To be honest, I was just sick of getting up at 6 a.m. to defrost bread and prep five kilo tubs of lettuce (‘sandwich artistry’ my ass). I jumped on Gumtree and saw an advert asking for someone to sell ‘adult’ toys. The advert called for confidence and openness, two things I had always felt came easily to me. I lathered on some lipstick, chugged a Red Bull and arrived for my first night shift. Four years later I was one of the top five salespeople in a nationally recognised adult retail franchise and had worked in multiple stores around the country. It was an experience that broadened my knowledge of human nature and desire, but it also with came with some unexpected realities and realisations I hadn’t exactly braced myself for.
1. Customers will assume that it is part of your job description to have sex with them for money. They will ask. You will construct an assertive response in your head: something about not assuming you can fuck a Cotton On assistant just because they’re selling you a beanie and how this situation is no different, sir. You will reconsider when they offer you $200 and you remember your Myki is empty.
2. Given that most adult retail companies can only afford to have one staff member on at a time, taking your own food is paramount to your survival during your nine-hour shifts. If you are disorganised with food preparation, you will end up eating copious amounts of body chocolate and candy underwear. You will make promises to yourself to never eat these items again, and you will cave. By the time you decide to leave the job four years later you will have gained ten kilograms.
“The urge to masturbate furiously is overwhelming. You glance over at the tester vibrators, and remind yourself how fucked the idea of tester vibrators is.”
3. The urge to masturbate furiously is overwhelming during at least 87% of every shift. Glancing over at the tester vibrators, reminding yourself how fucked the idea of tester vibrators even is, and sexting your partner instead, is a given. You will take blurred boob selfies in the dim backroom, and your partner will wonder why you’re sending them pictures of your elbow. After arriving home at 2.a.m. you will masturbate out of a need to fall asleep as opposed to arousal. Your partner will have fallen asleep three hours ago.
4. There are no security guards. There is a little red panic button under the counter, and you will calculate in your mind how long it would actually take the police to get to you from the other side of town every time a scary-looking man walks in. Hovering your hand over the button during transactions becomes habitual – especially if the scary-looking man buys rope or handcuffs, or both. He will wink. The urge to vomit on his face will be strong, but the fear of losing your job will be stronger. Your cheeks will hurt from feigning enthusiasm at the customer’s cheeky advancements during purchases. One day, a couple sniffing out of a paper bag will enter loudly celebrating getting kicked out of every other adult shop in Melbourne. You will ring your boss, scared, and he will tell you to ask them to leave. They will snort coke off your counter. You will press the button. You will be told the button is reserved for robberies.
5. There are toys that you never would’ve believed existed that you will be responsible for selling. It is your duty to encourage purchases, to sell coloured lumps of jelly shaped like assholes and named after racial slurs. A man will buy a prosthetic ass that is designed to look as if it has ruptured. He will wipe every inch of the box down before placing it in his bag. Eventually you’ll move house and find a new coffee haunt, and ruptured-prosthetic-ass-man will be there every morning reading the paper. You may have put on weight so he won’t recognise you, but you will recognise him and think of exploded assholes, without fail, as you drink your double-shot cappuccino.
6. The idea of a 25% discount is, at first, enticing. You imagine the potential role-plays, the quality lubes, the dildos you will collect. But then you will look around at the purple corkscrew dicks and shitty harnesses held together by what appears to be a licorice strap. You will order online instead. You will advise all queers to shop elsewhere. Like, overseas.
7. 60% of the calls you receive during your shift will be pranks. There will be sixteen year old boys asking about extra, extra large condoms, anal enthusiasts asking you to detail your personal use of butt plugs, but most of the calls will be men wanking. This will feel strange to you given that all you said was ‘hello’. They will keep calling and wanking anyway.
“The only thing men seem to feel threatened by is the size of their own dicks.”
8. Every man that walks into your shop believes it is a playground for women, threatened by the size of the cocks filling the walls. If they are going away on a trip and are shopping for a ‘present’ for their partner, they’ll refuse to buy anything bigger than themselves, just in case she gets ‘used’ to it. At least twice during every shift a man will break away from his pack and cough until you notice him, then lead you to the dong wall. He will say under his breath ‘that’s not… normal is it?’ while pointing to a replica of a male porn star’s dick. This will be one of your favorite parts of the job.
9. The less dolled up you look, the less you will sell. At first you will spend hours before every shift applying makeup and slipping into tight shiny black skirts, but by the fourth year you will be wearing holey target leggings and a polo you found out the back. Your sales will plummet until the figures get dire enough, then you’ll buy some more foundation that actually aligns with your skin tone.
10. You can never guess by looking at someone what ‘types’ of things they will buy. You will fit male truckers in nanny costumes, you’ll sell 19-year-old librarians leather horse heads, and 80-year-old men sex dice. This is nice.
11. Friends will ask you for sexual advice. They will ask you to buy things with your discount, offering up questions while looking down at their shoes. You will know things about those closest to you that you wouldn’t have if it weren’t for your job. You will be tempted to tell people, excitedly, when you find out something juicy – but there is a certain amount of unspoken confidentiality you must retain in such a position of power, like a priest or school counsellor. Exactly like that.
It’s funny that I look back at my work in adult retail as a culmination of important life lessons learnt within the confines of a blacked-out shop front. Working in such an environment made me aware of issues far beyond clit-stimulation or twelve-inch silicon cocks: being a woman is scary, and having to smile at men to feel safer is even scarier. Every mainstream ‘queer’ product is most probably a ‘straight’ product in disguise, keeping your mouth shut about your friends genitals is of upmost importance, and the only thing men seem to feel threatened by is the size of their own dicks. Finally, find a new café: the best cappuccino in all of St Kilda isn’t worth that level of 8 a.m. intimacy, girl.