We live in a world where consumers are constantly inundated with sexual themes and overtures from media and advertising, where online pornography is readily accessible and apps exist to find casual ‘hookups’ at the swipe of a phone screen.
So why are we so uncomfortable talking about sex?
“It comes from many places,” says Sam Whittle, who for the last four years has been the owner of Venus Envy adult shop on Bank Street.
The deep entrenchment of the Catholic Church in our society for so long is one reason, according to Whittle, though its lost grip over time.
Sex was “mostly sinful unless it happens within a marriage and in a hetero kind of way...and while many people don’t necessarily believe that anymore, I think that’s where it’s lingered.”
Whittle said while society has advanced in terms of being able to talk more openly about sexuality and sex in a positive way, particularly for women but men, too, it’s still a topic that is taboo for many.
“One of the things we come up against so often is people just have such a hard time talking about sex, even with their partners, even with their friends,” she said.
“Having an open, honest conversation about sex is so hard for people and it’s something you don’t necessarily something you learn in school or learn how to address.”
The lack of education and openness about the topic means many people believe myths about sex that aren’t even close to true, in some cases well into their 30’s and 40’s.
“We get a lot of people who think that, for example, if they have sex at a certain time they won’t be able to get pregnant,” Whittle said, adding this misinformation can have “real consequences.”
Whittle, who has her Masters Degree in Social Work, also volunteered at Planned Parenthood for a short time years ago and would often receive questions she thought should be obvious.
While some topics are more taboo than others, something as basic as where certain parts are located on the female anatomy shows a distinct lack of proper education, according to Whittle, who said online pornography and its popularity and accessibility are also feeding misinformation.
“That’s the place most people see sex happening,” she said, which only adds to the myths, confusion and stereotypes.
“We used to have a staff member who would say ‘The Fast and Furious is a great movie for entertainment but you don’t watch it to learn how to drive,’” Whittle said.
“It’s the same for porn, it can be entertaining, but not instructional. You rarely see a conversation that’s like, ‘is this something you want to do, does this feel good for you,’” she says with a laugh.
It often gives a skewed version of what sex should be with “everyone telepathically knows how to have sex and what they want.”
Whittle said young people are being exposed to pornography in some form or another as young as 11-years-old and urged parents to try and broach the subject to help their child’s development, however awkward it may be at first.
“The thing is if you are not talking to them about the difference about real-life sex and porn sex, then more than likely nobody is and they are getting their information about what sex is supposed to look like from porn,” she said, which she said has its place but fuels the lack of education.
That’s where Whittle hopes the approach at Venus Envy would help both her and the customers, offering an open environment to talk about and ask questions about all things sex in hopes of ending the stigma on the topic.
“It’s very much a mission-oriented business,” Whittle said.
“Obviously we sell products but it’s also pretty common people will just come in with questions and we’re happy to spend time with them.”
The store also offers a large offering of books and instructional and educational material, on top of workshops for couples and your regular sex toys.
Whittle said the industry has never been bigger and attributes it to a few things, including the ‘general wellness movement.’
More progressive conversations over the last decade have led to more products on the market while other phenomena, like the popularity of the novel and movie ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ have led to an uptick in interest in BDSM and started a conversation about “different ways to have sex.”
“It’s just sort of exploded. People are more knowledgeable coming in than they were five years ago and there are a lot more options [for quality products],” she said.
Whittle never thought of herself as an entrepreneur but saw what was ahead of her in terms of the red tape and bureaucracy in the field of social work and took a bit of a turn to business.
She had earlier worked at Venus Envy in a retail capacity for five years and before hearing about the opportunity that it was for sale and decided to take the leap.
“I love that I still get to do a lot of that work but I get to decide, there’s no one else telling me what I can’t do.”