As part of BYT sex month, we did what had to be done: sent our interns out to visit some choice sex shops in DC, and get the full scoop on best products, hot trends, and your friendly sexy neighborhood sales personnel.
all photos: Temniet Mesgna
In a discreet building, up a few stairs on U Street holds Secret Pleasures. A small, pink, white and black boutique filled with sex toys. Unlike the majority of sex shops this one is designed with women in mind. The door is always open and a happy, female sex educator is ready and willing to assist in the picking of your (and other people’s) pleasures. The owner wanted women to feel safe and comfortable enough to open up and truly find what they need without a stigma being involved.
Jess, a bouncy, red haired sex educator has been an employee of Secret Pleasures since it opened last October. She opened up to BYT and we found out the juicy details of this sex shop.
What’s the name of the store?
Do you know when the store opened?
Yes, the store opened last fall, mid-October of last year.
Oh, so- super recent. So who opened it?
The owner, who I haven’t spent a lot of time with, and she had an online shop for a few years and then she made every thing her own and decided she wanted to open her own location, and she actually has plans to expand in the future. But this is the first location.
So how do other businesses treat you? Do they give you problems?
Well, Junction is downstairs and they’re awesome. We’ll talk to each other and if we need change, ya know (they’re there). We have a really good relationship with them. The Green Peace Campus Headquarters is upstairs. So, some people say things like, ‘Oh that’s the porn store.’ Whatever, it is like a little belittling and insulting, but I don’t necessarily get angry about it because I understand there is a culture of ignorance around sex shops. Like where is that line where we are here to assist you.
It’s like sex is a dirty thing.
Right, right, and if any store has something to do with it then it has to be really dirty and skeezy. So, that’s that. On the whole, I think people really do like it especially because it is more like a boutique. So we have such a range of stuff. In general, it has been a really good response from the local shops and community.
So what kind of clientele mostly come in here?
It’s definitely mostly women. The owner kind of wanted to create a space that was really woman friendly, because the sex industry traditionally isn’t. So she wanted to create a place that was really friendly for women and couples. And I feel like this place is very queer friendly, and a non-judgmental place for polyamorous or for whatever the case may be. It’s a variety of people, mostly women, but then after that I would say more queer people than men in general.
What do you mean when you said it is more queer friendly? Is there specific toys?
We do carry specific toys, we have a range of strap-ons and strap-on alternatives, and most of the dildos that we carry are strap-on compatible. And then we also carry a lot of stuff for anal play and everything in between. And as a staff we are really non-judgmental and accepting, so that is something that we really try to get across to the clientele.
What is the most awkward moment that you’ve had here?
Well, I’m really comfortable talking about sex and whatever you want to do. The only awkward part is when men, who are heterosexual, older men are always like, ‘I could really use a practical demonstration’. I get that like on the daily. And I’m always like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ But it’s not typical, and it’s always like I need to diffuse the situation and go back to be more professional. Sex is a very personal thing, but I am professional talking about sex. So I think just kind of trying to balance that can get awkward.
What do women mostly go for? Is there a most popular product here?
The most popular, it’s hard to say. The most popular product would definitely be the Rabbit because it is the most infamous vibrator that there is. But women usually go for the dual-penetration, vaginal penetration and clitoral stimulation. And then we also carry the Sliquid organic lubes, personal lubricants. They are also really popular because they are so good for you, or [at least] not bad for you.
What do you mean by not bad for you? Just less chemicals?
Well yeah, Sliquid is 100 percent, certified organic and we don’t really carry KY and some other ones that are kind of, a lot of them have glycerin in them to make it sweeter, so if you are like going to taste it, then they add that, but it’s also sugar that is in your lubricant. And the vagina has a pH and when you introduce chemicals it could throw off the pH, which causes yeast infections and UTI’s. If you have an allergies to things that you don’t know are in your lube, then it could be bad.
Yeah, I had no idea about all of that. So what do guys, if and when they come in, what do they mostly go for?
They usually buy, we have a lot of vibrating penis rings, and so that is something they really enjoy, because that is something you can use as a couple or by yourself. It’s hard to say because guys aren’t our major clientele and they rarely, rarely come in by themselves. They’re always like, ‘this is for me and my wife/girlfriend’. But we do also have a lot of masturbation sleeves, so that’s also the next popular.
So the majority of guys will be like, ‘Oh it’s just a present for someone’?
Well some customers will be pretty specific, and say, ‘Oh my partner really likes this and we want to try this now’, but others are a little bit shy. And if I ask, if I can help them find anything, they’ll say, ‘Oh I’m just looking’ and they’ll look around and then come back and say, ‘Actually I’m looking for this thing’ because they just don’t want to talk about it.
Yeah, some people get nervous talking about sex, but they’re in a sex store.
Right, right. The other hard part is people will want to laugh about it, and that’s fine, I don’t take this job too seriously. Sex is fun, it’s something that you know it can be really funny, it should be really funny sometimes. If you can’t laugh about it then whatever, but some people do that it really seriously and they don’t want anyone poking around.
Like it’s their very first time. Have you have any virgins come in?
That’s awesome! What do they get?
Usually they just get a small vibrator or something just to start them off. Because also I’ve had a lot of just sex toy virgins and they’re like, ‘I’ve never had anything before. I don’t know what I would like.’ So it’s difficult for them, but usually they get the small bullet vibrators to get the ball rolling.
Have you ever had a guy virgin come in? or would the not own up to it?
I’m not sure, no male has ever said anything to me.
Moving from virgins to your creepier customers: Do you have those?
There’s no one really who’s creepy. Sometimes men saying inappropriate things to me, but that is the creepiest it gets.
Do you have any regulars?
There are a few that I actually recognize! But I feel like it’s different because I used to a be barista, and it’s one thing to be like, ‘Oh hey! The regular’, but if somebody comes in here I can’t really say that. It’s a fine line, the balance between being professional and personal, because it’s sex.
What’s the most expensive product that you have?
Well, we have the My Little Pole that you can setup in your home. It’s $165, it’s officially the most expensive thing that we have in the store. The second most expensive is $139. It is the Fun Factory Delight, it is specifically designed for masturbation. So this is for penetration and this little nub is for the clitoris. So if you turn it on and then it starts really low, and then it goes all the way up and then it goes into different pulsation settings. It actually has 32 different combinations that it can do.
So how do you stock everything?
We actually got this new more electronic system to streamline everything. In the beginning it was kind of hard because we don’t have a lot of space here, so we buy one thing and then it sells out, that means it’s good, but it’s sold out! And it takes a week and a half until we get it in again.
Gosh, you gotta start a wait list.
Yeah, which we totally have. If we don’t have something we’ll take down your e-mail and a $5 deposit no matter what the price of the product and we will save it for you when it comes in. So we’ve been able to do a little bit more for that. But already the owner is thinking about in the future there might be a large location, but she wants to stay along these streets, but it is something that we’re looking into.
I like this though because it is really intimate and the majority of sex stores are huge! And with a smaller place it gives the customer time to not get overwhelmed by walls and walls of porn DVDs.
So, tell us, how did you get involved in the business?
I actually started being the manager’s personal assistant on Craigslist, she used to live right down the street from me. And I responded to this Craigslist ad and I was her personal assistant for a while. All she said was that she was opening a small business, and I was totally cool with it. And then she said it was sex shop and I was like, ‘That’s awesome!’ I identify as a real sex positive, queer feminist, and I think this store is going to be really amazing. I kind of asked her for a job and she said yes. So I helped her, being a personal assistant, and researching the cheapest hangers, and things like that. Then up through the opening party and the opening of the store. So I’ve been here from the very beginning.
So, since you only opened last fall what has been the busiest day?
Christmas was really hectic, but I think Valentine’s Day might have surpassed it. It would be one of those two.
What’s your favorite toy?
Well, first off, we just got this toy in and I really want to buy it, it’s called Squeal. It looks like a propeller, but made of small tongues. Yeah, it’s like the only word for it is a vibrator, but it doesn’t vibrate. It just has 3 different speeds. So it is just a series of tongues. And it’s really hard because you can’t really do much without lube, but if you put lube on it, it’s (like) phenomenal. And then the main part can just snap off and you can clean it that way. Also, the tongues are like 100 percent medical grade silicon so it is a really quality, body safe product.
But then the other thing, which I also have to show, is the Lelo Mia.
It looks like a mascara tube!
It’s really durable and discrete, and it’s the same size and shape of the Bullet so you can like put in any Bullet compatible thing. So, it charges via USB.
So you can charge it up. It’s really travel friendly you don’t have to worry about incompatible anything or batteries. You could bring it to the office and shut the door.
Does any product just blow someone’s mind?
This one a lot, because I do show it to everyone. Also some stuff gets a little, like this a penis ring that we have, and it has the two different motors that operate independently of each other. This goes around the actual shaft of the penis and this goes around the testicles and so this is a little more advanced. But this is something also that people are excited about.
So the feedback from women is 100 percent awesome?
Yeah, we do get a lot of people say, ‘this is a really good environment.’ One of my favorite customers I ever, ever had I sold her one of the Lelo Mias she came in and was really quiet and reserved and said, ‘I’m just gona look around.’ And then she, people really open up in a sex store, I’ve heard life stories that are amazing, but this customer she was going to be submarine for six months with the military and she was leaving her partner. And she was a sex toy virgin and she really just wanted something for herself. So I showed her all of this stuff. Then when she was checking out she was like, ‘Thank you for being so nice and approachable. I always get so scared when I go into stores like these. I’ve never been able to actually buy something.’ So that was a really nice thing.
Wow, that’s really awesome though. I didn’t even know there were products like this or grades of them.
Yeah that’s something the owner is trying to do a lot of the stuff we have is not only body safe, but environmentally safe. Meaning it is recycled silicon. But some products are made out of jelly rubber. And it is the worst thing that you can have because it is super porous and that means that anything you use with it will get into it, but that things, or chemicals can leak out of it. And it also has phthalates in it and they are terrible. Jelly rubber has no phthalates, but it is really porous so if you’re using it, you’d really have to clean it or I always recommend people use a condom with it. And then if you aren’t then you need a specific sanitizing wash. But when you get up to a material like silicon it is the best thing you can possibly have because it is totally non-porous and it will last forever, unless you use it with a silicon lube. You can’t use it with a silicon lube, but they last forever and you can wash them with just soap and water. Or even throw them in the dishwasher and it’s completely safe.
If my roommate saw a vibrator in the dishwasher I don’t know what they would do.
So are any of your friends toy virgins anymore?
Um, no, not at all. All of my friends have been super sex open. I have sold a lot to a lot of my friends. They are pretty happy that I work here.
Thank god it’s Sex month on BYT
Secret Pleasures is located at 1510 U St. NW. The price range is a little more expensive than most, but you get an awesome product that is totally body safe. Go in and explore your secret pleasures!