"We’re committed to sexual well-being as well as the well-being of the planet."
**This interview is reposted with permission from Femag.cz**
An interview by Daniela Jungova (editor-in-chief of a Czech feminist online magazine called Femag.cz) with Kitty May––Director of Education and Community Outreach at Other Nature.
Kitty has been working in the field of sex-positive sex education since 2004 and regularly facilitates workshops and trainings in Berlin and beyond. Kitty is also a trained therapist with a private psychotherapy practice in Berlin.
Other Nature is a feminist, queer, sex-positive, eco-friendly vegan sex shop located in Berlin. Need we say more? We talked to Other Nature’s sex educator Kitty May to quench our curiosity.
Kitty, how did you first get the idea of launching an eco-friendly, vegan sex shop?
When we opened Other Nature in 2011, we wanted to create a sex shop where people with all different experiences and histories would feel comfortable.
Sexual well-being is at the centre of what we do, and for us it just makes sense to take the well-being of the planet into consideration, too. Materials that are toxic for the environment are often hazardous to health, too, so being eco-friendly really makes sense if you want to sell products that are body-safe and customers can feel confident about. The sex toy industry has a long way to go but we’re committed to doing our bit to make the world more sustainably sexy!
It wasn’t part of the original plan to stock only vegan products, but as soon as you start looking into the environmental impact of products, it made sense. Being vegan also resonates with our wish to have care and compassion at the centre of our business.
That said, we’re definitely not just a store for vegans (or for queers, for feminists, etc!). Those are the values that inform the choices we make, but we’re really here for everyone.
That said, do you have a "typical" customer?
Our customers are very varied – it’s quite wonderful! People right across the gender spectrum, aged 18-80, and diverse in many other ways.
We do have some customers who seek us out because everything in the store is free from animal products, and I think that that can be quite relaxing if you are vegan: to know that we have taken responsibility for that, and you can just browse and know that everything is available.
Some people come to us because of a general wish to shop ethically, but might not know about the specific environmental issues that are relevant to the sex toy industry. There’s a lot of overlap between materials that are body-safe and those that are less environmentally harmful to produce, so we’re often explaining those dual benefits of, for example, 100% silicone. It’s not easy as a consumer to be informed and we’re really passionate about giving people accurate information so that they can make decisions they feel good about.
Do your customers open up to you easily when it comes to their wants and needs?
Some people open up right away and want to share a lot; others take a little while to settle in to the space and the conversation. And of course, there are others who don’t want to chat – maybe they already know which product they want, or are quickly picking up gloves and lube on their way home from work!
Although we live in a society that may seem saturated with sex, authentic and personal sharing about sex is still largely taboo. A lot of the shame or hesitation people feel stems from a lack of information and good sex-ed. Someone might feel embarrassed to explain, when looking at different vibrators, that they’ve never experienced an orgasm through vaginal penetration, and not be aware that for the majority of people who have vulvas, clitoral stimulation is what leads to orgasm. So a lot of our job is giving information and reassuring people that they are totally normal, and I think that also helps put people at ease.
Helping people feel comfortable is really our top priority and informs everything we do: from speaking with customers in as friendly, reassuring and professional way as possible, to having comfy chairs and free tea in our book room! With our online customers, we’re really happy to talk about different product options via email or over the phone, and help people who can’t make it into the store feel as comfortable and confident as those who get to be here in person.
Can you share one encounter with a customer that made your day or really surprised you?
All our conversations with customers are confidential, so I can’t give any one, detailed story. Many kinds of encounters touch me: talking with people who in their 60s are learning about their desires for the first time, seeing friends support one another through their shyness about buying a sex toy, or helping young trans and non-binary kids find gender expression gear that works for them (which we do off-site by appointment, because of legal restrictions on persons under 18 entering the shop). Seeing someone’s whole body language become more relaxed and confident is very rewarding.
I also personally have a big soft spot for when we have multiple generations of one family in the shop together. Our slogan is “Not your average sex shop: bring your Mum!” What we mean by that is, it’s a space where you can feel comfortable, not ashamed, and it’s not what you might expect from a sex shop. But it makes me smile a lot when people really do bring their mums, or their daughters, aunts, nieces, grandmothers, and have great, open conversations about sexuality together.
There’s honestly always something that makes my day, and that’s what makes the job so fantastic and such an honour!
What does a conversation about sex look like at the store?
Again, it varies so much from person to person. The common thread is that we support and encourage each person to learn for themselves about their own bodies and desires, to respect their own boundaries and others’. We are a sex-positive shop which means that we don’t value or judge one kind of consensual sex (including no sex!) as better or worse than another. We recognise that society as a whole is pretty sex-negative, breeding a lot of shame and ignorance about sexuality, and promoting very narrow, rigid ideas about the “right” and “acceptable” way to be sexually. So we try to work actively against that, and to support people as best we can to feel good about themselves as unique sexual beings.
I think the space itself, where there are so many things to look at, touch, try out, try on, smell, taste, read, and ask about encourages a curiosity and playfulness about sexuality in general. So someone might pick up a flogger or a cock ring or a massage candle that they themselves are not interested in using, but just ask “What is this for?” or “What do people do with this?”, and through those conversations are also learning about the broad range sexuality and what different people are into.