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What happens when you mention ‘ethical sex toys’?

January 20th, 2007

Dr Petra

At the end of last year I wrote about ethical sex toys. This was mainly because I knew a number of magazines are writing about this topic and their interpretations of ‘ethical’ and mine aren’t quite the same and I wanted the opportunity to share a wider view on ethical issues around sex toy trading.

Realistically most sex toys aren’t going to be completely ethical since somewhere in the design, manufacturing, distribution or sales process there may be areas where companies could do better. We can however, look to companies who make an effort to be transparent about their working practices and take steps to be as ethical as possible.

At the end of the ethical sex toys blog I said “If you’ve a sex store you want to recommend, or if you’ve examples of good practice let me know and I’ll post details in a future blog”.

I suppose you can guess what happened next. I’ve been inundated with emails from sex stores. Well, that’s hardly a shock. Sex stores are business and who can blame them for trying to get more publicity? Some of the stores who’ve contacted me have been inspiring. They’ve highlighted the services they offer, show how they make a difference and also indicated ways they’d like to improve the work they are doing. I will link to those stores at a later date.

However, the majority of approaches weren’t so positive which leaves me worrying that this whole media focus on ‘ethical sex toys’ is going to result in a whole lot of hot air and bandwagon jumping without much action or improvement in the quality of services to customers.

Here are some examples of approaches sex stores made….
- No mention of ethical trading but demanding a plug in my blog or a link to their site.
- Just saying ‘we’re an ethical sex store’ with no evidence to support this.
- Making a big point about helping good causes but then not disclosing trade with companies that aren’t quite so positive.
- Emphasising how your store is endorsed or fronted by a ‘sexpert’ who is, in fact, unqualified.
- Saying you’ve completed product or customer research but not disclosing how you refuse to share any findings with the public, other traders or interested parties.
- Showing you’re ethical by bad mouthing other stores/traders.
- Having a track record of being uncooperative with others in the industry.
- Implying if I don’t mention that your store is ethical then you will tell others I am unethical.

Sex stores are currently being caught out since they do not only have to up their commercial skills they also have to prove their ethical credentials. Whilst the demand for more ethical trading is growing in other industries most of these already have a proven track record of established commercial activities, understanding markets and customer service – which sex stores often lack. Sex stores are also disadvantaged by a history of not being able to trade openly, of stigma surrounding the industry, and of a subgroup of exploitative traders who have relied providing poor products to customers unable to demand a quality service.

The angle for journalists to cover isn’t just endless discussions of chemicals in sex toys or allowing a number of sex shops to simply appear in a feature saying ‘we’re ethical’ without checking these claims. It’s also about a far wider range of issues – including why it is that sex stores face more barriers than other outlets, the lack of professionalism amongst some traders, and the way those working in the industry are often driven to more combative and less collaborative with each other than they should be.

The whole time we marginalize sex shops and treat them as a novelty within the media and business we’ll continue to have problems – not just with ethical issues but with trading in general.

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