What was it like when you visited a sex shop for the very first time? How did you feel? Shy, anxious? Excited? Overwhelmed? At least for me this description does ring so true. At least in the beginning.
It was 1996, I was in London for a few months and strolling around one of my then favourite places, the Tower Records store at Piccadilly Circus, where I closed almost each Saturday visit to London centre.
It was a kind of ritual: Get out of the tube, get one double choc muffin and one doughnut at what I today believe was a Duncin Doughnuts. I became aware of that chain only years later. After that, cross the street via those traffic lights and get into Tower Records. This kind of equalled heaven, though a very consumerist one. CDs, music books, magazines ... even some pretty specialized stuff. At the time The Beatles Monthly was still in print. I also got quite a few Beatlefan Magazine, a fanzine from the USA. Awesome! Plus it was there that I listened to The Beatles Anthology Vol. 2 for the very first time. Those infectious giggles during And Your Bird Can Sing! And that otherworldly first take of Tomorrow Never Knows. Made me so high. Sounded very contemporary to me, it was Britpop at full swing. Blur, Oasis everywhere. I still do think that first take would have made a more than impressive cut, though I am glad they did not stop there. :)
Today that Tower Records store is no more. I believe they have turned into some fashion stuff or ... I don't know. But at least ... not Tower Records.
It must have been one of those music filled evenings, that I decided not to drive home at once but just to stroll about, without looking at the map to see where it would take me. At first I came past all those theatres and musical venues. It felt so magial, glamorous, only to walk past those houses, only to read all those signs.
I took the chance to extend my growing collection of those infamous sex worker advertising cards they used to place inside those iconic red phone boxes. To me those were exciting too, a phenomenon and cultural expression I needed to document. So I made it a habit to collect some of them once in a while. But only a few, as I felt taking too many of them would be disresprectful towards those women who depended upon this kind of advertising. But the phone boxes were becoming more and more plastered with these cards, so ... yes, I am very definetely a collector. :)
And then I turned around ... and found myself in the midst of London's red light district. I had never seen something like this before, had never been to Hamburgs Reeperbahn or the likes. I hesitated, but then I decided to take a look. Again, exciting as heck, all those luscious lights and signs, this time advertising sexual excitement of the verious kinds. Not that I was planning to take part in that. At one shady byway an old man with quite a few missing teeth offered me "You want a nice young lady, sir?" I declined. I also did not feel like starting a discussion about the varying definitions of "nice young lady", but anyway. I hurried back to the main street.
And there it was. Right at a street corner, a comparably safe haven among all this sensory overload ... an adult book store. Yay, books! Oh, that was much more to my taste! Yet, also exciting. Erotic photography, paintings and other art books ... wow. Little tobi in wonderland. :)
Then I saw that sign. An arrow. There was another floor, below.
As I descended this mysterious staircase I was passing eye masks, black feather boas, handcuffs and whips on display. Okaaay. Then the stairs took one sharp right turn
and I was standing in a fully fledged sex shop. The first moment I must have looked quite confused, but I said to myself, now that I was here, I could as well have a good look around. And so I did. I saw a lot of stuff I had only read about, dildos, vibrators, more or less sexy lingerie, several aphrodisiacs (so that was what Carlos Peron's song The Spanish Fly was all about ...) and ... porn. So far I had only seen some soft porn magazines at school (someone had brought it ...), but this was a bit more exciting. Real pussies, real cocks, unashamed on display, in full action, in all their glory. I was just about to finish my tour , as a group of asian tourists descended the staircase, just like I had done a few minutes earlier. But this was like from some kind of slapstick movie. As soon as they turned around that corner, all the men went: "Aaaah!" and, with just a tiny delay, all the women went "Eeee!". And the things got tumultuous. The men were trying to enter the shop, but their women grabbed them one by one and dragged them back upstairs. It took a while before the shop fell silent again.
Oh, these are truly priceless memories. Another example of "this could not be scripted".
I stayed a while longer and did watch some more people's reactions as they turned around the corner. It was hilarious, pretty good fun. I also watched the shop assistant, who was pretty indifferent to it all.
From then on I knew: A sex shop is nothing to be afraid of, it can even be fun.