We were given the chance to chat with the people behind Fantasy, a popular chain of adult stores in Portland, and were given a unique insight to what the industry has been like for the last thirty years.
How has the shop changed since it opened? Did the first Fantasy open in 1985?
The first Fantasy stores opened in Missoula, Montana in 1985. The owner, Tracy Blakeslee, moved to Portland, Oregon and opened the first Portland store in 1989.
Although we've always carried adult toys, Fantasy owes much of its early success to adult video rentals and sales, first with the advent of VHS in the 1980s, then DVDs in the 1990s. As the adult retail industry has evolved, so has our product mix. In 2006, we significantly expanded our apparel selection to offer a more inviting environment to those new to adult stores. Then when the Internet began to reshape the adult video market--and video rentals and sales began to drop--we began transitioning our stores from "old-school" video stores to adult retail boutiques. This transition has varied from store to store, depending on location and needs of our customers. Half our stores still have video arcades, but the footprint of our video selection has decreased as the needs of our customers have changed.
The adult toy industry has also changed dramatically in the past few decades, as the technology and social acceptability of sex toys has become more advanced and mainstream. Adult toys and lubricant sales now represent the largest portion of our business.
How has the company found success in expanding to 7 different shops?
We currently have seven stores, five in the Portland area and two in Missoula, Montana. Although we have customers who visit multiple stores, each store caters to a different neighborhood or suburb, with slightly different demographics and needs. We do our best to have a little something for everyone at all locations, but each has developed its own personality. Our Downtown store, for example, has a largest apparel selection, featuring the latest in adult fashion, while our Tigard store off I-5 is one of our largest, offering the largest selection of adult toys. Our oldest Portland store in the Hollywood neighborhood has perhaps the most diverse customer mix, and its eclectic selection of apparel, couples' toys, bondage and fetish gear, and video reflect that diversity; it also features our largest video arcade.
Advice for other sex shops and adult boutiques making the transition from old-school video stores to a modern-age business?
Don't be afraid of change. ;)
With the decrease of video sales and all of the VHS going to waste, do you think another sex toy or adult product could be upcycled from them?
We continue to sell video; we just stop replenishing what isn't selling. Although video sales have slowed considerably, almost anything will sell at the right price, so we frequently discount video. You can't really 'recycle' a DVD or VHS into a sex toy. Some manufacturers have tried packaging DVDs together with toys to sell their DVD inventory, but ultimately, supply has had to adjust to the lack of demand, and movie studios have adapted to an online format and/or have started making their own toys and lubricants. Some have been more successful than others with the transition as the industry has evolved. Wicked Studios, for instance, invested in creating a quality, competitive lubricant brand, Wicked Sensual Care, which has been doing quite well for us since we added it to our selection over a year ago.
With the transition to modernize adult shops, are you ever worried that your competition might be grocery stores or department stores because of how accepted sexuality is becoming?
Although there's a small overlap between adult stores and more "mainstream" grocery stores and department stores, there's little concern of competition. Drugstores have carried lubricants and condoms for decades, but drugstore clerks are notoriously awkward and unhelpful when it comes to recommending intimate products (even for those brave souls who do approach them with questions). While Amazon and other online retailers continue to put department stores out of business, customers continue to value small local shops that offer specialized product knowledge and personalized customer service. You can't get the same level of service from larger stores that carry a wide range of product (and conversely a very limited selection of adult products)--and when it comes to intimate products, you want to talk to someone you can trust who knows the product they offer.
What does sex positivity mean to you?
Fantasy's founder, Tracy Blakeslee, has always been an advocate for civil rights and sexual liberty, and opened the Fantasy stores in part to provide people a place for people to pursue and explore their sexual interests and identities, whatever they might be. We aim to provide a safe, non-judgmental, fun environment for people of all genders and sexualities. For Fantasy, this means not only providing a female-friendly, gay-friendly, and trans-friendly environment (for example), but also an environment that's welcoming to straight men and couples, whatever their interests or fantasy.
What are some things you notice trending within the industry? (fetishes, products, etc)
Anal play and toys have become increasingly popular and mainstream, expanding well beyond the gay market to include men and women of all sexualities. Since the popularity of 50 Shades of Gray, we've of course also seen an increase in the sales of bondage, soft fetish, and sex toys featured in the books and movies, such as stainless steel Ben Wa balls. Within in just the past few years, we've also seen an increasing interest in strap-on harnesses and pegging, again for couples of all genders and sexualities. We even sell strap-on harnesses to gay cisgendered men.
What has been the most innovative sex toy the shop has sold/is selling?
I don't know that I could pinpoint our single most innovative sex toy. We-Vibe's app-controlled couples' vibrator certainly comes to mind, and they're dramatically expanding the app compatible product line this year. Fun Factory released the Stronic Bi Fusion last year that combines the powerful thrusting action of their Stronic pulsators with external clitoral stimulation--and it's been selling nearly as well as the We-Vibe despite retailing for over $200. Every toy category has its innovative designs, from the remote controlled b-Vibe Rimming Plug (it's a vibrating butt plug with rotating "rimming" beads) to the new Pulse III by Hot Octopus (an open-ended male masturbator sleeve with pulsating action that targets the frenulum).
How do you facilitate a comfortable environment for your customers?
Our sales associates--and the customer service they provide--is key to facilitating a comfortable environment for our customers. Although, of course, we consider the comfort of our customers when making decisions about marketing, merchandising, and the layout of our stores (for example, putting lingerie in the front of the store, with bondage gear and video in the back), no adult store feels comfortable unless the sales staff are friendly, inviting, and helpful, listening to the needs of their customers and offering assistance without judgment. The superior customer service Fantasy provides gives us our greatest advantage over our competitors, even more so than our product mix. I cannot stress this enough.
How much assistance is too much assistance via customers and customer assistance? Where do you draw the line?
Speaking of customer assistance, learning to read a customer is very important, to determine their comfort level and to respond accordingly. But there are also a number of ways to help customers feel more comfortable, so that they'll open up and ask questions once they do feel comfortable. The key is being attentive to customers, saying hello, asking open-ended questions, listening, giving them their space when they need it, and following up to assist once they've had an opportunity to get their bearings and realize that shopping an adult store isn't really much different than shopping a clothing or electronics store.
What are some upcoming events and updates happening with Fantasy that you're excited about?
Every year, we get geared up for Pride in June, and this year, not only will have more to offer everyone at our Pride booth than we've ever had before, but our Missoula stores are also throwing their own Pride event! We've also been updating the layout of our stores and have a couple floor moves coming up in the months ahead. As we condense our video selection, we're updating and streamlining our video sections so they're easier to shop, and of course, we continue to create more space for our ever expanding selection of sex toys and apparel. As the needs and fantasies of our customers evolve and expand, so do we, and nothing's more exciting than keeping up with the needs of our customers!
Photo credit: Other Nature
Last month, I caught up with the Kitty May, the Director of Education and Community Outreach of the feminist, eco-friendly and queer-oriented sex shop, Other Nature, in Berlin. Kitty May is also a psychotherapeutic counselor in private practice and brings over 10 years’ experience working in the areas of sexual and reproductive justice, sexual health, and sex and relationships education.
I heard about Other Nature initially because of the workshop Kitty May hosts, called “Demystifying Orgasm”. We chatted about the female anatomy, sex without goals, Other Nature workshops, her experience teaching adults and youth and so many things in between over coffee in the sun.
Photo credit: Not Another Woman mag
We talked about society and why most people are still having goal-oriented sex. Kitty May’s response was simple, that “maybe it’s because we live in a goal-oriented society. The lens through a capitalistic society is through achievement. 'Am I measuring up?' 'Am I as good as my peers?' 'How successful am I?' [If] that's the way we think about work, friendship, material possessions and everything...then that's the way we will think about sex. The media is a machinery of many different parts and that machinery towards sex is very goal-oriented. This is something that I talk about with young people, particularly.
With young people now, it’s a really tricky time, because in many ways, the media is so full of sex. There’s this idea that as a society, we’re super comfortable talking about sex, you can make jokes about sex, sex is everywhere, there’s sex in the movies. The reality is actually that it’s still a bit taboo, especially about the things that are challenging or do not fit the norm.”
It was interesting to me to hear someone who isn’t from the US talk about how sex-obsessed yet explaining the severe taboo over the subject still exists. I, up until this point, thought it was an American cultural thing. For so long, I imagined Europe to be open about sex in general, yet Kitty May was telling me differently.
“The mainstream message is that everyone is having amazing sex. Sex is really important. A lot of women magazines will use this sort of empowering language, but if you really look at the messages they are communicating, it’s [includes] a lot of shaming. It’s not the traditional prude-ish shaming. It’s a shaming around how much are you achieving in your sex life.”
We began to speak more about Berlin and the shop we were sitting down the street from. I sat back, wondering how something like Other Nature could exist. It makes sense that such a progressive and inclusive shop would be in Berlin, but I couldn’t help but compare it to the likes of She Bop in Portland, due to it’s open and friendly atmosphere. I was curious how Kitty May got involved with the shop and how their event schedule has evolved.
“I was living in South Africa, at a party in Johannesburg and I said I was moving to Berlin. Someone said, ‘You must meet my friend. She’s really great.’ I learned that she ran a feminist sex shop. I said, ‘Oh, that’s my kind of place.’ I had a blind date with this couple, one of whom is Sarah, who founded Other Nature. I would’ve found my way to it anyway, because everyone in my friend group frequents the shop. Sarah and I became friends and I told her my background in sex education with youth. I had been doing sex education projects in Cape Town. She wanted me to teach a workshop at Other Nature and I said had never given a workshop to adults, which wasn’t true - I had been training professionals who work with young people about how to talk to young people about sex. Through doing that work, I had very quickly realized how much baggage most adults have. It’s not about young people at all. It’s about themselves and their struggles, insecurities, vocabulary...
Sarah told me, ‘If you can do it with young kids, you can do it with adults’. It’s true. It’s not wildly different, actually.”
I asked Kitty May if the same language and visuals were used with adults as she had previously used with young people. She emphasized the important in non-dense material and metaphors. Because she primarily teaches in English to people whose mother tongue is a different language, she found her background very useful in being simple, but effective with her language.
“There are differences for sure, in my experience, young people are more likely to call bullshit in what you’re saying out loud. I find with adults, they’re more likely to sit back, but I can see it in their eyes.”
We talked about the vulnerability with workshops that cover such intimate subjects and how to create and open and safe atmosphere to learn about such subjects.
“I always try to make it clear, in the way I describe the workshops, that participation is welcome but no one is required to share more than is necessary. I have a workshop coming up, once a week for six weeks/sessions, called ‘Reclaiming Sexuality’.
The workshop that put the shop and Kitty May’s work on my radar, “Demystifying Orgasm” became a focal point towards the end of our conversation. Kitty May explained, “the orgasm workshop does not feel very intimate to me, although I also fully recognize that it could be a big thing for people to walk through the door, absolutely, especially because in the marketing for the workshop --it's for people who struggle with having an orgasm, or never have had an orgasm, or maybe they do sometimes but would like to be more aware of why they do when they do and why they don't when they don't. But I think, given that that's kind of the marketing, I would recognize that it would be exposing for someone to walk through the door. I'm always happy when people do, because it's quite theoretical. I give a lot of information about desire and arousal with a lot of anatomy, which people may already know, but I think it's always good to get that in there.”
Speaking of the future, there’s potential in workshops on sex positive flirting and with youth Green Party members on sex positivity. Other Nature continues to collaborate with local clubs on feminist events.
“There is no other shop in Berlin like Other Nature. At the moment, I don’t know anywhere in the world exactly like Other Nature - there are super awesome feminist sex shops or queer sex shops or women-oriented sex shops doing amazing things, but I feel very proud of the specific focus we have here.”
To find out more about Other Nature:
To find out more about Kitty May:
I marched in my first Pride parade when I was 17 years old. I lived in Southern California and for my first march I was with the local bisexual group. It was the first time Long Beach Pride had allowed a bi group to march, and not everyone was happy to see us there. There were protesters who had come specifically for us, under their theory that the bisexuals were the “bridge” between the gay and straight populations, and it was our fault that straight people were getting HIV. Not all of the queer groups were happy with us either. It was the first - though far from the last - time that I experienced biphobia from within the queer community.
Despite all of that I marched with my head held high. I couldn’t have been prouder to be with the group of people who had already been such fantastic support for me. The group was something of a catch-all for queer misfits, people for whom other groups didn’t exist yet. We had a number of trans folks marching with us, and there was a big overlap with polyamorous folks and kinksters. These were the pre-internet days and finding your people and building community wasn’t as easy then as it is now. Pride parades and celebrations became a staple for me. My favorite was West Hollywood where the march was scandalous and colorful. When I went off to college the marches in Santa Cruz and San Francisco were my annual celebration.
I’ve called Portland home for 15 years now, and Portland Pride has a special place in my heart, too. A far more family friendly celebration than the Prides of my youth, it brings me joy to see children waving rainbow flags and participating in carnival games at the festival.
But Pride is more than just the parade and two day festival at the waterfront. Groups and venues all around town host Pride theme events making the celebration last all month long.
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some highlights of events to check out:
◆ June 10, The Mystery Box Show - The Mystery Box Show is one of my favorite Portland events and it’s a mainstay for the sex positive and curious people of Portland. Each show features five storytellers (I’ve been featured twice,) plus the charming hosts Reba and Eric. The stories run the gamut of sexual experience, from kink to poly to religion to disability, and more. What remains the same is the brave vulnerability of the storytellers, and the fabulous experience offered to the audience. http://www.mysteryboxshow.com
◆ June 10, Death of Glitter - This is Death of Glitter’s two year anniversary show! A genderf*ck cabaret, this show features a variety of exciting performers and and a portion of the door proceeds is donated to Brave Space, which creates community and facilitates access to knowledgeable and expert providers for transgender and non-binary children, youth, adults, and their families. http://www.deathofglitter.com
◆ June 13, Official Pride Kick Off Party - Food, drink, and a way to support Pride NW. https://pridenw.org/product/kickoff/
◆ June 13, Bi Brigade Pride Prom - The group that brings you the monthly Bi Bar at Crush now brings you a chance to have the queer prom of your dreams. Attend in formal attire with a partner or two, or none! This is the prom you wish you had had complete with starry night photo booth and actual alcohol and all the queer your little heart can handle. https://www.facebook.com/events/1672488836112474/
◆ June 17th, The Portland Dyke March. https://pridenw.org/event/2016-portland-dyke-march/
◆ June 17th, The Portland Trans March. https://pridenw.org/event/the-official-portland-trans-pride-march/
◆ June 17, Pants Off Dance Off - The Pants Off Dance Off is a monthly clothing optional sex positive dance party at Portland’s favorite all inclusive queer bar, Crush. This event consistently sells out, so be sure to get there early if you want a spot. http://www.crushbar.com
◆ June 17, Gaylabration - Back for its 7th year, Gaylabration is being heald at the TAO center this year, a huge space that will allow them to start earlier, and party later, than before. DJs, dancing, and booths from local community groups will be just part of this Pride celebration. http://www.gaylabration.org/
◆ June 17, Blow Pony’s 10th annual Queer Mutiny Fest NW - A fixture of queer nightlife, this Pride edition party features performers, DJs, and more, at their new home the Bossonova Ballroom. https://www.facebook.com/events/1452103144821880/
◆ June 17th, Slant Live Queer Storytelling. https://www.facebook.com/slantstories/
Portland’s original 100% queer-run LGBTQ storytelling event returns! SLANT Live Queer Storytelling 6 LGBTQ storytellers telling seven-minute stories at Mississippi Studios at 7:00 pm (doors at 6:00 pm). SLANT is hosted by SisterBritt and featuring stories by Cicely Rodgers, Nick Sahoyah, Colin Ashante, Brooke Shelley, Chrishawn West, Carlos the Rollerblader, and more! Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door.
◆ June 17-18, Waterfront Pride Festival - Two days of Pride goodness, with booths from local organizations and businesses, a stage featuring performances, and vendors selling treats and drinks (Clone-A-Willy will have a booth by the main stage!). Walking through the festival is a great way to see what organizations are supporting Pride and it’s a great chance to mix and mingle with other festival attendees. https://pridenw.org
◆ June 18th, the Portland Pride Parade kicks off at 11am. https://pridenw.org
No matter now you decide to celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful Pride month - and let me and Clone-a-Willy know via social media if you check out some of these events!
Written and researched by Stella Harris
Graphic designed by Kalaija Mallery
5 Ways to Build Sex positivity & Empowerment Within Yourself
It’s the season where we think about re-vamping our living spaces, but improving sexual wellness is often overlooked. A healthy sex life leads to a healthier well being. Here are easy ways we believe you can spring clean your sex appeal:
Start a new personal wellness habit to your weekly or daily routine.
This could be as simple as making time to stretch in the morning or take a bath once per week. This could also be as complicated as you’d like, as long as it’s realistic to you. Focus on emotional and physical attention.
Never apologize for your sexuality or asexuality.
Do you feel more aroused and driven than normal? Lacking desire completely? There is no correct amount of sexuality each person should have and it’s important to understand how different our needs are.
Engage in activities that reconnect you with your body.
Feeling like you’ve been neglecting certain parts of yourself? With the first area that comes to mind, find an activity that specifically works that.
Set aside time to honestly consider your needs and sexual triggers.
Most people do not give enough thought to their needs and desires. Set aside 10-30 minutes and consider everything. Go the extra step and take notes or journal.
Consider your communication with others.
Is it clear? Do you hold eye contact? Are you really explaining how you feel? These are a few areas of communication that everyone could work on.