Ireland’s sexual landscape is one that is constantly growing and changing, and the emergence of a personal and cultural sexual identity in more recent years has helped this greatly. Ironic that the country where contraceptives were only legalised during the 1980s, and where censorship of so called “inappropriate materials” was so prevalent is now home to a passionately vocal community of sex-positive citizens. The rise in popularity of sex toys in recent years for instance, has led to a scope being placed on the industry, and many changes have occurred as a result. Speaking with Shawna Scott of the iconic Sex Siopa, one of Ireland’s leading suppliers of sex toys, sex accessories and various other goodies, Express discussed how much Sex Siopa has changed since her last appearance in Sexpress back in 2018, how the pandemic has impacted the business, and certain ins and outs of the sex toy industry that the average person may not think about.
Since your last interview in 2018, How much has Sex Siopa changed?
The biggest changes since 2018 have definitely been in relation to Covid, but I also recently relocated to Sligo, so moving my entire business across the country in the middle of a pandemic was certainly a challenge.
How did the Covid-19 situation and the quarantine have an impact on you as a small Irish business?
I’ve been very lucky in that it’s had a really positive impact on my business. I obviously could no longer do events and parties, but my online sales more than made up for it. A friend helped me move all my stock the day after everything started shutting down in March, and I spent three months working from my partner’s bedroom in a shared house. I was so busy during those three months. I’d work twelve hours a day, six days a week in that room. Thankfully, when things started to open up again, we were able to find a place together in Sligo and organise the move, but we knew we only had a small window to do that in before a predicted second lockdown might happen.
You emphasise how your toys are all “body safe” and you often talk about the unregulated aspect of the sex toy industry. How did you decide a precedent for your business, and what influenced this decision?
My decision to only stock toys made from body-safe materials was the first decision I made back in 2011 when I was planning what I wanted my shop to be. Shopping for a sex toy can be a mine field, because even now, some products are being made from cheap materials like PVC jelly and Thermo Plastic Rubber (TPR). It felt like such a slap in the face that companies would try to sell me something to put inside myself that’s porous, oftentimes containing chemicals that are effectively banned in children’s toys in the United States, because it’s more cost-effective than Silicone. It felt like my health took a backseat to profit.
Now, thanks to consumers and independent retailers demanding change, there are a lot more affordable body-safe toys out there. The knock-on effect is that the price of body-safe sex toys is now on par or cheaper than a lot of toxic toys. We’re also seeing a shift from big manufacturers who are offering body-safe ranges or moving away from PVC toys completely. It’s been amazing to see so much change in the industry in the past number of years, but it’s still important to be vigilant when shopping, because those toxic toys are still out there. A good bar to set when shopping is to look for sex toys made from materials that would normally be found in your kitchen – silicone, hard plastic, stainless steel, toughened glass, wood – and stay away from materials you don’t recognise, or that use science language, but don’t actually tell you what the material is.
You’ve been in this business for a while. Do different toys and styles of toys come in and out of fashion? And if so, what influences these trends?
Yes, definitely. A lot of it is down to adapting toys to the latest technologies. In the past five years, so many companies have tried to make their version of app-controlled vibrators and either failed at the crowd-funding stage or ended up in an international class action lawsuit over sneakily collecting customer data. A few brands have been successful, but many others haven’t. I think the most exciting trend I’ve seen though is the blending of sex toys and medical devices for therapeutic use. Calexotics, for example, designed a gorgeous set of vaginal dilators that patients want to use and can also be used as a set of dildos. There are also toys used to train the pelvic floor that’s connected to a game app. When you do your Kegels correctly, it helps you in the game.
What else do you provide on the website aside from toys?
Lubricant is one of the most popular products I stock! I also sell barriers like condoms and oral sex dams as well as products like the vaginal dilators that help prevent pain during intercourse.
You offer corporate events on your website. I assume this must’ve stopped because of Covid, but on a regular day what would this consist of?
Yes, before Covid I occasionally gave talks and workshops. If I was visiting a college or festival, I loved doing Q&As or Ask Me Anything. I like to talk, not just about sex and sex toys, but about starting and running a small business in Ireland. I love talking about the challenges of running a sex-related business and how I’ve had to stretch my creative muscles to get my name out there when so many places don’t allow me to advertise. I’ve also done smaller parties and gatherings where I can bring a suitcase full of toys along and introduce folks to products in a fun, comfortable environment with their friends. But, since Covid hit Ireland, sadly those events have been put on hold indefinitely.
Would you have more couples purchasing from Sex Siopa, or is it more of a single person market?
It’s both! Being single or in a relationship doesn’t stop anyone from having sex or masturbating, and it doesn’t stop folks from using sex toys. There are a lot of folks, mostly in heterosexual relationships, who feel uncomfortable or don’t know how to broach the subject of bringing a new toy into the bedroom because they’ve been conditioned by society to think that asking to try something new means that there’s something wrong with the sex they’re already having, and that’s just not true. The thing to focus on is that having a bit of variety to mix up the routine, especially when we’re spending so much more time alone together in various stages of lockdown, is important to maintaining fun and excitement together.
One of the main categories on Sex Siopa is “Toys for Newbies”. What constitutes a toy for a “newbie”?
I put together a collection of toys on the website for people who are new to sex toys. I picked ones that are intuitive to use, no bells and whistles, and if they are insertable that they are a smaller, comfortable size. So many of my customers are coming to me with zero experience using toys and are, understandably, worried about investing a bunch of money into a toy that mightn’t suit them, so most of them would be in a very affordable price range as well.
Do you have any plans for the future of Sex Siopa?
Right now, it’s quite difficult to plan for the future, because it’s so dependent on what happens with Covid, but I’m very happy at the moment taking my time to settle into life in Sligo and trucking along as best I can. Ask me again next year!
Shawna and her products can be found on her website, sexsiopa.ie, and on both Twitter and Instagram at @SexSiopa. Sex Siopa and Shawna’s blog should always be your first stop for toys and for information, so why not pay her a visit and make a purchase? If you have any questions, want more information, are looking to submit a piece or even just want to chat, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org