approach sex shops as we do people, with an open mind. Much like people, you won’t like all of them and not everything they have to offer, nor do you need to. You simply need to find which ones and what parts of them work for you. Whilst doing so, refrain from judging those who linger longer in sections of the stores that you wouldn’t. Don’t judge yourself either. There is nothing different about people who sex shop than those who don’t, except that they sex shop. As I frequented stores, I saw normal middle-aged women with dogs stroll in, normal university students with heavy backpacks perusing, normal suit-and-tie employees, and I saw myself, a normal young adult trying to see what fits her best. Utterly normal people were doing something objectively normal. So, why the shyness, the guilt? Why the judgement?

Ask questions!

To make your experience worthwhile and to find what you need efficiently, ask the sales associates questions. Often, people are too shy to talk about their preferences—which is understandable, as it can be daunting to talk about your sexual preferences when in daily life you don’t do that often, or the very opposite is expected of us. But after speaking to a sales associate, I learned that the awkwardness is only in our minds. They prefer talking to clients and helping them find what it is their looking for than have confused customers too unwilling to accept help floundering around the store. After all, it is their job to help. But I found it strange, and perhaps revealing another trace of irony, that people even in a sex store were still unable to talk about sex. It seems the stigma pervades our minds and we carry it regardless where we go, stunting our ability to talk about sex seriously.

Take them seriously.

I observed that it isn’t that we don’t talk about sex stores, we do! We joke a great deal about them, which isn’t the issue. The issue is that often this is the only context in which we discuss them at all. Can we talk of sex shops past the context of jokes? They are called adult entertainment stores but they are definitely not meant to be a joke. Unfortunately, that is often what we limit them to be. However, I’ll admit, their sometimes flashy and unpolished self-presentation will often makes them prone to it as well. It isn’t a matter of whether it is justified to joke about them or not, but whether it is healthy to only joke about them. The inept and one-dimensional take on sex shops parallels the common approach to the topic of sex itself. Can we possibly aim to accept them as any other retail store? Can we diversify discussion of sex shops alongside sex in casual conversations to be more than witty one-liners and punchlines to our amusing anecdotes?

While trying to construe an understanding of sex shops in Toronto, I was left with more to formulate an opinion on. I was left wondering what societal role, if any, did sex shops have in our city. When walking past one with our friends, how many of us fight the urge to walk faster, pretend to not see it or can’t fight the urge to make a witty comment? But as I move through this city, I note the overt prevalence of sex stores and find in it a metaphor for the ordinary prevalence of sex itself. The stores themselves silently force us to openly acknowledge that rather than beat around the bush on the topic of sex.


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