What does a sex shop have to do with ending violence against women and girls?
Before I even thought about selling sex toys, I thought about the intersection of capitalism and relationships and how it affects women and girls (and men, and boys, and how we all treat each other). I thought about the intersection of assault and ownership of one’s body. I thought about how one’s sexuality is at the core of a being and about how our sex is the most private and most dangerous part about us as humans – dangerous because of the power it wields over others – the power of destruction and the power of liberation.
I started talking to folks about all these thoughts. And we keep talking about them.
At the Rubber Rose, which yes, is a boutique sex shop. We talk to folks daily about what a healthy relationship with yourself and others can do each individual and for all of us.
Perhaps, if we all became rooted and more comfortable in the skin we are in, in the body we walk around in each and every day, and gave it respect, and commanded respect, and in turn taught respect, perhaps that skin would feel like ours. Perhaps the soul that lives in that skin is simply surviving in this damaging society we live in, but perhaps it could fly free if given this respect, and, perhaps, could change the world.
What does liberation look like?
It looks like a woman in her 80s deciding that since her husband passed she was going to finally get some pleasure, and buying her first vibrator.
It looks like a young couple exploring wants and desires for the first time together and actually talking about those desires, voicing their yeses and setting their limits for their nos and adding categories for maybes.
It looks like a woman who has been a victim of assault rebuilding a sense of self, and wanting to come full circle by reminding her body that it can still feel, that it still wants to feel. Reminding her body that some feelings are good, and that the good can wash away the bad, and wanting to ride those cleansing waves again…and again, and again.
It looks like someone who was told that she was difficult and that no one else was going to ever make her feel good (even though that same person was responsible for all the bruises and emotional scars alongside the love bites and orgasms). It looks like that person deciding that pleasure is inherently within, and that pleasure lies in her own hands. No one else’s.
And maybe some of that sounds counterintuitive. Perhaps, while she was able to walk away from her abuser, she wasn’t able to stay away, because that person was the only one who ever told her she was beautiful. Maybe that person was the only person she had ever had sex with, or perhaps the only one with whom she had orgasmed. Perhaps try as she might, she just couldn’t stay away because with all the violence there was a co-dependence that looked like love, that felt like lust, that felt like being wanted, and she was afraid that without that person, her body just didn’t work the same.
And yet, perhaps, coming to us and either buying a toy or simply talking to us, and putting her own pleasure first, is the final string that cuts her free from that cycle.
Some folks joke that the products we sell are gonna replace them. Usually I laugh with them saying that they are all just tools, toys, fun things to be used in collaboration. But the women who come to us to rebuild their bodies, to rebuild their trust in themselves, in their own pleasure, and in their own orgasms, they say yes. Yes, you were just replaced. And they smile.
This liberation also looks like folks who have never witnessed assault, or practiced violence, or been the victim of violence. Folks go about their lives confident, armed with knowledge and power of self, feeling secure in saying no, but also in saying yes. In saying, “this feels good, do this” instead of leaving pleasure up to someone else to pull from their bodies like some sort of treasure that is then owned.
This liberation is our goal: women who have never experienced destruction because the world belongs to them and they belong to the world and they shape it daily. We believe in that world, but today, we stay rooted in this one, knowing each person walking in has a story. We start there.
Just us, in a sex shop, in the skin we’re in. In solidarity.
Lea Caughlan is a sex educator and owner of the boutique sex shop, The Rubber Rose, in San Diego, California. She focuses on a sex positive, education-based approach to adult retail by creating a space where healthy and joyous exploration of sex and sexuality is encouraged and embraced. Determined to radicalize the sex toy industry, The Rubber Rose boasts a completely non-toxic selection of products which, in an unregulated (and toxic) industry, is a good find for the savvy shopper. Open since 2006, it exists to encourage people’s vision of the fluidity of sexuality and, by staying true to the mission, The Rubber Rose facilitates the development of a stronger, safer, and more educated sex positive community.