Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! To send your questions directly to Joan, email email@example.com.
I’m a single bisexual woman, age 66. I had a bad breakup recently and I’m taking a break from relationships while I lick my wounds. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on my own, but back then I used to enjoy masturbation and reached orgasm easily with my own magic fingers. But now, with wrist arthritis and insanely slow arousal, my wrist starts throbbing before my clitoris does! I end up either hurting if I keep going or frustrated if I don’t. I know you’ll say, “Vibrator!” (I’ve read your columns). But I’ve never bought one and I don’t know where to start.
I’ve read some of your reviews, but I don’t know enough to order online. I want to hold a few in my hand and feel which ones my wrist and clitoris would like. There are a couple of sex toy shops in my city, but I’ve never dared to visit one. How could I even bring myself to blurt out personal information and questions to the people who work there? I imagine sex shops don’t get people my age in there and the workers would laugh at my questions afterwards. I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. Advise me, please! —Sex Shop Shy
Joan Price Responds
This is a common question, and I thank you for asking it. Many of our generation didn’t grow up accepting sex toys and the shops that sell them as a normal part of our sex lives. Many of us are reluctant to visit these stores, imagining them to be dark, sleazy places with leering staff and sticky floors. But many (sadly, not all) of the sex toy retailers today have come a long way since the days of the old-style adult store.
Speaking of those old adult stores: When I was 18, visiting New York City for the first time, I saw a sign: “Adult books.” I thought that meant a bookstore that didn’t sell children’s books! I wandered in, and immediately a gruff-looking man literally blocked my path and my view of the products. “This store is not for you! It’s for men who… just get out!” It wasn’t until I confided my bewilderment to an older, more sophisticated friend that I realized I had wandered into an X-rated store that sold more than books.
Fifty-five years later, there’s been an enormous change in “adult stores.” The ones I recommend are the progressive and educational sex toy shops: brightly lit, woman-friendly (often women-owned), accepting of any gender and orientation, and, yes, welcoming to seniors.
These stores have trained staff who are sex educators and know every product they sell. Their day job is answering sex questions and helping to point people to products that will provide pleasure, whatever the customer’s desire, fantasy, kink, health issues or mobility challenge. Ask them anything—they’ve heard it all before. They’re also nonjudgmental. They believe strongly that our world would be a better place if we could talk openly and non-judgmentally about sex, and they’re doing their part to make that happen.
How to find a progressive sex toy shop near you
How do you find a store like this, and how can you tell before going in? Try this:
- Do a Google search for “sex toy shop” + your location and make a list of stores that come up in your area. (For example, “sex toy shop” + Albuquerque)
- Use the review site Yelp to see what other people think of the stores you just found. (In Yelp, enter the name of the store + “sex toys” and the name of your town.) Eliminate from your list any stores that have consistently low ratings or comments on Yelp about unpleasant staff or bad quality.
- Once you’ve narrowed your list by checking Yelp, visit the stores’ websites one by one. Start with the store’s homepage. If the homepage bombards you with unpleasantly graphic images and language, cross that store off your list.
- If the homepage is welcoming, explore the site more. Check to see if the store offers educational content and/or classes. The best stores are committed to community education, not just sales. The staff may give workshops, or they may hire outside sex educators to speak. Those classes aren’t just for the young—I’ve been invited to speak many times about senior sex at these shops. There are some good sex toy stores that don’t have the budget or customer base to offer classes, but the ones that offer education get bonus points from me.
- Before you visit the store that sounds best and is most convenient to you, it’s helpful to write down what you’d like to ask so that you don’t forget if you get nervous. Remember: They’ve heard it all before, they know their stuff and they really want to help you.
There’s nothing like visiting a store and being able to handle the demo models of the sex toys you’re considering as well as ask questions. If you don’t have a local sex toy shop, you might plan a day trip with a lover or some good buddies to your closest bigger city, adding other activities you enjoy to your sex shop visit. If there’s no store close enough to visit, I recommend several stores that do both walk-in and online sales on my blog — see the retailers I link to in my sex toy reviews and others listed in the right-hand column.
Some real-life experiences
I asked my blog readers about their first experiences as older people visiting sex toy shops. Here are excerpts (edited for clarity) from some of the reader responses:
- I was 65, living in Toronto, Canada. I happened to walk by a brightly painted sex toy shop. I walked by many times, each time thinking, this is the day I will enter that building! Finally I picked a time I hoped there wouldn’t be people milling around and watching this “old lady” enter a sex shop. It was a fun learning experience. The staff were helpful, nonjudgmental and easy to talk to.
- At 59, having never used toys in the bedroom I was really a bit like a fish out of water. I had no idea what some of them were for. A couple of very young ladies came up and asked if I needed some help. My thought was, “What do they think they can help me with? I don’t even know what I’m looking for.” It was difficult to ask questions. All in all, it was interesting and I learned a few things I didn’t know before I walked in.
- My lover, who’s 70, wanted to try an anal toy, but he was too shy to buy one. I took him to a store in San Francisco where I had shopped before. They had a whole wall of butt plugs, which was very intimidating to him! A man maybe 50 years younger than him asked how he could help. Before long, the young guy was explaining butt plugs for beginners—what to look for, how to choose, the merits of several. My lover made a purchase and was very happy—I mean very happy!—with his choice.
- I was buying some toys as gifts. I didn’t feel hesitant about it. The staff were perfectly friendly and helpful. This was in New York City, where there’s a lot of knowledge and discussion of sex-related topics and a lot of openness about them.
- My wife and I have been married 44 years. I enjoy going to the sex store to see all the toys and what they do differently. I enjoy talking to the staff and getting their advice. My wife doesn’t like going at all, but she enjoys using the toys when I bring one home.
Enjoy your sex toy shopping—you’ll find it’s a positive and educational experience. And you’ll buy yourself a gift that keeps on giving!
Would you like to see more questions and answers? See all of Joan’s advice in Sex @ Our Age.
Send Joan your questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All information is confidential.
Joan Price is the author of the new “Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life”; the award-winning self-help book “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex”; and the sexy memoir, “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty.” Visit Joan’s blog, “Naked at Our Age,” and her Facebook page.
Top photo: Courtesy Pleasure Chest, NYC