SEX TOY STORE
by Mary Wyninger
It wasn't like I was a stranger to talking about sex. I mean, I did disclose all
the gory details about my first sexual encounter with public radio listeners all
over the country. I was pretty used to talking about sex with complete strangers.
So when a friend and I were looking through the classifieds one night and he suggested
that I respond to the "help wanted" ad for Toys in Babeland, I wasn't freaked
about the sex part of the job. In fact, I was kinda psyched that I might be able
to consider myself part of the sex industry. I was more worried about what I'd wear
to the interview.
Apparently, I chose the right outfit (a long black skirt, a blue thrift-store cardigan,
clunky boots, and dorky black glasses). Or, maybe it was the letter of recommendation
from a friend who edits an erotica magazine. Whatever the case may be, I landed the
Granted, I've had a lot of strange jobs. The summer after I graduated from high school,
I was an intern at a coffee industry trade magazine (which I referred to as "the
Billboard of coffee magazines") where my boss was a well-known area drag queen.
In high school I did shitty office work for a hardwood flooring company. And, at
the time I applied for the job in question, I was interning at a record label known
for fucking over its artists and employees. So I guess it wasn't all that big of
a stretch for me to work at a woman-owned-and-run sex-toy store.
I hadn't anticipated how much I'd have to know to work there, though. The night before
my first training session, I reread my dog-eared copy of The New Good Vibrations
Guide to Sex and tried to commit the various types of vibrators to memory. (Insertable,
non-insertable. Internal. External. Battery-powered. Plug-in. Dual-action.) I studied
that book until I couldn't keep my eyes open. Because, frankly, I was worried. I
was worried that I'd be the only (mostly) straight girl working there. I was worried
that people wouldn't think I was an effective salesperson because I'm not "traditionally
But once I started working there, one of the greatest things about my job was the
knowledge that I was helping women achieve satisfying sex lives. While many of our
customers were very much in-the-know, I helped people all the time who had never
seen a vibrator before, much less used one or owned one. There were times when I
felt like I was doing more than merely working retail; I was making a real difference
(no matter how small or inconsequential) in peoples' lives.
Another thrill was helping young people gain access to information about sex. One
cute punk-rock couple, no older than 18, came in and picked out one of each kind
of condom we sold, maybe a dozen total. When they came to the register, I looked
at their selections, looked at them, and smiled knowingly. "We just started
having sex!" she said proudly. It made my heart soar to know that not only were
these gorgeous kids exploring their sexualities, but they were doing so in a safe
way. And, hey, they were obviously having fun doing it.
We would also get quite a few young lesbian couples, no doubt in their first same-sex
relationship. I would explain to them the differences between the different styles
of dildos, listen to them giggle and laugh as they tried on harnesses in the dressing
room, and would wish them good luck as they walked out of the store, their new purchases
in hand. I'd like to think I made their lives - not just their sex lives, but the
part of them that deals with identity and pride - a little happier, if not more pleasurable.
Not to mention the fact that saying "I sell sex toys" is a great ice-breaker
Of course, there were some creepy moments, too. The "dirty old men" factor
was fairly high; we had a lot of accountant- or grandfather-types who would come
in to rent BDSM movies whose leers and forced small-talk suggested that something
just wasn't right. Once an older man came in and asked if we had peep shows in the
back. I resisted the urge to give him the finger and say, "Yeah, I got your
peep-show right here, buddy!"
My co-workers were really cool, albeit intimidating. One was a former stripper for
one of the Internet's most infamous live peep-shows; another held a second job as
a professional dominatrix. And one of my bosses, in true small-town Seattle fashion,
was involved in the music industry, and we soon learned that we had several mutual
friends. Even so, I still felt like I somehow didn't measure up to them, in terms
of knowledge about our products, being able to perform rudimentary store tasks such
as shipping and receiving, and being able to relate to and connect with customers.
The latter is, ultimately, the reason why I'm writing this article in the past tense.
After about four months of working there, I was fired. I was told that my customer
service skills weren't where they needed to be, and while they regretted the decision,
I was let go. It took me some time to figure it out, but I've come to the conclusion
that I'm just not capable of talking to strangers about sex. Not that I'm a great
conversationalist to begin with. But with this type of job, more often than not,
the customers themselves are nervous and in need of reassurance--a nervous saleswoman
isn't going to make anything any easier for them.
At first I thought my nervousness could be linked to my aforementioned lack of confidence
in social matters, but I've since gone on to work at another retail job, this time
selling books and magazines, and there's no trace of that nervousness now. So maybe
it's the subject matter of my former job. Now, I'm telling customers, "You can
find Harper's on the shelf by the greeting cards" instead of things like, "You'll
want to put a condom on this egg-shaped vibrator if it's going to be used internally
so that the cord doesn't come loose or break." Maybe I'm not as sexually liberated
as I thought I was; maybe I'm not as comfortable sharing my sexuality as I thought
I was. Whatever the case may be, it was fun while it lasted. And I've got one hell
of a sex toy collection.
Copyright 1999 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved