When I started off working in the sex retail world, I was excited to learn about sexuality and pleasure. I was looking forward to discovering new things about my own sexuality. Over the years, I saw a lot of my co-workers and colleagues come to some of the same realizations I did. As much as I enjoyed the opportunities to increase my knowledge about sex and expand my own sex life, there are some ways that working in this field can make things challenging, too.
One of the most obvious is that talking about sex all day with customers and helping them find ways to get what they want can leave you too wiped out to have those conversations with a partner. It’s not that you don’t value the opportunity to talk with your partner(s), but after being there for people who are leaning into their edges and supporting them as they figure out their desires, it’s sometimes difficult to turn around and be able to do that yourself.
It’s important for those of us who work in this field to remember that we can run into the same kinds of difficulties our customers and clients deal with.
This isn’t because we work with sex. Folks in any of the helping professions sometimes face their own versions of these difficulties. And it’s not like it’s impossible to fix, either. But if you aren’t giving attention to it, it’s easy to not notice when it’s happening. When you aren’t talking with your partner(s) about your sexual relationship, you’re setting yourself up to have conflict, sooner or later. It’s important for sexuality educators, sales staff, and other people in this industry to not let our workdays keep us from noticing what our personal relationships need.
Another common experience for those of us in this field is that other people will often make assumptions about our sex lives, relationships, or interests. I’m willing to bet that many of you have had the experience of telling a new acquaintance about your job and seeing them start to wonder what kinds of sexual antics you get up to. As annoying as that can sometimes be for any of us, it presents specific difficulties for women.
I’ve lost track of how many times a woman in this industry has told me that when people find out about her job, they assume that she’s either sexually available, kinky, slutty, interested in a one-night stand or friends with benefits situation, etc. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anyone that any of those adjectives could be applied to. But when people assume that someone is any or all of those things, it can lead to some tricky situations.
For example, one manager of a sex toy store told me that until the third date, she doesn’t tell guys where she works because she’s had men try to accelerate things faster then she’s comfortable with. She’s not interested in one-night stands at this point in her life, and she got so frustrated with guys thinking that her job meant that she’d be DTF that she started telling them that she worked at a boutique. If they got to a third date, she figured there was some potential there and she’d come out about where she actually works. Other women I’ve talked with have shared stories of being slut-shamed or ostracized.
Of course, people also make similar assumptions about men who work in this industry, and a lot of guys find them annoying or insulting. At the same time, the judgments that men face around being sexually active or adventurous are far less likely to be negative, and the potential consequences are usually less dire. That doesn’t change how it feels when someone assumes that your job implies anything about your sex life. And it’s important to recognize how the gendered patterns play out.
A third way that working in this field can impact your sex life is that it can be difficult to find support from someone who’s up to your speed. A lot of us have been the person our friends come to when they have questions about sex, but how many of us also have folks who know enough about sex to be able to be there for us? Plus, therapists and counselors often get very little training about sexuality, especially gender and sexual minorities, which means that we might end up having to teach the people we’re going to for help.
As a sex and relationship coach, I’ve talked with quite a few clients who were sex educators or other folks from the retail industry about their difficulties finding support from someone who understands sex as well as they do. It can be a frustrating experience. I think the best thing you can do is ask them about it, either over the phone or in your first session. Don’t be afraid to inquire about their background, training and perspectives. You deserve someone with the skills and knowledge they need to be able to be helpful. And if the first person doesn’t work out, don’t get discouraged. Other resources are out there.
It’s important for those of us who work in this field to remember that we can run into the same kinds of difficulties our customers and clients deal with. We may face some challenges specifically because of our jobs or how people perceive us, but in the end, we’re not all that different from anyone else. And just as we strive to give accurate information and support to them, there are times that we need that, too.
Charlie Glickman PhD is a sexuality speaker, trainer, writer, blogger, and coach. He’s an AASECT-certified sex educator and has been working in this field for over 20 years. Charlie is the co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure: Erotic Exploration for Men and Their Partners. Find out more about him at www.charlieglickman.com or on Twitter and Facebook.