Woman-Friendly Sex Shops: By The Numbers

Babeland, New York's Lower East Side location (Yelp)

Babeland, New York’s Lower East Side location (Yelp)

Dell Williams, who died last week at age 92, is credited with founding the first woman-friendly sex shop in the nation. Her store Eve’s Garden, founded in 1974, was born out of a need for a safe space for women to embrace and grow their sexuality and respective needs and desires (as well as selling high-end toys and products).

Williams was very much ahead of her time in that respect. Over forty years later, we now have many woman-friendly sex stores. They tend to be founded in same spirit of celebration and discovery of sexuality that Eve’s Garden was. Education and empowerment go hand-in-hand.

Here’s a timeline of how woman-friendly sex shops have evolved:

1970s: After gaining popularity in the gay community, The Pleasure Chest becomes more couple- (and woman-) friendly.

1974: Dell Williams opened Eve’s Garden, the nation’s first woman-friendly sex shop.

1977: Joani Blank opened the first Good Vibrations store in San Francisco.

1993: Noticing a niche needing to be filled, Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning founded Toys in Babeland in Seattle.

1998: Toys in Babeland opened a store in New York.

2003: The Smitten Kitten opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

2005: Toys in Babeland changes its name to simply Babeland, to better reflect a sexually satisfying lifestyle.

2006: Good Vibrations opened a store in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was the fourth store total, and the first to open outside of California.

2009: Evy Cowan and Jeneen Doumitt opened She Bop in Portland, Oregon.

 

This is just a handful of woman-friendly sex shops.

It’s interesting to note that not only are these stores woman-friendly, but they were also founded by women. Clearly, it takes one to know one, in the case of knowing what women want in their sex toy shopping experience. There also appears to be a link between owning your sexuality and entrepreneurship. Very interesting!

 

#ThrowbackThursday: Dell William’s Statement of Purpose for NOW’s Women’s Sexuality Conference, 1973

Dell Williams' draft statement of purpose for the NOW Women's Sexuality Conference, 1973 (Cornell Library)

Dell Williams’ draft statement of purpose for the NOW Women’s Sexuality Conference, 1973 (Cornell Library)

In honor of the late Dell Williams, I found this gem: In 1973, Williams organized a sexuality conference in New York that gained a lot of attention. It was put on by the National Organization for Women (NOW), and featured “workshops on thirty five sex-related subjects.” Thousands of women attended.

Above is a draft of Williams’ statement of purpose for the conference, housed in Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection. As you can see, it naturally focuses on women reclaiming their sexuality and breaking free from restrictions of choice.

Williams would go on to found Eve’s Garden, the nation’s first woman-friendly sex shop, in 1974.

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.