Messenger Cities are fizzing with opportunities to experience sex and sexuality. While sex usually takes place in private spaces, it is never really out of our minds. And we are continually reminded of it throughout the day. Cities are full of sexual imagery, from advertisements on billboards, buses and train stations to a more discreet, yet important, element of the urban landscape and economy - the sex shop.
Traditionally, they tended to be concentrated in somewhat peripheral locations within the inner city. Based on our ongoing research into the geographies and regulation of sex shops within metropolitan areas, the ever-growing presence of adult retailing in Australia would seem to suggest an increased sense of interest and participation in sexual adventure and liberation.
They tend to be a predominantly heterosexual and middle-aged male space in terms of their staff and customers. Products veer towards the pornographic, dedicating relatively large amounts of floor space to magazines and DVDs that cover an eclectic mix of consumer tastes and sexual orientations.
Whilst adult toys and lingerie are available in these stores they are very much secondary products. The blanked out windows, worn and dated condition of buildings and rough and ready signage screams seedy and sleazy to people passing by.
Geographically speaking, they are in marginal or peripheral locations within inner city or suburban areas. Generally they can be near light industrial areas or marooned along main roads and intersections. Clever and evocative shop front design, signage and colours coupled with younger, trendier, knowledgeable and predominantly female staff, create a much more welcoming space for customers.
This is reflected in their product range and interior. Pornographic magazines and DVDs, if sold at all, are usually found at the very back of such stores and are sometimes completely hidden from view — apparently so as not to offend some customers! But they are also breaking through to some high streets and shopping centres — Honey Birdette have recently opened a store in the new Westfield Centre in Sydney.
The bespoke market In recent years, new players have entered the adult retailing market offering consumers a high-end, bespoke option. Australian-based stores include d. Designer brands of sex toys are de riguer. Vibrators and dildos in these stores are ergonomically yet oddly shaped, brightly coloured and tactile.
The Lelo range of vibrators look more like Bang and Olufsen telephones than phalluses! And, in terms of geography, these stores tend to locate in the hip and stylish parts of the city that are befitting of any high-end designer fashion store.
Sex shops are not merely spaces of perversion and pornography within the city. As the British geographer, Phil Hubbard , has noted in his new book, Cities and Sexualities , cities are simultaneously sites of sexual experimentation and liberation and regulation and control.