#beboldforchange: How Sh! Helped Change the Female Pleasure Game

#beboldforchange: How Sh! Helped Change the Female Pleasure Game

This year’s International Women’s Day theme of ‘Be Bold for Change’ got us thinking about the times in Sh!’s herstory when we were bold, when we were determined to make a change, despite men ( and yes, mostly it *was* men) telling us that this was not a mould to be broken.

The sex industry today may be filled with women-led crowdfunded sex toy designs, female-focussed websites and couples-friendly packaging but 25 years ago it was a very different matter…

‘We don’t get many women in here Darlin‘ leered the moist male shop assistant on our first ever preamble to a sex shop…

We’d gone on our little shopping trip because as young, liberal women, we believed it was our right to explore our sexuality and I just wanted a nice vibrator and my friend wanted a strap-on!

Turned out that wasn’t to be. There were no nice toys, let alone female-friendly ones…

It also turned out to be the defining moment that spurred us to #beboldforchange.

For millennials, who have grown-up and honed their sexuality in a post-Sh!, post-Lelo, post-Agent Provocateur world, it’s difficult to explain to just how bleak and ignorant was the world towards female sexuality, 25 years ago.

It was 1992. At once both an age, and also a nano-second, ago.

It may have been 40 years after Dr Gräfenberg identified ‘an erotic zone [that] always could be demonstrated on the anterior wall of the vagina’ –  the famous G-Spot of his namesake.  Yet it would be 6 years until Helen O’Connell discovers that ‘the vaginal wall is, in fact, the clitoris’ in 1998 and a whopping 16 years before the first ever 3D sonography of the stimulated clitoris,  in 2008, reveals its true size and intricacy.

It’s not just the ignorance around female pleasure that’s shocking to look at within the last 25 years.

Within the last quarter century there has been a massive shift around sexual identity along with a rejection of limiting binary labels. The fact that half of all millennials don’t identify as 100% straight is beyond brilliant to those of us honing our own sexuality 25 years ago.

In 1988, Section 28 had been enacted; the nasty little law that stated local authorities ‘must not intentionally promote homosexuality’ and it would be a long, out and proud fight to get it repealed in 2003.

It was this fight that led, in a lovely rainbow line, directly to the equalisation of all relationships within the law and legalisation of gay marriage in 2013.

A time, when Madonna released  Erotica and leather-clad lesbians ran their own SM sex clubs  and yet when Operation Spanner was criminalising consensual SM and if you were a ‘proper’ feminist, you argued against porn, sex work and penetration.

It was a time of glimmers of sex-positivism amidst the oppressive gloom of the anti-sex brigade.

Radical was the concept of a sex shop where women were not only not only welcomed but were the main deal.

But we were bold. We wanted change. We opened one anyways!

‘I hereby charge you with running an unlicensed sex shop…’

The Licencing team from the local Authority had come armed with clipboards, counted up all the  ‘sexual articles’ in Sh! and decided they constituted a ‘significant degree’

[ The legal definition of a ‘sex shop’ is a place that displays/ sells ‘sex articles’ to ‘a significant degree’ ]

Oh dear. Either we were to pay the sex shop licence fee of £17,000 per year, or they would see us in court.

A licenced sex shop is legally allowed to sell R18 porn videos, which in a pre-internet world was a super-lucrative business within male-focussed sex shops.  We were already being radical by creating a shop for women to explore their sexuality, in a world that frowned upon or just plain disbelieved that women should even want to. But making up our sales with porn for women ( where precious little even exists, now as then) was asking too much!

Financially it was tantamount to closing us down.

But the bigger issue was around the meaning of a ‘sexual article’ which is legally defined as anything that ‘stimulates or encourages sexual activity or the force or restraint  associated with it’

Gosh! First off, how strange to place equal emphasis on  ‘force and restraint’ when F&R (or S&M as most of us would put it)  is quite a specialised sexuality. But no mention of spanking which is historically  La Vice Anglais (or perhaps that’s force and having it enshrined in law has somehow created a self-fulfilling  prophecy of kinky Englanders?) What about feet or food or silk? Oh dear but no – that would mean that Clarkes, Tesco and the haberdashery counter at Selfidges could be deemed to have a significant degree of sexual articles and were thus sex shops.

Definition surely always exists with context and  within the context of Sh! surely anything could be deemed sexual.

We purposefully rejected ‘realistic’ toys and porn-star packaging. There was nothing overt or ‘obscene’ ( another scurrilous legal definition) on our shelves precisely because these type of toys were made for the male gaze and had nothing to do with female-friendliness let alone female-pleasure.

‘They could all be electric toothbrushes!’ we retorted somewhat cheekily,  as the Council officials surveyed the brightly coloured, non-phallic vibes on our display table.

Which of course is true, because before Sh! and before Lelo ( who in 2003, were one of the 1st companies to design female-friendly sex toys) a lot of women used there trusty Braun to get off.

Sex and health are, of course, intertwined (which is how come you see vibrators in chemists & drugstores these days!), but back in the dark ages of the ‘90’s few businesses or institutions shared this healthy attitude to sex.

We were determined to bring sexuality out of backstreets of seedy-land and into the light of everyday life. But we had a fight on our hands if we were to even survive long enough to get our message out. There was nothing for it – we had to go to court. There followed a hysterically scary few days as we all pondered the precise nature of a ‘sexual article’ ‘Is THIS a sexual article Madam, …or this?’ quizzed our barrister of the magistrate as he flourished a feather duster or a length of chain around…

The case was thrown out, perhaps as much as on a technicality as on principal, but the bold issues had been raised and change was on its way.


‘This is Mr Listen to Me from *much bigger sex toy company than yours love*….’

Sh! must stop calling your rabbit ‘Jessica Rabbit’ because we have bought the rights to that name and it’s ours, ALL ours!’

The rabbit vibrator may seem like it’s been around forever but it was a revolutionary design when it first hopped onto the scene, since when it has revolutionized possibly millions of women’s orgasmic capabilities.

We received this ‘order’ at least a decade after discovering a rabbit vibrator on the shelves of our local sex toy warehouse, re-naming it Jessica Rabbit Vibrator and telling the world about this fabulous new discovery.  The rabbit has had many guises, but this was one of the earliest, before Rampant, and was called (in the same vein) Roger Rabbit.

‘Did you recommend it in a 1993 Cosmo article?’ we asked.

That was the last we heard from any late-to-the-party sex toy company lawyers. We have proudly, boldly, and with a certain ‘so, sue us!’ righteousness to call our rabbit vibrator; Jessica Rabbit, ever since!

Happy Birthday to Sh! – Read some of our best Sh! stories

Happy Birthday to Sh! – Read some of our best Sh! stories

Today is Sh’s 24th birthday! Since 1992 we have been helping women to enjoy happy, healthy sex lives.

A trip around London’s sex shops in the early 90’s revealed that women were simply not being catered to.  Sh! was founded with just Sh-in-the-beginning1-e1401788565304-_resized240x150£700 and the dream of creating an inviting space with clued-up, sensitive staff. Somewhere where women could shop for good quality erotic playthings without feeling awkward, unwelcome or embarrassed.

Described as “true pioneers” (The Observer Magazine) “ground-breaking” and “the best sex shop for women” (Time Out), Sh! is a welcoming, honest and informative enviroment, where women can comfortably talk about sex and sex toys.

Now we have 24 years experience, talking intimately to women about all aspects of sex and we’d say we’re experts in the field! We’ve advised thousands of ‘pre-orgasmic’ women, along with vagismus sufferers and survivors of cancer and rape and we continue to answer new questions every week. We also host Cafe V with the My Body Back project to provide a safe space for people to talk and learn about sex after sexual assault.

We’re very proud of our artisan handmade sex toys, our knowledgeable staff, our body safe products and our inclusive attitude.

Sh! Shop5Today we’d like to thank everyone who’s been a part of Sh! history and share with you some of our favourite Sh! moments.  If you have a Sh! story leave a comment or tweet us @ShWomenstore. Or you could visit us in store and grab some birthday cupcakes with the Sh! Team.

Renee our amazing shop manager shares some of her most memorable Sh! moments:

  • The customer who was so drunk, she decided to lean against the wall for a little rest… Only there was no wall there.
  • The shoplifter who tried to steal a vibe by placing it in her knickers…
  • The A-lister who said her equally famous boyfriend gave her “10 out of 10 for blow job”.
  • The woman who’d been told by doctors she’d never enjoy sex again – she called to say she’d had an orgasm!
  • Being invited to talk to a group of HIV+ / FGM women – beyond my wildest dreams when I started at Sh! 9 years ago… 
  • The man who emailed me a picture of his meat & two veg on a plate, covered in baked beans… There really was no need! #Memories

Ky our managing director also has some pretty memorable stories:

  • Hearing magistrate conclude ‘No case to answer’ whilst in court, accused by local council for running an unlicensed sex shop – Phew!
  • Putting that toy through the Xray machine at Downing Street = heart in mouth as I awaited imminent alarm & impending tussle with  floor MI5.
  • Being given the lesson, by a titled Lady, that #sextoys do NOT make good small talk at a Downing Street reception…
  • Live interview on Sky News. Put so much make-up on MD, I looked like #Trump.
  • The WHOLE warehouse emptied by thieves = Team tears, then giggles at idea of shifting 500 x stolen Sh! dildos down pub
  • Refusing phone call from ‘potential investor from Formula One’ Now, who could that have been…?


We’ve also got some memorable moments from the rest of the team!

Aphra – My most memorable Sh! moment was Sophie covered in red pigment coz ‘someone’ forgot to put the lid back on!

Sophie – My top moment was opening the doors of our best ever store in 1999.

Orsi –  The first day at the HQ, colourful dildos and cute puppy dogs all over the place. And kind of every time I tell someone I work for Sh!

Mandy –  If you work for Mail Order you have many memorable moments. Mine was when an 81 year old, elderly women called me to thank me for sending some extra batteries for her Sh! Easy Egg and that she needed some more. That gives me hope.

Kate –  The first time someone came back to the shop to personally thank me. The first time I cried with a customer while counselling. The first time someone told me, “Well madame, that’s a mean cuppa.”

Sh! 21st Birthday


Having come a long way from the days of renting shop space weekly and saving leccy money in a glass jar, Sh! founders and Directors Kathryn Hoyle and Sophie Walters today wave their pink Magic Wands over the Sh! warehouse & workshop, website & e-tailing (that’s mail order to you and me), and a team of dedicated Sh! Girlz in the Hoxton Square store.

Not only has the company come on in leaps and bounds over the past 21 years, but so has women’s attitude to sex and sexuality. 21 years ago, a woman was seen as a crazed nymphomaniac if she owned a vibrator ~ these days women are almost seen as prudish if they don’t..!

Sex toys have come and gone, designs are getting smaller and more stylish, sex toy materials have their own hashtags on Twitter and women are openly reading erotica on the tube (Thank you, EL James!). Without Kathryn & Sophie, we doubt much of this would have been possible; heading up the first female-run British business selling sex toys with the focus solely on women surely took both guts & balls…albeit pink, sparkly ones with attached remote control and 10 speeds!


‘Our customers are fiercely loyal and supportive of us, spreading the Sh! word and introducing their friends to Sh!, so we want to thank them AND celebrate British business, by offering great freebies on our own manufactured products that are all made by the Sh! Girlz, in the UK.’

Kathryn Hoyle, March 2013


In short, we have 21 amazing deals on our own-brand products and here’s the first one!

Buy a Sh! Vibrating Bullet
Get a FREE copy of our 2012 Limited Edition book SEX: The Bible!


Sex: The Bible


SEX: The Bible showcases all that is Sh! and includes steamy erotica by some of Britain’s best authors, stunning images by British artists and Sh! Girl memories – this book is a real gem that cannot be bought for love nor money! (This is absolutely true: SEX: The Bible is not for sale).

Let us know you want the Limited Edition book, along with your purchase of a Sh! Bullet by sending us a Happy Birthday message in the comments box of your order!

This offer is valid today only (April 1st). Check back tomorrow for a hot new deal!

LGBT History Month

LGBT History Month
LGBT History Month

February is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* LGBT History Month  in the UK.

The purpose of this observance is to celebrate the lives and achievements of the LGBT community. Here at Sh! we love a good celebration and over the course of Feb are going to be bringing you some great posts right here on the blog, advocating for increased visibility of LGBT-identified folks, and acknowledging the importance of health, happiness and diversity for everyone!

Sadly, the lives and experiences of LGBT people have frequently been hidden from the public eye. Ignorance, prejudice and homophobia have at times made the world a dangerous or hostile place for an LGBT person to live. Recognizing February as LGBT history month is an opportunity to change this. By talking openly about the achievements and experiences of the LGBT community we can help to destigmatize same-sex relationships, allowing young LGBT people to learn how to protect their health, and live their lives out in the open without fear!

Make sure to keep an eye out for all the great events happening near you this February, and consider getting involved with a fundraiser or donating to one of the many charities doing fab work supporting LGBTQQ people all over the UK.

If you need help or advice about any LGBT issues, here are just a few of the wonderful organizations you can contact who offer discreet, judgement-free advice and support:

  • The Lesbian and Gay Foundation 08453 303030 Registered charity offering advice, support and information. Provides counselling, workshops, events, wellbeing services, pop-in advice and more.
  • London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard 0300 330 0630 Offering free & confidential support & information daily 10am-10pm.
  • Galop 020 7704 2040 Receive specialist advice & support, & report incidents of hate crime, harassment, domestic violence, assault or abuse.
  • PACE Health Center 020 7700 1323 London’s leading charity promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Offering appointments with specialist counsellors.
  • Stonewall Housing 020 7359 5767 Provide housing support for LGBT people in their own homes, supported housing for young LGBT people, as well as free, confidential housing advice for LGBT people of all ages.
  • Albert Kennedy Trust 0207 831 6562 Supporting young LGBT 16-25 year olds who are made homeless or living in a hostile environment.

Sh! 20 Year Anniversary Party at Café de Paris

Well, I doubt The Boss imagined this evening when she opened the shop in Hoxton 20 years ago, on a budget of £700 and a pot of pink paint! Renting the shop space week by week, I imagine she was rather pleased to be open 6 months later ~ never mind 20 whole years!

A lot of preparation went in to the planning and executing of the party so a massive Well Done should def go to the Sh! Directors, Ky Hoyle and Sophie Walters, both of whom were most probably ready to tear their locks out long before the event actually took place.

Team Sh!  never miss an opportunity to get dressed up

…so we were absolutely *delighted* when hot-pink satin corsets arrived for us to wear. Wooo! Heels, fishnets, make up, hair tongs… We all brought in several matching skirts/dresses/trousers (delete as applicable) (and brand new knix, of course) ‘just in case’.

Once we got to the club, we were met by huge “20” balloons and six gorgeous burlesque artists (Delores Deluxe, Tempest Rose, Miss Amarattease, Rosilee Van der Mei, Leonie Soprano and Dolly Rose), all bearing trays of pink fizz, and patiently allowing guests to take pictures of them. And then we almost fell over on our very high heels when we clocked Ky looking stunning in a silver 30’s style dress, and Sophie Walters in her dapper black suit with pink shirt… *sigh*



Whilst Team Sh! donned trays with sex toys, lubes and spankers, the 150 or so VIP guests were treated to a spectacular aerial performance by Loz Buzzard, who, incidentally, did her work experience at Sh! many pink moons ago!

Many of the guests were feeling a li’l bit shy, so professional photographer and rope expert Rod Macdonald asked if he could perform a rope show with his partner Alex to get things warmed up. We jumped at the chance of this, and it wasn’t long before members of the audience volunteered to be tied up too..! (Now, that’s one way of breaking the ice!)

The shop team were rather amused by the play list keeping the guests in a sexy mood ~ the very same tunes we listen to at work every day! Nice touch, Boss.

Once the club night got going at 9pm, women poured through Café de Paris’s doors, and a couple of professional dancers climbed up on the podiums, strutting their hot stuff in zebra outfits, complete with Sh! strap-ons -Just amazing.

Team Sh!  danced and drank, drank and danced, and flirted with pretty much everyone at the event (sincere apologies if we missed anyone out) ~ we managed to pack in a whole load of fun in just a few hours.

Guests we definitely remember batting our long lashes at were Miss Rebecca Bond (ooh, the shoes!), Miss Annie Player, KD Grace, Lexie Bay, Sarah Berry (Fannying Around), the Zatorski’s, Nick Hewson (Women, Sex & Shopping), Picle (artist duo), Holly Revell (photographer)…(and those handsome boys in white sailor outfits)…(and the bar staff)…and maybe a girl in a zebra outfit. *wink*

At 11pm, the curvaceous Marilyn Monroe impersonator sang ‘Happy Birthday to Sh!’

Confetti whirled all around us, but we must admit we were rather unruly by this point.

The VIP guests left with hot pink (of course!) goodie bags; containing so much stuff we doubt they’ll be leaving the privacy of their bedrooms anytime soon..!

One bag I peeked into contained the following: Sh! silk ties for sensual bondage, Tenga Egg for boys, Lelo Picobong KiKi vibe, Dazzler Tulip vibe, Sh! Lush lube and ID bubblegum lube, FunFactory Smartballs, Village People cock-ring, Yes organic lube and a copy of Sh! SEX: The Bible… So much orgasmic potential in one bag ~ my mind boggled!


And talking about SEX: The Bible ~ wow! Did you know we managed to put a book together in about a month?!

The book contains 20 years of experience, erotica, erotic art and useful hints & tips… You can’t buy the book; we decided to do a print run of only 200 copies especially for the party, so if you managed to get you hands on one, don’t go selling it on Ebay! (Now all we need is for a publisher to offer us a book deal so we can make a bigger one with hard covers that people can actually buy..)

Sadly I had to leave before the Fuel Girls took to the stage (last train, damn it) but I have it on good authority that they were *great*

A few secrets from the night:

  • Which Sh! Girl went commando?
  • Which Sh! Girl bumped & ground on a Nick Hewson’s (Women, Sex & Shopping) unsuspecting daughter?
  • Which Sh! Girl burst into tired tears in the back room? (It *had* been a long day!)

Party Favourites:

  • Joanna: “I loved the gorgeous Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday’. She was stunning! Also, had fun showing off my tray of rabbit vibes to all the ladiez (and gents) at the press party – everyone was *really* loving the Lelo Ina.”
  • Ky: Sitting on someone’s knee and promptly sliding off – woosh! satin is slidey!
  • Leala: “The trays with samples were so much fun; my tray had lube and I loved showing them to the guests ~ they were even tasting the lubes! And I loved the confetti drop!”
  • Sophie: Dancing with all everybody in the hot and crowded dancefloor – we have the best team on the planet!
  • Shelly: “The night was AMAZING and I thoroughly enjoyed the reactions to my tray of innovative toys (especially the Tenga Egg!). The outfits were stunning and it was great to see all the faces that have made Sh! what it is today!”

Sh!: Official Probe Distributors to EEC

Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium and Davryan Laboratories, Inc. have collaborated to bring Probe Personal Lubricants to the European Community.

In addition to offering Probe personal lubricants in its line-up of quality erotic products for individual customers, Sh! now offers Probe direct to wholesale companies in the EC.

Laboratory tested to mimic the body’s own lubrication, Probe lubricant is a firm favourite amongst Sh! customers and staff alike for its natural texture and odourless, tasteless, non-irritating formula.

Probe lubricant is the most natural lubricant on the market; safe for vaginal, anal and sex toy play.  It’s also safe for oral use, as its harmless if swallowed.

Probe is a water-based, PH-neutral blend of simple ingredients & citrus preservative. It is particularly recommended to women prone to thrush or those who are sensitive to other lubricants.

Kathryn Hoyle MD comments. “Probe lubricant is one of our top 25 best-selling products. Since we first started importing it directly from Davryan 15 years ago, it has been consistently a very popular product that is often requested by name.  We have grown into being the EEC’s largest importer of Probe, so it’s a natural step to offer it up to a wider wholesale market. Buying Probe direct from Sh! means you can offer your customers this unique lubricant without the trouble of trans-Atlantic import”

Probe lubricant is currently in stock at Sh! HQ warehouse in East London and ready for immediate dispatch.

Contact wholesale@sh-womenstore.com for further information.

Probe Silky Light: designed to mimic human saliva & provide a silky, thin layer of lubrication for direct sensation of skin surfaces. For those who enjoy feeling ridges & convolutions while gliding over skin.

Available in 250ml & 75ml.

Probe Thich Rich is designed to mimic women’s fertile mucous & provide a thick, substantial layer of lubrication between skin surfaces. For those who enjoy the sensation of effortless movement.

Available in 250ml & 75ml

Notes to Editors:

Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium was the very first shop of its kind to open for women, by women in 1992. The mission was simple: to create a safe, welcoming environment in which women can shop guilt-free for good quality playthings.

Everyone is offered a cup of tea when they come in and the knowledgeable and friendly Sh! Girlz aim to make information about sex accessible to all, old or young of whatever sexual persuasion, background or culture. They do welcome men, but only if escorted by a woman.

Sh! were the first to launch the ‘Jessica Rabbit’ well before it debuted in ‘Sex and The City’, and the founder, Kathryn Hoyle has been a regular spokesperson promoting the ethos behind the store and the brand and has even been to 10 Downing Street to attend an Aids Awareness Event.

Sh! set up its very own research and development department and works with many NHS trusts offering advice and help on women’s health care, particularly at post-surgery dilation stage.

Sh! host plenty of different nights and events at their London store ranging from workshops, art and photography exhibitions, literary readings and much more.

To find out more about the events on offer at this amazing emporium visit the website www.sh-womenstore.com.

To speak with the Shop Manager regarding promotions, events, to interview Kathryn Hoyle or to simply find out more about the ‘Gents nights’ or other products please contact:

renee@sh-womenstore.com or phone 0207 613 54 58

Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium:

Stores: 57 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6HD

Unit 4, 253 Portobello Road, W11 1LR (corner Lancaster Road)