Good Vibes Only
“Adult Novelties.” These are the words displayed on the windows of Un-Dun, a self-described “18+ specialty store” in West Lebanon. Notably, a white curtain conceals the contents of the store from the parking lot. To discover what lies within, one needs to go inside.
On Monday afternoon, I visited Un-Dun alongside Mirror editor Lauren Budd ‘18 and photo editor Tiffany Zhai ‘18. As soon as we stepped out of the car, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. I don’t usually picture myself when I imagine the stereotypical customer of adult novelty stores, or, euphemisms aside, sex shops. The older, long-haired men smoking cigarettes in the parking lot only reinforced this stereotype. After taking a deep breath, I walked through the front door, unsure what to expect.
Once we entered, the woman at the front register asked for our government-issued IDs. Unfortunately, Lauren had forgotten her driver’s license on campus, and the woman was unable to accept her Dartmouth student ID. Crestfallen, she had no choice to wait outside as Tiffany and I continued onward to uncharted territory.
We passed through the alcoholic drinks and smoking paraphernalia sections of Un-Dun before finally arriving at the adult novelty section in the very back. My first thoughts: This wasn’t what I had expected. Perhaps because of media influence, I had prepared myself for a hazy, dim room in the basement with some sketchy vibes. In front of me, however, was a well-lit room with light music playing in the background. Had it not been for the actual goods on sale, I could have mistaken the store for any other.
The topic of sex toys undoubtedly makes me uncomfortable, especially since it’s not something that’s often discussed openly. As I browsed through the aisles, I was unsure how to feel. Instinctually, I experienced some shame about my very presence in the store, but my rational mind assured me that there was nothing wrong with going to a sex shop. There was certainly nothing wrong with purchasing sex toys, either, and I knew that I was only nervous because of some arbitrary taboo.
I decided that the first step to dispelling this taboo around sex toys was to take a closer look at what exactly was being sold. Of course, a myriad of artificial genitalia in a variety of shapes and sizes lined the racks. Some were certainly of gargantuan proportions, including one phallic accessory longer than my arm and another that was double-sided. One was even rainbow colored in the spirit of LGBTQ+ Pride. The female anatomy was definitely well-represented as well; one such device was themed “Sorority Sister,” although I’m not sure how sexual organs correlate with one’s Greek affiliation.
Other toys included the discreetly-named “self-massagers,” a variety of handcuffs and spanking paddles and even dice (for what I can only imagine is some kind of foreplay board game). There was also a collection of DVDs separated into different categories, such as “Asian,” “Family Role Play 2” and “Mean Midget.” I’m not sure which category made me the most uncomfortable, but I reminded myself that people are entitled to their own preferences, and I’m certainly in no place to cast judgement.
Around this time, I overheard one customer speaking to another: “Come look at the arma-dildo.” For better or for worse, I didn’t get the chance to see it for myself.
In addition to sex toys, the shop sold several interesting items. A birthday card rack was located right in the middle of the shop; the cards were perfectly normal, like one would find in a grocery store, although I wasn’t sure what to make of the age range of the cards, which went up to “Happy 75th Birthday!” I was also amused to find edible goods in the store, including genitalia-shaped pasta and similarly-shaped gummy candies.
After looking through the entire shop, I mustered up the courage to ask one of the employees a few questions about the store. When I asked her approximately how many customers visit in a single day, she told me that they usually had around 40 to 50 sales a day, but because many customers visit in groups, the actual number of people entering the store could be as high as one hundred each day.
In response to being asked if customers are usually embarrassed or confident, she said that generally half of the customers seem embarrassed, while the other half do not. She noted that while many customers might seem more sheepish when they walk in for the first time, she and the other employees try their best to make them feel more comfortable.
She said she is more than willing to guide people through the store if they’re unsure what they should be looking for, which can vary greatly due to the diversity of customers. She has seen customers as young as 18 years old — which is the legal minimum age to enter the store — and as old as 80. While the DVDs are usually more popular with older men, she explained, there is otherwise no real pattern between age and preferences.
Out of curiosity, I asked her if she had a favorite item in the store, and she said the bullet, a small type of vibrator. She described how many women are looking for something small, unique, cheap and powerful — and the bullet fits all of those criteria.
While my initial experience was foreign and, at times, scary, her casual demeanor really helped me to normalize the concept. Sex is already an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss, myself included, but we have to discuss it. If we don’t, then others may begin to feel ashamed of their sexuality. Thankfully, there’s never been a time where sexuality — in all its complexity — has been embraced more, but there is still much work to do. Even as I began to write this article, I was reluctant to recount my experience at Un-Dun, fearing that others would see me differently after reading it. But this is exactly the stigma that we have to destroy, and if this article helps normalize some aspect of sexuality ever so slightly, then I have done my job right.
One of the last questions I asked was if there were any common misconceptions that people have about sex shops. She then went out to list the same incorrect beliefs that I had before coming in: that a sex shop was a dark, sketchy atmosphere where people averted their eyes from the back wall. Thankfully, Un-Dun proved me, and hopefully many others, wrong.
As the cashier put it so well: “We try not to have that vibe. Pun unintended.”