You walk into a welcoming, secure environment. Darkened windows but a bright space. Everyone within is knowledgeable and warm, they offer you a cup of coffee. Not picturing a sex shop, are you? But this is the atmosphere Hoyle conjured within Sh!
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The shop opened its doors in 1992, and for Hoyle, it was borne from its time;
“In the late eighties, early nineties, there was quite a strong lesbian S&M scene. There were parties and there was Chain Reaction. So Sh! kind of came out of there.”
The duplicity of an atmosphere of female-queer-sexual-liberation and a vortex of products to aid that is what leads to Hoyle’s decision to create a women-bodied centric sex shop.
“I went shopping for a toy, y’know, literally just early nineties. The only place I could go is Soho; so awful, so male focused and very sexually prescripted.” For Hoyle, the state of the British lesbian scene highly politicised sex, as women were experimenting, deconstructing narratives and gaining bodily autonomy through pleasure. This politicisation created a sexual hypervigilance, which is perhaps why when Hoyle walked into the male-aimed sex shop, her first thought was to set up her own.
“For women, there were bits of scratchy red knickers. Huge great big dildos. Everything was dick shaped, because all women’s pleasure is at the end of a dick.”
An objective and success of Hoyle’s was to distribute ‘unrealistic’ sex toys, perpetuating the notion that one can enjoy penetrative sex outside of cis-men.
“We are centred around sexuality and physical pleasure. For us, that is a radical act when we are taught what ‘sexy’ is, what kind of pleasure we should have, and when so much of it is not taught.”
This year, Sh! celebrates their thirtieth birthday; looking back on those three decades, both Sh! and the society which encompasses it has undergone some phenomenal transformations.
When the shop was first established, rape within marriage was still legalised, domestic violence was not classified as a crime, there was no law to ban the discrimination of transgender people and same-sex couples were not allowed to marry or adopt children. Sh! was a highly progressive space in its youth, fostering the personal liberation of women, and has lived through large scale liberation, including political, economic and medical.
“We’ve had many triumphs and battles along the way. Notable moments include introducing sex toys to the NHS, visiting Downing Street bearing a special ‘gift’ for the prime minister’s wife, being taken to court for supposedly breaking outdated obscenity laws – we won, and discovering the Jessica Rabbit vibrator that became a global sensation”.
Sh! has also been at the forefront of several campaigns to improve women’s sexual health and well being. These include creating Vaginismus Awareness Day every September, and co-founding Café V, the UK’s first ever support group for survivors of sexual violence to regain their enjoyment of sex. Sh!’s current collaboration with Macmillan Cancer Support aims to help women enjoy full sex lives while living with cancer.
All our love and in the spirit of Sh! – Happy fucking!
Last Updated on 1st June 2023 by Nonchalant Magazine