Sex shop

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A sex shop in Walker's Court, Soho, London. Walker's Court, Soho (3).JPG
A sex shop in Walker's Court, Soho, London.
Sex shops on Boulevard de Clichy, Paris Sex-shops-on-boulevard-de-clichi.jpg
Sex shops on Boulevard de Clichy, Paris

A sex shop (also called adult shop, erotic shop or adult book store) is a retailer that sells products related to adult sexual or erotic entertainment, such as vibrators, lingerie, clothing, pornography, and other related products.


Arguably the grandmother need of the modern sex shop was a chain of stores set up in the 1920s by Léon Vidal of Diana Slip fame, in Paris. His shops sold erotic books, photographs and lingerie. [1]

Supposedly the world's first "official" sex shop was opened in 1962 by Beate Uhse AG in Flensburg, West Germany, and sex shops can now be found in many countries and online. Sex shops are part of the sex industry. In most jurisdictions, sex shops are regulated by law, with access not legally permitted to minors, the age depending on local law. Some jurisdictions prohibit sex shops and the merchandise they sell. In some jurisdictions that permit it, they may also show pornographic movies in private video booths, or have private striptease or peep shows. Also an adult movie theater may be attached. There are also many online sex shops selling a variety of adult content such as sex toys, pornographic magazines, pornographic films and fetish wear etc. These types of shop are often favoured by the consumer as they have less overheads and can be perused within the comfort of the home. Their discreetness is also appealing to some. [2]



Sex shops have operated in Australia since the 1960s, first in the urban areas of Sydney, notably Kings Cross.[ citation needed ] The development of sex shops in the country was assisted by the legalisation of the import of pornographic magazines in 1971, the appearance of mass-produced battery-powered vibrators in the 1970s and the arrival of X-rated videos in the 1980s. The popularity of Internet pornography in the 2000s resulted in a drop in sex shop sales, some store closures and diversification into non-sex-related adult goods. [3]

Sex shops in Australia are regulated by state laws and are subject to local planning controls. While laws differ between states, licensees must abide by strict conditions that commonly require premises to be at least 200 metres from schools and churches. Windows are often required to be blacked out and admission restricted to over 18s, with offences prosecuted by police under section 578E of the Crimes Act. [4]

In the state of New South Wales (NSW) sex shops cannot trade at street level and are required to trade either above or below ground.[ citation needed ] Under NSW law, non-contraceptive sex products can be sold only in shops that have been granted a restricted premise licence by local councils. Nevertheless, by 2013 a number of NSW lingerie stores had begun selling adult toys and books in shopping malls without being granted a licence. [4]


In 2013 there were over 2,000 sex shops in Beijing. Most of their products were made in China. [5]


The first sex shop in North America was called The Garden. It was opened in October 1971 by Ivor Sargent on Crescent Street in downtown Montreal, Quebec. The Garden combined the concepts used by Beate Uhse in Germany and Ann Summers in the UK. [6] The store's opening attracted long lines of shoppers. The Palm Beach Post commented: "Like the chicken or the egg controversy, no one is really sure which came first-the sex boutique or the so-called sexual revolution". [7]

There are no specific laws against using or buying sex toys at any particular age, but there are laws restricting the purchase of pornography. Although the age of consent is 16 in Canada, an age of 18+ is required to purchase or view pornography. Most sex shops sell adult videos, which means that most sex toys remain strictly in the hands of adults.[ citation needed ]


The first sex shop in Italy was opened in 1972 in Milan by Angela Masia and her husband Ercole Sabbatini.[ citation needed ] This was the first "official" sex shop. Since then more with sex shops have opened, mostly in Rome.[ citation needed ] In 2018 the city of Pistoia in Tuscany banned the opening of new sex shops in the city's history centre. [8]


Front window of a Tokyo sex shop advertising adult toys Shinjuku sex shop dsc04912.jpg
Front window of a Tokyo sex shop advertising adult toys

In Japan, sex shops contain hentai magazines, adult videos and DVDs.[ citation needed ]

The Netherlands

Pussy Cat Bookshop Amsterdam (1971) AmsterdamPussyCatBookshop1971.jpg
Pussy Cat Bookshop Amsterdam (1971)

The first sex shops in the Netherlands were opened in the early 1970s, by entrepreneurs like Beate Uhse and Lasse Braun. The world's first Muslim-aimed online sex shop called El Asira opened in the Netherlands in 2010. It had 70,000 hits to the website in the first four days of operation. [9]


Sex shops are extremely rare in Singapore. A few had been opened by 2005, [10] but only about 1-2 currently exist. These shops mainly sell lingerie and various sex toys. Their goods can be seen through a store window.[ citation needed ]

South Africa

After Nelson Mandela backed the anti-discrimination law that legalised sex toys, [11] "Adult World" was established in 1994 as South Africa's first sex shop. Adult World came to operate a total of 52 shops within South Africa and 15 shops in Australia. [12] Many religious Christian communities believed that the use of these adult lifestyle centres would lead to higher crime rates and attempted to organise mass demonstrations at their opening to force the closure of Adult World. [13]

In July 1998, Adult World opened their largest adult lifestyle shop in Parow, Cape Town which they named "Adult World Warehouse". The adult movie star Christi Lake attended the opening of the shop, where a protest march of over 500 people brought traffic to a standstill. During the next couple of days the protesters held placards which proclaimed "Real men don't need pornography" and "Protect our people from banned pornography". When the shop was opened, it was found that 70% of the customer base were women who wished to learn more about adult lifestyle products. [14]

As Adult World grew more popular, a focus on the development of adult shops within Australia took place. [12]

United Kingdom

It is illegal for UK sex shops to show goods in the window. PrivateShopBedford.JPG
It is illegal for UK sex shops to show goods in the window.

Almost all licensed adult stores in the UK are forbidden from having their wares in open shop windows under the Indecent Displays Act 1981, which means often the shop fronts are boarded up or covered in posters. A warning sign must be clearly shown at the entrance to the store, and no sex articles (for example, pornography or sex toys) should be visible from the street. However, lingerie, non-offensive covers of adult material, etc. may be shown depending on the licence conditions of the local authority. The Video Recordings Act 1984 introduced the R18-rated classification for videos that are only available in licensed sex shops. No customer can be under 18 years old.

In London, few boroughs that have licensed sex shops. In the district of Soho within the City of Westminster a handful of sex shops were opened by Carl Slack in the early 1960s, and by the mid-1970s the number had grown to 59. [15] Some had nominally "secret" backrooms selling hardcore photographs and novels, including Olympia Press editions.

By the 1980s, purges of corrupt police officers, along with new and tighter licensing controls by the City of Westminster, led to a crackdown on illegal premises in Soho. In the early 1990s, London's Hackney council sought to shut down Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium, because they did not have a licence. Sh! took the council to court and consequently won the right to remain open, as there were no sufficient reasons for the closure. In 2003, the Ann Summers chain of lingerie and sex toy shops won the right to advertise for shop assistants in Job Centres, which was originally banned under restrictions on what advertising could be carried out by the sex industry. [16] In 2007, a Northern Ireland sex shop was denied a licence by the Belfast City Council. The shop appealed and won, but this was overturned by the House of Lords. [17]

The licensing or closing of unlicensed sex shops, along with cultural changes such as the substantial relaxation of general censorship and the ready availability of non-commercial sex, and the availability of sexual material online, have reduced the red-light district of Soho to just a small area. The borough has 15 licensed sex shops and several remaining unlicensed ones. Islington and Camden each have multiple sex shops; the former also has three pornographic cinemas.

Sex shops in Scotland are regulated under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

United States

A sex shop in Ocean City, Maryland. Red Light District - Ocean City, Maryland.jpg
A sex shop in Ocean City, Maryland.

In the United States, a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s (based on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution) generally legalized sex shops, while still allowing states and local jurisdictions to limit them through zoning.[ citation needed ] Zoning regulations often caused shops to be located either on the outskirts of town, or clumped into a single area, creating a type of red light district of adult stores and businesses. Into the 1980s, nearly all American sex shops were oriented to an almost entirely male clientele.[ citation needed ] Many included adult video arcades, and nearly all were designed so that their customers could not be seen from the street: they lacked windows, and the doors often involved an L-shaped turn so that people on the street could not see in.[ citation needed ] In addition, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, stores that also had theaters or arcades were sometimes closed by government order, citing the spread of AIDS as the motive. [18]

On the one hand, there are stores resembling the UK's Ann Summers, tending toward "softer" product lines.[ citation needed ] On the other hand, there are stores that evolved specifically out of a sex-positive culture, such as San Francisco's Good Vibrations and Xandria. The latter class of stores tend to be very consciously community-oriented businesses, sponsoring lecture series and being actively involved in sex-related health issues, etc.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sex toy Sexual device

A sex toy is an object or device that is primarily used to facilitate human sexual pleasure, such as a dildo or vibrator. Many popular sex toys are designed to resemble human genitals, and may be vibrating or non-vibrating. The term sex toy can also include BDSM apparatus and sex furniture such as slings; however, it is not applied to items such as birth control, pornography, or condoms. Alternative expressions include adult toy and the dated euphemism marital aid, although "marital aid" has a broader sense and is applied to drugs and herbs marketed to supposedly enhance or prolong sex. Sex toys are most commonly sold at a sex shop, but they may also be sold in a pharmacy/chemist store, a pornographic DVD store, a head shop, or a department store. Today's sex toys are available in almost all countries for male and females.

Pornography laws by region

Pornography laws by region vary throughout the world. The production and distribution of pornographic films are both activities that are lawful in many, but by no means all, countries so long as the pornography features performers aged above a certain age, usually eighteen years. Further restrictions are often placed on such material.

Ann Summers British multinational retailer in sex toys and lingerie

Ann Summers is a British multinational retailer company specialising in sex toys and lingerie, with over 140 high street stores in the UK, Ireland, and the Channel Islands. In 2000, Ann Summers acquired the Knickerbox brand, a label with an emphasis on more comfortable and feminine underwear, while the Ann Summers-labelled products tend to be more erotic in style. The chain had an annual turnover of £117.3 million in 2007–2008.

Beate Uhse-Rotermund

Beate Uhse-Rotermund was a German pilot, entrepreneur and sex pioneer. She was one of the very few female stunt pilots in Germany in the 1930s, during World War II she ferried planes for the German Luftwaffe and after World War II she started the first sex shop in the world. The company she started, Beate Uhse AG, is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

Beate Uhse AG

Beate Uhse AG is a German industry group which focuses on selling adult entertainment in the form of sex toys, lingerie, clothing and pornography. It is the most successful company in the German sex industry, and the country's leading pornography retailer.

Pornography in Europe

Pornography in Europe has been dominated by a few pan-European producers and distributors, the most notable of which is the Private Media Group that successfully claimed the position previously held by Color Climax Corporation in the early 1990s. Most European countries also have local pornography producers, from Portugal to Serbia, who face varying levels of competition with international producers. The legal status of pornography varies widely in Europe; its production and distribution are illegal in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Bulgaria, while Hungary is noted for having liberal pornography laws.

Good Vibrations (sex shop) Sex-positive American company selling sex toys and other erotic products

Good Vibrations is a sex-positive San Francisco-based corporation selling sex toys and other erotic products. It operates nine retail stores: seven in the San Francisco Bay Area, one in Brookline, Massachusetts and one in Harvard Square; a mail-order business; an e-commerce website; a wholesale arm; and an erotic-video production company, Good Releasing. Formerly it operated three publishing companies: Down There Press, Passion Press and Sexpositive Productions.

Beate Uhse Erotic Museum

The Beate Uhse Erotic Museum was a sex museum in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Germany.

Babeland, until 2005 known as Toys in Babeland, is a sex toy boutique offering erotic toys, books and pornographic films. Babeland has an online store and four retail stores.

Venus Award German pornographic film award

The Venus Award is a film award in the adult film industry presented yearly in Berlin since 1997 as part of the Venus Berlin trade fair, an international erotic trade festival, on the exhibition grounds at the Funkturm.

The Erotixxx Award is a prize awarded in the adult film industry by German magazine eLine, which had been presented yearly from 2005 to 2009 as part of the Venus Berlin trade fair, an international trade festival of the erotic. They were the successors to the Venus Awards, which had been presented until 2004 and then resumed in 2010. Starting in 2010, the Erotixxx Award became a part of the erotic fair Erofame from Hannover and, since 2011, only awards innovative products, toys, and companies. During the Venus Berlin years, prizewinners had been chosen by a jury and by a ballot of webmasters or registered users of several German erotic websites. After that time, it switched to the editorial staff of eLine and EAN.

Vibrator (sex toy)

A vibrator, sometimes described as a massager, is a sex toy that is used on the body to produce pleasurable sexual stimulation. There are many different shapes and models of vibrators. Most 2010-era vibrators contain an electric-powered device which pulsates or throbs. Vibrators can be used for both solo play and partnered play by one or more people. Devices exist to be used by couples to stimulate the genitals of both partners. They can be applied to erogenous zones, such as the clitoris, the vulva or vagina, penis, scrotum or anus, for sexual stimulation, for the release of sexual frustration and to achieve orgasm. Vibrators may be recommended by sex therapists for women who have difficulty reaching orgasm through masturbation or intercourse.

An adult movie theatre is a euphemistic term for a movie theatre specifically designed for the exhibition of pornographic films.

Xandria was one of the largest distributors of sex toys and adult videos, books and novelty items in the United States. It began as a catalog of sexual aids for people with disabilities at a time when the disability rights movement was in its infancy. Xandria was also one of the first companies to sell sex-related items online.

A lingerie party is a type of personal selling-based party plan for selling women's lingerie products. A social event, like a Tupperware party, is used to display products to guests, and then to take orders for the products. These parties are usually held in lingerie stores, but they have become popular as home parties held at the sales consultant's house. Traditionally, they are held for specific occasions like bridal showers or birthdays and customers include mostly women. However, men and/or couples can also be invited to some events.


LELO is a Swedish intimate lifestyle company that designs, develops and manufactures upmarket sex toys, BDSM accessories, and massage products. Sold in over 50 international markets, LELO is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden with other offices in Melbourne, San Jose, and Shanghai. LELO is the recipient of more than 30 adult industry awards and is the first-ever sex toy design brand to be awarded a Cannes Lions for Product Design as well the Red Dot Design Award for two consecutive years. LELO currently sells one of the most expensive vibrators in the world, a 24-karat gold plated vibrator that costs $15,000 USD.

Pulse and Cocktails is a chain of sex shops in England. They claim to have the largest stores of any sex shop chain in Europe, with the main branch in Rotherham having a floor area of 7,000 square feet (650 m2).

The Victorian pornographic tradition included French photographs, erotic prints, and printed literature. As technology has advanced, pornography has taken diverse forms and become more widespread in society. In the twentieth century the production of pornographic magazines and films developed, and by the twenty-first century pornography was available by telephone, on television and via the internet. However, access to pornography has generally been more restricted than it has been in comparable Western countries.

Sh! Womens Erotic Emporium

Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium is a British sex shop, founded and run by women for women. Its premises in the East End of London and its website sell sex toys, strap-on harnesses, dildos, bondage gear, lingerie, books, DVDs and accessories. Founded in 1992 by Kathryn Hoyle and Sophie Walters, the company also manufactures dildos and harnesses, and commissions BDSM equipment, lubricant, massage oil, toy cleaner and vibrating toys.

Pornography in Germany

Pornography in Germany is legal with the exception of child pornography. Like in many other countries, child pornography in Germany is illegal. German prosecution authorities and legal bodies of Germany's 16 states handle the definition of child pornography very differently. The German Edathy affair of 2013/14 following the neglected cooperation of BKA within the Canadian child pornography uncoverings gave way for new legislation procedures in parliament to define the status of either posing or exhibitive pictures of minors. New laws were still in parliamentary debating as lately as 19 December 2014.


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