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Working In A Sex Toy Shop: Like Being A 'Therapist'


Here on the program, we're bringing you a series about a topic you don't hear a lot about on public radio, sex - how we talk about sex and how we don't. And today we'll hear from someone who has had a lot of conversations about sex. She goes by the name Fancy Feast. That's her burlesque name. And she spent seven years working at a sex toy shop in New York, talking to customers day in and day out about their sex lives. And a quick warning here - this five-minute piece includes subject matter that some listeners might find objectionable.

FANCY FEAST: We had so many experiences where people would come in and immediately reveal some of the most intimate aspects of their lives, whether that was an abuse history, whether that was their deepest unfulfilled desires and wishes, whether that was questions that they just didn't ever have an answer to.

CHANG: It was a lot like therapy, which is actually why we're not using Fancy's real name here. She left the sex toy store and is now in grad school to become a therapist. And we want to protect the privacy of her and her patients. She told us about some of the people she met at the store and how they changed her.


FANCY FEAST: One time a woman came in, and she looked very fearful. She was walking around the store and eyeing me. And I came up to her and greeted her and asked her if she was looking for anything in particular. And she said something that we hear pretty often at the store, which is, I'm looking for a toy. I don't want anything intimidating.

I decided to start small, and I found this white Jimmyjane bullet vibrator. So I put it in her hands, and to my surprise, her eyes welled up with tears, and she just started crying. And I asked her what was going on, and she was nodding and saying, thank you; this is the first thing I've seen that actually looks right for me.


FANCY FEAST: Knowing that she felt for the first time, like, I had been able to hear and interpret what she had been looking for - that was really meaningful.


FANCY FEAST: There are some things that sex toys can be absolutely perfect for, but sex toys will not solve all problems. If the problem is the person that I'm seeing disregards my pleasure or has no interest in my sexual desire, that's not something that you can buy something to solve.

So one day, a couple came in, and I could tell right away that the woman in the couple was surprised to be there. But the guy was not willing to relent, so he was kind of dragging this woman around the store and looking at different things. And he threw the toy at the counter and said, yeah, I'm going to get this. And she looked absolutely miserable. And as I checked them out, my skin was crawling because this did not feel like a consensual situation. And ordinarily we have a no-return policy as you might imagine. But I wrote on the receipt, you know, if you bring this back, I will return this no questions asked. Here's my name.


FANCY FEAST: Human sexuality can be so fraught for so many people. And I think of the sex educators who are working in the store as kind of working on the frontlines. Towards the very end of my time working at the store, a young boy - like, an adolescent boy and his mom came into the store. And she explains to me her son is trans, and he wants to get a packer, which is a thing that you put in the front of the pants to simulate a bulge. And the one that he liked 'cause he had excellent taste was the most expensive one. And it was designed to be worn with a specific packing strap, something that would go round the waist and really secure the packer in place.

And he didn't have enough money, so I asked if it would be OK if I could buy the packing underwear. And the mom started crying. And then the boy started crying. And then I was crying. And we all hugged each other. And it was really one of the most special moments I had in the store.


FANCY FEAST: A lot of the work felt like some form of therapy. And now that I am in school to become a therapist, I see how many of those skills have been transferable. I thought of the work that we did as a kind of field work or triage work. And so I realized that the work that I had been doing was really leading towards finding satisfaction in being able to reach people even more.


CHANG: That is former sex toy shop employee Fancy Feast. You can find more of her work under that name. We first read about her in a BuzzFeed essay she wrote last year called "Sex Toys Will Never Be Able To Do The Hardest Work For You." Our story was produced by Alyssa Edes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.