I love today’s question because I remember being in this reader’s position not all that many years ago. Sex shops can feel intimidating when you’ve never been in one before. We’ve all been the nervous first-timer at some point.
Hope you don’t think this is a stupid question! I’m a 35 year old mother of one living in London. I’m recently single after coming out of a 12 year marriage. My ex husband was super vanilla but now that I’m on my own I want to try using sex toys. I’ve heard that it’s much better to go to a shop rather than buy online so that you can see and feel the toys before choosing one, but my secret is I’ve never been in a sex shop before! I don’t know what to expect or how to behave. Can I ask questions? Will the staff think it’s really weird that I’m a mum in my mid 30s who hasn’t ever used a vibrator before? Any advice would be really helpful.”
– Nervous Newbie
Hey Nervous! What a great question. It’s not at all weird. Loads of people have never been to a sex shop and are nervous at the idea. Firstly, congratulations on deciding you want to explore your sexuality more after finding yourself single. That’s a great gift you can give yourself which will improve both your solo sex life and any partnered sex you might have in the future.
Visiting a sex shop really doesn’t need to be scary. Promise! There’s just a few things you need to know to make your visit as smooth and – yes – enjoyable as possible.
First, research and pick a reputable store. As you’re in London, I can’t recommend better than the utterly wonderful Sh! Women’s Store. There’s also Coco De Mer, which is a real treat to visit but extremely high-end – basically the Prada of sex shops, with price tags to match. Any woman-owned and run, independent sex shop is likely to be better than a mainstream chain store. It’s honestly worth traveling to get to a really good store and there are a few in the major cities throughout the country. (If you must go to a chain store, Simply Pleasure isn’t bad but sadly they sell a lot of toxic and porous toys in amongst the good stuff, so do your research first.)
What you’ll find at a good store is a friendly, welcoming and non-judgemental environment. The staff typically choose to work in these shops because they’re sex positive and passionate about sexual pleasure and health. I’ve never met a sex shop worker for whom it was “just a retail gig.” I absolutely promise you the staff won’t think you’re weird for having never bought toys before, so feel free to say “I’m new to toys and looking for something to start with.”
So, ask questions! Ask for advice! (Not “what’s your favourite?” which is not only invasive but also a redundant question as all bodies are different. Think more along the lines of, “what’s a good anal toy for a beginner?” “I like strong vibrations with variable patterns, what do you recommend?” “I’m looking for an insertable toy that’s not too rigid.”)
On that note: think about what you might like to get before you go in. Are you more interested in vaginal penetration, clitoral stimulation, or a mix? What about anal? Think about what you want to experiment with, what your body likes and doesn’t like, and – very important – how much you want to spend. If you can afford it, it’s worth spending a bit more to get a really good toy that’s well-made, body safe and from a reputable manufacturer.
Please read up on materials and get something that’s body-safe and non porous. Dangerous Lilly has a tonne of valuable advice on safe toys. It’s okay not to know exactly what you’re looking for (that’s partly why you ask for advice!) but having at least a general knowledge of how your pleasure works is a good starting point. (I think I need to do a whole post on picking out your first sex toy.)
Don’t be afraid to pick things up and play with them (in your hand, not your pants, obviously!) The vast majority of shops will have a sample of each toy out of the box so you can feel it, test the vibrations for strength, see how you like the materials against your skin etc. Play as much as you like. Take your time. A good retailer won’t hurry you.
As far as any other etiquette, it’s all super obvious. Don’t hit on the staff – they probably love the job but they’re also at work and no-one wants to field unwanted come-ons at work. Don’t ask the staff personal questions about their own sex life or toy use. Keep your clothes on. Don’t test anything out on your genitals. Don’t be weird or judgy about toys or sex acts that aren’t your thing. (Think, for example, “I don’t think what would do it for me,” rather than “ewwww, why would anyone do that?”) Honestly, it’s no more complicated than being respectful, polite and behaving in ways that are generally acceptable in a public space, albeit one where it’s totally okay – encouraged! – to have frank conversations about sexuality.
One final pro tip: if you’re nervous, try going at a time when it’s likely to be quieter. Mornings are typically quieter than afternoons/evenings, and weekdays are quieter than weekends. This way the staff are likely to have more time to devote to you and you won’t feel so self-conscious examining the toys in front of other shoppers.
Good luck and please check back for an upcoming post on some more specifics of choosing your first toy!
Dear readers! If you’d like me to answer your question, get in touch and I’ll tackle your issue on the blog – completely anonymously of course.
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