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13 Things You Should Know About Sex Shops

Spoiler: A cup of tea solves everything.

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So we spoke to three sex-shop experts for the lowdown on how to do it.

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The Experts:

Eve Fifer, senior hardgoods buyer at lingerie and sex shop Ann Summers

Renée Denyer, senior store manager at Sh!, the UK's first sex shop dedicated to women

Rose Compton, from Harmony, an erotic boutique that started in Soho and is now in various locations around London

1. It's OK to bring a friend.

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Why do it? "Shopping with your friends can make the experience far less awkward or intimidating, as you can help each other pick the right one and most importantly, compare notes..." – Eve Fifer, Ann Summers

"Coming in with a friend is probably a lot more fun. You have someone for backup and you can giggle together. And you won’t have to feel that you’re all alone in this brand-new world of sex toys." – Renée Denyer, Sh!

Any cons? "The only downside is you might not want them to know the ins and outs of your sex life. But if you think you’d feel more comfortable, then by all means come in – we have whole groups turn up!" – Rose Compton, Harmony

2. Think of it like regular shopping.

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They just want the best for you: "No one should feel nervous approaching a sales assistant to ask for help. We’re here to sell you the best items, the same way someone in an electrical store would – just with slightly more intimate products. So there's no harm in simply going up to the sales assistant and saying, 'Hello, can you tell me about this product? Is it safe to use in this kind of sex act?' For us it’s just another product to sell and inform you on." – RC

Feel free to touch: "If you go into TK Maxx or Next, you want to come in and touch the materials and look at the colours. It’s exactly like that. For people who work in sex shops, we don’t necessarily see the toys as sex toys, more like beautiful objects. It's like handbags or shoes." – RD

Say what you want: "Broach it like you would when you’re going shoe shopping i.e. 'I’m looking for a pair of black heels, can you show me what’s around?'" – RC

3. Do your research.

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Why do it? "Doing your research beforehand is a good technique, so you can come in knowing some of the key terms and what they mean. Then you can come in feeling a lot more confident and less nervous." – RC

What should you look for? "The trick is to find someone who is objective, because a lot of the time using a sex toy is very subjective. What works for one person might not work for another person. So look for reviews that talk about quality, battery length, and if it’s waterproof, rather than someone who just says, 'Oh, this toy doesn’t know where to find my clitoris.'" – RD

Some examples: "Great sex toy blogs who we champion include Cara Sutra, Sex & London City, and Hey Epiphora. We’ve seen a real shift in sex toys being featured in the press too, which is great for shedding the taboo around sex toys!" – EF

"Kinkly.com has a list of the 100 top bloggers out there." – RC

4. Leave things to the experts.

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They'll approach you! "The Ann Summers store staff can spot a ‘toy apprentice’ or a ‘vibe addict’ as soon as they walk through the shop door! If you look like a rabbit in the headlights, we will know that you’re new to the toy game, so we will approach you with care and won’t go straight into the toy talk. It’s a bit like foreplay – there is a warm-up element which requires some TLC before you get the big climax."" – EF

And they know how to put you at ease: "We'll never ask any blunt questions. Instead, we take the customer around the store, and can tell from their body language which area they’re more interested in – then we can head back there.

"As we’re talking we’ll pass each toy to the customer to see if they outright reject it, as it’s always easier to say that you don't like something. From there we can try and build a rapport to put the customer more at ease.

"The other thing we do with our customers is that when we say words like clitoris or orgasm, we make sure we’re looking at the toy rather than making eye contact, which can be a bit too much for customers that are shy talking about sex." – RD

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5. Don't pick up just any old lube.

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Why? "There is a difference between lube brands. There’s one called Yes that’s the world’s first certified organic lube, and then there are ones that are more sensitive that will be great for people more prone to thrush. We recommend buying small samples to play with until you find the one you like." – RC

How many lubes are there? "There are lubes that cool down, warm up, tingle, taste good, or that double up as massage oil. It all depends on what you want it for; it’s a bit like when you put salt or pepper on your food, or use a condiment – you do it because it makes your food taste better. The same rule applies to lube!" – EF

What lube should you get? "If you know the basic difference between silicone, water-based, and oil, it will all just come down to price-point and quality. The more expensive ones will have a better consistency and might be more economical because they’ll last longer." – RC

6. Water-based lube is best.

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What is it? "Water-based just means the majority of this lubricant is made using water." – RC

Why is it better? "It’s very body-friendly and it works for any kind of sex and any kind of sex toy. The silicone-based lube has a longer staying power, but it can have a negative effect on silicone toys and you’ll need soap to wash it off. " – RD

When should you use it? "It’s the best lubricant to use for slippery, sexy fun during foreplay or sex, as it’s not sticky and is easy to wash off." – EF

7. They won't judge you for buying cookie dough lube. Or for anything else.

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Why don't they judge? "Chances are we’ve bought it for ourselves already. It’s like anything else, if you work in a shoe shop, you want all the shoes. If you work in a sex shop, you want all the toys." – RD

"The sex toy industry is a weird and wonderful one, so we’ve probably already heard it (or worse). Very little fazes us." – EF

Opening up helps: "One we hear very often is, 'I’ve never had an orgasm.' A sentence like that might be difficult to say, especially to a stranger, but once you’ve said it, you’ll realise it’s not going to raise our eyebrows – we’ve probably heard it many, many times before." – RD

Just make sure you know what you're doing: "Sometimes you see customers buy things and think, Oh god, please use that correctly. But you’d never judge, because everyone’s sexual preferences are different." – RC

8. It's hard to shock a sex toy sales assistant.

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It's part of the job: "I think for someone to work in any sex shop, you probably feel very comfortable talking about sex, because if you felt uncomfortable talking about it, you wouldn’t choose to work there. I’ve worked at Sh! for nine years and can’t recall an instance I’ve felt embarrassed." – RD

Information is good: "We welcome TMI – we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs without knowing the ins and outs (quite literally!) of what does it for you. Every toy purchase is a very personal choice, so we want to help you get it right. It's part of our DNA not to be embarrassed – selling Rampant Rabbits is the same as selling granny pants in M&S to us." – EF

9. But there is a limit.

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There is such a thing as too much detail: "The things I know about some of our customers! Sometimes it’s because they’re nervous and just share more than they intend to. It only becomes a problem if the oversharing is part of their getting off. We get phone calls sometimes from people going into explicit detail about how they’ve used toys, and it's clear they're using it as a means to an end. We don’t want that." – RD

They're human too: "Lots of people will ask if we’ve used things before, and how we use them, and it’s a personal question for some sales assistants. It's hard to find the right balance answering that question, as just because we work in a sex shop doesn’t mean we want to put our sex lives on display." – RC

They still don't judge: "Sometimes customers will say things that make you blush. I once had a customer come in who was buying a vibrator for his mum, and it took me aback. From a professional point of view you can’t know everyone’s set of circumstances, so you can’t judge, but there are things that you will hear that might take you a minute to process." – RC

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10. There are non-branded bags.

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It's OK to ask for one: "Most people don’t want to go back to the office with a sex toy bag. A non-branded bag is absolutely fine to ask for." – RD

Sometimes they're the norm: "In Harmony we just have plain bags. We used to have bags with little patterns, but we scrapped that for just plain bags." – RC

But even if they don't have them, don't worry! "We only have branded shopping bags but if someone brought their own shopping bag, we wouldn’t judge either way. Our bags are pretty discreet and don’t scream, ‘I’ve just bought a Rabbit!’ If you purchase something online, it is delivered in a plain cardboard box with no branding, so you don't need to worry about any nosy neighbours." – EF

11. Buying in-store is worth it.

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Why is it better? "You have access to a wealth of information from a human being who can let you get up close with the products before you purchase. They have a level of expertise that you just can’t get online. You can see the scale of the product, feel the vibrations on the flesh, and ‘try before you buy’ (within reason, obviously)." – EF

Because size does matter: "Sometimes images on a website can be a little bit deceiving, but in the store you can feel the vibration and flexibility for yourself. You can also see the size, which is important because you could buy a huge baton online and not realise it. We find that the average size is two fingers wide, but a lot of people don’t discover that until they’ve tried something bigger." – RD

12. Stories are shared, but not how you think.

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What stories do they share? "You share stories that are really heartwarming: I had a customer that had travelled over from abroad, who couldn’t get sex toys easily where she was from. Her husband had just passed away and she was looking for something she could take back. It’s nice when you have customers that genuinely need your help – you feel inclined to share how good it felt with your colleagues." – RC

"We share stories, but not in that way. There might be a mother and a daughter that come in together, and we’ll say how we wish that happened more often. If people are VERY inappropriate we will share that. On one occasion we had a woman who actually put a clitoral vibrator down her knickers, and we had to tell her that wasn’t OK. She felt bad and came back later with a piece of cake for us." – RD

Should you be worried? "If you make us feel like we’ve done a positive thing helping you, there’s no need to feel worried when you walk out that we’ll say anything bad." – RC

13. Tea and giggles are both welcome.

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They know what to do about giggle fits: "Let it all out – you won’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last. We would rather people have a laugh in our stores than stand there in awkward silence dying of embarrassment." – EF

In fact, they welcome it: "We love it. We spend a lot of time laughing with the customers. We're always, always laughing with you, not at you." – RD

If in doubt a cup of tea solves everything: "We actually offer everyone a cup of tea or coffee at Sh! just to help settle any nerves." – RD

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