The need for friendly sex shops in Iowa City


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I moved to Iowa City thinking that it was open minded and progressive. I’m involved in the gay community, I attend, and sing in the choir of, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City. I am proud to call Iowa City my home — or I was until I tried to start my own retail shop.

With years of retail experience, I thought I would be welcomed by a community that prides itself on supporting small businesses. If what I was hoping to provide from my shop was not needed, or already readily available, I would gladly show my support through my patronage.

What I want is to open a shop that is welcoming to our whole adult community.

My business concept is simple: Sell adult toys, books, candles, bath products, and more, in a homey, warm, inclusive and inviting space. I have imagined an area of the shop where you can kick back on the couch and leaf through the latest in lusty literature. Or, you can browse through our selection of vibrators, artisan glass dildos, quality leather harnesses, and paddles.

The taboo around sex shops is quickly fading, and if Iowa City doesn’t get on board, we will no longer be able to say that it is liberal and open-minded. I have spoken with the community, including my manicurist, my church congregation, women in the master’s programs at the University of Iowa, and the gay and lesbian community. I feel that I have covered a wide range of people, including acquaintances and close personal friends, and they all agree that this is needed and lacking in the Iowa City area.

So, I have the concept, the financial backing, the experience in retail sales, and the passion. What could be the problem, then?

I have been continually turned down by property owners and managers. They are so scared of what my shop might include that they are not even willing to give me a chance.

Sex therapist Marty Klein says of the problem, “Instead of addressing their personal fears about sexuality directly, many Americans displace them. Sexuality and sexual material itself is seen as the source of problems out in the world … We all know the many ways kids learn that sex is bad. This is harmful enough. But what reason are kids given for sex being bad? None: ‘It just is.’ The lack of a reason is crucial, because the belief can’t be refuted or tested.”

He goes on to explain the unfortunate results of making our children ashamed of themselves: “Kids just learn to hide their sexuality. And sadly, many continue doing so after they grow up.”

Taking away the stigma of sexuality won’t cause people to turn into animals. It will give them back the confidence to fully be themselves, which will in turn make them a happier person. Just as coming out of the closet for gay people allows them to fully live their lives, so does giving people the tools to their own safe, sexual pleasure. And wouldn’t we all prefer to live a happier life?

I believe that the Iowa City community has the means to support this type of business. I believe that there are others right here in my community who understand and support the need for a healthy sex life. So if you share my vision to make this a part of our community, please make your voice heard.

Send your support here to the papers, or speak with the business owners of shops you patronize, or ask the local property owners to allow space for you to be comfortable and at home when purchasing something that is so individual and personal to each person.

Julia Schaefer is an Iowa City resident and co-owner of the Toolbox LLC, a business without a home.

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