December 8, 2021

Cl Youth Theatre

Fashion, The needs of women

‘It’s not about flogging sex toys, we help women find their sexuality’: Inside London’s first ever sex shop for women

Back in 1992, in a corner of pre-gentrified, less-trendy Hoxton, Ky Hoyle had a grand idea to open the UK’s first ever sex shop entirely for women.

At the time, sex shops were largely seedy establishments full of blow-up dolls, tacky X-rated videos and male-focused entertainment which were alienating for women, offering nothing designed for female pleasure.

Add that to the ongoing impact of the AIDS epidemic stoking a culture of fear around sexuality for all genders and sexual orientations, and it’s clear that the landscape of sexual pleasure in London was pretty bleak.

READ MORE: London sex expert on the benefits of ‘Santa roleplay’, and why partners should never buy sex toys as gifts

“After a couple of glasses of wine I skipped off to Soho, and I found it to be the ickiest, alienating, male-focused place to go,” Ky said.

“It’s changed so much [now], but none of it was directed towards any woman’s real sexuality, it was all very fantasy[-focused].

“I basically stomped back from that shopping trip [and thought] about how there needs to be somewhere for women, and about three months later I opened Sh! in a little street in Hoxton.”

Ky said that she named the shop Sh! because it was directly countering the notion that women’s sexuality should be ‘hushed up’.

The shop was – and is – totally women-focused, while also celebrating the fact that gender and sexuality are fluid, and that “not every woman has a vagina nor every man a penis”.



Ky Hoyle started Sh! after realising the dire need for a female-focused sex shop that helps women discover and embrace their sexuality

The pandemic forced Sh! to close the doors to its shop in East London, but it’s still open online – helping women all over the country to connect with their sexuality and learn about their own pleasure.

While Sh! stocks a whole range of female-focused sex toys and accessories, Ky says that the real impact comes from the free, one-to-one, personalised advice offered by staff, and Sh!’s online courses in specialist subjects.

“Education is absolutely what we’re about, it’s not about flogging toys at all,” she said.

“The toys are secondary to exploring your sexuality and owning your true sexuality – not what the telly tells you or the magazines tell you.”



A rope class at Sh!
A rope class at Sh!

‘It’s okay to ask questions’

“Selling sex toys is, of course, lots of fun and we laugh a lot, but my main reason for working at Sh! isn’t the dildos or vibrators. It runs a lot deeper,” said Renée Denyer, Sexuality Educator at Sh!.

“It’s an honour to be able to offer help and advice to women and couples who are perhaps visiting a sex shop for the very first time, or who haven’t yet experienced their first orgasm.

“I work with women who are ready to love their bodies after sexual violence, women who have survived FGM, HIV+ women, LGBTQIA groups including offering free pleasure workshops to asylum-seeking lesbian women, and am currently involved with two different cancer and sex projects.”

Sh! has a wide range of advice articles on its website as well as three in-depth courses exploring orgasms, oral sex and building sexual confidence.



Renée Denyer, Sexuality Educator at Sh!
Renée Denyer, Sexuality Educator at Sh!

Customers can also email or use the website’s chat box to contact Renée directly, asking questions about whatever’s on their mind relating to sex and sexuality.

“We give very tailored advice,” explained Renée.

“It’s not generic, one-size-fits-all – if anything, I’d rather speak to the person, have them email me so I can ask questions that will help me gauge what might be suitable for them.

“I do ask some personal questions, but I do it in a very gentle way, and I try to make the experience as light and as fun as I can – I want it to be fun for them as well. I want to make them feel that it’s okay to ask questions.”



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‘I taught 80-year-olds how to spank’

While Renée often helps women and their partners navigate some very difficult and challenging subjects, she also helps bring so much joy to the lives of people of all ages.

She has helped a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) reclaim her sexuality.

“Despite living with deep trauma, she wanted to explore pleasure,” Renée explained.

“She was married to a man, but their culture doesn’t approve of female pleasure or sex toys. She needed something that she could use when he was at work and that he wouldn’t suspect of being a sex toy if he found it.

“It was an absolute honour to help her pick just the thing.”

Sh! has also helped a couple in their early 30s from strict religious backgrounds learn about sexual pleasure after a year of being unable to consummate their marriage, helped a woman in her 70s explore her sexuality in a new relationship after a sexless first marriage, and assisted a ‘butler’ who was sent in by a woman to buy her toys from a shopping list.



A woman tries out a lipstick vibrator in Sh!'s Hoxton store, before the shop went exclusively online during the pandemic
A woman tries out a lipstick vibrator in Sh!’s Hoxton store, before the shop went exclusively online during the pandemic

Needless to say he was not a real butler, and rather enjoyed the whole situation…

Renée also recalled: “I was once booked to give a spanking workshop to a World War One group in West London.

“80-year-old Mary didn’t want to be spanked, but she laughed so much, she almost fell off her chair.”

While Sh! stocks an extensive range of sex toys and accessories, all intentionally designed for female pleasure, it importantly offers a rounded experience for women looking to explore their sexuality and learn more about themselves and their bodies – no matter their age, sexuality, experience level or knowledge base.

Ky said: “It’s mostly around empowering. Yes, we’ll teach you the tips and tricks, but it’s very much about giving women the confidence to really own what it is they like to do, their fantasies, and what really gives them pleasure.”

To speak to Renée for your own personal advice, or to find out more about the courses, toys and accessories on offer at Sh!, visit their website at sh-womenstore.com.

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