Sex Siopa : Toys aren't the answer to spicing up your sex life, you are
Shawna Scott, a self-confessed smut pedlar says living around the corner from a sex shop when she was going to college in the US inspired her to set up her online Sex Siopa in Ireland
"I don’t like euphemisms – I’d rather just come straight out with it,” says Shawna Scott, the proprietor of Sex Siopa. “I say on all my social media handles: I’m a smut pedlar who sells dildos and lube for a living.”
While Scott is by her own description a seller of good old-fashioned marital aids, Sex Siopa is an entirely different concept compared to other businesses of its ilk. Those are often hidden down alleys with blackout windows;. They tend to be riven with secretiveness, seediness and stigma.
“My tagline is, ‘Body safe toys for everyone’. I don’t know if ‘boutique’ is the right word . . . I call myself a health- and design-focused sex shop,” says Scott of her business. There is no bricks and mortar establishment as Sex Siopa is online-only at sexsiopa.ie. The website is bright, welcoming and thorough – and Scott has won several awards for retail excellence.
Perhaps unexpectedly, she also has the kind of engaged audience that other small businesses covet, and a decidedly non-corporate attitude to conducting business in what she terms a socially aware way.
Scott grew up in Puyallap, Washington, a small suburban town about 30 minutes from Seattle. It was, and still is, a conservative Christian enclave near one of America’s most liberal cities. Through her mother, Scott was always aware of the contradictions and unexpected alliances between the two.
“It was this weird juxtaposition of being surrounded by this ultra-conservative Christian community, but at the same time having a mom who was really adamant: If we want birth control, we’re going to go to the doctor and get birth control. None of this, ‘Just ignore it and then they won’t have sex’.
“She took us down to the doctor and made sure that, if we were going to be sexually active, then we were going to be on the pill. I really thank her for that, because I think if I didn’t have such a supportive parental figure in my life who made sure I was doing things safely, then I probably would have ended up pregnant.”
After high school, Scott moved to Seattle proper and started shopping at Babeland, one of the US’s most prominent women-friendly sex shops.
“Babeland was right around the corner from where I was going to college,” she says. “It was our ‘gaybourhood’ – those kinds of businesses informed how I felt a business should be run . . . they were the flag bearers for social justice and had a really honest business model. I figure that’s the way all sex shops should be.
“But then I got out into the world outside of that particular neighbourhood and realised they’re not all like that. When I decided that I wanted to build something here in Dublin, [Babeland] was the prototype for what I wanted to build.”
Scott had found herself in Ireland while travelling after college and liked the country so much that she decided to stay. Now, after more than a decade living here and an Irish passport in hand, her slight Pacific Northwest vowels have melted into a perceptible Dublin phonology.
Lesbian-run sex shop
“We didn’t really have anything like that here, not to the same kind of standards as I would have liked. I mean, there’s sex shops in Dublin, but there’s a really particular aesthetic and sometimes I get the feeling that they’re not terribly inclusive of all body types and genders and sexualities. I suppose that I was just spoiled growing up with a lesbian-run, super-inclusive, super-liberal sex shop.
“I think even now, there’s still shops that I feel uncomfortable going into because it’s not a very female-friendly space, whether it’s because there’s one dude behind the counter or the lighting is really dark and the kind of lingerie they have just wouldn’t be my kind of thing. Or on the flip side, you have the all pinks and purples type of shop that’s just really frilly and really heteronormative. That doesn’t really suit me either.”
Scott first had the idea to set up Sex Siopa in 2011 and the business has grown from something she did on a part-time basis to a full-time concern. Social awareness married with a sense of humour is a large part of the Sex Siopa brand.
To celebrate the 1916 centenary, Scott commissioned a number of tricolour dildos to be sold (“I sold two tricolour dildos to people up North, and I’ve never been more proud,” she says.) A portion of the proceeds went to the Abortion Rights Campaign, who were “just brilliant”, Scott says.
“I was seeing loads of Irish flag tat being sold everywhere. There were tricolours on absolutely everything. I wanted to make a statement with that. I decided I was going to do a tricolour dildo, and part of that was reflecting on how far we’ve come in terms of our sexual history.”
Repealing the Eighth Amendment is an issue close to Scott’s heart. “I’ve always seen Sex Siopa as the kind of business I could use to promote social change in areas that I really care about – for me that’s sexual rights and freedoms.
“Sex Siopa itself is really a push for better acceptance and a celebration of human sexuality. The Repeal the 8th Campaign is the next logical step in that path of social evolution in Ireland.
“I understand that it is going to be a much more difficult, emotionally-draining campaign than the Marriage Referendum, but as it’s something that affects me and half the population, I’m going to do whatever I can to support it.”
Body safety is another of her main concerns. “It still gets me that there are still no regulations when it comes to sex toys,” she says. “There’s a group of chemicals called phthalates – you get them in skincare sometimes because of the plastic packaging – but it’s a plastic softener, and they’ve been banned in children’s toys and a lot of consumer products in the States, just in case a child puts a toy containing phthalates in their mouth.
“But not in adult toys, which just blows my mind, because every other kind of consumer product, especially involving children, they would ban it up to 0.1 per cent of an entire toy’s make-up.”
Two of the four phthalates banned in the United States are banned here also thanks to a European Union chemical health and safety regulation.
But Scott has concerns. “I have my doubts about whether they’re going to police adult toys for that. How thorough is that going to be?”
But she has hope for an ongoing investigation. “The more we see people talking about it and starting that conversation, the more we’re going to get better toys and push for better legislation.”
It’s not all seriousness though. Scott has some parting words. “The toy isn’t the answer to spicing up your love life. You’re the answer to spicing up your love life,” she says.
“This is just a utensil. I try to play on that a bit and make fun of it. The word ‘dildo’ itself is a hilarious word. ‘Buttplug’ is a hilarious word. It conjures up really funny thoughts in your head. I don’t want to ignore or breeze over that fact. I think it’s okay to laugh at it and be positive about it.”