In previous columns, I’ve talked a bit about how if you are looking for a specific sex toy, a date idea, or need to figure out what kind of lube you’d like, you should head on over to your local sex shop to see the inventory in person. However, I know that this advice is easier given than acted upon, and I found out that a fair number of my friends had never been to a sex shop themselves! I worked at a sex shop for three years and have seen a fairly wide range of customers across almost every demographic. It is almost as if ANYONE could be interested in sex. Maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age, and manners go a long way when interacting with strangers, so here are some helpful do’s and don’ts when dropping in on your local sex shop. Also, just for the record, I am not using any hypothetical situations here.

DO pick up the toys to get a sense of size, texture, density, and vibration type.

It is becoming more common for sex shops to have display models of toys out for you to pick up and hold, as opposed to 20 years ago where it was pretty normal to just have a wall of shrink-wrapped toys. If there are toys out on the shelf, they are there to be picked up, squeezed, and turned on (if there is an on/off switch) so you can make a better-informed purchase. This is one of the best things about buying a toy in person, because when you buy something off the internet you can’t always estimate the size or how firm it is. When testing a vibrator for what kind of motor is in it, you can turn it on and hold it to your nose to get a sense for strength. Do not hold a vibrator against your genitals while in the store, even over clothing. If you need help with sizing or matching a dildo with a harness, ask for assistance from the sales staff.

DO utilize lube tester bottles.

So many of us have skin sensitivities or have developed allergies over our lifetime. We want to make better choices for ourselves, but aren’t always in the position to buy a $20 bottle of lube and hope for the best. To help you out, sex shops will often have a dedicated area where they put out tester bottles of lube for you to try (on your fingers). Think of this as similar to cosmetic testers in a make-up boutique. Squeeze a drop on your fingertip and rub between your finger and thumb to get an idea of the texture, smell it, and taste it. Wipe off your hand and use sanitizer before you squeeze the next bottle on your finger. If you need to find out if you will have an allergic reaction to the lube, put a dab either just behind your ear or on your wrist and then walk around the store for a little bit to see if the tester spot gets itchy or red. If you don’t want to try any of this in public, ask the sales staff if they have lube packets or tiny samples for whatever brand you’re looking into.

DON’T hit your friends, lovers, or strangers with dildos.

I don’t know why, but the most common occurrence I had while working in a sex shop was having to ask people to stop hitting their friends with dildos. Everyone does it, and it is always annoying. First off, the display dildos are there for people to be able to hold them in person before buying them; they are not designed to be wielded as impact toys. Secondly, although it may feel playful to hit your friend with a silicone cock, it is actually a very charged activity. It is the sales staff’s job to keep a certain vibe in the store and general roughhousing changes the feeling and safety of the space.

DO ask to try equipment.

Some shops that sell restraints and impact toys (floggers, paddles, crops, etc.) will have them on display so that you can touch and hold them. It is generally acceptable to try these out on yourself in the store. For restraints, you may want to ask a sales staff to assist you in closing the buckles and helping you assess fit. For impact toys, hitting your inner arm or thigh to get a feel for the type of impact the toy produces is legit. If you want to try out the toy on a friend, first ask a salesperson if that is OK. If the shop doesn’t allow it or the salesperson deems it to be unsafe, don’t push the point. If you are allowed to test the equipment on a friend, everyone should keep their clothes on.

DON’T show dick pics.

For the most part, it is completely unnecessary to describe your genitals or your partners’ genitals in detail to the sales associate helping you find a toy. Pictures are mostly not helpful, and certainly never show a stranger a photo of genitals without asking them first if they want to see it or if it would be helpful for them to see it. If you are looking for a sex accessory where size would be a factor (condoms, an extender sleeve, or a dildo) you can use general terms when talking with the sales staff, such as “We’ve been using this kind of condom but they keep slipping off during sex. Do you have a condom with a more snug fit?” Or, “Do you know how this cock ring is supposed to fit?” You are the expert on your own body and it is up to you to take the information given to you and think about how it relates to your parts. Sometimes you’ll have to try a few different products before finding the one that works for you, and having the staff look at a photo of your junk won’t change that, because there are so many more factors that go into choosing items utilized during sex.

DO be aware that you are in a public space.

Sex shops are not play spaces. Some sex shops have back rooms that house glory holes or are attached to venues that are designed for sex activities; but generally speaking, sex shops are just public retail establishments, similar to a bookstore or a café. Just because there may be a literal sign on the wall that says “SEX” doesn’t mean that it should happen RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. Keep public displays of affection to a minimum and don’t include bystanders (sales staff, other customers) in your sexual dynamic without their consent. If you have any doubts about what will fly and what won’t, check in with the sales staff. For instance, you may be thinking, “I know that this shop is really cool and everyone that works there is so sexually liberated! This would be a great opportunity to take my gimp out in public and make him grovel on the floor in front of me, begging for me to buy him a butt plug!” But I can say from experience that this scene is not as endearing to the sales staff as you think it is, and mostly we will be annoyed that you are taking up a lot of space and making our other customers feel uncomfortable, as well as making it difficult for us to get to inventory.

DO respect the boundaries of the sales staff.

If you ask a salesperson what vibrator they use and they respond that they don’t see how that is relevant to you, don’t press the issue. Just because someone works in the sex industry or adjacent to it doesn’t mean that they owe you any personal information about their sex life. People work in the sex industry for all different reasons; and while I’m sure that there are exhibitionists and nymphomaniacs in this field, in my experience you shouldn’t expect this. If the salesperson wants to share with you what their favorite toy is, or is excited that you asked them about how a particular vibrator feels, great! But they don’t need to share their personal experience about it with you in order to be able to give you the specs on the toy itself. And also, their experience very well may not be relevant to you, because desire and the way we each process sensation varies widely. Just because something works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Send your sex questions to illustrations Ruth Mascelli