What a sex shop owner learned from her customers

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What a sex shop owner learned from her customers

By Joseph L. Garcia

According to some historians, vibrators were invented to cure insanity in females, under the obsolete umbrella term “female hysteria.” With the madness of the world creeping up behind us, beat it to the punch and go crazy in bed with a sex toy or two. Or three.

What a <b>sex shop</b> owner learned from her customers

Among the many sex shops in the Philippines (we counted LoveCorner, PrivateGifts, Pleasure Shop, and, among others), Pleasure Place is one of the first, being founded in 1994. Eleanor Leung, the convent-educated proprietor of the sex store, reminisces about the store’s opening. “Truth be told, I came home for love, with my partner. We’re both toy users, and we can’t find any good toys in town,” she said. She remembers a store in Robinsons Galleria calling it a “funny place,” where the items were there for fun, and not much for love, referring to a gag shop owned by comedian Gary Lising which along with fake poo and whoopie cushions, also sold the occasional dildo.

“It just occurred to us that there were no decent sex shops in the country,” said Ms. Leung. “We wanted to open one that was pleasant and nice, well-lit; and we didn’t want to be hidden.”

Leaving a career in fashion in the United States, she said, “I gave up a very good business over there, and I said, ‘I’m not going to come here and sit pretty.’  I want to do something as significant and as fun as I was doing over there.

“Something that people really needed — because sex is universal.”

Sex toys transcend trends in time and space: Spanish colonizers of the Philippines noted golden penis implements used by the natives to satisfy their partners, while off in Greece, images were found of dildos made out of bread, while the Chinese amped up their game with luxurious phalluses coated with lacquer.

Although the use of sex toys is quite widespread, at least as inferred from the number of places that one can get one these days, the topic is often hush-hush — save perhaps for riotous conversations over brunch. While the Philippines is often ruled by conservative morals dictated by a church that encourages having sex for procreation, and not recreation, in Ms. Leung’s experience, this is not the case. “It’s a myth,” she said. “The scene hasn’t really changed. To tell you the truth, the Filipino people taught me about an [adventurous] sex lifestyle! They’re super-open; super-ready, except… they don’t talk about it openly, but everyone’s infected!

Not surprisingly, in a conversation with someone who works dealing with people’s sexual needs everyday, the conversation can get quite graphic.

“They’re so much into group sex, and menage a trois. It’s amazing. The numbers are astounding!” BusinessWorld did not ask whether Ms. Leung was talking about the number of people practicing, or the numbers of people in the session.

“And the crowd… taught me about the pleasure of anal sex, and that’s when I decided to be an expert about telling people about anal sex, because the anal toys just kept disappearing from the shelves!”

When Ms. Leung started her business in 1994, she didn’t believe it would be this easy to find customers. “Before I came here, I told my father to go check with the Department of Trade [and Industry] (DTI) if it’s legal to open a sex shop. He went, and he told me it was. I didn’t believe him. I told him to go back.”

She doesn’t have any problems with the government, and all her goods go through legal channels. She doesn’t have a problem with moralists either. “I’ve had no trouble at all. There was just a funny woman who walked in and didn’t want me to display our nurse uniform, which had the Red Cross on it.

“We were not the Red Cross.”

She also notes that in the last five years, competition has increased, and she was no longer the only player in the game. BusinessWorld noted a few examples, and about these, she said, “I don’t mind competition. Competition means there’s a market.

“A lot of people are also selling toys on the internet — it’s amazing.” What would set her apart though, are her methods. She trains her sales staff to be knowledgeable about the toys, and she frequently appears on the sales floor. “I need to be on the [sales] floor, continuing to educate the people; to be in touch.”

Ms. Leung also gives sex lectures in her Makati branch, which should be booked in advance. Asked about her knowledge and authority to discuss sex, she said, “Probably [from my] own experience. Filipino people taught me about all that I know. And I always have a huge amount of materials, books, and publications beside me in bed.”

Touchingly, she said, “My teachers are the customers themselves.”

Ms. Leung sources her materials mostly from the United States and Japan, with some German and Swedish delights thrown in for fun. About the Japanese toys, she said, “They’re very well-known. They’re not just advanced in terms of technology.” Oddly enough though, it is the mechanism in Japanese toys that sets them apart. She remembers that when her electrician opened up a toy to be repaired, he immediately noted the fineness of the mechanism. She pointed out though, that they’re not as “exciting” as toys from Germany and Sweden.

As for quality control, she samples the items herself before she stocks them on shelves. “If we have one bad review, and if people will tell us that something’s wrong with a particular product, I’m going to take a clear look at it and immediately pull it off our shelves.”

What could go wrong with a sex toy? Horrifying visions of electrocution come to mind, but Ms. Leung reassures that it’s simply a matter of longevity. A good toy, apparently, lasts for about two years, except for The Magic Wand, which she calls “the Rolls-Royce of Vibrators.” It apparently lasts 15 years, and has an active waiting list. “I’d probably never see that person again every time I sell that wand,” she recalls. And why? “It gives a woman the strongest orgasm, and [she] can have multiple orgasms!

“You should be able to reach 15 orgasms at 50.”

Ms. Leung’s wares come in a wide range of shapes, colors and sizes. A quick look at the store’s dildo collection shows pink, blue, black, and purple phalluses, ranging in price from P2,500 to P13,500. The more expensive range includes items such as the Lelo Liv 2-Lelo, which resembles a purple joystick and has eight vibration patterns with adjustable speed. It’s rechargeable, and can last up to two hours. The more affordable range includes your run-of-the-mill sticks, with some molded after porn stars’ tools. Smaller stimulators, meanwhile, without much girth or length, are popular with the younger crowd, Ms. Leung says. They’re easy to hide, and they could look like anything from a Wii remote (see the Ai Love Rotor, at P880), or to what appears to be a hybrid between a tongue and a pair of headphones (The We Vibe 4 Plus, for simultaneous stimulation to the clitoris and the G-Spot, priced at P12,500 for the honor).

We’ve been talking about stuff for the ladies here, so she added, “Bear in mind that the toys aren’t only for girls. It’s for guys too!” She notes that guys can use vibrators to stimulate their own erogenous zones. “Mind you, when we’re not around, it’s probably our partners using our toys.”

She has also been approached by one or two grateful men. “A lot of guys would come in, [and say], ‘Thank God for these toys. I get tired, and I need to satisfy her.’”

Asked about what the people who play for other teams like, she said of her customers, “I don’t have a lot of gay guys — it’s funny. I have more lesbians.”

Some popular items that don’t beep and buzz are her BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sadomasochism) toys. This would include an array of whips, gags, cuffs, and other restraints. “For me, when you dabble in BDSM, you’ve reached sexual maturity. Everything else becomes boring,” she said. “It’s more of a mental game.”

Although BDSM has probably been practiced throughout history, but definitely since about the 1700s (think the Marquis de Sade), it has always been under the rader. That is, until the book and movie franchise Fifty Shades of Grey brought it to the mainstream (though some critics deride the book as an inaccurate and quite boring depiction of the scene). Ms. Leung said the mainstreaming of the scene has not caused a spike in her sales for she has always had a stable of practitioners who visit her stores.

“With or without the [series], the handcuffs always move. When you paralyze your lover, your other senses come to life, in anticipation of what your partner’s going to do to you next, right?”

FROM 18 TO 80
She tells BusinessWorld that her clientele range from 18- to 80-years-old, with a concentration around the 30+-50+ age bracket. Are they married, single, or swinging? While Ms. Leung adds “separated” to the list, she said “It doesn’t matter.”

In trying to find a link between the education received by her customers (some of her items can be expensive; and a good education usually guarantees a good job, which gives purchasing power) and their attitudes towards sex, she said, “They’re educated — not too highly educated. It’s funny you ask that question.” She noted, “Highly educated guys,” and here she namedrops a few universities here and abroad, “with their MBA and all that, they [can be] just as ignorant… they don’t know what they’re talking about sometimes.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re good in academics, that they know themselves as sexual beings.”

She said that the same goes for her highly educated female customers. “A lot of them don’t know where their G-Spot is; a lot of them don’t even know where their clit is.”

Many, she says, are repeat customers, some buying toys every other week, while some, of course, are newcomers. “It changes their lives completely.”

She isn’t selling magical items here: “There’s only one thing that a toy can give you: multiple orgasms,” she said. “It’s just a toy. It’s nothing else but a toy.”

But it looks like this is enough. “It makes you more sexually aware of yourself. You know, you teach your own body what you need; what you want. When you do have a partner, you’ll be able to communicate properly that it’s the way [you] want to be touched, or the way I want to be fucked.

“These toys don’t get jealous with each other. You could have as many [as you want], and they don’t get jealous.”

Despite the joy the toys bring, humans all enjoy the company of another human being. When the circus leaves town, you’re usually left with two people in bed. And then what? In discussing how some men feel threatened by their partner’s toys, she tells them reassuringly, “The toy doesn’t know how to say ‘I love you.’ It doesn’t make coffee or breakfast in the morning. It doesn’t have that human touch. You can’t possibly replace a partner with a toy.”

Pleasure Place has branches in Ortigas, Makati City, Quezon City, and Boracay.