I walked apprehensively up to the doors of Please, an upscale sex store in one of Brooklyn’s priciest neighborhoods. From the outside, it blends in with the quaint storefronts that dot the area’s largely residential blocks. You could even mistake it for a cute spot to grab a gelato if you’re walking by quickly. While many sex shops are shrouded without windows, reminiscent of the seedy adult video stores of bygone days, Please invites their guests in. Floor to ceiling glass walls and rich hues seem to beckon, announcing confidently that they have nothing to hide.
Up front is a neatly arranged, strategically placed table brimming with lotions, oils, and candles. As you make your way to the back of the store, you’re greeted with collars, leashes, and ball gags. Given the well-to-do demographic of the neighborhood, it’s a smart move to lure people in gently.
But this wasn’t my first visit to Please. It took several emails and a pre-reporting screening for Sid Azmi, the owner, to agree to my story—letting me “work” there for a day. I understand why: this store is her baby, and she cares for it as such. Every item is thoughtfully curated to be both high quality and holistically healthy. After all, this is Park Slope. Even their sex toys have organic sensibilities.
The clientele is was varied: Moms and daughters, young husbands and wives, with a few surprises thrown in. Babysitters wheeled in strollers, their charges in tow. One couple, in their mid-fifties, came in looking for a new toy and described themselves as “friends with benefits.” There's hope for the future yet.
But aside from a few eye-brow raising patrons, I'd barely scratched the surface of the sex toy trade secrets. Spoiler: it mostly boils down to lube.
People need warming up before they jump in.
I watched countless customers meander around displays of unthreatening books before ultimately bee-lining toward vibrators and anal beads. Just like sex, sometimes you need to feel comfortable before you can ask for what you really want.
It’s not a career for the timid.
Within minutes of my arrival, I witnessed the store's owner waltz over to a woman browsing lubes, squirt some out, and rub it on the back of her client’s wrist as easily as if she were shaking hands. Typically, if someone is lubing me up, then we’ve already exchanged pleasantries at a bar and I’ve decided, “eh, why not, it’s been awhile.” To work at a sex shop, you better have confidence and a high tolerance for awkward interactions.
You realize people are mostly idiots when it comes to sex.
No, a vibrator will never replace a human dick (if that’s what you’re into). The intimacy of being touched can’t be recreated, no matter how much horsepower your toy has. No, there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re in your twenties and you need lube. These are the sorts of questions that pepper conversations between staff and clientele non-stop, and which you need to be prepared to answer with certainty.
There are products out there you didn’t even know existed.
See these? No, they’re not tiny condoms for the world’s saddest micropenis. They’re called finger cots, and they’re mostly used for fingering vaginas and butthole! Isn’t safety cute?
You learn sex secrets you wish you had in college.
Ladies, here’s one I’m taking to the grave: stash your lube (see? I wasn’t lying, it all boils down to lube) in your medicine cabinet. Then, when you decide it’s business time, sneak into your bathroom, and rub some wherever you may need it, then pop back out to your partner, purportedly the wettest human alive. You’re welcome.
Suddenly, everyone trusts you.
Though I never explicitly said, “Hi my name is Ali, and I work here!”, by standing behind the register, greeting customers, and offering unsolicited advice, I definitely more than implied it. So when I offered up, “Oh, I have that vibrator. It’s my favorite,” people took notice. I didn’t close any sales, but I’m happy to report I put some items on people’s Christmas lists.
Some people just aren’t ready.
Sid recounts stories of customers angrily storming out of her store, indignantly shouting, “There’s NOTHING here for me!” She says, “Sometimes when I’m on the street and I’m giving out flyers, I see women pulling their boyfriends away from me like I’m Satan or something, and I just want to say, ‘You know, there’s nothing fucking wrong with a sex shop!’ but I have to stop myself, because I know they’re not ready for that.” But hey, undoing years of misinformation and sex shaming so deeply entrenched in our culture takes time, right?
Erection puns not withstanding, the old adage, "it's a hard job, but someone's gotta do it" couldn't ring truer. Part therapist, part salesman, part "more experienced" older friend, working in a sex shop comes with responsibilities and rewards in equal measure.
But at the end of the day, people have you to thank for their orgasms. And that's something we can all be proud of.
Photos by Getty Images and Jason Sanchez