The first time I saw a vibrator was at Spencer Gifts. Middle school aged me was with my friend at the mall (Yes, I was a mallrat) where I picked up an elongated box and wondered aloud, “Oooh! What’s this??” If my friend knew, she didn’t let on; just took it out of my hand, put it back on the shelf then led me over to the poster rack and fiber optic table lamps we always looked at.
That was the extent of my sex toy knowledge until I graduated from high school, the “adult” section of Spencer’s. That fall I entered NYU where freshman orientation not only included a tour of the campus but some off campus highlights. One of which, to my delight, was The Pink PussyCat Boutique.
A real sex shop, no mall required.
The Pink PussyCat sat on the outskirts of campus on the edge of the West Village. Even though I had spent my whole life visiting Manhattan I had never seen a shop like this. The well-lit window had mannequins dressed in lingerie and filled with accessories. I really wanted to run up and press my face to the glass, looking around like Ralphie and his friends gazing at the toys in the Higbee’s window display in A Christmas Story. My group was quickly moving on, so I left with the hope that I might return soon. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t return for months.
The first semester of college was overwhelming and exhausting. The thought of visiting Pink PussyCat left my mind. I was just trying to survive long hours and little sleep. Spring came around soon and I had finally figured out how to handle the workload. A Goth friend of mine, who was still in the suburbs, lamented that she couldn’t find the right bustier to go with her outfit. She asked if I could find something in the city. I went to my usual East Village haunts but nothing was quite right. Then I remembered the lingerie in the Pink PussyCat window.
So there I stood again, gazing into the window, realizing I was actually terrified to walk in. After nearly a year in the city where everyone was much freer to be open about who they were and what they liked than the town I grew up in, I had not grown much in accepting my own sexuality. Dressed in a mini skirt, shiny patent stiletto heeled boots, torn fishnets and a using a dog chain as a belt; I was still hiding most of my kinky side and the need to be far more open sexually. In this store, nothing was hidden or disguised. I wanted that but was still afraid. Would friends ridicule me if they knew I had gone in there? Would I just meet creepy scary people in there? Was I a “bad girl” for going in? (Oh, I had so much to work out at that point and it would take years to get there)
Not wanting to disappoint my friend if I went back home over the weekend empty handed pushed me to enter. Heart thumping in my chest, I went in.
It wasn’t a very big store and it seemed like they tried to put as much stuff in it as possible. I somewhat remember racks crowding the middle and glass counters along one side and the back of the store. I can’t even remember what I looked at specifically. Might be the amount of years since then (far too many than I care to admit) or the amount of things to look at being so overwhelming but I can’t pick out a single item in my mind. I remember much sexier stuff than I had seen at the mall and kinky gear out on display. The walls were shiny, mylar I think, and more lingerie was mounted up on the walls. I stood gazing at bustiers on headless torso displays up on the wall until the gentleman that worked there broke my reverie.
And he was a gentleman, not the creepy seedy old guys that I had been led to believe worked at places like this. He was nice and friendly, asking what he could help me with in a way that didn’t make me feel like it was weird or wrong to be there. I told him I was looking for a bustier for a friend and pointed out what I was interested in. He was chatty and offered his opinion on the ones I picked out. Once one was picked he asked if there was anything else I was looking for. I gazed around the store one more time, but was still too overwhelmed. I turned back and said, “No, I must be going. Meeting friends for dinner.” I paid for my purchase and walked out with my black plastic bag.
I would not walk into another sex shop for eight years. Yes, you read it right. Eight. Years.
I would stop and look in the window but never go in. During a particularly sexually frustrating time I thought about buying a dildo but still struggled with the stigma of sex shop patronage. Probably for the best since as it would have been a cheap phthalate laced one anyway. I moved to LA and decided to finally expand my sexual repertoire. Unfortunately, my first visit to a local sex shop was Le Sex Shoppe with its racks of porn and pay per view booths in the back. I walked in and walked right back out.
Then I discovered The Pleasure Chest. (Cue celestial music as clouds part and beams of light come shining down.) Changed my life forever!
But that’s a story for another day. I was somewhat lucky that my first true sex shop experience was in a place that wasn’t creepy and seemed to celebrate sexuality, albeit in a small confined place with some cheesy neon and window display. There is a bit of irony that the NYC Pleasure Chest location was not far a walk from Pink PussyCat. I probably passed it once or twice, gazed in the window as usual, but never went in.
Trying to find a good sex shop as I got older, more experienced and less self-conscious, should not have been so difficult. That’s why I’m so happy The Redhead Bedhead is traveling around the country finding and reporting on great, sex positive sex shops to recommend. On a mission to save the world from mediocre sex, the Redhead Bedhead has been doing The Superhero Sex Shop Tour. Its goal is to find the best sex shops; seedy-free places with friendly faces, quality merchandise and safe environments. She can’t do it alone! Please help by donating to the Superhero Sex Shop Tour Campaign. I’m so happy to see all the places now available with super helpful staff, as well as, classes and workshops. I could have really used this back in the day.