A giant, inflatable, pink blow-up sex toy, hovering in the air, is what your eyes first meet when you walk into one Cheltenham adult shop.
From the outside, Pulse and Cocktails is a part of a collection of small shops based at the Kingsditch Industrial Estate – but hidden inside are shelves of artificial vaginas, gimp masks with their eyes zipped shut and a busty, blonde sex doll worth nearly £3,000.
Regardless of the more open attitude to sex in recent years, for most people, it’s an awkward place to be.
Except for the small chain’s employees, who I watch re-arranging pornographic DVDs and tidying up a display of vibrators without batting an eyelid. To them, it’s all part of the furniture.
Reading my mind, sales assistant Rebecca Logue said: “I think it’s quite a chilled out atmosphere for us, which is good for the customers. We are relaxed and so when they come in the door it makes it far easier.
“In my opinion there is nothing in the main room that’s overtly scary.”
There are two rooms at Pulse and Cocktails, the front one is where you will find lingerie, spanking paddles and one of their best sellers, herbal viagra.
In the back is where the erotic fiction is kept, alongside hardcore films about sexy nannies and horny young men – and of course the aforementioned life-sized inflatable doll – which is protected in a large see through case.
The overwhelming success of the Fifty Shades of Grey book and film franchise has commercialised sexual fetishes.
Regardless of its questionable representation of BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission), in 2012 there was a 400% increase in sex toy purchases and it soon became commonplace to see copies of the risque book being read by people in public, with no embarrassment.
For Rebecca, removing the taboo is important.
“It still shocks me a little bit that in this day and age that there are still women that don’t know about their bodies,” she explains. “It’s the very simple thing of being able to serve one of the most basic human impulses.
“That’s what I enjoy most about my job, that I help people. Some people can be in a position where they haven’t been able to explore their sexuality and suddenly they are able to discover different sensations and what opportunities there are within their own body.
“When the first film came out, the increase in female footfall was phenomenal. Suddenly couples felt more comfortable talking about their fantasies and desires.
“As a whole, it’s done huge things for our industry, and taken away a stigma about what we do.”
The typical customer at Pulse and Cocktails doesn’t exist. Although they largely have male customers, ages range from 18 to 91, and also includes disabled people with carers.
Rebecca says: “Being able to answer questions, give advice and let people know that their not alone in how they feel – it’s a really good feeling knowing that I can help. I go home feeling really satisfied.”
“The hardest bit for everyone is coming through the door because they don’t know what to expect. Some are embarrassed but you read the situation and individual. It’s not about what you say, it’s how you act. We will just smile, ask how the weather is or make a joke – like any other shop.
“We are all trained here to be able to read body language, and to know if a customer wants to shop alone or with our support.
“Nine times out of ten people will share those deepest, darkest feelings with us. It’s an honour.
“That’s why it is so important to have a sense of humour and a personality in this job.”
Despite the fact the majority of their customers are male, Rebecca believes that men are not encouraged enough when it comes to sex toys, and it’s a problem.
“It is actually easier for a woman to buy a sex toy,” she says, “It is a taboo for men to come in and buy a sex toy because they are pre-programmed by society to believe that they should always get an erection at the drop of a hat and to be horny 24/7 – or else they’re less of a man.
With herbal afrodisiacs, men will claim they’re buying it for a mate’s stag or for a joke, but once they realise that it is used to enhance what they have and that we offer a sympathetic ear, they open up and end up with the right product.”
Article taken from Gloucestershire Live.