May 27, 2022

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Ky Hoyle set up the Sh! Women’s Emporium in 1992 after realising there were hardly any options out there for women’s sex toys – and as the company celebrates its 30th anniversary she’s reflecting on how things have progressed

Ky has been running the store for 30 years

The founder of the first sex shop for women in the UK says she wants to help women “reclaim their bodies.”

Ky Hoyle opened Sh! Women’s Emporium in Hoxton in 1992 – and as the store celebrates its 30th anniversary, she’s hailed the progress women have made expressing their sexuality over the last three decades.

Recalling how she first set up the store as a woman in her 20s, she claims she was frustrated with the lack of sex toys on the market that were geared towards women in the 1990s.

“I went shopping for a toy and it was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, so we were all meant to be in full control of our sexual health,” Ky told The Mirror.

“I thought I was a young liberated woman so I’d go off and find something for myself. But it was the worst experience you could imagine.”

She described trawling around dozens of sex shops in Soho, central London, but she couldn’t find any products that were properly designed for women.






Ky wants to help women explore their sexuality





She also runs classes for women to talk and learn more about sex

“It was very male dominated at the time. I was just amazed by it.

“I was complaining to all my friends about it, thinking this can’t be right, and they all got sick of me.

“They said, ‘Why don’t you open your own shop then’?”

Taking their advice, that’s exactly what Ky did – opening the store with just £700 behind her.

While she claims there was a strong customer base from the beginning, Ky explained the challenge she faced was finding and designing products that would actually benefit women.

“At first our catalogues were displaying the very best of a bad selection,” she recalled. “There was a very limited selection.

“We started making our own [vibrators] because we couldn’t find anything that worked.”

Ky explained one of the policies of the store was that they didn’t want to sell products that looked too realistic – because it could play into people’s insecurities about their own bodies.

“We were trying to dispel this myth that penetration was the only way for women to orgasm, which we know isn’t true,” she said.

During the early years of running the shop, Ky says a lot of customers walked in knowing they wanted a vibrator, but having no idea what type they wanted because they’d never used one before.

“That was the overriding sense – that women wanted this. They wanted to have somewhere they could explore their sexuality without having it imposed upon them.”

Over the years, Ky says she can chart the liberation of women’s sexuality – noting one of the first articles she ever saw about female masturbation appeared in Cosmopolitan as late as 1999.

“Our customers have massive amounts of confidence now,” she said.

And while Ky hopes her business will help women achieve sexual pleasure, she also wants to tackle some of the more serious issues surrounding female sexuality.

“There are all sorts of issues that are trickier to deal with, like women reclaiming their bodies after sexual assault.

“A massive amount of women have gone through that and they’re just left on their own afterwards.

“Some women go through pain during sex and others are trying to have sex again after a serious illness. I still think there’s an awful lot of silence around it.”

Sadly, despite its loyal customer base, Ky had to shut the shop for good during the pandemic and moved the business online instead – but she still has plenty of plans for the future of Sh! Women’s Emporium.

“We’re scheduling pop ups and gatherings, events where we talk.”

She hopes her workshops can continue to break down the stigma of women’s sexual issues and help to liberate them.

She said: “You know how it is when women get together.”

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