It can be difficult to talk about sex with a straight face and a sober mind. The people of today are by no means a prudish bunch, but despite the candour granted to sex, the matters of the bedroom are still extremely private.
Glasgow Guardian spoke with a student with a fair bit of insight into people’s attitudes about sex. Kirsty works in Luke & Jack, a Merchant City sex boutique and art gallery that just celebrated its fourth year anniversary. Having just “reorganized the BDSM wall,” Kirsty sat down to discuss what she has learned from her experience.
Guardian: How long have you worked in Luke & Jack?
Kirsty: I’ve worked there for three years, which makes me the longest-standing employee aside from the managers and owners.
Guardian: What do you enjoy about working there?
Kirsty: I really enjoy when you get a customer who is really uncomfortable. The majority of customers we get are quite uneasy at first, and to take them and to make them feel comfortable to talk to you about what they want to buy or what their desires are, that’s what I really enjoy.
Guardian: Since you deal with such sensitive and personal issues, do you ever feel awkward?
Kirsty: We get some customers who just think it’s funny to come into a sex shop, or to phone in the middle of the day and ask if I’ve ever used a black, vibrating dildo and then bursting out laughing, which isn’t funny for us, it’s just a little bit unimaginative. And I once had someone offer me £5,000 to pose naked, tied up in yellow rope [laughs], which was awkward. We try to have the first half of the shop as a non-sexual area with underwear, magazines, lube, things that can’t offend anyone. And then you turn around the corner and you see the explicitly sexual things. And upon seeing this, some people go into this frame of mind, which isn’t their fault, but which is purely animalistic, and suddenly they ask you if you’ve tried a particular thing or whether you’d want to, which is unacceptable, but you can’t blame them for it because it’s not a decision they’ve made. Their brain has just gone into a sexual state of mind, and they can’t help it. It happens rarely, but it does happen.
Guardian: Do you think someone could find the shop offensive, and what would you say to them?
Kirsty: A lot of people stick their head around the door, and then immediately leave. I wish those people would actually come into the shop and browse because a lot of our stock is purely sensual, like massage oil – it can’t offend anyone. Besides, if you are at the stage where you stick your head in, you are curious, and if you actually spoke to any of the staff, we would be helpful and tell you what those things are for. Like, there is a product that just looks like an egg, and most people have no clue what it is used for. I get more of a sense of reward when I help people who feel awkward or clueless, rather than from the people who are confidently embarrassing.
Guardian: Do you think working there has had an impact on your own attitudes about sex?
Kirsty: I think it has opened my mind. The first time I went in there, before I got the job, was awkward – I stuck my head around the door and was about to leave just like the people I was telling you about, but I had had a few drinks so I had the Dutch courage to go in and ask questions. Working there has given me this mindset that everyone’s sex life is completely different, and who are you to judge someone who likes fisting or electrostimulation or any other specific thing, who are you to say that they are any less normal than you? Everyone is different, and I would never judge anyone. There have been customers who come into the shop with things that I would have never before considered – like wanting to cover your sexual partner with custard before sex, which definitely doesn’t float my boat – but there is nothing wrong with that. Having an open mind is a completely positive thing.
Guardian: Do you ever feel like customers really open up to you?
Kirsty: There are customers who, for example, want to buy a magazine that has a word in the title that they’re not comfortable saying, so they’ll have to write it down or point to it. But there are some customers who are open already, but even they become more liberated since they talk to you about something that is so personal.
Guardian: What do you say to the idea that sex toys are unnecessary, that sex is better without them?
Kirsty: I think that the best way you can improve your sex life is to know your body and to know someone else’s body, and the best way to do that is to experiment. You can’t tell someone “I really like this” unless you know what you like, unless you’ve gone out and experimented.
Guardian: Do you think your shop is different to other, perhaps, more mainstream ones?
Kirsty: We’re the only LGBT-themed sex shop in Glasgow, but we also get a lot of straight customers, and they’re not only coming in because we’re alternative, but because we try not to commercialize or objectify like more mainstream sex shops would. We aim to keep sex as beautiful and aesthetic as it is. I believe people should put sex on a pedestal. We shouldn’t put women or men specifically on the pedestal and say, “you’re an object.” It’s the connection that we have between us that is beautiful, and we should cherish that and make the most of it. And having an art gallery downstairs also changes that because it gives it an aesthetic dimension and a classier feel.
Guardian: What would you say about the relationship between art and sex?
Kirsty: I wrote an essay in first year on emblems, pictures or words with symbolic meaning, and I added a paragraph about how the context of poetry changes your connection with it. So if you go to the gallery downstairs, regardless if you’ve been upstairs, you’ll look at art on the walls and you will make a connection. Suddenly, a thistle will become phallic because you know there is a sex shop upstairs. Similarly, when you look at a sex toy, when you know there is an art gallery downstairs, it will become less animalistic and more aesthetic.
Guardian: What would your advice be to make people feel more comfortable about sex?
Kirsty: I think to experiment is the best advice I can give. Everyone judges everyone else’s sex life because they’re not entirely comfortable with their own, and if you know what you want and don’t want, then you can experience it better. But if you’re prudish and unwilling to step outside your safe zone, then you’re not going to experience sex to the best of your ability.
Guardian: So do you believe it’s important to break down the stigma and shame associated with sex and talking about it?
Kirsty: Absolutely, and I think that’s why we get quite a lot of straight customers, because we’ve already broken a social taboo of having LGBT sex products. This is definitely a positive thing and it should permeate in the rest of society. The fact that we sell non-sexual products helps as well. For example, I had a customer who just wanted to buy a card for his male friends who just got engaged, he was straight himself, but he wanted to buy a card specifically from an LGBT shop, and afterwards he wandered around. And as he was wandering, he was opening his mind to other modes of perceiving sex.
Guardian: Do you ever see working at a sex shop as a taboo topic yourself?
Kirsty: Only with my parents and taxi drivers [laughs].