Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium

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The Sh! store in Hoxton Square, London ShPic.jpeg
The Sh! store in Hoxton Square, London

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, [1] the company also manufactures dildos and harnesses, and commissions BDSM equipment, lubricant, massage oil, toy cleaner and vibrating toys.


The Sh! shop is located in Hoxton Square, London. A second shop, on Portobello Road, ceased trading in May 2012. The company also runs a mail order business with headquarters in Forest Gate. Sh! is a small company, employing nine women.

Founders' biographies

Kathryn Hoyle was born in Ilkley, West Yorkshire and grew up with a feminist mother, a free-thinking father and one brother. She attended her local school, Ilkley Grammar, before going on to complete a foundation art course in Bradford and graduating with a degree in Fine Art from The Faculty of Arts and Architecture, Brighton University.

Sophie Walters was born in Bracknell, Berkshire and went to Marist Convent Catholic School in Sunninghill, Berkshire. At 17, she started a business and commerce course at Windsor College. Upon completion of the course Walters worked for Securicor Heathrow, Air Courier Division and later on for Roy Bowles Transport & Cargo. In 1989, she took up the position of Logistics Manager at Sony Corporation Air Cargo and then, after meeting Hoyle in 1991, joined Sh![ citation needed ]

Cultural impact

Sh! was the first sex shop in the UK focusing solely on women. Sex shops were created to cater mainly to men's needs. One of the effects of the sexual revolution was that women took charge of their own sexuality, and with that have pushed into the sex business. [2]

However, in late 2014, the company changed its door policy regarding male customers; previously men had to be accompanied by a female to enter the store and browse. Since October 2014 the lower floor of the premises is open to all customers, including unaccompanied men, while the upper floor remains women-only.

Vibrators were first developed in the 19th century as medical equipment to help cure women of hysteria by inducing hysterical paroxysm, also known as orgasm. Many medical practitioners working with sexual dysfunctions have limited or no knowledge of vibrators or dildos, so Sh! has been working to educate practitioners from NHS Trusts. [3]

The Sh! website provides advice and guidance, and the shop offers customers to opportunity to handle various toys or to speak to highly trained staff. The company is the only sex shop which offers a 30-day warranty. [4]

Hoyle discovered the Rabbit vibrator in a sex toy warehouse in 1992. It was named "Roger Rabbit", but her renamed version, the "Jessica Rabbit", has since gone on to fame, starring in television shows including Sex and the City . [5] However, it was in 1999, when Cosmopolitan ran an article on female masturbation, that the "Jessica" really started to enter women's homes.[ citation needed ]

Pornography and sex shop licensing

Sh! stocks women-friendly pornographic material, such as films by Anna Span. Women-friendly means depicting female desire convincingly and realistically, as opposed to mainstream pornography which embodies the male gaze and objectifies women by making them into a tool for both the male pornographic actor's sexual gratification and the viewer's purposes.

The pornography which Sh! stocks is softcore - that is, having any explicit money shots and genitalia blurred or pixelated. This is due to the premises not having the appropriate licensing to stock hardcore pornography.


Sh! runs educational workshops and collaborates with National Health Service Trusts in providing sex toys for women with sexual difficulties. This includes a dilator set, composed of vibrators of varying diameters. The Sh! dilator set is also part of a PhD project, at The Royal United Hospital Bath Gynae Oncology department, [6] to research the possibilities and implications of using vibrators in the post-surgery dilating process for women.

2003 International Sexology Conference

In 2003, Adeola Agbebiyi from the Barts and the London NHS Trust, and Kathryn Hoyle and Angel Zatorski both from Sh! Women's Emporium, presented two papers exploring the relationship between women and sex toys. [7]

Sh! Sex Toy Workshops

Sh! wrote the introduction to sex toys and safer sex for the Oxford University Student Guide.


Sh! is one of three remaining women's bookstores in London and has a comprehensive selection of women's erotica and books dealing with women's sexuality and related issues.


Sh! has been awarded Ethical Consumer status by for their informed and information-giving standpoint on sex toys. Sh! has also won the 2005 Erotic Awards Special Judges Award [8] for being 'the best sex shop in town ~ possibly the world!' In 2007, Sh! was named in the g3 magazine Readers' Poll as 'Best adult store online' and 'Best LBGT friendly business'. [9] In 2008 the business was awarded the Readers' Poll 'Best online retailer' award. [10]

In March 2012 Sh! was awarded the UK & Ireland Shopping Venue of the Year, and the UK & Ireland Best Business of the Year, at the first annual Qype Business awards. [11]

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

Sex shop Shop that sells products related to sexual or erotic entertainment

A sex shop is a retailer that sells products related to adult sexual or erotic entertainment, such as vibrators, lingerie, clothing, pornography, and other related products. The world's first 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.

Sexual stimulation is any stimulus that leads to, enhances and maintains sexual arousal, and may lead to orgasm. Although sexual arousal may arise without physical stimulation, achieving orgasm usually requires physical sexual stimulation.

Sexual penetration Sexual activity that involves inserting a persons body part into another person

Sexual penetration is the insertion of a body part or other object into a body orifice, such as the vagina, anus or mouth, as part of human sexual activity or animal sexual behavior.

Anal masturbation

Anal masturbation is an erotic stimulation focusing on the anus and rectum. For humans, common methods of anal masturbation include manual stimulation of the anal opening, and the insertion of an object or objects such as fingers, tongue, phallic-shaped items, water play, or sex toys such as anal beads, butt plugs, dildos, vibrators, or specially designed prostate massagers.

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.

Autoeroticism Quality arousing corporeal self-lust

Autoeroticism is the practice of becoming sexually stimulated through internal stimuli.

Strap-on dildo Device used for sexual penetration or other sexual activity

A strap-on dildo is a dildo designed to be worn, usually with a harness, during sexual activity. Harnesses and dildos are made in a wide variety of styles, with variations in how the harness fits the wearer, how the dildo attaches to the harness, as well as various features intended to facilitate stimulation of the wearer or a sexual partner.

Good Vibrations (sex shop) American corporation associated with the sex industry

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.

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.

Vibrator (sex toy) sex toy that is used on the body to produce pleasurable erotic stimulation

A vibrator, sometimes described as a massager, is a sex toy that is used on the body to produce pleasurable sexual stimulation. 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.

A double penetration dildo or double dildo is a sex toy that allows for the simultaneous penetration of two bodily orifices at the same time. It is designed in the form of two penetrative stimulators that come separately or fixed on the single shaft. Some of them include a vibrating motor that turns them into double penetration vibrators.

An anal vibrator is a vibrator designed for sexual stimulation of the anus of both men and women. All anal vibrators have one common feature: they produce a vibrating effect in the rectum for pleasurable sensations.

Dildo sexual device

A dildo is a sex toy, often explicitly phallic in appearance, intended for sexual penetration or other sexual activity during masturbation or with sex partners. Dildos can be made from a number of materials and shaped like an erect human penis. They are typically 4–6-inch (10–15 cm) in length, about the average length of an erect penis, but some may be longer, and circumference is typically 4–5-inch (10–13 cm).

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.

LELO organization

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.

Pegging (sexual practice) sexual practice in which a woman performs anal sex on a man

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Sex industry Field of business

The sex industry consists of businesses that either directly or indirectly provide sex-related products and services or adult entertainment. The industry includes activities involving direct provision of sex-related services, such as prostitution, strip clubs, host and hostess clubs and sex-related pastimes, such as pornography, sex-oriented men's magazines, sex movies, sex toys and fetish and BDSM paraphernalia. Sex channels for television and pre-paid sex movies for video on demand, are part of the sex industry, as are adult movie theaters, sex shops, peep shows, and strip clubs.

Sex machine mechanical device created for sexual activity

A sex machine is a mechanical device used to simulate human sexual intercourse or other sexual activity.

Hallie Lieberman is a writer and a sex and gender historian. Her first book, Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy (2017) traces the history of sex toys in the USA from the 1950s to the present. Lieberman teaches science and technology journalism at Georgia Institute of Technology.


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  4. Moore, Anna (2003-07-20). "A Woman's Touch". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  5. Bakar, Fatima (2018-01-21). "Britain's first sex shop for women is still very badass". Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  6. [ dead link ]
  7. Archived September 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. "Erotic Awards 2005". Archived from the original on 2005-03-23.
  9. "g3 Magazine Readers Poll 2007 results".
  10. g3 magazine, June 2008
  11. Jeremy, Yelp CEO (2012-10-24). "Yelp Official Blog: Welcoming Qype to the Team". Archived from the original on 2012-12-13. Retrieved 2013-11-04.

Coordinates: 51°31′38.2″N0°4′55.5″W / 51.527278°N 0.082083°W / 51.527278; -0.082083