Inside Babeland: The History Behind The Sex-Positive Toy Shop

By Emily Lowinger November 18, 2019

Have you ever been to a slimy sex toy shop? One where there’s a XXX DVD section in the back, and the guy running it makes you so uncomfortable, you dread going up to the register?

 

If you answered yes, I’m sorry, but hopefully you now know there are feminist, queer alternatives, like Babeland.

 

Babeland, a sex-positive, identify-affirming sex toy shop and a #WeNeedAButton partner, is a super fun, empowering place to shop, either online or IRL.

 

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Finn, a Babeland brand manager and sex educator, and she gave me the lowdown on the store’s history, founding philosophy, and what it’s like to work there.

 

EL: Could you tell us a bit about Babeland’s founding and history? 

LF: Babeland was created out of the need for a space that felt welcoming for women and queer folks to shop for sex toys. At the time, most sex toys needed to be purchased in a dimly lit, curtained-off room in the back of a video shop- and the atmosphere itself felt like there was something to hide. The founders of Babeland (first opened as Toys in Babeland in 1993) set up a colorful shop in Seattle, staffed by trained retail employees who knew the products, stocked the shelves with the highest-quality toys on the market, and created a space where folks not only felt comfortable- but empowered- to shop for their pleasure products.

 

EL: Your answer is making me think of the Romance Depot on Route 17 in Paramus, Jersey. Seedy AF, lol! How does Babeland create a “women-friendly” environment, as well as an environment that is welcoming and affirming of all identities? 

LF: It’s really about creating a sex-positive and judgement-free space for everyone, regardless of gender. Because sexuality- especially when it came to “women’s” pleasure in particular- was shrouded in a culture of shaming, the founders really wanted to make sure that we were creating an environment of empowerment so that folks- again, at the time, particularly women- knew that their pleasure was something that they should be focusing on, and that there’s no shame in enjoying your body.

 
EL: Right now, there’s a Babeland store in Seattle and 3 in NYC. Any plans to open up additional brick & mortars?
LF: We’ll see 😉 But don’t worry- if you’re not near a Babeland, our online shop- Babeland.com- has a huge selection with discreet shipping, and you can still chat with our trained staff to find the right product for you via our online customer service or sending us a DM on social media (we’re @babeland_toys).
 

EL: Babeland doesn’t just sell sex toys, there is an educational component and lots of in-store events on offer as well. Was that always a part of the Babeland experience or did that evolve throughout the years?

LF: Absolutely. Access to information and education is something that is at the forefront of Babeland’s mission, and has been since the beginning. Our staff has always been trained on the products we carry, as well as on things like anatomy of pleasure, so that we can help you find the perfect tool for each individual customer. Offering free mini-workshops allows folks to come in to the shop and learn more about topics they may be interested in, but are maybe not quite ready to have a one-on-one chat with our educators about. Our full-length classes are amazing resources for those looking to take their sex lives to the next level, and it’s always such a fun and friendly environment- we never want sex education to be intimidating.

Zachary Zane, Sophie Saint Thomas, and Lisa Finn discussing safe(r) sex and #WeNeedAButton

 

EL: One of my favorite parts personally of shopping at Babeland is the customer service — and knowing that the people on staff really care and are extremely knowledgeable. Could you speak to what it’s like to work at Babeland? The company culture, the philosophy behind how to serve customers, your favorite part about working there?

LF: Starting at the interview process, our staff is welcomed into a space where we prioritize sex positivity so that we can curate a completely judgement-free zone when it comes to pleasure and information. Our staff goes through orientation training to learn everything from the language we use to talk about bodies down to the ingredients in lubricant and what they do. We work with each individual customer to learn their needs and make sure that everyone feels welcome- whether it’s your first time ever seeing a sex toy, or you’re a seasoned vibrator pro. Helping first-timers is probably my favorite part about working at Babeland- having the moment where you can affirm someone’s desires and let them know that prioritizing pleasure is something that should be celebrated. It makes me so happy to see customers who may have come in with reservations about their sexuality leave feeling confident and excited.

 

EL: How did you get into sex education?

LF: When I was in high school, I was a peer volunteer sex educator for an LGBTQ+ youth non-profit. Being a queer person and never having had the comprehensive sex ed that I needed at my public school, being able to learn and become a part of that resource was so important. I’m not going to lie- I wasn’t originally planning for sex ed to be my career, but when I started at Babeland, I just fell in love with the work that we do and the importance of making a positive impact on the ways that folks view sex and sexuality.

 

EL: What are your favorite topics to teach?

LF: I’m a huge fan of teaching about BDSM- dispelling myths about play that can be seen as “taboo,” and talking about finding confidence and empowerment in those dynamics. I also love teaching our full-length “Art of the Blow Job”- it’s super informative but also wonderfully silly– everyone gets a banana to practice hands-on.

 

EL: Are there any topics you feel are extra important today, or that still don’t get the attention they deserve?

LF: Communication. The idea that our partners should be mind-readers and can just assume what works and what doesn’t and/or the idea that everyone enjoys sex the same way is not only wrong but can be potentially harmful. Finding ways to communicate our needs and wants, making sure that consent is always shared and enthusiastic, these are all crucial tools for inside the bedroom and in our everyday lives. It can be intimidating to talk about sex, but we need to!

 

EL: Why is comprehensive sex ed so important?

LF: Without access to accurate and comprehensive sex education, there’s the obvious higher risk of unwanted pregnancies and transmission of STIs, but beyond that, comprehensive sex ed helps to give students the knowledge, attitudes, and language to make healthy sexual choices all around. Young folks are still going to explore their sexualities no matter the curriculum presented to them, and so giving access to as much information as possible can help to empower these students to make the right decisions for themselves and their bodies instead of relying on sources like porn (which most of the time is just entertainment, not education- and can give a skewed view on what sexuality should look like) to be their resource for information. Safer sex is about so much more than just barrier usage- so teaching everything from consent to pleasure to communication allows for those conversations to start earlier so that safer and better sexual relationships and an altogether healthier outlook on sexuality can be fostered long-term.

 

EL: As you know, #WeNeedAButton was started in response to queer people’s negative experiences with healthcare providers, but in reality, so many experience unfair care. We’re thrilled that Babeland is a partner — can you speak to why #WeNeedAButton is important to Babeland as a company and to you (if applicable) as an individual. 

LF: Queer folks- especially those who are transgender and GNC- may require different care or more specialized attention, whether it’s in the aspect of physical care, mental well-being, or even things as simple yet crucial as having a respectful and comfortable relationship between patient and provider. Our physical and mental health are so vitally connected to our sex lives and pleasure, so this is something that Babeland is really excited to support- not to mention that having healthcare providers that are inclusive and educated can truly save lives.

 

EL: Anything new and exciting that you can share about what you’re up to and about Babeland (new products, additional events, more stores).

LF: We’re super excited to be working with Zachary and Sophie and having their top picks available to shop at Babeland.com! Beyond that, we’re always expanding our offerings- both product and education-wise. Oh- and our new CBD line is something that has me really excited, personally (I’m all about that self-love and the bath bombs are perf for that).

 

Stay sex positive!

XOX

To learn more about #WeNeedAButton, visit waxoh.com/weneedabutton

 

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