As the owner of an online sex shop, Sex Siopa, I get asked a lot of questions – questions from customers, questions from journalists and folks I’ve just met.
One time a taxi driver nearly crashed his van on the N11 when I told him what I do for a living. Then the rest of the journey was spent talking about my work.
I completely understand; it’s a rather unusual job title, but in the 5 years that I’ve been running Sex Siopa, I’ve never felt more satisfaction and pride in my accomplishments nor have I ever felt like I’ve made more of a difference in people’s lives than I have with my shop.
Since I’ve been running my business for 5 years, I thought it’d be fun to answer the top 5 questions I get asked on the regular.
1. How on Earth did you end up running an online sex shop?
It all started in 2011 when I was shopping for a vibrator. I visited some of the sex shops in Dublin, but found them really uncomfortable shopping experiences – either very male-dominated, grimey spaces with blacked out windows or heavy with the pink & purple hen party aesthetic.
It didn’t feel like my needs as a customer were being taken seriously.
I did a lot of product research, read a lot of blogs and discovered that the sex toy industry was and still is largely unregulated.
Plastic softeners that are banned in children’s toys are often found in cheap PVC and rubber sex toys.
It all started in 2011 when I was shopping for a vibrator…
However, there were a number of independently-owned sex shops in the States who were paving the way by only stocking toys made from body-safe materials like silicone, hard plastic, stainless steel, wood, etc.
Basically if it’s safe to use in your kitchen, it’s safe to use in your sex toys. So, the next time I was back home (I’m from Seattle originally), I visited our world-famous shop, Babeland.
Having met the staff and seen the way they operated with such positivity and and a focus on education, it suddenly became my mission to bring that attitude back to Ireland with me.
I couldn’t afford to set up a bricks and mortar store, but by the end of 2012 I had a beautiful website and I was open for business.
2. What’s your most popular toys?
This is more of a difficult question, because it changes all the time.
Like any retail business, you get new things in and some products get discontinued. Then on top of that, everyone is a little different and has different needs.
In terms of toy categories, vibrators are definitely the most popular, followed by lubricant and then toys for your bum.
But I also get a lot of referrals from doctors and physiotherapists with patients suffering from painful gynecological conditions like endometriosis or vaginimus who may need a silicone dilator.
I’m also seeing more and more straight couples buying toys for their opposite sex partners, which really warms my heart.
There has been a bit of a stigma around men using sex toys and a male insecurity when it comes to seeing their female partners bringing a vibrator into the bedroom, so it’s so lovely to see couples shaking off that old negativity and really start to enjoy and relish in each other’s sexuality.
3. Who buys sex toys from you?
I love this question, because it’s kind of code for “Do people like me buy sex toys? Am I normal?” And my answer is always “Oh my god! Yes! Absolutely!”
My customers come from all walks of life across Ireland. They’re 50/50 men and women, and 50/50 from Dublin and the rest of the country.
I get emails and phone calls from young people who saw me speak at their college as well as men and women in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who grew up in a time when sex was never spoken about and they were made to feel ashamed of their bodies and of pleasure.
It can be heartbreaking at times, but I’m always so honoured when they get in touch and put their trust in me.
I’ve also had to tell people that they’re perfectly normal for not wanting to use sex toys. Guess what! That’s ok too. It’s all about owning your sexuality and what’s fun for you.
If I’m already in a relationship with someone, how do I introduce toys into the bedroom?
This can sometimes be tricky, because no one wants to make their partner(s) feel inadequate. For this I like to take a page out of sex-advice columnist, Dan Savage’s playbook:
“If you roll it out like cancer, they’re gonna react to it like cancer.”
In other words, if you come to your partner looking shy and feeling guilty about wanting to use a sex toy with them, they will of course think there’s something wrong.
However, if you come to them say “I’ve found this new awesome way to fuck, and I want to do it with you!” they’re much more likely to have a positive response.
Because everyone is different, you may still have to have conversations about feelings towards these new toys, but just remember not to let them shame you for owning or wanting to own sex toys. That’s a big red flag.
I’ve never owned a toy before. What should I get?
There’s no one toy that satisfies everyone, so that all depends on what you like.
When you’re masturbating, do you like mostly external or internal stimulation? Do you enjoy having something in your bum or lightly touching the outside of your anus? Do you play with your nipples or mostly ignore them?
There’s something different for everyone, but what I always recommend is to start small and build from there.
You can always get the big fancy toys with all the bells and whistles later the more you get to know your body and what kind of toys really do it for you. And always buy lube! Always.
Shawna Scott is the owner of SexSiopa.ie, Ireland’s multi-award winning health and design-focused sex shop.