Having lived in Rochester my entire “adult” life, my experience with sex shops had been confined to the aptly named Adult Video (on Monroe Ave.) and Outlandish Leather (in Village Gate Plaza). This, combined with the seedy portrayal of sex shops in the media, had led me to form more than a few stereotypes about sex shops, most of which I assumed were set in stone.
For one, I was sure they were only frequented by perverts and nymphomaniacs, witnessing the occasional curious teenager and bachelor party planner. Entering one, I always felt like I was walking into an exhibit of sorts, rather than a store.
The items on the shelves looked too ridiculous and foreign to buy and therefore must only be for ogling. Sure, the standard, easily recognizable dildos stood proud, but among them were devices of indistinguishable shapes, the purposes of which I always let my own imagination decide. The fact that these products were often displayed in glass cases certainly didn’t help the science exhibit feel. Later on, a Google search told me that the vast majority of these mystery items were butt plugs, but somehow this didn’t make them feel any more familiar.
However, it wasn’t the array of unusual objects that most made me feel like an outsider in sex shops — it was definitely both the personnel and the customers. More often than not, when venturing inside, we (I’ve yet to visit a sex shop unaccompanied) were either completely alone, or shopping alongside one older man, whose purposes I would beg myself not to ponder. This always left me with the (only somewhat irrational) feeling that the equally unsavory clerk was watching me, and only me, peruse the store, judging my every move. If they ever did offer up conversation, it was unfailingly uncomfortable.
A particular incident stands out, in which the man behind the counter somehow felt it was appropriate to share a story about how his sister’s birth control may or may not have given her cancer. Reasonable chat for a store that sells its products based on the positive aspects of sexual intercourse? I don’t think so.
My recent trip to Toronto sent me to a sex shop that blew all my stereotypes away. Come As You Are is a shop devoted to user-friendliness in general. The store’s main goals seemed to be making everyone feel welcome, and being as informative as possible, two things sex shops in Rochester completely fail to do.
Nearly every display of items was a stack of informational brochures, the content of which ranged from how-to guides for sex toys, to advice on dealing with erectile dysfunction. They’d even developed their own rating system for the porn they sold and rented, assessing each video.
What pleased me the most upon first entering was that nothing about it screamed sex shop -— it was a simple one-room design, with finished wood walls, and everything in plain view. The exact same design could’ve been used in a store selling kitchenware.
Further, there were two clerks working, both women, chatting amicably with each other about new products the store was getting. They both seemed personable without being overbearing, or coming off as creepy. What was even better was seeing them chatting with a customer who seemed to be a regular, advising her on which of the new vibrators to buy.
The positive experience inspired me to make my first sex shop purchase (massage oil), not to mention that I left with enough samples of lube to last me until I’m 30. It almost left me more disappointed with Rochester than I had been to begin with. At this juncture, I realized the serious potential a sex shop holds — it can easily be used as a platform to inform and teach, as well as to inspire and cultivate any and all sex practices in a way that normalizes sex.
Walking into Come As You Are was the first time I walked into a sex shop without feeling uncomfortable or like I was doing something slightly wrong. I sincerely hope I can one day have that experience in my own city, or else I’m moving. Quality sex shops or bust.
Bazarian is a member of
the class of 2013.