Small But Big; Sh! Womens Erotic Emporium.

I was delighted to visit Sh! Womens Erotic Emporium in London recently, for an incredibly intimate gathering with other women who have experienced some form of cancer (plus my gorgeous pal Hannah, who came to support me). Together, we discussed how our diagnoses, operations and treatment have affected our mental health and sex lives.

** Quick shout-out to some brilliant women at Macmillan who organised it all, and made such a great start in talking about sex with cancer patients. It is something that’s really needed in the Cancer Community! **

I was so chuffed to have the chance to chat with the brilliant Renee Denyer, Senior Store Manager at Sh!, and I'm very excited to launch this new series I'm starting, 'Small But Big', in which I highlight small businesses and why they're worth shopping with, rather than going for the same old (and often problematic) chain brands - and I feel like Renee might be the best first guest I could have asked for. 

Image sent to me from Sh!

Hey, darl. Thank you so much for chatting (virtually) with me. I have so many questions, but I’ll try to keep it succinct…

Can you give the readers a quick herstory of Sh!? And what inspired its divine conception?

Ky Hoyle, the Founder & MD, went on a shopping trip in Soho with some friends in early 1992, intending to find some fun playthings. What Ky experienced was alienating, intimidating and sleazy; dark sex shops owned by porn barons, run by male staff and catering to male sexuality only (or at least their view on it!).

Amidst the DVDs and scratchy panties were the toys, phallic and graphically ‘realistic’, locked away in grubby glass cabinets.

Male customers followed her around, standing too close for comfort - clearly a female looking at sex toys was open game, as the only other women around were of the blow-up variety… Even the chain that appeared more 'female-friendly' felt more about making women sexually attractive to men than about exploring their own pleasure. 

She stomped off home, toyless but inspired to make a change...  

Ky set about creating a place where the individuality and complexity of sexuality was celebrated and Sh! opened its doors in April 1992. The name was a playful comment on society's silencing of women's sexuality – with the exclamation mark sticking its tongue out to all that!

Sh! was the UK's first sex shop for women, and it was also the UK’s first-ever boutique-style erotic shop; A place where women could explore and discover their own, true sexual selves rather than having it dictated to them.

A well-lit, welcoming and relaxed environment, staffed by an approachable all-female staff, highly trained to give personalised advice and to make matching the right toy to the customer their goal. Interaction and questions were encouraged and cups of tea offered.

Demonstration toys were laid out on tables, all with batteries, so customers could handle the vibrators in order to feel intensity and listen to volume before making their decision. (In those days, this was unheard of!)

Before a customer left the shop with her new purchase, the staff religiously battery-tested each vibe to ensure it worked. This made Sh! the first shop to offer guarantees on all electrical toys, and to return faulty vibes to suppliers (much to their horror!). At the time, it was assumed that customers would be too embarrassed to bring back a faulty toy to a sex shop.

Sh! was born out of passion, rather than business acumen. Ky is often asked if she saw a gap in the market but she’ll truthfully say 'no’. She believed then, as she still does today, that women should have a place where the discovery and celebration of our pleasure is paramount! 

Image sent to me from Sh!

What kind of events do you host in the shop? Which ones do you feel are the most popular – and what is the most unusual one you have ever held?

We host a number of events and classes; book launches and readings, sex education (for adults); life drawings; we facilitate CafĂ© V in collaboration with My Body Back Project; we offer events for menopause support groups; we’re currently working on a range of sex-positive workshops in collaboration with the amazing peeps at Macmillan Cancer Care; we offer free classes to women’s HIV+ support groups… If it’s sex-positive, body-positive, and empowering – count us in! 

The most popular classes are our Blow His Mind (fellatio) and Orgasmic!, a women’s empowerment guide to anatomy, arousal and orgasm.

Image sent to me from Sh!

Please tell us a bit about the special work room in the back of the shop? My friend and I were lucky enough to get a little tour of it, a while back…!

Ah yes – this is my favourite part of the shop! We have a Silicone Lab, where we hand make silicone dildos and butt plugs. We also have a leather workshop, where strap-on harnesses are hand made, as well as our own range of bondage accoutrements like blindfolds, wrist cuffs and spanking paddles. It’s a joy watching our fantastic manufacturing team at work! 

Image sent to me from Sh!

Image sent to me from Sh!

If you could tell not just women, but any and all humans one thing about sex and sexuality – what would it be?

It is YOUR body and it’s your birthright to enjoy the pleasure it gives you.

Also: Always add a drizzle of lube. #ProTip

How epic are these queens, my readers? I highly recommend you pop into their cave of sexy magic next time you're in London. Also, they're currently crowdfunding with the aim to expand their amazing business and hopefully build a cafe/events space, launch an app and SO MUCH MORE! If you want to support them and their very important mission into empowering womxn and opening up the world of pleasure for all parties, please give them a few pennies. Whatever you can spare will be appreciated. Also, check out their events and maybe get a workshop or panel discussion in your diary to learn more about the company, the world of kink, or perhaps to spice up your sex life a little.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Renee. Love to all the team, and I think I speak for everyone when I say please never stop doing what you’re doing. x


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