7 Surprising Things You Learn While Working At A Sex Shop

Photographed by Amy Lombard.


You are not allowed to have sex at Babeland. I learned that on day one. It turns out many sex shops have hidden basements or corridors where visitors can pop in for a shopping break and a quick BJ. But, that's not the case at Babeland, so please don't go downstairs looking for sex. You'll only find printers and a coffee machine. 

I spent three days with the Babeland staff, getting a crash course in sex-positivity and sex education. The traditional sex-store model is often intimidating to newcomers — all drawn blinds and no talking. But, Babeland's credo is based on inclusivity, a concept that is not as simple as it sounds. In my two days of training with sex educators Avital and Mehron, I had to study up on anatomy, gender, sexuality, boundaries, language, and trauma — before we even got to the toys. Finally, I spent a day on the floor as a staffer myself.

A lot of the lessons I learned were things that only really apply in a sex shop (don't hit each other with the floggers, be prepared to handle prank calls, and don't let the customers go downstairs, because there are no blow jobs there, seriously). But, most of the tips I picked up were valuable info that everyone should have. Sex  shows up everywhere in our lives, not only in our bedrooms. And, changing the way we think about it — or, simply asking why we think the way we do — can open us up to a lot of fun.
Advertisement
Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Check out these mystical butt plugs.

1. Gender is everywhere.
Of all the tips, terms, and rules I memorized, there was one lesson I never quite mastered: Watch your mouth. Babeland staff are trained never to assume a person's gender, and that goes for co-workers as well as customers. "You just never know what's in someone else's pants," says Moregasm, a very handy guidebook written by founders Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning. You also never know how a person likes to use whatever is in their pants — or whom they like to use it with. Even when you're talking about a toy, watching your pronouns and assumptions is crucial in creating a safe environment, particularly if you're in a sex shop. If that seems like overkill, just imagine how uncomfortable it would feel to have to tell a stranger, "Well, actually, I don't have a clitoris."

Instantly, I caught myself referring to the bullet vibrators as "these little guys." Hyper-politeness kicked in and suddenly everyone was "this gentleman" and "ma'am." I could not seem to shake the pronouns. The good news is, now I see them coming. After three days of stumbling over my own assumptions, I can no longer meet a new person without noticing all the instinctive judgments that leap to mind. I guess the trick is to catch those remarks before they come flying out of my mouth. 

2. Lube your feelings.
Despite the fact that almost every customer leaves the store with some of this stuff, everyone gets weird around the lube aisle. "I mean, I don't need it!" they insist, desperate to let me know they can self-lubricate all night long; their mucus membranes are fucking HUGE thankyouverymuch. "But, uh, what kind do you have?" 

Quick primer on lube: It is awesome. There are three kinds of lube sold at the store: silicone, water-based, and hybrid. Putting silicone on your genitals may sound scary, but it's actually ideal for sensitive skin. It's hypoallergenic and cannot be absorbed into your body. More to the point, it's incredibly slick, and lasts for-ev-er. Water-based lube is more thick and cushion-y, a major plus for things like anal sex. Plus, you can use it with silicone toys (silicone lube will actually damage the quality of a silicone toy). A hybrid (or "silk") lube is almost entirely water-based but contains a teeny amount of silicone. It offers the best of both worlds because it's safe to use with all toys, and provides that comfy thickness while being a little more slick and long-lasting. 

Within these categories, you've got flavored lube, organic lube, pH-balanced lube...the list goes on. There are fan-favorite lubes like Maximus. Some folks come in, go straight for that giant pump bottle, and that's it. Others dawdle in the flavored section, trying to decide if they'd prefer Mojito Mint or Pink Lemonade during sexytime. Newcomers often go hog-wild on single-serving lubette packs. Once you see all the different textures there are to choose from, you can't help but want to try them all. 

So, the question isn't whether or not you "need" lube. The question is: Why wouldn't you want to give it a whirl? (Trust me, it will be a good whirl.) 
Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Here I am, just chillin' with some vibes.


3. The G-spot exists. Just, not all the time.
I didn't expect a puppet show when I walked into Babeland, but that's what I got — a vulva puppet show, to be exact.

During the anatomy breakdown, Avital whipped out a vulva puppet to illustrate all the lovely bits and pieces. Here were labia minora and majora ("they come in all sizes and colors!"), here was the rosebud clitoris and its equally versatile hood. Then, I went ahead and stuck my finger in the giant, velvety vulva to feel around for the G-spot.

The G-spot (a nerve-rich area at the front of the vaginal wall) has been alternately described as spongy, ridged, or "rough, like the surface of a walnut." Given all these mysterious tales of walnuts in your vagina, you might easily believe the G-spot to be sexual apocrypha, but the truth is, it's in there — just not all the time.

As Avital explained it, the G-spot is indiscernible until sexual arousal. That means you probably shouldn't try stimulating it until you are already aroused. That's when the blood flow makes the tissue swell and emerge inside the vaginal canal, ready for action. Again, it might not be the kind of action you've read about in...oh, everything. Most women (ack, I mean, people with vaginas) can't come from internal stimulation alone. But, if you're going to try G-spotting, make sure you're all warmed up first.
Advertisement

4. Fifty Shades Of Balls
While we're hanging out in the vaginal canal, let's talk about "the balls." I don't mean testicles; I mean those shiny, metal balls made famous in your mom's secret favorite book. Apparently, there's a scene in Fifty Shades of Grey where the lead character gets spanked while wearing a pair, and the mere motion of the balls clacking around inside her makes her "inner goddess" simply explode with pleasure.

Ever since then, customers have come a-runnin' to Babeland, asking for "the balls." In fact, my very first customers — a shy, giggly couple — sidled up and inquired if we had "those balls from, the uh, book." I looked at my trainer, Mehron, who nodded with the weary wisdom of someone who's had the ball talk five times a day, every day, for the last year. 

Babeland stocks a few versions of the balls, because they're in such high demand. Because it's still a business, I happily showed the couple a nice pair, but because Babeland staff is trained in sexual myth-busting, I also told them the real deal. Turns out, Fifty Shades is not necessarily an accurate representation of sex! Sure, some people may experience pleasure from the deep massage of these balls, but it's probably going to be quite subtle. 

That's not to knock ballin' all together. These toys will certainly strengthen your PC muscles, which can really take your orgasm ability up a notch. But, don't just stick 'em in and expect your inner goddess to burst forth in a tango of delight. 
Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Comparing manicures with Mehron in the BDSM section.


5. Butt Equality
Everyone has a butt
, but most of us don't know how to use it. While a lot of folks are acquainted with the wonders of anal stimulation, too many people still carry around an antiquated notion about the butt stuff. They think it hurts, it's gross, or that it's something you suffer through as a "favor." Yikes.

The truth is, butt stuff should not be painful. It may feel super weird at first because it's a new sensation in a sensitive area, but it shouldn't hurt if you're doing it right. All that means is constant communication, an enormous amount of lube, and going very, very, very slowly at first.  

As for cleanliness, Babeland sex educators recommend just a soapy finger in the shower. If your digestion is fairly regular, you're probably fine. But, if you want to go the extra mile, there's a whole world of easy-peasy anal douches you can use before sex. 

It goes without saying that you shouldn't be doing any sex favors that you really don't want to do. Sure, we all do things for our partners that might not give us pleasure other than the pleasure of giving itself. But, if you're really not into something, speak up.

If you're open to it, though, anal play might surprise you. Both men and women have a butt full of nerves with the potential for intense pleasure. You might discover that it's not your jam, and that's a-okay. Not everything works the same way for everyone. But, bringing some butt equality to your sex life is worth a shot. Butts for everyone. Butts for America. 
Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Bondage tape only sticks to itself — not your skin or hair. How cool is that?
6. Good porn is real. I have seen it. 
Being a sex-positive environment, Babeland reinforces the very real pros and cons of porn. On the plus side, it's fun and titillating, and can help you discover some cool new sex stuff you might like to try. On the downside, well, everything else. It's unrealistic, often exploitative, and typically loaded with unhelpful stereotypes about gender and sexuality. But, good porn is out there! 

Babeland carries a small stock of erotic books and movies, some instructive and others narrative. (Like, porn with a story.) Lost & Found, for example, is a precious little rom-com about a guy who tries to woo his crush by helping her find her lost dog (Spoiler: HE has her dog the whole time!). The only difference is that the cameras don't stop rolling when they start making out.

The porn stock at Babeland isn't enormous, but it is quite carefully curated. There are a few classics like Debbie Does Dallas, but the shop generally strives to sell porn with real orgasms, body diversity, and often a female perspective. You can get tons of regular porn, oh, anywhere. But, if you're looking for porn you can feel good about, know it's out there — and it's worth tracking down. 

Advertisement
Photographed by Amy Lombard.
This is my pal, Mehron, teaching me the fine art of slingin' dildos.


7. Sex Positivity: You're doing it wrong.
Perhaps the most important lesson is also the most obvious: Being sex-positive doesn't mean you have to be into all kinds of sex or have sex all the time or even have sex at all. It means not talking about sex or bodies within a context of shame. It means being open and accepting of everyone's jam, even if it's not your own. You don't have to DO IT. Just don't yuck their yum. 

It also means being respectful of boundaries and up-front about your own. Sex positivity cannot exist in an unsafe environment. Everyone has a line, but nobody else can see it. You never know if you're wandering into trigger territory, or pushing someone's limits. "May I share a story with you?" Mehron often asked me. "Are you cool with talking about this?" Though I'm a constant over-sharer, it felt great to know that I didn't have to even discuss something that made me uncomfortable. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but it never hurts to quickly check before you say something or touch someone. At the end of my time at Babeland, Mehron asked if he could hug me, and I replied with a loud, enthusiastic, "Yes!"

That's the final foundation of sex positivity: Consent means an enthusiastic "YES." Consent is not given through gritted teeth. It's not a reluctant, "Okay, fine." It is everyone's job to be clear, both in the asking and answering. If you're unsure, say that clearly, too. Remember: You don't have to know everything or like everything or understand everything about sex. You just have to be willing to say so. 
Advertisement