When you hear the words “adult store,” does your mind conjure up images of black plastic bags, dimly lit stores on the edges of town and questionable characters in knee-length trench coats?
While this may have been the case in the past, in the last few decades there’s been a growing movement to make sex shops safe and welcoming environments for all. At the forefront of this movement is Good Vibrations, which celebrates its 36th birthday this year. California Aggie writer Sam Wall email interviewed Jackie Strano, the executive vice president of Good Vibrations, to find out what it’s like to run a store with a focus on sexual pleasure.
The Aggie: When and how did Good Vibrations first get its start? Was there a particular niche you were looking to fill?
Strano: Good Vibrations first opened with one store in 1977 in the Mission District of San Francisco. We wanted to provide a safe, comfortable, clean and well-lit place for women to come in and buy a vibrator.
Word quickly spread and not only did it provide a safe alternative to the other adult stores, it became a tourist destination for people from all over the world. This was before the internet, so word of mouth, our 800-number, community events, workshops and our catalog was how we let the world know how to find us.
Now we have six stores and growing, a website, a mobile site, a VOD site, a wholesale private label line and we still do a catalog and have our 800-number where folks can call us and find a trained sex educator/sales associate on the other line.
We believe that pleasure is your birthright and every adult deserves safe access to trusted information, quality products and resources to explore sexual health, because sexual health is an integral part of your overall health.
How did you come to work for Good Vibes?
I first started in 1992 and was part of the original worker-owne[d] cooperative. I worked in the original Valencia Street store. I was living in San Francisco and going to school and touring with my rock band and was struck by the mission of the store — that pleasure is your birthright, and I loved that I found a place to work that felt like home to me … where I belonged with a real feminist and sex-positive community. I left in 1998 to pursue other interests and came back in 2009. My life came full circle and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Has the company changed over the years?
We are not a worker-owne[d] cooperative anymore but we have a management team where women in leadership positions who have been part of the original team are still here. This company has a lot of heart and dedication to the mission while we have learned the hard way in 36 years how to be fiscally responsible and keep the company healthy so we can continue to provide a special service and our specialty brand continues to thrive.
Our philosophies and guiding principles have not changed. Education is the cornerstone of our brand and everything we do is about what is best for the customer. Our internal business structure may be different out of necessity but our core guiding principles have never changed or wavered.
Good Vibes often labels itself as sex positive. What, for you, does being sex positive entail?
We practically invented the term and it has come to mean so many things to so many people, but in its essence it means we believe in everyone discovering their authentic sexual selves and being able to live the sex life that’s right for them in an affirming and celebratory way.
We are not judgmental and never support anything that leads to sexual shaming and believe in ongoing education in an environment that advances sexual health, pleasure and attitudes. We believe in modeling that non-judgmental communication at all times. We support our customers’ journey of exploration whether to realize their true sexual selves, expand their repertoire or to pursue better health around sex.
What are some of the challenges to being a company like Good Vibes, and how do you approach them?
Well, there are many challenges around people’s perceptions and stigmas around sex. Zoning laws relegate adult-oriented businesses to the outskirts of most towns so when we want to open new stores we have to assuage people’s fears. So far we have been very successful with having our stores located in commercial centers near respected retailers like Trader Joe’s, Peet’s Coffee and Bloomingdale’s.
We have always been active members in our communities and anchor tenants in our neighborhoods. There is also competition from sources that don’t care about overall sexual health and just want to produce knock offs cheaply online even if they are made of toxic materials. That is more competition for the vendors we have worked with for decades but it adversely affects us nonetheless.
We are not afraid of challenge though and have been a committed agent of social change for decades, so we continue to fight the good fight and lately new technology and media has helped us spread our message even further. We approach every challenge with a simple question — how do we make this better for our customers?
What are your goals and hopes for Good Vibes in the future?
Open more stores and create more products that reach more people. To promote sexual pleasure and health and make the world a sexier place!
SAM WALL is a former Aggie columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.