A brief history of an iconic sex shop.
In the late 60’s, sex educator Betty Dodson popularized a new use of massagers advertised for relieving tension and sore muscles: using them as clitoral vibrators. When Dell Williams took a workshop taught by Dodson, she was prompted to purchase one of the massagers herself, and, as the story goes, when asked a prying question by the department store clerk, sought to create a new kind of retail experience.
She wrote that she left that day holding her bags and thinking that someone should open a store where a woman could "buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it.”
Enter Eve’s Garden. Opened in New York in 1974 by Williams, Eve's Garden was understood by many as the first sex shop that catered to women’s pleasure. Initially a mail-order business, the in-person shop billed itself as welcoming, approachable, and an antidote to the exclusive, shame-shrouded feel of existing sex shops.
Williams saw an opportunity to not only craft a meaningful shopping experience, but an opportunity to create a community. Eve’s Garden held workshops, events, and did the more subtle work: hosting conversations around female pleasure, and diminishing the moral panic around masturbation.
While it is true that the 60’s and 70’s saw a revolution of attitudes around sex, the retail experience remained somewhat static. Even after the inception of stores like Eve’s Garden, many of the offerings in sex shops remained specialist or extreme, or moved towards the sale of porn in lieu of toys. The uniquely inviting attitude of Eve’s felt modern in that it gave each user agency over their own pleasure, no matter their experience with sex toys.
As sex toys enter more retail spaces, challenging the clinical, gendered, and/or exclusive spaces in which they’ve historically been sold, people like Dell Williams remind us of how far we’ve come. Maintaining an attitude of community and transparency, something that felt so innovative at the time of Eve’s Garden, is essential to sexual wellness, because it is essential to all kinds of wellness.