You all surely know by now that I absolutely love feminist, inclusive sex shops? That’s why I was so pleased to partner with The Pleasure Garden, a UK based online company selling only body-safe pleasure products. I’ve reviewed products for them (and have more in the pipeline!) and I’m in their affiliate programme (so, full disclosure, if you make a purchase through one of my links I make a small commission.) Today I’m really pleased to introduce you to Francesca, the brains behind and owner of The Pleasure Garden.
Tell us a little bit about you and the work you do?
My name is Francesca (she/her) and I own and operate The Pleasure Garden – a UK based inclusive sex shop. Its been up and running for about a year now and it has been an exciting ride so far!
At the moment it’s a one man band, so I do almost everything on the site including fulfilling orders, copywriting, social media and managing the website. It can be a lot! I love to work with talented specialists, who make some amazing contributions to things like design and providing expert knowledge, when I get the chance!
What made you want to start an online sex shop?
For a long time I had been interested in starting my own business but I never found the right idea or inspiration. Then I started to read the fabulous Oh Joy Sex Toy which in turn introduced my to a load of other sex blogs as well as the world of ethical feminist sex toy retail. I felt that I had spotted a gap in the UK market for this type of shop.
At this point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in my current career. When I discussed my options with a friend they told me that I just lit up when I started talking about the shop and nothing else seemed to inspire that kind of passion! So I worked for a year to build the site, identify the products I wanted to stock and do all the other things that you need to do to start a business (talk to me about business bank accounts. I dare you!) I did all this while working full time before taking the plunge and pressing go with the shop.
The long term plan is to open a bricks and mortar store as well (or maybe a few!) so keep your eyes peeled for future developments!
How would you describe the ethos and values of The Pleasure Garden?
The number one priority of The Pleasure Garden is to be inclusive. For me this touches on being inclusive of all gender identities and sexualities, but in particular relates to disability. In the UK approximately 1 in 11 people have some form of disability. Yet disabled people are consistently excluded from almost everything to do with sex. In emphasising inclusivity I hope to provide a space which is as accessible as possible and provides the expertise to help anyone find a sex toy that will work for them. This is as opposed to making something specialist – which in the end just others and separates people.
The core values of the business are also centred around pleasure – it is right there in the name! I think so many people seek out sex toys because they are struggling to find pleasure in an act which society says should knock your socks off every time, whilst also being a source of shame and embarrassment. I want to provide people with opportunities to explore pleasure. This underpins everything – from my choice of products and my stance on stocking only body safe toys, to customer service and promoting the work of excellent sex educators.
What was/is the most challenging thing about setting up your shop or running it?
Oh, where to start! Before I started the shop I had never worked in retail, run a business or designed a website. So I had a very steep learning curve. It has been an amazing experience and I am adding skills every day. But it is definitely a process and sometimes it can get overwhelming. It is frustrating when I can’t seem to get the vision of something I have in my head to work in reality because I just don’t have the right set of skills. I am getting better at knowing when to call on outside help! Striking the right balance between the social mission of the business and the actual business part is also a challenge. There are so many things I want to do – but it also needs to keep the lights on!
What about the most rewarding thing?
Getting to spend every day doing something that I love is pretty awesome! I really enjoy being challenged and learning new things, so launching a sex shop has been a blast. I learn about new things all the time – from the impact of diabetes on erectile dysfunction and how silicone dildos are made, to the ins and outs of Google analytics and financial software.
What’s the best selling toy in your shop? Why do you think that is?
One of the most popular products I sell is actually the SpareParts Joque Harness. It is a really high quality harness which is pretty beloved by a lot of reviewers, but there aren’t a huge number of places stocking it in the UK. So I jumped at the chance to get it in the shop and it has deservedly done really well.
What’s something that people always misunderstand about your work?
That is a tricky question! I actually think I am super lucky. I’m surrounded by a lot or really awesome friends and family members who really get what I am trying to do (including my mum, who has on occasion been pulled in to package and post things for me when I have been in a bind!) I think the one slightly annoying thing is the repeated asking of, “So have you tried out everything you sell?” I know people are just trying to be funny, but it gets old!
Who inspires you personally and professionally?
Professionally I tend to draw inspiration from anyone who has the bottle to take a risk and start something for themselves. It is a lot of hard work, and knowing that other people have made it work gives me hope! There are also some amazing people who are doing epic work in the world of disability and sexuality, such as Tuppy Owens who founded the Outsiders Club, and Gill Leno, a sex educator who works with young people with learning disabilities.
Who’s your favourite sex educator and why?
There are loads of amazing sex educators out there that I really admire but probably the two at the top are –
Erika Moen and Matt Nolan who create Oh Joy Sex Toy. OJST was my first intro to sex blogging and it really opened my eyes. I absolutely love they way they include a massive range of body types including disabilities, different genders and different sexualities in the comics.
Also, Emily Nagoski – I think Come As You Are should be handed to everyone at age 18! Her work is exceptional, empathetic and engaging.
What’s something you used to believe – about sex, sex toys or relationships – that you don’t believe any more?
What a great question! I used to believe that I may never find sex satisfying and that that was okay. When my first sexual experiences really didn’t match up with the messages I had from the media and (what amounted to) sex education at school, I just thought that maybe sex would just not be that great for me. It took some time learning about myself, a few sex toys and finding how to communicate (seriously, everyone should read Come as You Are) to find as much pleasure in sex and intimacy as I do now.
And just for fun because it is “Coffee and Kink” – do you like coffee? How do you take it?
Hah! I don’t drink coffee… or tea… or hot chocolate. The only hot beverage I enjoy is a hot Ribena (at it has to be brand name – no ASDA own brand rubbish!)
Thanks so much to Francesca for taking the time to speak to us. Check out The Pleasure Garden – we need to be supporting women-owned, feminist businesses! Banner image is property of The Pleasure Garden and used with permission.
You will be unsurprised to know that, as a writer, books hold an extremely important place in my life. There are many things I am grateful to my mother for (she’s a pretty awesome lady) but one of the biggest is instilling a love of books in me when I was very young. Through the toughest points in my life, I’ve turned to reading for information, for comfort, for that priceless feeling of not being alone.
But this is, after all, a sex blog. So today I want to tell you a little about five of the books that profoundly impacted my sex life.
Come As You Are – Emily Nagoski
I read this one on a flight to Italy. Goddess knows what the people around us thought, when I kept reading out interesting snippets to Mr CK!
Nagoski’s message is, in brief, that we are all normal and we are all fine exactly as we are. She explores concepts such as spontaneous vs responsive desire, and the congruence gap between reported mental desire and genital response. (If you haven’t watched her recent TED talk on this very thing, please do so, it’s fucking brilliant).
Come As You Are taught me how to stop worrying so much about being “normal”. It taught me how to stop saying “I should feel X,” and start saying “I feel Y, and that’s okay”. And perhaps most important, it approaches these concepts through actual, hard science that cannot be argued with. It’s a warmfuzzy affirmation of your deepest desires wrapped up in a blanketof irrefutable evidence, and it’s perfection.
“Even if you don’t yet feel that way, you are already sexually whole and healthy. The science says so. I can prove it.”
The New Topping Book & The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy
Okay, I’ve cheated here because these are actually two books. But I kind of conceptualise them as two halves of one whole, so they’re getting a shared entry.
These were the first two books I ever read about BDSM, when I was barely nineteen and only just coming to the realisation that I wasn’t the only person in the world who got aroused from being spanked and verbally degraded.
As a new submissive, I devoured The Bottoming Book. I absorbed all its lessons on how to get horrible things done to me by wonderful people in a safe and respectful way. I credit it, in large part, with quelling the rising sub-frenzy and preventing me from spiraling too quickly down a path I was ill-equipped to handle. Even now, I throw it at new and young submissives frequently. I’ve lost count of how many people have borrowed my copy.
I’ve actually read The Topping Book twice. Firstly, from a purely academic perspective – as a submissive, I wanted to understand the Dominant perspective better. It fascinated me, but I didn’t feel any pull to do those things. Much later, when I started exploring my switchy side, I read it again with a more practical application in mind.
These books are, even all these years after their initial release, still the best 101 guides on the market, bar none.
“We bottom in order to go to places within ourselves and with our partners that we cannot get to without a top. To explore these spaces, we need someone to push us over the edge in the right ways, and to keep us safe while we’re out there flying.”
I debated long and hard about including this one. It is not actually a book about sex, kink or any of that good stuff. But actually, it had such a profound impact I couldn’t not include it.
I first approached this book, a dense academic text, at twenty-one and barely out of my first long term abusive relationship. I’ve since referred back to it countless times, especially over the last three years as I try to recover from the worst abusive dynamic of my life.
What this book taught me is that my response to the trauma I’ve suffered is normal. It reassured me that I’m *allowed* to struggle with PTSD even though I’m not a military veteran or childhood sexual abuse survivor. It spoke so profoundly to what was going on in my head, and in my life, that I was frequently reduced to sobbing reading it. I usually couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. Through Dr Herman’s words, I learned that I could recover with time and the proper support… but that it was and is 100% okay to not be fully “there” yet.
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”
There are a lot of how-to books on polyamory on the market now. However, amidst all of them, Opening Up stands out to me as the most rational, sane, compassionate and balanced of them all.
What I love about this book, which I read when I was relearning how to do polyamory after escaping an abusive situation, was how many options Taormino presents the reader with. She doesn’t dictate, as so many how-to books do, that Relationship Anarchy and The Church Of No Rules is the only way to do things right. Instead, she treats relationships as a create-your-own-adventure story, and offers us a smorgasbord of possibilities to pick and choose from. Amidst all this, there are practical tips on time management, communication skills, jealousy busting, and more.
This book came into my life at the perfect time. What it taught me is that I do not have to live up to anyone else’s idea of The Perfect Poly Person, no matter how many books they’ve sold or how many events they’ve spoken at. Instead, all I need to do is collaborate with my partners to create something that works for us.
“Nonmonogamous folks are constantly engaged in their relationships: they negotiate and establish boundaries, respect them, test them, and, yes, even violate them. But the limits are not assumed or set by society; they are consciously chosen.”
Ah, virginity. Has there ever been a topic to provoke so much judgement and angst and stigma? A long time ago, the man who I first had PIV sex with (I don’t believe “losing one’s virginity” is a meaningful concept) made it clear that my value was in my “purity”. I was precious to him because no-one else had touched me, like an expensive work of art you keep behind a glass case lest anyone else get their dirty fingerprints on it. A while later, the second man I had PIV sex with berated me for not having “waited for him,” because – being the youngest woman he’d ever fucked – I represented the closest he’d ever come to “taking a girl’s virginity”. A right, he believed, that I had denied him by shagging someone else three years before I met him.
As a result of these experiences, I’ve dealt with a lot of shame around my level of sexual experience. I fuck a lot of people, and have a lot of casual sex, and 90% of the time I’m more experienced than my sexual partners regardless of their gender. This book showed me how the “cult of virginity” has been manufactured by the patriarchy in order to control women’s bodies, and by extension women’s lives. It showed me that virginity is a medically meaningless concept, and that the only value it has is that imbued by sex-negative, patriarchal, anti-woman culture.
Valenti’s book gave me the permission to go “yeah purity is a bullshit concept”. It helped me to fully embrace my sexual experiences, past and present, as part of the rich tapestry that make me who I am. As a feature, if you like, not a bug.
“The idea at play here is that of “morality.” When young women are taught about morality, there’s not often talk of compassion, kindness, courage, or integrity. There is, however, a lot of talk about hymens.”
Apart from my 1 Year Anniversary post on New Years’ Eve (which is written and ready to go,) this will probably be my last post of 2017. In that vein, I wanted to end the year with a roundup post of sorts, some Top 5 lists from the year.
I hope you are all having a wonderful festive season and I can’t wait to keep the conversation about all things sex and kink going with you in 2018.
#1 – Eroticon 2017, the one that started it all. #2 – Autumn CM/nf, where I get to be naked and ogle pretty men in suits. #3 – Lube & a Laptop, a fun summer social with other sexy writers and creators. #4 – BiCon 2017, where I got to teach my workshop on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex Toys” for the first time (while extremely hung over.) #5 – Sex Blogger Christmas, a super fun (and boozy) event hosted by the wonderful EA and Livvy.
#1 – Loving BDSM, where Kayla and John bring their unique brand of humour, opinions and adorableness to speaking and educating on all aspects of the BDSM lifestyle. #CricketCrew4Lyf #2 – The Dildorks, “dorky discourse on sex, dating and masturbating,” with the wonderful Kate Sloan and Bex Caputo. #3 – The Guilty Feminist, which makes me cry with laughter and feel better about all the times my life choices don’t fully match my highest feminist ideals. #4 – Polyamory Weekly, a very long-standing favourite about all aspects of unconventional love. #5 – Life on the Swingset, the swinging and polyamory podcast.
#1 – Start a PhD programme. #2 – Cut down to 4 days a week on my day job and make up the additional income from writing. #3 – Place in the Top 50 of the Kinkly Sex Blogging Superheroes list. #4 – Have a piece of erotic fiction published, either in an anthology or as a stand-alone. #5 – Finish my sexy novella set at a BDSM convention.
So there you have it, friends! What were your Top 5s of 2017?
Affiliate links are used within this post. All opinions my own.