Sex Shop Stories: Working for “Lifestylers” (NSFW)

Names have been changed, duh.

I moved to DC in August of 2007, fresh out of undergrad at Delta State University and ready to make my fortune in writing and editing.  The first job I could find was door-to-door canvassing for a very well-known mainstream GLBT advocacy group, but of course it sucked – most people wouldn’t even come to their door, and if they did they might even say to you, “I hate gay people, get off of my property” (happened once).  It was the middle of summer and Tenleytown was full of mosquitos, not to mention that on my first day I got a $300 donation and my “trainer” got credit for my score.  It didn’t take me long to decide to quit that job.

Walking through Bethesda with my sister and her roommate, we happened upon Pink Flamingos, a sex shop that seemed oddly placed in such an upscale and white-collar neighborhood.  I walked in to find the store manager, Niecy, sulking near a display case of high-end Lelo toys.  I asked about the ‘help wanted’ sign on the door and she just smirked and said something along the lines of, “Well, if you wanna work for assholes, feel free.”  Being new to town and still not working, I figured that working for assholes would be just fine.  This was me receiving my warning and choosing not heed it, and I took the application and skipped back to my car, delighted at the prospect of working at a sex shop omfg!!

Two weeks later I was dressed in my all-black uniform and learning the myriad brands of lube, condoms, toys, and videos that are to be had for the discriminating adult.  The staff were all under 35, female, and queer to a certain degree: there was Tasha – a ridiculously curvy and remarkably filthy (as in physically dirty) local who smoked weed like a furnace and was having an affair with two twin sisters, Marcy – a well-traveled and hirsute hippy known for smoking weed in clandestine places and never wearing shoes, Molly B. – a 19 year old lesbian of true “city” style…she’d never known the closet and was unapologetically feminine (a year from our first meeting I would manage to blow it big time with her).  And then there was Eve, a quiet submissive with big blue eyes and a Clara Bow lips that mostly read books and slyly tried out the floggers on herself.  (Eve would end up bringing the entire Firefly series to work and introducing me to the mediocrity of early Joss Whedon.)  Our manager Niecy had managed to fall in love with a married woman that she was only supposed to be “swinging” with, not falling for, and Niecy was not above boning this woman in the dressing room during business hours (but that’s a whole ‘nother column altogether).

I had a fit over getting my employee shelf as soon as possible, even though I didn’t get a polaroid for a while. My featured items (at right) included the the Piggy Tail butt plug by Boi Toyz, Pjur Woman “Bodyglide” lubricant, and a pegging video called “Babes Ballin’ Boys 4.”

The staff was colorful and never judged anyone, which was a relief to a small-town lady like myself who wanted to experience so many of the things that I had only seen on HBO’s Real Sex.  Shyly admitting that I wanted to peg a man lead to Marcy sharing stories of a lover who only wanted to get fucked in his ass, and that lack of shock and judgment in turn took away those same gut reactions from me.  Being a twin myself, I was horrified to know that Tasha had banged a set of twins (you have to be a twin to understand how not-sexy that sounds), but at the same time I couldn’t think poorly of her or the ladies in question because it just wasn’t my life or my business.

We were a ridiculously “hands-on” staff.  When a man flat-out asked me to unlock the secrets of the g-spot to him, I just got a mold of a porn star’s pussy, lubed it up, and slipped his fingers inside of it – palm up, showing him exactly where it was located while also letting him know that it was not a magic button that produced squirt and assembly-line orgasms out of nowhere.  If someone wanted to know the sting of a paddle or flogger, I would happily spank them.  We allowed underage entry up to age 16 (staff policy, not store policy), and as long as the youngster would accept a free condom or other barrier.  Customers would come in and we’d demonstrate stupid porno sex positions like The Piledriver, and I would gingerly swing all 200 pounds of me up into a shoulder-stand while Tasha would pantomime driving a cock into me, laughing all the while.

The only people I haven’t mentioned thus far are the owners of the shop – Rose and Jim.  Rose had started Pink Flamingos 30 years earlier with an SBA loan and inherited stock from her grandmother’s old lingerie shop, and Jim was her 5th husband and CEO of the company.  He was trying to turn the company into a chain but was making stupid decisions about it, like buying properties near schools in small Floridian towns where people would invariably stage protests.  They were lifelong swingers who lived on a nudist resort in Florida and watched us through closed-circuit television cameras that were all over the place.  They were both in their sixties and were very reminiscent of the early 50s-style “nude recreation” movement – Rose didn’t care if you didn’t wear underwear or if your pussy was out, but don’t you dare come in there with hairy legs.

While we, the staff, saw ourselves as ersatz sex educators who mostly answered questions and shifted stock around from wall to wall, Rose and Jim were both career salespersons who thought we should be shoving light-up Japanese rabbits down our customer’s throats.  I liked the fact that we were listeners who tried our best to make our customers happy, but our bosses had a stereotypical “used car salesman” approach – if Rose saw a customer looking at a cheap rabbit by Doc Johnson or Adam & Eve, she’d immediately go grab a $180 Okiya chainsaw and harass the customer to buy it until she actually just ended up leaving.  Jim was a fan of harassing ladies who were looking at lingerie, insisting that women always appreciated a man’s opinion of them no matter what.  (He also hit on Molly B. until it was obvious that he wasn’t getting any.)

Life was always great at the shop when Rose and Jim weren’t around.  We would redecorate the window, change up the mannequins, find a new product to feature in the display case, give customers backrubs with the Hitachi we had on display, and trade cheap toys and lube for dick-shaped meringue pies from the wine bar across the street.  We made great sales and bought awesome stuff for ourselves (or would take note of a product and get it somewhere else since the bosses used a 300% markup and our employee discount was only 25%) like my Fun Factory Share and my Layaspot, which is still running after 5 years!  I got my first real corset at Pink Flamingos, as well as countless pieces of lingerie, skirts, spanking dresses, cheesy costumes, you name it.  I Dommed for the first time – a crossdresser named Barbara, who deserves an article of her own – during store hours.

But all fun and hijinks were to cease whenever Rose and Jim came to the store.  They wanted a hard-sell environment where big purchases ruled and returns were not welcome.  People would attempt to return or exchange things in strict accordance with our (ridiculous) policies but Jim would still say no, which felt more like CEO grandstanding than a prudent business decision.  We would get shipments of bent boxes full of gummy toys that were covered in glitter and clearly not safe for use without a barrier, but we were only allowed to mark them down 20% and were still expected to sell them.  Jim harassed female customers so much that we would have to apologize for his behavior after he’d go to the back office and pass out, one foot on the desk with his balls hanging out for the world to see.  Rose was so high-strung that I actually picked up smoking during my time at Pink Flamingos – it was the only way to get out of the building when she was there because she did not allow us to take breaks during work.

Eventually I got the idea that it was time for me to leave once I got wind of a sexual harassment lawsuit they were involved in.  Seems that Jim had been dating one of their admins down in Florida, and when the relationship went sour, he fired her.  Clearly the EEOC felt that the admin had a right to sue, because she did, and by the time I left the store it didn’t look like Rose and Jim were winning.

Eve and Molly B. stuck around for a good bit after my departure, and Tasha had already left to start a career in veterinary medicine.  Marcy was traveling around Thailand and I went on to work at a big-box store that will remain nameless, but it was way better than being torn between providing quality service to people in an industry that makes most people uncomfortable and SELLING SELLING SELLING.  Most people can barely talk at a normal volume about sex and sexuality, and my experience at Pink Flamingos taught me how to speak with both the veteran fetishist with her partner on a leash and the newly-out gay man that was interested in anal training.  I suppose that Rose felt that same joy that I did when she started working in adult retail, and I want to refrain from judging the evolution of her in-store demeanor because I have no idea what 30 years working in a sex shop would do to someone.  I was only there for a year but I feel like I could fill up an entire book with my experiences, and I hope to be sharing even more of them with Ms. Behaved in the future.

Read more from Rashaun Ellis

In Defense of the Sexually Prudent Feminist

In Search of Lady Bears: The Challenges of Dyke Dating in Southern Cities

Black Ass Sabbath: Punk, Metal and Racial Politics


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  1. […] getting about 100 words in before I gave up, and then I did the same with another installment of Sex Shop Stories.  And then I ate some pickled eggs and quoted Paris is Burning out loud for a while before hitting […]

  2. […] person to be featured in Style Icon, and she did some fantastic blogging for Ms. Behaved about her experiences working at a sex shop, the politics of body hair, southern gay bars, and the complicated intersection of race and punk […]

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