Potential Sex Education Certification Program for Adult Stores

Lynn Bimey

In the latest issue of the American Journal of Sexuality Education, an academic journal for professionals in sex education, Metis Black, president and founder of Tantus Inc., wrote a letter to the editor which looks at the opportunities for sex education in retail adult stores.

She raised the possibility of educators creating a standardized certification program for stores which would potentially boost sales, encourage new traffic and bring a sense of community credibility.

If a recognized sexual education organization were to offer a program that taught and certified a store as a community sex education outreach center, it would legitimize their community standing. -Metis Black, Tantus Inc.

Black said, “If a recognized sexual education organization were to offer a program that taught and certified a store as a community sex education outreach center, it would legitimize their community standing. The project is really a win/win proposition, particularly for communities in which the presence of adult retailers is seen as potentially detrimental.”

Black discussed this idea further with Bill Taverner, Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Sexuality Education last November. Taverner supported the idea.

“It’s no secret that many adults visit adult retail stores, and when they do, research suggests that these visits present opportunities for teachable moments where people can learn valuable and vital health information, including the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy,“ Taverner said. “It’s great to see Tantus taking the lead on recognizing the importance of sexuality education and the opportunities that exist within the industry.”

Black’s published writing is titled “Bridging Sex Education and Adult Retail,” in which she references the study on “Sex Education in Adult Retail Stores” (Herbenick & Reece, 2006) as the inspiration for her pursuit of the implementation of a sex education certification program.

“Much has changed since the 2006 publication,” Black says in the article. “Within the adult retail environments, many of the places that catered to video and porn magazines became financially unviable in the recession. Free images available on the Internet have crippled magazine sales, and video is substantially down. The majority of stores that survived the economic downturn were those offering customer support, including a space for women to feel comfortable and a place where customers could come and ask questions.”

Black said that as an alternative to informational books, single page information sheets can fulfill the same purpose.

“One of the options that I have seen work very well is having a series of single page information sheets that can be given away with clear explanations of facts with a book resource guide on the end for more information,” Metis said. “These can be about lubrication, penis size, g-spotting, anal sex, prostate health, condoms, even how to talk to a partner about sexually transmitted infections.

“The other benefit with having information sheets is that many customers are not comfortable asking questions because many do not know exactly what questions to ask,” Black continues. “An information sheet allows them to educate themselves in privacy, use the suggestions for further research, and then return with more confidence.

“And education has been proven to work as a sales tool in adult retail stores. I spoke with a former store clerk from a 20-store chain that has gone on to teach sex education very successfully. She told me that when she was a clerk, her store manager encouraged them to read books (which were not available in the stores for sale) and other material when the store was slow. The manager brought in material she thought were helpful and other sales associates shared and talked about what they found. Knowledge helped them ‘answer questions, better understand what customers were talking about, create repeat customers, and in the long run allowed us to have higher sales.’ They maintained the number-one store for sales in the chain for as long as she could remember. She stressed that this was not a chain initiated program; it was solely her store manager’s inspiration and urging. Other store chains have created staff positions for sex educators to coordinate staff training. All the chains that I am aware of have encouraged product education that manufacturers have provided.”

In her article, Black reiterates that sex education in adult retail is not a new trend.

“It has not been formally studied that I know of, but common sense and store receipts have proven that sales increase when clerks have education to give good customer support,” Black said. “For the last 14 years, I have done store manager training or clerk trainings. At these, I stress our product line with benefits, as you would any brand.

“I have never done a product training that did not bridge general sex education with sales training. And one of the things I have repeated time after time to store employees is that they are their community’s sex educators,” Black said. “Doctors and clinics may be able to answer questions about birth control, genital irritations, and inflammations, but it is rare to find these health professionals educated on the latest understandings about toys, lubricants, or condoms. It is also rare to be comfortable enough with your health professional to ask about constriction rings, prostate play, or female ejaculation.

“To put a formalized training into place and to certify stores would not be a hard sell to adult businesses. It would actually boost sales and bring a civil credibility that an adult business yearns for. Long-term certification might ease social restrictions these businesses and business owners face, like having their breast cancer charity checks sent back to them, facing illogical randomly defined community standards of obscenity, and being banned from locations zoned in an area with desirable walk by traffic.”

The letter appears in Volume 7, Issue 4 of the American Journal of Sexuality Education and is available online (www.tandfonline.com/loi/wajs20) and free to access through the end of 2013.


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