Sex shops have a bad reputation. When we think about going to a store to buy sex toys, most of us think about badly lit, grimy shops with slightly creepy salespeople behind the counter.
That stereotype isn’t always representative of reality, but it still lingers. So when people say they only want to buy sex toys online, I get it. When that’s the expectation we have for toy shops, it can feel a lot more comfortable to head online to sites like Amazon.
That’s not always the best idea, though. When you’re spending money on a toy you’ll probably use on your genitals, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth—or at least that it’s made out of body-safe materials. And when you’re buying from Amazon or eBay, the quality of your product isn’t guaranteed. That means some people receive counterfeit products, while others say they’ve even received products that have been used and returned (ew).
Your pleasure and health matter, so find a boutique shop that actually cares about your needs.
Plenty of sex toy shops are well-lit, feminist-run, queer-inclusive, and decidedly not creepy. Many of them have online shops so that you can still shop for toys from the comfort of your bed. (But if you do go in-person, their sales associates are often sex educators who can give you solid advice on which toys might be good options for you.)
Babeland first opened in 1993 in Seattle, and since then, they’ve opened three more locations in New York. They carry a huge range of products from strap-ons, anal toys, and movies to toys for couples and beginners. Most of Babeland isn’t gendered, so you can shop for toys by their purpose. You will find “for her” and “for him” sections occasionally, though.
Come As You Are
Come As You Are is the world’s only worker-owned sex toy co-op, which means their goal isn’t maximizing profit. They’re based in Toronto, but they ship to the United States, too (so U.S. residents can benefit from the currency conversion rate). The website boasts a deep well of educational content and an extremely well-curated selection, including gender gear, vegan dams, and other barriers.
Early to Bed
Early to Bed opened in Chicago in 2001 after owner Searah Deysach realized the city was lacking educational and welcoming toy shops. Like many other options on this list, Early to Bed isn’t gendered, so you can explore products by their purpose, including games and gifts. They also have a section on their website for gender gear (though it’s almost entirely for transmasculine folks).
Enby is a newer toy shop that only sells online. Enby is Black- and trans-owned, and they don’t gender any of their products, so you shop by purpose instead. They also donate 2 percent of their proceeds to underfunded organizations working to improve the lives of queer and trans people of color.
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Feelmore is a Black-owned sex shop in Oakland, California. Its founder, Nenna Joiner, originally started selling sex toys and other products out of their car before opening the shop in 2011. If you’re in Oakland or Berkeley and need a vibrator today, you can get Feelmore’s products delivered through Postmates. (Everybody else has to manage with the Postal Service.) Their website has a section labeled “male,” but otherwise, products are categorized by purpose.
She Bop opened in 2009, and for all you Cyndi Lauper fans—yes, the name is inspired by the song. They have two storefronts in Portland, Oregon, and an online store. If you’re looking for more help, She Bop offers online consultations and virtual shopping appointments.
SheVibe was opened in 2004 by a husband and wife team. SheVibe’s website looks like a comic book page, which makes sense because one of their employees is a former Marvel illustrator (and the co-founder is named Thor!). Though based in Newburgh, New York, they only do business online.
Smitten Kitten opened its doors in Minneapolis in 2003. While many shops still sell toys made from porous materials that harbor bacteria, Smitten Kitten doesn’t sell anything that can’t be sanitized. In 2005, they founded BadVibes.org, one of my favorite resources for information about toy and lube safety.