What is an anti-capitalist sex shop?

What is an anti-capitalist sex shop?

The Little Co-op Sex Shop That Could

We recently had our first staff meeting in a long while and while we usually have a set-in-stone agenda, at the onset of our meeting, one of our most beloved workers asked, "how exactly is this shop anti-capitalist?"

Now, sure, we have our core values, and about us, and co-operative principles posted online and in our orientation manual, but the question they were asking is worthy of a more fulsome response.

I would be the first to admit that our ideology has often been difficult to pin down and for the first twelve years of our existence, it wasn't clear to me what our sexual / political stance was.

Which is to say, while we've always been a democratically run co-operative, we all know that just because something is "democratic" that doesn't mean it is ethical. Hell, most of the rights that I have in Canada came from the courts, right?

Being Co-operative

While co-operatives are not inherently anti-capitalist (in fact, many are quite capitalist in their orientation), being a worker-owned co-operative has always been essential in keeping our business ethical and honest in everything we do.

That is, most traditional businesses have an OWNER or SHAREHOLDERS who require the business to generate a profit so they get a return on their investment. With large corporations, majority shareholders (or groups of shareholders) make decisions for the corporation to maximize profits to their benefit. Similarly, businesses run by owners, need to make profit so the owners can extract profit off the top. Most small(er) business owners get paid in dividends (not wages) so they can avoid paying traditional income tax, and dividends can only be paid when the business generates profits in the previous fiscal year.

(If you've googled "Blackrock" or "Vanguard" in the past eighteen months, you're likely eating this up right now, but to everyone else, I'm so sorry for how boring this email is.)

So, here's the thing:

Traditional businesses make decisions based on what is good for the owners and shareholders NOT what is good for consumers, workers, or the environment - and they certainly do not typically adhere to ethical principles in their decision-making.

I mean, this is why (almost) everything is made in China now - remember when Dickies were made in Canada but cost less than they do now that they're made in China? Dickies makes more profit, Canadians lost jobs, and consumers pay more. These are not decisions being made to benefit workers, consumers, or the environment - they only benefit owners and shareholders.

Now, while some worker co-operatives operate under similar principles to traditional businesses, our co-operative is designed specifically to ensure that none of us ever profits directly from your purchases. This ensures that:

1. We stock products that are actually good, not the ones with the highest profit margin.

2. We never offer commission on any of our products to ensure the guidance and recommendations you receive in-store and online are honest and centres your needs (not the profit potential of your purchase).

3. We actually try every product we stock and make an in-store demo so you can see how things work even though most manufacturers don't comp demos so we pay out of pocket for each item we stock.

4. We do not hesitate to talk folks out of buying expensive toys that don't suit their needs. Most shops would let your boyfriend buy you that Ina Wave for your birthday despite the fact that you've never had a sex toy before.

5. We are able to offer products to marginalized folks at a discount. Ever notice how expensive chest binders and trans tape are at other shops?

6. We are able to invest in programs like sex toy recycling and our pre-loved gender affirming gear projects that other sex shops wouldn't even consider because there's no profit incentive.

7. We support local community groups and events through in-kind and monetary donations.

8. We offer a whole host of free brochures in-store and online that promote ideas instead of products.

9. We run a bricks-and-mortar shop despite the fact that it literally makes no money for us. Having a physical shop is about creating community and giving folks a safer space to explore sexual health, pleasure, and education, not about profit.

So, what is anti-capitalism anyway?

Well, it depends on who you ask, but in our industry, capitalism ensures that most sex toys on the market are poorly made, don't work well, and trade on shame and titillation to make sales. Why sell a book like the Multi-orgasmic Man (books have lower margins) when you can sell bogus penis pills (with huge margins) that leave folks feeling inadequate and full of shame? There's no profit in having an in-depth discussion (or email exchange) with a customer about the challenges of having low desire, but there's huge profit to be had if you can sell someone "orgasm gel" as the "solution" to their problems. Spoiler alert: orgasm gel isn't gonna help increase desire, but anything you rub into a clitoris for five minutes will likely provide some physical stimulation.

One of our favourite sex educators used to talk about how good humans are at finding short cuts at the expense of experiencing life more fully. We find the fastest way to walk to work, say, but miss the beauty of exploring the meandering path through the park.

Capitalism reinforces - and ultimately requires - us to find every possible efficiency at the expense of not only our enjoyment of life, but also the environment in which we live.

When it comes to sexuality, there are no short cuts. The only path to the actualization of our sexual selves is to take the long stroll through the park. There's no quick fix to centuries of oppression and collective sexual and social trauma. There's no gel or lotion or pill that will magically heal us.

Capitalism isn't interested in people actualizing their full selves, but we sure are.

Sex Toys Can Change the World

One of our founding members coined this concept around 2007. At the time, it seemed outlandishly aspirational! Sex toys were reasonably popular at the time, but they were mostly still pretty lousy - made of toxic materials, prone to breaking quickly. Obviously, companies like Fun Factory, Vibratex, Vixen Creations, and Aslan Leather were exceptions - and truly, these companies did change the landscape of this industry for good.

However, over the past fifteen years, it has become overwhelmingly obvious to me that sex toys have actually changed the world substantially.

The popularization of sex toys has made sexual pleasure (and orgasm) much more accessible to more people than ever before.

The other impact of sex toys becoming more popular was that people started talking more honestly about sex generally. Having a sex toy as the focal point of a Sex in the City episode didn't just normalize sex toys, it normalized people talking about sex toys and about orgasm and about sex in general.

Now, don't get me wrong - an awful lot of people are still very uncomfortable talking about sex and there is still a lot of shame embedded in our culture, but there has been a sea change in our collective attitude about sexuality and sex toys.

Okay, okay, what does this have to do with anti-capitalism?

Well, here's the thing about sexual pleasure - every moment you spend indulging your sexual self is a moment you're stealing back from capitalism.

Every time you reject grind culture in favour of your sexual pleasure, you are taking an activist stand against the prioritization of productivity and efficiency that capitalism demands of us.

We're here to encourage you to take that activist stand. We're here to do everything in our (limited) power to provide you with the resources to actualize your sexual self. Sometimes that means helping you find a toy that works for you, sometimes that means recommending a book, sometimes that means having a good conversation, and sometimes that means a referral to a great sex therapist.

Our goal is to help folks find ethical paths to pleasure because we firmly believe that if people en masse were more connected to their true sexual selves, capitalism would crumble.

(spoiler: it already is)

In conclusion.

Fuck capitalism. Choose pleasure.

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