Sex Siopa is not only Dublin’s first online sex store, it is Ireland’s first health and design focused sex shop. Run by Seattle native Shawna Scott, Sex Siopa seeks to leave behind the blacked-out window fronts and furtive glances that have characterised much of the capital’s adult stores. Tired of the lack of choice and information available in the Irish adult market, Scott decided to begin selling the type of sex toys she wanted to see stocked on the shelves. The result is a breath of fresh air – Sex Siopa is a very open website that seeks to discuss sex and sexuality in a mature and health-conscious capacity. The interface is clean and bright, eschewing the usual tropes of the market and proudly placing Scott at the helm – a face behind the toys that is proud to discuss her products and answer any queries or complaints.
Sex Siopa gained considerable recognition due to an open letter that Scott published calling on adult star James Deen to take responsibility for a product being sold modelled on his penis that was reported to contain unhealthy materials. The letter, along with blog posts in its wake, has seen Scott open the conversation about body-safe sex toys and the need for open dialogue about what we put in our bodies. In a country where many still feel uncomfortable admitting they’re engaging in adult, consensual sex it’s incredibly encouraging to see someone unabashedly discussing the mechanics of the sex industry and striving for awareness. We caught up with Shawna to learn about Sex Siopa’s beginnings and her experiences of the sex industry both here and abroad.
So tell me about how you got started with Sex Siopa, you mentioned in an article recently that the US sex shop Babeland was a big influence?
I was back home in Seattle on holiday when I visited Babeland and I was chatting with my friend on Facebook about the vibrator I’d just bought. I thought it was a really nice product and she was like “I can’t find anything like that in Dublin.” We discussed how great it would be if there was a shop like Babeland in Dublin. I was saying I’d really like to open a shop like that and she was agreeing so that’s how it began.
We would go to workshops and kink markets and sell handmade nipple pasties and soy wax candles in little milk jugs for pouring on people. We had grass reeds that were bound so you could whip people with them and they did really well. I soon realised that I needed to expand but unfortunately my business partner couldn’t because she had started another business so we parted ways there. We’re still friends though, she’s got her business and I’ve got mine.
How was having your own business autonomy?
It was quite scary at first because I relied on her a lot for feedback and suddenly I had to make decisions on my own. But now I’ve sort of landed on my feet and I’ve done so much research on products that I feel I have a good instinct for it.
Have you had a lot of business so far?
It’s a slow burn, every customer that I’ve sold to has been really happy. I’ve never really had any complaints about products, instead I actually get emails from people who maybe haven’t even bought anything saying “It’s really great what you’re doing, Ireland needs something like this”. I mean it’s not like there aren’t any sex shops in Ireland but I feel like I’m doing something that’s a little bit different from the rest of the crowd.
Certainly the design is more clean and open than a lot of sex shops where everything seems so dark and sleazy.
I went into one sex shop and all of the women’s toys were that really sickly porno pink colour, so I asked the sales assistant whether they had anything in another colour and she said “No, that’s what we stock.” They decided to only stock pink things because “that’s what women want” and I felt like saying “Well…not this woman” and quickly left. With the toys that I sell, I really research which toys have been winning awards for design, aesthetic and functionality. The Tenga 3D [male masturbators] look like sculptures and then when you tell people they’re looking at a sex toy they freak out. It won a Red Dot Design Award and other companies that have won Red Dots include Porsche and Apple.
With your open letter to James Deen about the testing that was happening at a company like Dildology [independent sex toy tester] you created a lot of awareness about the service. How important do you feel a resource like that is for the market?
With Dildology we’ve never had a resource like that. As far as the sex toy industry is concerned they test all their own products but consumers usually just have to go on the word of the company that makes the product. Companies have gotten really clever with the labeling because they know people want phthalate-free toys so they can have a jelly toy that’s “phthalate-free” – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be as long as it says “novelty only” on the side. That’s just not a risk that I’m willing to take with my customers.
I think it’s really important to foster a culture where people are unashamed to ask where their toys come from and demand a level of quality. Do you think the sex toy industry will become more regulated?
My theory is that nothing will change because of legislation, I’m really hoping that the US or the UK will put some legislation in place to stop dangerous sex toys being made, but I really think the change will be consumer-led. It’s up to us to ask questions and to make manufacturers accountable for their products. If people start talking about their sex toys and asking questions then they’ll get access to the best products and technology available. That’s how it works with every other piece of technology; they’re based on product reviews and feedback, so we need the courage to talk about toys and to make sure the companies strive to make better products.
The sex toy industry is moving forward in leaps and bounds and some companies are doing great stuff but there are still a lot of companies selling dodgy products and that needs to stop.
With parts of your site like the blog, you’ve already used it to touch on some very interesting issues in the sex industry but what would you hope it to look like in the future?
The blog was really important to me to start off, I wanted to be the face of my company, and I wanted to be the person who’s held accountable for my products. There’s a shop in the States called Smitten Kitten, which is owned by a woman called Jennifer Pritchett, everyone knows her as “the ethical sex shop owner.” I emailed her when I first went out on my own and asked her what she thought about my ideas. She gave me some really good advice on brands she thought should be stocked abroad and I think it’s really nice and refreshing to see a sex shop owner who stands behind the products that they sell. If anyone has a problem with the products I want them to come and tell me so that I can perform proper customer service and be ethical and I don’t know why the sex industry needs to be any different in that regard. I looked a lot towards “normal” businesses when I set this up to see what worked best for them.
I’d definitely like to do product spotlights, and I wish I had time to blog a bit more but I’m happy to use it to put a spotlight on different issues like the double standard to do with men and women buying sex toys.
Do you test all of your own products?
I can’t afford to try all of them but I do follow all the reputable toy bloggers and make sure that anything I’m planning on stocking has a good review. That said there are some bloggers that get sent toys and will just constantly give them rave reviews. But if you want a good reviewer, make sure you’re following someone who’s willing to say a toy is shit. Two blogs that are really hilarious but very good resources are two called www.HeyEpiphora.com and www.loraxofsex.tumblr.com . They would be the main two that I would go to when I’m looking for a good toy review because they will slate a toy if they think it’s bad. They’re not concerned with giving good review to things that are shit.
How do you find the male/female divide when it comes to sex toys, do you have a stronger client base in either gender?
It’s been pretty even, as far as male and female toy sales go it’s about 50/50. I’m really pleased about that because I think there’s a real double standard there. Women seem to be allowed to have sex toys but then for men having a sex toy…people think you’re a serial killer! It’s the one double standard that’s anti-men in a way, being untrusting of the guy who has sex toys.
How have you found the landscape in Ireland in general? Have you had any complaints about what you’re doing?
No, I was actually hoping for a bit of moral outrage, I thought it would give me a push. Someone posted on my Facebook page saying “down with this sort of thing!” and then I thought I’d made it – I’ve got a Father Ted reference. Of course it’s a little bit trickier for me to advertise because of the nature of the shop but I think that kind of makes me the underdog, it makes people want to help me out.
Scott’s site looks set to open up the dialogue on sexuality in Ireland and raise awareness of the pitfalls of the sex toy industry. With this in mind maybe we can finally stop giggling at the diamanté encrusted dildos down the back of Ann Summers and start taking pride in the products that are becoming ever more ubiquitous in the modern relationship. With features like canvas tote storage pouches, programmable vibrations, USB charging and much more, it seems like we’re finally getting access to the body-safe sex life of the future. Whether you’re a seasoned butt-plug aficionado or looking to purchase your very first vibrator, this is definitely the place to get high quality products and service with a smile.