Your friendly neighborhood sex shop

Since I went to New Orleans for New Year’s, I’ve been wanting to write an article about this sex shop I visited. That’s because I was impressed. Compared to other sex shops I’d been to before, it was quite cool.

I felt like I needed to wait for the right time to write about it, though. Then last week, I received an e-mail from an adult-toy maker. Evidently, they’re trying to reach our readers. What they sent me was an advertisement for their own products, to be sure; but I thought it was done in good taste. It provided a neat, straight-forward guide on how different kinds of vibrators work, and how to get the most out of them. There was nothing tawdry about it.

It made me think of that particular sex shop again.

Sex shop culture in New Orleans, Leipzig and elsewhere - article inspired by Wave Gotik Treffen and a classy vibrator ad.
Hustler Sex Shop, New Orleans. Google Street View.

I also remembered that the upcoming Wave Gotik Treffen is a celebration of self-expression, including sexuality. Maybe if I’d come from a more liberated background, I wouldn’t have such a complex relationship with sex. Maybe that explains my small fascination with visiting sex shops.

I see both the vibrator guide and the gothic fest as examples of sex-positive culture. The New Orleans sex shop would probably also fall into that category. So here’s the story.

New Orleans gets it on

Dubbed “the Great Southern Babylon” in a history book, New Orleans is often associated with Mardi Gras and, to some extent, “debauchery.” I experienced neither there. The two words that come to mind when I think of New Orleans are “friendly” and “fun.” I can say the same about the sex shop my boyfriend and I visited as tourists.

We were casually walking down Bourbon Street when we spotted said sex shop. It’s called Hustler. It was the middle of the day, and we were curious to see what we’d find there. I immediately thought of controversial “sex entrepreneur” Larry Flynt. I was right: the sex shop is part of his Hustler brand that includes the magazine. (Down the street there’s his quite sexist-sounding Hustler Club – labeled “Home of the Beaver Lover” – but we didn’t go into that one.)

Regardless of Flynt’s motivations or history, the sex shop is a nice place to go. It seems to be geared towards everyone. It has an inviting display window, with merchandise more or less in plain view. Inside, it’s big, spacious, colorful and full of light. There are multiple floors. It’s like a department store, and has enough things on offer to be one: Hustler has a whole line of pleasure products and kinky wear. The shop also has shelf upon shelf filled with videos regarding every fetish and preference one can think up, as well as literature.

But what caught my attention the most were the people there.

The customers were adults of all ages. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the way they looked or behaved. In my young, culturally-Catholic mind there had been this stigma about sex shops and their customers. I wasn’t even comfortable buying condoms myself at the drugstore. But Hustler showed me that a totally normal shopping experience at a sex shop is possible. I guess this is the upside of a store becoming a chain: somehow it’s normalized.

Why shouldn’t consensual, pleasurable sex be normalized? I think we’d all be better off without the stigma.

A very amusing scene featured a young Hustler employee giving instructions on electronic sex toys, surrounded by shop-goers. In a matter-of-fact though attentive manner, he was answering all the questions from a group of elderly people. When we went away to browse and returned later, the scene had become comical: He was lovingly dusting a soft, pink-colored, penis-like dildo. One would think it was his pet. I asked him what had happened. He was very upset that a group of college students had come in earlier and been “kicking it around.”

I walked out that day with an impromptu birthday present.

Sex shops elsewhere (including Leipzig)

Sex shop culture in New Orleans, Leipzig and elsewhere - article inspired by Wave Gotik Treffen and a classy vibrator ad.
Sex Shop sign. Wikimedia Commons.

While living in South Florida, the only experience I can recall with a sex shop was during a girls’ night out in South Beach. We went into the place giggling. It looked shady, dark – hidden. The culture in the U.S. used to be that sex shops were male-oriented and basically boarded up from passersby. This is very slowly changing, and can vary from city to city, state to state. That’s still the case in Britain, though – apparently due to some “anti-indecency” law.

My experience was different in Copenhagen. While studying there for a year, I visited a sex shop that at first glance looked like any other store. It was in the middle of a big shopping mall.

Sex shops in Denmark can even become highly prestigious. In general, the country has a sexually liberated culture, evident everywhere from its swinger scene to its movies. In 2014, the Copenhagen pub Hot Buns – a big step up from the American chain Hootersannounced it’d be serving up burgers with a side of sex toys. I’d be curious to try their combo.

But actually, it was the Germans who invented the sex shop. In Flensburg in 1962, Beate Uhse-Rotermund, a pioneering pilot and entrepreneur, opened the world’s first sex shop. She helped start a revolution and earned high accolades for it: “Uhse was one of the most important people for sexual liberation in the German-speaking world. In 1989, she received the ‘Bundesverdienstkreuz’ (German Cross of Merit), and in 1999 she was declared an honorary citizen of the city of Flensburg” (Wikipedia).

In Leipzig, I’ve been to Erotik Shop, across from the University of Leipzig’s main campus. I was having an after-lunch beer with friends at the Mensa, and we spontaneously decided to pop by. It looks very discrete, kinda hidden, with a small facade – not nearly as showy as Hustler. But inside it was like a regular business.

In fact, the elderly lady working there was friendlier than many store clerks elsewhere at Leipzig city center. She was having a pleasant chat going over vibrators with a couple who, by their tone, sounded like regular customers.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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