It’s not every Monday you find yourself sitting on a tiny vinyl-covered stool in an adult entertainment store in Dublin.
I’m surrounded by many a pleasure toy, scantily clad mannequins and more flavours of lube than a bag of Pick ‘n’ Mix. From my dwarfed viewpoint behind the counter, I see many curious glances at the shop from passersby.
Some people linger a little longer, eyes falling onto shiny adult treats, but I'm guessing the large queue of people in suits waiting for a bus outside the shop is keeping many from actually entering the bright pink door.
Dublin has its fair share of adult stores, but in this 21st century of online shopping and free porn downloads, I'm curious as to how exactly sex shops are keeping themselves, for want of a better word, erect?
Sex-cessories, pleather, and service with a smile
I’m in Secret Paradise, a sex shop overlooking the Ha’Penny Bridge, to see if what’s inside lives up to its name. The shop is what I’ve expected; dimly lit, filled with sex-cessories, nudity and pleather, but the service is a surprise. I’m greeted by Stefan, a chatty bear-sized Romanian who has worked here for almost two years.
“Take a seat,” he says. “Get comfortable.”
He seems genuinely interested as he gives advice to a young couple, and I see that they buy his recommendation. I learn that although the shop offers an online service, most of their sales come from in store.
A video booth, one of the rare few to be found in town, is also more popular than I could have imagined. Kind of like a photo booth you'd get your passport photos, except I reckon there's a lot more hand sanitiser needed to wipe this down.
I learn that it's used mostly by regulars, with lunchtimes being a particularly popular time slot.
Sambo and a sex tape, why not?
Stefan tells me that when it comes to DVD sales, it is mostly older customers, “usually people who are wary of computer viruses or folks who miss the VHS nostalgia.”
As of 2013, over 24 million websites involved adult entertainment.
With global porn revenues having declined by 50% since 2007, I wonder how the drastic drop in sales has changed the way that sex is being sold.
Sex shops were previously considered to be the hunting ground of older males in a crumpled mac, eagerly awaiting the release of 'Good Will Humping'.
In the last few years though, sex shops have tried to shake their seedy image in order to compete with fast and discreet online delivery, and widespread free streaming sites.
Films such as Fifty Shades of Gray have brought the topic of sexual pleasure into the mainstream media, but a feeling of secrecy still lingers when it comes to one’s personal boudoir.
So, how do the Irish feel about sex?
Stefan finds the Irish attitude to sex amusing, saying we are much shyer than our European neighbours. I try to keep an open mind when my gaze lands upon the leather restraints.
“You certainly have an exciting job anyway” I say, but he disagrees.
“All I do is stock shelves,” he shrugs, as he holds some sort of phallic plastic device that I would hope comes with a user manual.
I had always thought sex shops would fade away, but I can see how people prefer the intimate in-store shopping experience. If every sex shop had someone as knowledgeable as my new favourite friend Stefan, I'm sure quite a lot of Dubs would do less secret browsing online and hit the local store instead.
The Internet can and will replace many things but as I’ve witnessed myself, sex sells better when it has a human touch.