Interview: Francesca from The Pleasure Garden

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.

Amy x

A banner for The Pleasure Garden shop for an interview with FrancescaTell 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.