These aren’t your grandpa’s sex shops (not that you wanted to think about your grandpa in a sex shop, but there ya go).
If you’re a woman and you want to buy a sex toy, you probably think you have to go to a traditional sex shop.
But unfortunately, that shop could end up being pretty unhelpful: mostly built for men and with little information on materials and ingredients. The shelves will probably be lined with products focused on male pleasure, and the atmosphere might not be very welcoming to folks of varied backgrounds and interests.
Alternatively, you could order that sex toy online. This has the advantage of privacy and discretion, but as you know if you’ve ever bought clothes from a website, it’s hard to know from a screen exactly what you’ll get in person.
What you actually need: a place where you can go to say, “Here’s what I need. Help me find it.” A place that feels inclusive, sex-positive, and fun. A place where you can feel comfortable regardless of what you like, what you look like, and what you know (or don’t know).
That space is exactly what a small but powerful group of female entrepreneurs, women like 35-year-old Canadian Sara Rodenhizer, are trying to create.
Rodenhizer is the owner of Other Nature, an inclusive sex shop in Berlin, Germany.
Since its founding in 2011, Other Nature has had a mission of reaching out to people who are neglected by traditional stores.
In Rodenhizer’s native Canada, she worked for several years in a feminist sex shop called Venus Envy. After living in Poland and the Czech Republic, she landed in Berlin, a city whose progressive, queer-friendly politics matched her own.
"Mainstream sex shops generally fail to provide people — especially women and LGBTQ communities — with comfortable spaces to shop, to explore, and to learn more about sex and sexuality,” Rodenhizer says.
“So we wanted to create a different kind of space [at Other Nature]," she says. "What that looks like to us is a place where everyone is welcome,” regardless of preferences or experiences.
Other Nature isn't the first of its kind when it comes to feminist sex shops though.
In fact, women have been pioneering health-centric sex shops since the early 1970s. The women behind many of these shops saw themselves as educators first and entrepreneurs second, a trend that has carried over today. These women tried to keep mark-ups, and prices, low.
It's been a quiet trend: While men dominated the adult industry in the 1980s or 1990s, feminist sex shops slowly began to pop up all over the globe. Today, there are more than 20 shops in the U.S. and many others in major cities all over the world.
So, why haven't you noticed these shops in your town? It's probably because many of these shops are so inclusive and appealing that they've become a normalized part of the line up of boutiques in major cities. They're often filled with tea shops, reading rooms, education centers, and brightly colored offerings. In face, they're usually the complete opposite of the seedy storefronts you might imagine them to be.
To ensure welcoming vibes, these feminist sex shops provide friendly spaces to learn about sex and quiet areas to hang out.
Other Nature's product range shows an awareness of diverse needs and experiences. They stock feminist porn, books from trans and queer authors, and products that actually match different skin tones — things you may not realize are missing from traditional sex shops until you step into an alternative store. They even have a reading room complete with tea and vegan baked goods.
Educational outreach is key to many of these businesses, which is why Other Nature even offers home visits for customers with mobility issues. "Ultimately, our most important role is as a community resource, where people can access good information as well as quality products," Rodenhizer says.
"We make sure we're available to customers who have questions or who want info or advice, and we ... also offer workshops on a variety of topics."
Regardless of income, identity, or gender, these shop owners believe that sex positivity is important for a culture of equality.
Lynn Comella is a writer currently finishing a book on the history of feminist sex toy stores and the rise of the women's market for sex toys and pornography. Her work has shown that women-operated adult businesses really "take seriously the idea that sexual pleasure is a birthright."
She says many of these shop owners believe that everyone, regardless of their tax bracket, should have access to quality products and accurate information about sex."
And it's entrepreneurs like Sara Rodenhizer who have turned these beliefs into thriving, tangible businesses on the ground. As women-owned adult retailers continue to spread this positive message around the world, often largely unnoticed, they’re proving sex shops can make a true difference — both to individual customers and to the wider community. I think that's a pretty impressive, giant step.