SHARE

Say you’re a woman looking for a sex toy to use with your partner, though you’ve never ventured into a sex shop before as a serious buyer. You fancy yourself a novice in the big, bad world of vibrators but know that having one might just be the answer to bringing excitement back into your sex life.

If that’s true, then you represent the average customer at Babeland, an upscale sex shop with New York City locations in Soho, the Lower East Side, and Park Slope in addition to a store in Seattle, where the founders, Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning, first set up shop in 1993. The two women realized something crucial at a time when sex toys were treated more as part of the porn industry than a staple in your average Jane’s sex life. They noted that the then-current method of displaying vibrators and the like on a hook in opaque packaging featuring an image of a porn star did not exactly entice female buyers. In fact, (surprise, surprise) it kept them away, appearing more like another porn video for men than a toy targeting women looking to explore their own sexuality.

Babeland, Manhattan Digest
Credit to: Babeland

Thus was born the idea of Babeland, a store where you can touch, turn on, and even taste the products offered therein. Everything is on display because, well, why shouldn’t it be? If you’re going to buy something with a tactile function, you should be able to experience its feel before bringing it home—especially if you’re a novice when it comes to sex toys, like most of Babeland’s Soho customers, according to Pamela, who does marketing for Babeland (and asked that her last name be withheld). She also provided a breakdown of the store’s clientele: “About 60% of our customers are women, 40% are men, and the majority are looking for something to use in their relationship.”

Since this customer demographic suggests plenty of question-asking, the staff at Babeland have to be prepared. They go through a lot of training, and you can hear them rattle off expert explanations of various sex toys in a way that sounds natural, not rehearsed. Why bother rehearsing the answer to a question that you’ve had to answer about a hundred times before, anyway?

“Yes, people come into a sex shop to ask a lot of the same questions, but the number of questions asked is too many to start naming common ones,” said Pamela. “It’s easiest to approach the slightly overwhelming store by category—not all sex shop novices are looking for the same thing.”

Babeland, Manhattan Digest
Credit to: Babeland

Say they’re looking to explore anal sex. There’s a whole section in Babeland dedicated to this kind of penetration and play, from plugs to beads. A three-piece plug set, for instance, Pamela described as a good intro to anal toys. The sizes vary, so you can start small and work your way up. All of these toys have flared bases (so they’re easy to pull out…and don’t get lost inside).

With “communication, relaxation, and lubrication” as Babeland’s three pillars of anal, it’s smart design, and customer conscientiousness, that puts the lube section right next to anal sex toys. This is where the tasting comes in, and where Babeland yet again proves it’s out to make its sex products accessible to patrons. In comparing Babeland to another common place to buy lube, Pamela explained, “If you walk into a drug store, you’re going to see some lube on the shelf, and it’s going to be major brands like Astroglide.”

If you’re not sure of what exactly you’re looking for—in other words, if you’re not familiar with lube and are out to get a certain brand—the drug store might leave you feeling like the porn star-covered packaging on vibrators left women in 90s feeling: lost, uncomfortable, and out of your element. Babeland is geared more towards beginners, letting shoppers put the lube in their mouths if that’s where they think it’s going to end up. “There’s a whole world of lube,” said Pamela, and it certainly looks like it with each different lubricant at Babeland labeled based on its ingredients.

Next to the lube sit the condoms, all blown up (so you can get a sense of what they’ll feel like on) and affixed to jars containing their packaged counterparts. From there, you can peruse the store by brand. Sex toy brands have evolved in the past several years to comprise a range of toys wide enough to make up a person’s entire “toy chest,” according to Pamela, making for greater brand recognition and loyalty. “I think it’s also media attention,” she explained. “I’ve been working at Babeland for the past eight years, now, and it’s been within like the last six that major magazines have actually featured a vibrator in the pages…showing a photo and saying what it was and where to buy it.”

Babeland, Manhattan Digest
Credit to: Babeland

That’s not the only way sex toys have evolved. Even more recently, they’ve gone mobile. Babeland offers a handful (well, technically more than a handful, wink wink) of toys that users can control with apps. One vibrator from We-Vibe (a sex toy line from a couple based in Canada), for example, comes with an app that allows it be controlled across great distances. If you’re here in New York and your partner is, say, on a business trip in China, your partner can operate the vibrator from his or her hotel room and stimulate you in your New York apartment. Another futuristic vibrator from the company OhMiBod comes with a set of panties, making it wearable. It responds to its sonic surroundings, so if you’re wearing it in a club, it will move with the beat of the DJ.

Though these inventions might seem intimidating or out of reach, they’re available for you to touch (and feel vibrate) at Babeland. Now that sex toys have come out of their packaging and onto the shelves of sex shops, there’s no reason to be shy about exploring them. They won’t bite, after all—just vibrate. And if you’re a novice toy user visiting Babeland, it’s safe to say that you’re not alone.

You can visit Babeland in Soho at 43 Mercer Street, or give them a ring at 212-966-2120. Check the website for other locations.