San Francisco is renowned as a place of sexual exploration, at least by American standards. I met a body artist who creates fire-breathing brassieres. She suggested I take my question to Good Vibrations, a female-owned sex shop. When I stopped by 603 Valencia on a Tuesday morning, the sales clerk said, “I can talk for a few moments until someone comes in, but if you are going to write about us, please don’t use my name.” We may be sexually liberated, but we’re still wary of having our names attached to it. Let’s call her Jessica.
Good Vibrations is the Nordstrom’s of sex shops. The Mission District store is spacious and well appointed. The vibrators are displayed with the same care as a vase at Pottery Barn. Joani Blank opened Good Vibrations in 1977; there are now seven locations in San Francisco and one in Brookline, MA, which certainly shifts my image of that staid Boston suburb.
Jessica invited me to peruse, and suggested I start in the book section. The Sex and Pleasure Book – Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone, penned by Good Vibrations Staff Sexologist Carol Queen PhD and Shar Rednour, is prominently displayed. “We recommend that as an excellent general guide to sexual exploration.” There’s also a range of more specific titles, celebrating and dissecting sex for people with disabilities, seniors, transgendered, groups, even fat girls.
Moving clockwise around the shop I found colorful displays of condoms, lubricants, and elegantly shaped vibrators that might have been inspired by Juan Miro figures. “Try anything you like. Just let me know if you have a problem turning something off.” Jessica assumed that turning these objects on was intuitive. I didn’t actually touch anything in the store. Partly because I wasn’t buying. Partly because I was squeamish. After all, it was only my second day in San Francisco.
That didn’t stop me from marveling at dildos of all shapes, colors and anatomically impressive sizes. Are the bright blue ones popular among people with a thing for Smurfs? Then there are ‘packers’ that give the illusion of a penis where perhaps there isn’t one. “There is no gender definition here.” Jessica explained. “No products are marketed by gender, as gender identity has nothing to do with what parts people have.” Or what parts provide sexual satisfaction.
The area with cuffs, whips and leashes confirmed my Nordstrom’s suspicions. Domination at Good Vibrations is a light affair. Velcro cuffs and flexible crops give the illusion of bondage rather than the actual danger of metal locks and barbed whips. Nothing in Good Vibrations is going to draw blood. Ultimately, the sexual satisfaction espoused by Good Vibrations is a sweet one, right down to the edible bras, nipple tassels, and garters. There are likely other stores in San Francisco, less well lit and airy, where true dungeon wear can be found, for a price.
How will we live tomorrow?
“Interest in sexuality and access to sexual exploration is increasing. That is a good thing. It allows people to be more comfortable with their bodies and their preferences.”