Dell Williams, Influential Sex Shop Entrepreneur, Has Died

Sex shop founder/entrepreneur Dell Williams (Refinery29)

Sex shop founder/entrepreneur Dell Williams (Refinery29)

Sad news from last week: Dell Williams, founder of the first woman-friendly sex shop Eve’s Garden, died at the age of 92.

Her origin story begins in the early ’70s, when she decided to purchase a Hitachi Magic Wand, “the Rolls-Royce of vibrators” after attending famed sex educator Betty Dodson’s “Body/Sex Workshop.” (Dodson was a huge proponent of the Magic Wand.) When Williams attempted to buy the device at a New York City Macy’s, she was shamed by a younger male sales associate.

She reported her lightbulb moment as follows:

Someone really ought to open up a store where a woman can buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it.

This experience led Williams to build Eve’s Garden from her kitchen table, pursuing it as a side-hustle while working a 9-to-5 as an advertising executive. She was working on this at an interesting time: Discussions about female sexuality were beginning to bubble up, contrasting with the point that sex shops were run by, and catered pretty exclusively to men.

She showed an aptitude for entrepreneurship, as the thriving mail-order business (founded in 1974) grew into a storefront, and later went online. The site sells condoms, sex toys, and books, including Williams’ biography “Revolution in the Garden.”

Williams quickly became one of the go-to women to comment on sexuality changes amidst the larger society. In 1973, she organized a conference on women’s sexuality that received a lot of attention, and was consulted on sexual matters ranging from how to up the passion during Valentine’s Day to Britney Spears’ own ode to female masturbation “Touch of My Hand.”

But perhaps Williams was destined to go into the sex industry: Legend has it she was named for journalist Floyd Dell, who was an ardent supporter for Margaret Sanger’s work.

Williams started something that (thankfully) continues to thrive to this day: the woman-friendly sex shop, where women can go in and explore without fear of being shamed or side-eyed.

Above all, she knew the power of a sexually healthy and knowledgable woman (and how scared the rest of the world is of her). For her dedication in her biography, she wrote:

It has long been my unassailable belief that orgasmic women can change the world.  By this I mean that a woman who is unfettered sexually is unfettered politically, socially, economically and she is unstoppable.

 

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