Light and shade
So, just two months on from the launch of 50 Shades of Grey in the cinema, have we turned into a nation of bondage experts? Has B&Q run out of rope, cable ties and tape? Do we now plan a weekly trip to the sex shop alongside one to the local supermarket?
Who is to say what is going on behind closed doors, but one thing has become apparent: we are witnessing a new spirit of openness and adventure.
No, the Dames have not taken to dressing in handcuffs and leather – or at least, no more so than usual – but for the sake of our readers we have taken a look at product range and customer service in a limited number of sex stores.
First, it was interesting to note what drives people to such outlets. No, it’s not always toys, whips, or the like. One neighbour praised them for being the only reliable source of double-sided tape, of the sort that sticks material to flesh. Her daughter had sent her off in search of said tape so as to avoid a potential disaster in her wedding photographs.
Then there is the friend who, although not in the DD bracket, always finds it hard to track down a bra that offers a perfect fit…And then she wandered into an Ann Summers store to discover that not only was it offering an extensive and attractive range, but also a professional fitting service and bras that were competitively priced (two for the price of one when she visited). Marks & Spencer and Bravissimo eat your heart out.
Nipple clamps, leather paddles, riding crops and blindfolds might not make it on to our weekly shopping lists as yet – they all seem, somehow, too horsey…Maybe it’s the sheer volume of leather involved. But there can be a time and a place for sex toys. Indeed, women suffering from atrophic vaginitis – which is surprisingly common and can affect those who have had caesareans, hysterectomies or are post-menopausal – and who have exhausted all other options might be advised to investigate them.
But there’s a huge difference between discussions in a doctor’s surgery with a sympathetic nurse and venturing out in store. There is no Which? Guide in this area, or at least, not yet. And so started this high street trawl, helped by research online and a very handy guide published in Time Out this January.
It led to this dame ending up in Sh!, which claimed when it opened to be the first ever ‘women only’ erotic boutique. Some 23 years on, it still provides a safe, welcoming place to shop and get sound sexual advice.
And it’s a good thing it does, because this sector demonstrates a huge disparity in the decor, layout and customer service of its outlets, and even within branches carrying the same brand name. One may be dusty, dingy, and dark yet four miles down the road its sister store will be light, airy and modern.
Sh!, however, is the only one I discovered staffed only by women who will sit you down, offer you a hot beverage (after all, this is England), make you feel at home (in what could be incredibly uncomfortable circumstances), and talk through solutions.
There may be discussion about the literary merits of 50 Shades of Grey, but it’s hard to argue with an author whose series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, been translated into 52 languages, and set a record in the UK as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. And if it’s given some women the confidence to set foot in a sex store, then I think that can only be a good thing.