Ever wanted your erotic questions answered but felt that your Internet findings were a little lack lustre or enigmatic?
Wanted to put your sexy time query to a friend but realised they were perhaps as clueless as you as you both flipped the newspaper to ‘Dear Deidre?’ Well don’t sweat it (unless things are getting hot under the collar) because Ky Hoyle & Renee Denyer, the brains, bra’s and beauty behind Sh! Womenstore filled us in. Read which political figure they’d gift a strap on to, how giving head needn’t be hard to swallow and why they’re giving other sex shops a run for their money…
How did the Sh! journey begin? Who had those good vibrations that brought about the light bulb moment? In case you haven’t seen it, you can read our full story here: https://www.sh-womenstore.com/our-story/
Ky: That would be me. I simply went shopping in Soho one day, feeling it was my right as a young liberated women and got the shock of my life! I ended up going to about 20 places that day, from Soho, radiating outwards and taking in everything from seedy to fetish to high-street to gay shops. I couldn’t believe it, but there really wasn’t anywhere that I felt comfortable, that welcomed me or catered to me.
Founded in 1992, the adult industry must have been pretty at one with S&M by then but did people still umm and argh? What were people’s attitudes towards your sexual concept then compared to now?
Ky: Women breathed a sigh of relief and flocked to us – once they heard about us… As the first ever female-focussed sex shop (and the first ‘boutique-style’) we drew a huge amount of press attention and from The Sun to Newsnight to the Observer it was all positive and celebratory, if sometimes with a lady Bracknell tone of: ‘A sex shop – for women??’
Looking back, I realise Sh! influence was pretty monumental.
We challenged the old-school style of sex shop & brought a fresh, modern alternative to erotic shopping, of course. But we also kick-started a wider conversation about female sexuality which led to sex toys changing from phallic & penetrative to stylish and clitoral and by giving equal respect and floor space to ‘different’ sexualities, we were at the forefront of the acceptance we see today, with gay marriage. There’s been an amazing turnaround in attitudes which is so inspirational.
Ky, you once handed Cherie Blair a little present at number 10, did you get to see her reaction there and then? If so how did it go down?
Ky: Went down very well! I was surprised how easily it passed through the security scanners, actually – thought I’d have some explaining to do, but there was no drama. She didn’t actually open it but once her speech was over I did notice her double back and swoop it up before exiting to private quarters…
Is there a political figure/ celeb or person of interest that you would give a naughty present to?
Renee: I’d like to give Caitlyn Jenner a Wand vibrator. New experiences!
Ky: I’d like to give a strap on to Hilary Clinton – is that ‘naughty’ enough for you!?
Renee, you joined Sh! In 2007, what was your previous experience in the adult play market?
Renee: I didn’t work within the adult industry before Sh!. I used to live around the corner from the shop, and was a happy customer for many years. My hobby became my job, so to speak.
What makes you different from high street brand Ann Summer’s?
Renee: Team Sh! are a collection of feisty women with varied backgrounds and interests. When we come together, we’re able to offer unrivalled insight and knowledge about female sexuality and sex toys. We all have a genuine interest in what we do.
Ky: At Sh! our focus on female pleasure is practical, aesthetical and individually empowering. We create a place away from the pressures of what society defines as a sexual woman. We’re miles away from being ‘sexy’ for your guy and right at the heart of discovering being sexy / sexual means for you.
Our concept of individual sexuality and personalised advice is at our core. But what we don’t do is as important as what we do. We don’t do ‘guaranteed orgasms’ unsafe toys, porn-star dildos (or any ‘realistic toys for that matter) and we would NEVER stock a Blow Job strap! 😉
Your advisors are all female, was this a conscious decision and why?
Ky: Totally! You can’t create the 1st women’s sex shop and staff it with men – there wouldn’t be anything pioneering or different in that. We believe it takes a woman to really understand another women’s sexuality.
Renee: How many women would be happy to discuss their frustrating lack of orgasms with a guy (and a stranger at that)?
How many post-menopausal women would be happy to discuss thinning vaginal membranes and low libido with a male they don’t know?
How many female survivors of sexual abuse would feel comfortable talking about their trauma and what that means for their sex life with a man they’ve never seen before?
An all-female work force makes sense. It feels safe for our customers (not saying that male staff would be unsafe, mind) and this is so important. I was once in a well-known high street chain shop, and two male sales assistants stood behind the counter, giggling and pointing at a female customer. It put me off buying anything. At Sh!, we offer a safe space for customers to ask advice and shop.
Who can enter the shop? Is everybody welcome?
Ky: For 22 years our policy was women & couples only. This was our way of redressing the balance. We’ve heard countless stories about men standing too close, following women around etc in other shops that we wanted to ensure that would never happen at Sh! We’re close to the city, so it was also important that a woman would never be outnumbered by guys, however well-behaved and respectful they were…
Last year we tweaked our policy a little. Times have changed. We decided to make our lower ground floor open to all. Whilst we’ve always been au fait with trans men, we needed to openly welcome their new visibility. Men too want a grown-up attitude, advice and access to fabulous, feel-good (both to the eye and body!) toys
Renee: Yes; as long as you’re well-behaved – pointing and giggling is not cool!
The ground floor space is for women and couples (thus keeping it a safe space; no lone males browsing), and the basement space is open to all. This includes men shopping solo.
What’s been one of your most memorable workshops? (Or) which workshop/ class gets the most heat/ interest?
Renee: Our Blow His Mind class is the most popular – and the messiest! (I always smell of lube and condoms by the end of it). We once had a guest who got so into it, she lost her contact lens during the class! Another customer was so determined to deep-throat, despite a super-sensitive gag reflex, she almost vomited. I was a bit (a lot!) worried. Gagging is usually a good sign that you need to ease up a little.
Tell me more about your upcoming Fellatio aka Blow Job seminar.. Flash backs to sex education with bananas and wooden penis’ spring to mind (although obviously for the purposes of how to put on a condom,) any props and what’s involved?
Renee: It’s a lot of fun! We use props, of course – no real-life men with their pants round their ankles. We use specially made silicone dildos to practice on, and we use a whole load of flavoured lube. We talk about anatomy, hot-spots and how to deal with sticky moments. We also share easy tips & tricks that the guests can take home and try, aka “home work”.
(About the previous fellatio)-some people are fans and some are not, what’s your advice to make it work to a woman’s advantage?
Renee: Enthusiasm! A guy wants to know you love going down on him – like it’s the best treat you’ve ever had! Keep it rhythmic and make yummy noises – and practice Cock Yoga. Very important. Swallowing or not swallowing – it’s a very personal choice. There are ways to deal with an unwanted mouthful without offending him.
How long do seminars last and how do you get to hear about them? Who can or can’t come?
Renee: A class usually runs for 1-1.5hrs – it depends on the guests. Imagine 20 women, a few bottles of bubbly and a load of sex toys… It can get wild. Some classes are quieter. For example, our Orgasmic! Class is for women who find it difficult to climax, so that can be emotional for the guests.
Some classes, like Blow His Mind and Orgasmic!, are for women only, but men can come along to other classes as long as they’re with a female. You’ll find all the information you need here: https://www.sh-womenstore.com/classes.html
Your emporium in Hoxton is a pretty cool visit and feels less of a shop and more of a gallery or showcase.. What was it that made you choose the venue in Hoxton Square?
Ky: Total fluke and one of our luckiest breaks. Once I’d done stomping and decided to open, I just happened to know of a shop in Coronet Street, where I could pay the rent (£80pw) weekly. Back then, Hoxton was dark and Dickens-like, with no shops or bars. I remember waving off two women, from South Ken, who’d just paid with a Coutts & Co cheque, wobbling on the cobbles in their designer heels and clinging together in this unknown outpost. Nowadays they’d be able to celebrate their purchase with a Martini in choice of a dozen cocktail bars!
You could quite literally spend an hour or so inside, aesthetically pleasing and with such a wide-spread collection, what vibe were you going for?
Ky: Thank you. Our vibe is Fresh, Fun. Grown Up. Non-intimidating.
Are there plans to open more stores UK-based or abroad?
Ky: We’re always being asked by fans and customers to open more Sh!s People come from all over the world and certainly we’d love to be able to make Sh! more accessible to more peeps. Buying over the internet has its benefits and our service and advice is also at the heart of our website, but there’s nothing like the inspiring, empowering personal experience of actually visiting. Money and controlling expansion without loosing our unique concept is an issue – if there’s any ethical investors out there interested, get in touch!