I’ve worked in the sex toy industry for years – but until recently kept my job a secret from everyone but very close friends and family.
I work at We-Vibe, a company that produces sex toys for couples, as an account manager. I manage many outlets in the western and southern United States. I do store visits, run trainings, also help introduce new products to our partners, and help with advertising and brand support. I’ve met and made lifelong friends doing this work, and I’m incredibly proud of it. But it was really hard to be open about this incredible work at first.
I was recruited by a friend who was a former colleague. She left our old company, and about a year and a half later contacted me to see if I was interested in joining her at We-Vibe. I remember this conversation very well. She recommended that I discuss the position with my husband and make sure he and I were both comfortable before going ahead with the interview process. She said, “Nobody grows up and wants to work in the adult industry, but once you get there, you realize it’s no different than selling rugs or lamps.
At first, I had no intention of going all the way. I told her, “I absolutely cannot stand in front of a group of people and say the word ‘clitoris’ without blushing. To which she replied, “Kim, you can and you will!” But after our convo, I kept thinking about the opportunity. I waited for my husband to come home from work that night and immediately asked him, “How would you feel if I sold vibrators?” Without blinking, he replied, “If selling vibrators makes you happy, then go for it.”
Knowing that I could withdraw at any time if I felt uncomfortable, I agreed to interview for the position. The hiring manager asked me to go visit a local store and send in my observations on the product line and how they compare to other similar sex toys. It is important to note that where I live in the Midwest; there are not many nice sex toy shops suitable for women. I had never set foot in an adult store. Sure, I’d been to stores that had “naughty” sections, but that was it. I had never even bought a sex toy – the closest I had were gag gifts for hen parties.
It took me a few days, but I finally worked up the courage to go to a local adult store, where I discovered that analyzing product placement, how it was presented, and how store employees spoke of our products was natural and easy for me. It also reminded me of an old job I had at Victoria’s Secret, where I had worked after college. In both places, I would help women feel sexy and empowered. VS is much more mainstream though and really doesn’t have the adult store stigma. Even so, I decided that giving women that feeling was worth it. Once I was offered the job, I was in.
From the start, I’ve been totally honest with my closest friends and family about my new gig. The only people around me who I hid my work from were my 93-year-old grandfather and my young nephews, who still don’t know. But apart from my core group, no one else knew about it. I was especially afraid of social networks. I trusted the people I knew best not to judge me, but I was terrified of the opinions of old acquaintances (and also my husband’s work colleagues, as I didn’t want to make his professional life unpleasant) . I had no problem talking about my job when I was at work, but I was still unwilling to reveal the truth about my job to my wider social circle, many of whom I’ve known since grade school. .
On the first day, I attended the largest trade show in the industry, where the company had a booth. My boss walked me around to show me different product lines. After seeing the thousands of toys on the market, I realized, duh, based on those numbers, there must be Billions of people who regularly use these toys. This is Ordinary. Having and using toys was a regular activity without any shame. The level of openness and honesty was so refreshing, and I immediately wanted to be part of this community. What’s ironic, however, is that I was eager to be candid with these new professional colleagues and the clients I met — but I was always on tiptoe around these topics in my personal life.
As I went out to stores and befriended retailers and sexual health educators, I started wanting to stay in touch on social media. Until recently, the first question I had to ask before becoming friends with them was, “Do you post about ‘professional stuff’?” When the answer was yes, I chose not to accept the request. I didn’t want to risk sexual content appearing on my accounts. I felt like I didn’t have the energy to fight off the smirks that were sure to pop up in comments from some people in my social circle.
If I’m being honest, I know now that I really didn’t want to be judged on what I do for a living, even though I’m proud of the products I sell. The important people who needed to know, knew. So, I never liked my company’s Facebook page, I never liked any of my retailers’ beautiful store pages, I didn’t follow any of the sexual health educators I totally admired and respected, and I slapped the hand of anyone who tagged me at an industry event or in an award post. I felt bad about having to deny what was an important part of my life, but I felt like I had no choice. It was incredibly difficult. I did this for over three years.
I was finally inspired to “come out” after the death of an industry leader and friend of mine, Larry Garland. He founded Eldorado Trading Company, a distributor of adult pleasure products, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time with him over the past few years. He died while we were attending a trade show, and that really hit me hard. He was a guy who had seen the sexual health space evolve from the filthy dark shops of the 70s to what we have today, and was one of the forerunners to take this new direction. Thinking of Larry one recent evening, I realized how proud he was of his company and what it stood for. He wasn’t ashamed that his business sold dildos, vibrators, lingerie, and lube. That’s when I decided I was going to be proud of what I was doing too. I changed my employer on Facebook to tell the truth, I liked the We-Vibe page, then I posted that I had worked for an adult toy company for the past three years . I was done hiding.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. A bunch of people I didn’t even know ended up reading my posts, and everyone had the most amazing and encouraging comments. It’s possible that a few people have dumped me (I haven’t checked) but I figure if anyone will because I sell a fantastic couples sex toy and spend my days hanging out in adult stores, so I probably should anyway, don’t be friends with them.
Follow Emily on Twitter.
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