Whether I’m encouraging women to talk about their “lady gardens”, testing new toys or having a chat on the This Morning sofa, my job is never dull.
My entire 30-year career has been about empowering women to explore and enjoy their sexuality – nothing makes me blush any more.
I was raised by liberal parents. I remember being in physics classes and feeling like girls shouldn’t take a back seat to the boys.
I knew we were just as able. But there was nothing in my school years to suggest I’d try to revolutionise the sex industry in later life.
I was 16 when I lost my virginity, but I was having sexual experiences earlier.
After my art degree in Brighton, I taught English in Japan, and then came to London in the 1990s.
There was so much negativity around sexuality then, the Government banned the teaching of LGBTQ+ life and the AIDS epidemic was still prominent.
The idea for Sh! all started after a disastrous shopping trip for adult toys in Soho.
As a liberated feminist, I innocently believed it was my right to explore my sexuality, but these shops were horrible – alienating, intimidating and oppressive for women.
Being female, you were seen as “game” for pervy attention. The products were all for men.
I visited over 20 shops that day, getting madder and madder.
The more mainstream “lingerie with toys” type shops appeared more female-friendly, but were mainly about being sexy for your man.
I stomped home cross, moaning to my friend that there wasn’t one store catering for women.
She said, “So open one!” And, three months later, in April 1992, that’s exactly what I did.
With just £700 (Sh105k) and no real business plan, Sh!, the UK’s first women’s sex emporium, opened to a press fanfare because it was such a novelty.
We had more journalists coming in than customers initially. And there were slim pickings of female-friendly products available.
Sex and the city
In the late 90s, Cosmo magazine asked us what toy we’d most recommend, and we said the Rabbit.
No one had heard of it. The next day, we had 600 orders and it’s since had a whole episode of Sex And The City dedicated to it. So I guess we brought it to the mainstream
We began making our own pretty, stylish, small toys and quickly got loyal customers, including celebrities.
I can’t name names, but there’s been the original face of Girl Power, a Sex And The City actress, a supermodel, many pop, soap and sports legends, and various Hollywood A-listers.
Plus, some stellar British female comedians enjoyed a private in-store party a few years ago, and let’s say a fab time was had by all.
There have been many highs and lows along the way. In the early days we were taken to court by overzealous council officials for “selling obscene goods without a licence”.
More exciting was in 2002 when I was invited to an AIDS awareness event at Downing Street.
It would have been impolite not taking a gift for the host, Cherie Blair. So I took her a Rabbit, all wrapped up prettily.
I felt nervous going through the security checks!
Whenever I go to a party or event I always take some vibrators.
People say, horrified, “Oh my auntie or granny won’t want that!” but I leave them on the table, and they always get taken home.
There’s no reason to stop being orgasmic post menopause. Lube is one of the best sex aids there is, whatever your age.
It’s never just been about flogging products for me.
I wanted to have a safe space where women could feel comfortable coming for advice, learn about their bodies and enjoy their sexuality.
Once, a woman came in with a list of products. We gave her a cup of tea and after she’d relaxed it turned out her husband had said she was boring and wanted to pep things up.
She just wanted a cuddle. We told her to go away and think about it. We didn’t make a sale that day but that wasn’t the point.
We also helped a couple who had been married for two years but had never consummated the relationship.
And advised a mum on how to retrieve her vibrator from her teenage daughter who’d helped herself to it!
For a long time, our policy was that men were only welcome as guests of women.