clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What Valentine's Day Is Really Like at a Sex Shop

New, 2 comments

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.


Babeland photo via Yelp, photo Claire Cavanah of by Sarah Small

Valentine's Day is just three days away, which means that a handful of stores in the city are going to be packed: flower shops, chocolatiers, jewelry boutiques, and sex shops. While there's definitely no shortage of the latter in the city, one of the absolute best is Babeland, which has locations in Soho, the Lower East Side, and Park Slope. It's been around for twenty years, and was one of the first female-friendly sex shops around (fortunately, more have popped up in recent years.)

The beauty of Babeland is that it normalizes sex without desexualizing it: the staff is approachable and friendly, yet knowledgeable about all the ins-and-outs of the products. It's also lightyears ahead of most other sex shops, which can intimidate even the seasoned pro.

In the interview below, co-founder Claire Cavanah talks about the store's number-one best seller, how they get customers to open up and verbalize what they're shopping for, and an easy, non-threatening way that couples who usually play it safe can inch into experimentation.

What are some of your best sellers around Valentine's Day?

For Valentine's Day, all of our best sellers sell even more. Our very best seller is the We-Vibe. There are vibrating cock rings that make everything vibrate during penetration, but this is the only vibrator that you can wear as the woman during penetration. Part of it is on the outside and part of it is on the inside, and there's room for whatever else is going inside. That's our best seller, and the most couple-oriented vibrator that we have.

Do you get a lot of couples shopping together around Valentine's Day?

The four days before are frenzied gift buying. It ramps up slowly and then we get to this peak and boom—it kind of drops off because people go home and use their toys.

What do you think would be a good introductory toy for a couple that's never used one together?

Any sort of unobtrusive little vibrator would be good. There's one called Hello Touch from JimmyJane, which is one of the best brands out there. There are controls that you wear on your wrist, and the vibrators attach with a band to your fingertips. It's sort of like upgrading your fingertips for how you normally would be stimulating the woman on her clitoris, while you're either having sex or getting ready to.

That's something you could slide into regular sex play. It's not a giant magic wand—which is awesome for sure—but it [gets] in the way.

Let's say a customer comes in shopping for their partner and they've never been in the store before. What kind of language do you use to loosen people up and get them comfortable about sexual preferences?

The way we do it—and we've found is the best—is to let the customer drive the conversation. We feel out how they want to talk. We don't jump in and say explicit terms. If we find out what language they use—for their bodies and their partner's bodies and what they want—we reflect that so that the conversation goes smoothly.

Some people say "down there" and other people are perfectly comfortable saying something clinical about their bodies, and other people will use slang or out-there, you-can't-say-that-on-TV kind of stuff. So we just try to follow the lead of the customer, and that really helps to open up the conversation.

What about a more experienced couple who's looking for something new?

If they're adventurous or they've been together a long time and are looking for something new, they could do a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing. One of them could come in and shop for what they want to do with their partner that they haven't done—like a blindfold and a pair of restraints and some warming lube. Maybe they've never tried it but they've talked about it and they're pretty sure it'd be fun to do together.

They can do a theme. What to do for bondage, or maybe "let's have sex in the bathtub." They could get a waterproof toy and some silicon lube and meet in the shower. Just something fun like that—or games.

Any specific products you would recommend?

We have a lot of splash-proof and waterproof vibrators. Splash proof means that you don't have to worry about getting it wet, like if you ejaculate or spill something. And the waterproof one you can submerge. The JimmyJane Form 6 G3 is our luxury vibe. It's kind of expensive ($175) because of how much you can do and how convenient it is. And it's waterproof—it's completely covered with silicon.

Usually you have to plug a vibrator, so there's an entryway, but this is covered completely and it charges with an electric current that goes through the silicon. And if you have silicon lube, it will stay wet in the shower.

Do you ever have couples come in where the two partners have a vastly different level of experience? What do you recommend for them?

Well, they kind of have to come to a place where they overlap in what they want to do. It seems what they need most is a way to communicate with each other. Just coming to the store itself and looking at all the products really helps start the conversation. You're looking at the store and saying, "Wow, what is that?" and the conversation will then lead to what you do with the different toys, and that will resonate with each partner.

I think a really helpful tool is the "Yes, No, Maybe" list. You can print out a list from the internet that has all kinds of sex play and things to do, and there's a column where you can check off "yes" (for sure I'm interested) or "no" (not a chance) or "maybe." And then you can compare with your partner, see where you're compatible, and do the yes list. The maybes can be the most fun, because you find out a lot about each other that way.

Are there ay products you've recommended to a shopper and they've told you later that he or she loved it?

That happens all the time, actually. If you go on our website, the customer reviews are real and they're completely honest. People have lots of different opinions about things, but many of our toys get wildly popular reviews.

I was just looking at the toys for men. There are these little masturbation sleeves, but they do much much more than that. They're called the Tenga Egg. It's a squishy textured sleeve, but they're soft enough that you can put them on the outside of the Magic Wand. You can wear it on your hand to masturbate, or to use for manual stimulation on your partner. I was just reading the customer reviews, and it's non-stop total praise. They're very delicate, so you can't expect them to last [forever], but the more gently you treat them the longer they last.

We have other toys that are just as uniformly adored also. We have the opposite too, where people come back and they say something wasn't really for them. But we talk to our customers enough and they open up enough to us that most of the time we get it pretty close.

Do you see an increase in single people shopping around Valentine's Day?

This time of year brings up a lot in our industry, and not just for couples. In general, we get more of every type of customer because the culture sort of pushes them that way. I've done interviews with different media outlets with themes like, "Please yourself this Valentine's Day." People do want to acknowledge that this day is happening and that the season is upon us, and we should all be paying attention to our sex lives.

What are your other really big times of year, besides Valentine's Day?

We're a big holiday gift place, much to our surprise. A few years after we opened we were like, "Oh my God, we're a gift store"—like Toys 'R' Us or Best Buy or something. We also have a really big tourism business. I don't know if we've consciously gone after tourists, but I think they come to New York and they expect sex, if you think about it. You know, all of these years it's been "anything goes in New York," and now it just happens to be a very respectable, pleasant experience, rather than transgressions and secrets.
· Babeland [Official Site]