I parked my car in front of Galaxy Trading of Woodstock – a subsidiary of Starship Enterprises, one of the leading adult retailers in Georgia. It was just after 11am and I was surprised to see several other cars in the parking lot. I thought sex stores were only for people who stayed up past midnight.
I entered the store and was greeted by Lexi*, an attractive young blonde woman in a tank top who checked my ID and asked if I needed help finding anything. I mustered up some courage and told her that I’m a student studying sexuality and asked if she would tell me about her experiences working in an adult store. Lexi was thrilled to talk to me. She told me that she wants actually wants to go to back to school to study sexuality and that her job as a clerk at Galaxy had given her a lot of opportunities to learn about different sexual issues. Lexi found out about the job through friends who worked there and said that she probably wouldn’t have applied if she didn’t already know someone because it would have been uncomfortable to face with such a taboo subject with strangers. Though she seems to have gotten over that part since most of her day is spent helping strangers find sex toys.
Lexi took me around to one case that she said she felt really passionate about. The case was filled with pale pink toys and kits each with a small “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” logo in the bottom corner. She pulled out what looked like a silicone bra and explained that it was a breast massager designed to help women recovering from breast cancer to relieve pain associated with surgery and treatment. Next she pulled out a set of dilators that were for treating vaginismus, a condition where the vaginal muscles contract uncontrollably causing pain during sex, periods, and medical exams. All of the products were designed to improve women’s sexual health and wellbeing.
Lexi explained that a lot of women will get referred to her store by doctors. Women’s bodies go through lots of changes from puberty to childbirth to menopause and each phase of life brings new challenges. The products that Galaxy sells can help women with some of these challenges. A common problem that women face is weak pelvic floor muscles. A weak pelvic floor can lead to incontinence, prolapse, and less satisfying sex (aka a “loose vagina”). Galaxy sells tons of Kegel exercisers to help strengthen the pelvic floor ranging from simple glass balls to one that connects to your mobile device to track your progress (like a FitBit for your vagina). Lexi said she feels good knowing that she can help connect people with the tools they need to have healthy, happy sex lives.
I asked Lexi if most of her clients are women or if she sees a lot of men too. She said she sees a very diverse group; she sees men, women, and transgender people of all ages, races, and walks of life and has something for everyone in her store. She brought me a small toy called the “Buck-off.” It was a small, squishy, phallic-shaped thing with a hole in one end. Lexi took the product out and let me hold it as she explained that it was a stroker designed for transmen. It was small enough to fit around their anatomy and provided a way to create pleasure without having to directly stimulate their own body (many trans people dislike touching themselves directly because it can trigger feelings of dysphoria). She said it’s her job to read people’s body language and help direct them to the type of toy that suit them the best.
Next Lexi walked me over to a wall that held strokers designed for cis-men. She showed me several different models at various price-points and explained the pros and cons of each material. Some of the cheaper ones were made of a really soft, porous material that breaks down easily and is hard to clean. She said some men would be too nervous or stubborn to accept her help and would buy the really cheap toys, use them improperly, and end up with an infection.
Sex toys are labelled as “novelty items” and aren’t really regulated by the FDA. That means manufacturers can get away with using the crappy, cheap materials without any consequences. Lexi and I talked about the changing attitudes of consumers when it comes to sex products. Nowadays, when you can get endless porn for free online, it seems crazy to pay for anything regarding sex including toys. Lots of people would rather get a cheap toy than a quality one, even if it means paying more in terms of longevity, satisfaction, and even health.
Another customer walked in and Lexi left to take care of them. I walked around the store on my own for a bit, looking through the variety of products. It was interesting to see the range of quality and prices in every item. On one shelf was a nylon body stocking for $7.99 and right below it was a Liberator wedge (a fancy pillow) selling for $89.99. Some of the items featured the names and images of famous porn actors, some played off the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, and some were packaged in bright colors like the American POP! Series. I picked out a set of Kegel balls that were packaged in a black Fetish Fantasies Series box, but I used Lexi’s advice to pick out a product that I liked because of quality materials and shape rather than price or packaging.
As Lexi rung up my purchase we chatted a bit more about the adult industry. She told me a few stories of people who came in to the store knowing absolutely nothing about sex because they never got that kind of education from their parents or schools. They would stay for hours talking to Lexi or another one of the clerks just to learn all they could. Lexi takes her job seriously and puts time and energy into learning about new products so she can serve her clients better. She knows that she is more than just a purveyor of novelty items, she’s a sex educator and an advocate for a sex-positive culture. Lexi’s store provides a place for people to learn about sexual health and pleasure, and get the tools they need to achieve it.
*name changed to protect identity