Sh! Erotic Emporium in London: a women-led celebration of pleasure
There’s certainly no shortage of shop of sex toys and erotic accessories in London.
Soho is the district bordered with the windows of gay shops, historic independent erotic stores and British sex shop chains like Harmony, Ann Summers e Simply Pleasure, that together cover yesterday’s and today’s erotic needs by offering a wide range of objects, from the unluckily-still-not-so-last-season realistic veined dildos, to the new-generation coloured, smart, tech and non-phallic toys, to DVDs for nostalgic supporters of the old cable-porn, to the inflatable dolls and ever(too)green penis straws for pre-wedding boozy parties. The streets less crowded are taken by the various boutiques/flagship stores of the erotic lingerie and luxury toys’ big brands (Agent Provocateur, Coco de Mer, Honey Birdette).
Off the pleasure seekers’ most beaten path, way outside Soho borders, there’s Sh!, an Erotic Emporium like no other in London and in the world.
Sh! is the UK’s first boutique-style erotic shop for women and couldn’t be any farther from the old lair-like intimidating sex shops.
The name and the exclamation mark do an impression of society’s silencing of women’s sexuality.
A success story
Sh! opened its doors in 1992 on a mission to celebrate “the individuality and complexity of sexuality”.
Its success comes from the determination to make things change and some brilliant insights like adopting, a few months after opening, some dusty boxes of vibrators lying at the back of a sex toy warehouse in East London and putting them on sale. The vibrator in question was Roger Rabbit: a pink dual-action vibrator with a vaguely phallic shaft containing candy-coloured beads and a bunny stimulator for the clit. Ky, Sh!’s founder, brought it to her shop, changed its double-entendre name from Roger to Jessica and put it on sale, 6 years before the Rabbit’s famous appearance on Sex & the City. Since then, the Jessica Rabbit was featured in hundreds of mainstream women’s magazines and TV shows and gained a mention in Wikipedia.
From the second year, Sh! started manufacturing its own dildos and harnesses (to remedy the lack of non-genital looking and decent products), and from 1999 it started hosting workshops and talks to educate and inspire women to discover and embrace sexuality.
Over the years, it won prizes and awards, welcomed celebrities, widened the product offer, debuted online, renewed the look and never stopped innovating.
On the 15th of September 2015 the team Sh! created Vaginismus Awareness Day to help women acknowledging and treating a condition that’s still too little known and debated. On the same occasion, they launched a brand new soft silicone vibrating dilating kit, the first in the world, way different from what you could find on the market. Today Sh! is more than a boutique, more than a lab and more than a venue for hosting events. It’s an indoor piazza cocooned in a friendly, relaxing, captivating atmosphere, where you can just transit through and leave with a new toy or decide to stay longer and enjoy a chat, ask for advice, customise your dildo and attend the Erotic Classes on sex and sexuality.
In the store, you can admire, touch, test (on your hands!) a variety of objects and accessories born out of a sex-positive culture: nothing coming from the old-fashioned sex shops, like flesh veined rubber penises, blow up dolls or plastic lingerie, gets through Sh! door.
As result, the shop is visited by people (mostly women and couples) who are curious about sexual exploration and willing to take care of their body, pleasure and partner. So to be clear, you won’t run into an elder browsing the old-school porn DVDs (I found at least one in every other generalist sex shop).
Sh! experience – the pleasure of shopping for pleasure
Sh! is located in the ever-changing district of Shoreditch that went from being a rundown area with cheap rents to attracting start-ups, becoming the home of hipsterdom and bushy beards, and today’s eclectic hub of creativity and mix of quirky cafe, indie shops, trendy restaurants and hip pubs for cool kids.
Sh! is marked by a rounded sign over a boudoir-inspired, vintage-style window dressed with drapery in soft neutral colours and a chaise longue with an early vibrator on it.
You enter Sh! through the door of Pitfield London, a vibrant café/exhibition gallery/interiors and lifestyle shop.
The hidden entrance allows those who feel embarrassed or not so comfortable to walk into a shop of pleasure objects. You can walk into the coffee shop, sit at one of the square tables from which to peek through the entrance and choose whether to cross the threshold or to come back another day. You can make a mistake and end up in the shop by accident while looking for just another area of the café, then decide to stop to satisfy your curiosity. Or you can sit in front of a smoking cup of tea and a freshly baked brownie to start reading the book freshly bought from Sh!
Once you enter across the green entrance with plants and flowers, past the front door, you find a long counter. On the left, a sign points to an entrance adorned with a curtain pulled to one side and placed before a tiny hallway behind leading up into the shop.
Beyond Sh!’s purple counter, a genuine smile and a warm welcome are waiting for you.
The store has many areas. There’s a book corner with a collection of books about sexuality. The main area, decorated with retro furniture pieces, cabinets, pouffes and warm colours, serves as a retail space in the daytime and turns into a suggestive location, just after closing time, to host Sh! erotic classes. A whole wall is dedicated to lubes of every consistency, flavour, composition, that you can try on your hands. The other walls and the tables display a rather wide selection of sex toys like wands, clitoral vibrators, rabbits, clit suckers, all chosen among the best brands on the market. There’s the dildo and strap-on harness corner: a whole line of silicone hand-poured dildos in different sizes and shapes and hand-crafted leather strap-on harnesses designed and manufactured in the studio inside the store. Another corner is for all the BDSM toys: spanking paddles, whips, crops, feathers and ticklers are just a few.
I walked into Sh! as a visitor first, then in my official capacity as Le Sex en rose, along with @imtheph of course, to shoot some pictures and video footages. Because of various little technical issues, we repeated my entry endless times. Every time I stepped into the shop, Renée, the person who welcomed us and told us a bit of story of Sh!, lifted her head to make sure she had a smile for everyone crossing the threshold. Then she realized it was me again and got back to her work.
The all-female Sh!-gang is incredibly welcoming, friendly and discreet, always ready to dispense advice, info, curiosity and recommendations. Visitors can hang around undisturbed between vibrators and lubes or have an enlightening chat.
So, if you’re planning a visit to London, my advice is to include Sh! in your travel itinerary for a pleasurable shopping experience.
I came back to Sh! a third time to attend a spanking-themed erotic class: a lovely evening spent learning how to spank and be spanked safely, sensually and consciously.