When sex shops first popped up in Ireland in the 1990s, they were met with protests and pray-ins, like when Utopia first opened in Limerick.
But despite these demonstrations organised by the Solidarity movement, the sales figures suggested that the store held a wide appeal to the general public.
In the book, Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland, Diarmaid Ferriter says the these shops on one level represented the normalisation of sexuality but to others this was very much a threat to the very moral fibre which held our society together.
However, since then, sex shops have moved on from back streets and men in trench coats to open conversations about how to have good sex, with retailers such as Sex Siopa.
The online store is owned and operated by Shawna Scott, who started it to provide the kind of shopping experience she personally wanted and couldn’t find in Ireland. She wanted a shop that sold only body safe sex toys and was welcoming and inclusive to people of all body types, genders, and sexualities.
In an interview with Beaut.ie, Scott explains the importance of talking openly about sex in order to have the great sex lives we all want, with toys playing a role in that.
‘’On an individual level, we need to be able to communicate clearly to our partners what kinds of stuff we like and where our boundaries are. I think that sometimes that can be difficult for women with male partners, because we’re so socialised to put their needs ahead of our own. But like anything, practice makes perfect and the more you talk about sex, the easier it will become to talk about sex,’’ Scott said.
In the past, it was once illegal to hand out condoms, so it is easy to see how far the country has come when Trinity College’s Students’ Union is offering discount vibrators for its ‘Deal of the Week’.
The deal allows Trinity students to purchase a ‘Butterfly Pink’ vibrator from online retailer Playblue.ie for a discounted price of €15.
TCDSU Communications and Marketing officer, Úna Hartly said that their SU wanted to promote positive sex and take shame out of the equation.
“By choosing to have a vibrator as a deal of the week, we’re just saying ‘Hey! We know you have sex! Here’s a way of making it a little more exciting’,” Hartly said.
While promotions like TCDSU’s can be seen as a positive move for healthier sex lives, Sex Siopa’s Shawna Scott says that a double standard remains for men and sex toy ownership.
Scott wrote in her blog on sexsiopa.ie that the misogyny that once held women back from enjoying themselves and exploring new avenues of their sexuality is now keeping men from doing the same.
‘’We need to give ourselves permission to own our sexualities and allow our lovers to own theirs, no matter what gender they are. Pathologising men for doing something that is celebrated in women stems from the same sexism that women have suffered for millennia, and it needs to end,’’ Scott said.
A product for men that Sex Siopa carries is the Tenga Egg, a compact and disposable masturbation sleeve. A toy they highly recommend for “folks who travel a lot and need something discreet to throw into their luggage”.
According to Scott, Sex Siopa is pushing for a better acceptance and celebration of human sexuality and believes that the Repeal the 8th Campaign is the next logical step of social evolution in Ireland.
“I understand that it is going to be a much more difficult, emotionally draining campaign than the Marriage Referendum, but as it’s something that affects me and half the population, I’m going to do whatever I can to support it.”
Author Louise O’Neill says that feminism in 2018 can’t be spoken about without mentioning the referendum on eighth amendment, which she sees as a time of reckoning.
‘’I think this country has a long chequered history of policing female sexuality and bodies. The church and state conspired to do that and the eighth amendment is the direct descendant from the mother and baby homes and the Magdalene laundries,’’ O’Neill said in an interview on the Late Late Show.
O’Neill’s new book, Almost Love, explores the power dynamics of the main character Sarah, who becomes embroiled in a toxic love affair with an older man, Matthew. She becomes increasingly infatuated with him and goes to extreme lengths to win his affection and prove herself worthy of him.
‘’When they’re having sex, I think she prioritises his pleasure over her own and I think that’s what a lot of young women do. The male orgasm and male gratification is definitely prioritised and seen as more important, which is obviously, I think, very wrong,’’ O’Neill said.
While sex toys are predominately used to spice up relationships and for personal pleasure, they can encourage an open conversation about sexuality and hopefully balance sexual politics, like the dynamic in O’Neill’s book.
And the power of her business is not lost on the Sex Siopa founder.
“I’ve always seen Sex Siopa as the kind of business I could use to promote social change in areas that I really care about – for me that’s sexual rights and freedoms,’’ Scott said.
Image Credit: Colac Herald