The Mission-Driven Feminists And Sexual Pleasure Educators Behind Babeland

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Sex in Babeland Shoot May 2009 for Melcher Media
EducationEntrepreneurshipWomanhood Leave a Comment

By Claire Cavanah – Rachel Venning and I opened our first Babeland store (then Toys in Babeland) in 1993 in Seattle, when we were in our 20’s, just out of college, each of us actively searching for the next big move to make in our lives. We were both lesbians, both feminists, and had a keen interest in sex – not just dating and romance in our social circle but sexual politics as well. A bottle of really poor quality lube on my bedside table got us talking about what it was like trying to buy a sex toy in the local sex shops – the dark and vaguely shaming atmosphere, the lack of good toys, the terrible lube selection! That was the eureka! moment. We realized we could open the sex store we would want to shop in, and create an environment where everyone, and particularly women, could get good toys and accurate information about how to use them.

Seattle, now known for its openness to new thinking and innovation, was the perfect place in 1993 to nurture a mission-driven retail shop. Its low rents and laissez-faire culture afforded us the time and space to open cheaply and learn how to run a business while running the business. We painted our store a bright and warm yellow and furnished it with pretty but inexpensive shelving and tables. We displayed the vibrators with batteries inside and all the toys without their packaging, ensuring our customers could get to know what the material felt like and how each one functioned.

When we first opened, sex toys were called marital aids and women’s sexual pleasure was talked about in whispers if it was talked about at all.

Babeland garnered a loyal base of customers who liked and resonated with our mission and our methods. We quickly started our workshop program with Sex Toys 101, which focused as much on sexuality education and orgasm as it did on introducing our inventory to our customers. Our workshop program grew as the company grew, and is still an important part of our DNA.

As Babeland grew more stable and well-known, we decided to expand, first through a mail order catalog, then a website, just as the web opened up to commercial use. After five years in Seattle, New York City beckoned. We opened a shop on the Lower East Side, then took it mainstream by opening in SoHo. In 2008, we opened our Brooklyn store, complete with a changing table in the bathroom for neighborhood moms!

Babeland has both contributed to and benefited from the growing acceptance of sex toys in our culture. When we first opened, sex toys were called marital aids and women’s sexual pleasure was talked about in whispers, if it was talked about at all. Even with all the progress we’ve witnessed, the revolution is by no means over. As a society we are still grappling with old and extremely harmful attitudes about sex. But I still think that every customer who walks in and gets good customer service, encouragement, and a sex toy is making the world a safer place for pleasure.

Please join Women You Should Know for our upcoming empowerment event with Babeland… it’s FREE to attend. Click for details and to RSVP.

wysk-babeland-event

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