I never quite know how to behave at sex shops. I'm never quite sure what pose to strike or how to ask questions.
I've been to sex toy shops, though usually--- perhaps inevitably ---I'm there as a young companion's accessory, as the older admirer she leads by the hand. Literally leads by the hand, mind you. That's something my young companions have seemed to like--- drawing me along the store aisles in their wake. I can't say that I mind, of course. I love watching them shop. I love the way they show off their acquisitions and take me to the displays they want to explore.
It is awkward, though, if you go in alone. It's something that takes some deep breaths. Going into a sex shop alone, you have far too much to prove and far too much to hide.
I worked in a bookstore all through grad school. It was a good job. I was the evening and night manager, so I didn't have to be there 'til two in the afternoon. I'd close up at ten at night and then go out. I managed to get most of my doctoral thesis written and still spend lots of late nights in clubland. My job required me to take books home to read, and I had special authority to order History and Modern Lit and Non-Fiction. We had a good clientele, a good mix of upscale types, bohemians, and students. They valued my advice, and I tried to be knowledgeable. I hired good people to work with me, people whose lives had been built up out of books. A very good job, and one I look back on now with special nostalgia.
I used to tell the evening staff that we were like bartenders or psychoanalysts or priests. People told us what they were looking for on the shelves, and we ended up knowing all about their inner lives and hopes. Not just the thirty-something soccer moms who'd buy a hundred dollars' worth of self-help books on reaching orgasm or saving their marriages, and not just the solemn art-school kids buying guides to Coming Out. We knew what authors you'd choose to give you the right vision of romance, the kinds of futures that the sci-fi readers believed in, the skills people wanted to acquire and the phobias they wanted to overcome. We knew who was pregnant for the first time and who was traveling to Bali that summer. I knew--- predatory creature that I am ---which senior girls from the posh prep schools were buying "Story of O" or Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" books.
So I expect I'm a bit afraid of sex shops for that reason. Shopping there shows someone what your current fantasies and fetishes are. You're vulnerable to the judgment of strangers--- always an unpleasant thing. More--- the shop clerk will see you what you buy, and she (it should always be a she) is likely only to see you once or twice in her career. Whatever you buy that night, whatever you seem interested in or excited by that one night--- that's what'll define you in her eyes. That's a problem in general, by the way. If you tell a potential young companion about your current interest, she'll assume that's all you are, all you're interested in.
Cliche, of course, but true. It's easier to be a lovely co-ed and go to sex shops (at least those where the staff are more likely to have graduate degrees than those where the clerk looks like Comic Book Guy) than it is to be a gentleman of a Certain Age and shop there. A lovely co-ed can stare down anyone who raises an eyebrow and fiercely defend her own sexual agency and empowerment--- one of the best uses for all that training in critical theory. Someone male of my own age must shuffle and look at the floor and find some guilty way to insist that he's not a sad perv with a Real Doll at home. Possibly a Real Doll of an underage sheep.
I've been the official carrier-of-purchases for young companions at sex shops. I've been the older admirer to whom a lovely girl turns in the presence of the clerk and says, "Do you think this one will leave good marks on me?" I've been there when a young companion grasps my arm and leans her head on my shoulder and tells the salesgirl, "No--- give me the next size bigger." Those things are fun. Part of the delights of being an older admirer. But I couldn't go in alone. I certainly couldn't go in alone and ask the staff for advice or recommendations.
That's disheartening, really. I'm a gentleman of a Certain Age--- a professional, a sometime academic, holder of post-graduate degrees. Yet I can't ever walk up to the counter at someplace like, say, Good Vibrations in San Francisco or any of its upscale equivalents worldwide and just...ask for advice and recommendations. Whatever my interests might be, from mere vanilla to the very baroque and complicated, I can't risk being judged and mocked. Whatever my young lady buys is fine. And I'm fine carrying her parcels or giving her my own take on what she's looking at. But I'm never going to be able to shop on my own.