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A couple leave a sex shop on St. Mark's Place late night in New York City.

A sex shop, erotic shop is a shop that sells products such as sex toys, pornography, erotic lingerie, erotic books, and safe sex products such as condoms and dental dams. The euphemisms "Adult Video Store" and "Adult Book Store" are commonly used to refer to sex shops that sell or rent pornographic videos, books, and magazines. However, many adult films are not rated when released to video or DVD.

In most jurisdictions, sex shops are regulated by law, with access not permitted to minors, the age depending on local law. Some states/countries prohibit sex shops and the merchandise they sell, e.g. many Muslim countries as well as a few US states. In some jurisdictions that permit it, they may also show pornographic movies in private booths, or have private striptease or peep shows.

Near borders of countries with different laws regarding sex shops, shops on the more liberal side tend to be popular with customers from the other side, especially if importing the purchased materials by customers to their own country, and possessing them, is legal or tolerated.[citation needed] In 1962 Beate Uhse AG opened the world's first sex shop in Flensburg, Germany.


United Kingdom

There are effectively two different models of sex shops in the United Kingdom.The Video Recordings Act 2010 states that the R18 category of films may only be supplied within a licensed sex shop. Any other commercial transaction involving these films is illegal in the UK, as of 22 January 2010. Some shops may be unwilling or unable to obtain a license, for example in authorities with high application fees or shops whose owners wish to keep them female-friendly. The result has been two separate types of erotic store: shops such as Ann Summers which offer lingerie and a small selection of sex toys along with soft pornography and in some cases non-adult items; and licenced sex shops which specialise in the supply of hardcore pornography.

Almost all licenced adult stores in the UK are forbidden from having their wares in open shop windows, which means often the shop fronts are boarded up or covered in posters. A warning sign must be clearly shown at the entrance to the store, and no sex articles(ie pornography or sex toys) should be visible from the street however lingerie, non-offensive covers of adult material etc. may be shown depending on the license conditions of the local authority. No customer can be under eighteen years old.

The Ann Summers chain of lingerie and sex toy shops recently won the right to advertise for shop assistants in Job Centres, which was originally banned under restrictions on what advertising could be carried out by the sex industry. The increasing acceptance of sex shops can also be seen as the north-west England chain Nice 'n' Naughty became the first adult company to win an investor in people award.

In 2007, a Northern Ireland sex shop was denied a licence by the Belfast City Council. The shop appealed and won, but this was overturned by the House of Lords.[1]

In London, there are few boroughs that have licensed sex shops. Soho has fifteen licensed shops and several remaining unlicensed ones. Islington has several sex businesses (at least three licensed shops- Private, Adultworld and Soho Original Books- as well as three pornographic cinemas and numerous massage parlours/strip clubs, concentrated on Caledonian Road). The Euston area has extant old-fashioned hardcore sex shops, with most on Eversholt Street. In the early 1990s,London's Hackney council sought to shut down Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium, because they did not have a license. Sh! took the council to court and consequently won the right to remain open as there were no sufficient reasons for the closure.

There are also many online sex shops, selling a variety of adult content such as toys, fetish wear etc. These types of shop are often favoured by the consumer as they have less overheads and can be perused within the comfort of your own home.

Sex shops in Scotland are regulated under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

United States

In the United States, a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s (based on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution) generally legalized sex shops, while still allowing states and local jurisdictions to limit them through zoning. Into the 1980s, nearly all American sex shops were oriented to an almost entirely male clientele. Many included booths for viewing pornographic film loops (later videos), and nearly all were designed so that their customers could not be seen from the street: they lacked windows, and the doors often involved an L-shaped turn so that people on the street could not see in.

Adult store in Durham, North Carolina.

While that type of store continues to exist, since the end of the 1970s there has been an evolution in the industry. Two new types of stores arose in that period, both of them often (though not always, especially not in more socially conservative communities) more open to the street and more welcoming to women than the older stores.

On the one hand, there are stores resembling the UK's Ann Summers, tending toward "softer" product lines. On the other hand, there are stores that evolved specifically out of a sex-positive culture, such as San Francisco's Good Vibrations, Xandria , Seattle's Toys In Babeland, Jillians Fantasy or My Spicy Treasures of Denton, TX . The latter class of stores tend to be very consciously community-oriented businesses, sponsoring lecture series and being actively involved in sex-related health issues, etc. They also often carry toys that are manufactured on a craft basis rather than mass manufactured.

The 1990s also saw the birth of the sex "superstores," some of them with over 10,000 square feet (930 m2) in area.


The first sex shop to open in Canada was Stag Shop, which opened in Waterloo, Ontario in February 1972. Hundreds of sex shops have since opened across the country. There are no specific laws against using or buying sex toys at basically any age, however there are laws about pornography. Although the age of consent is 16 in Canada, you have to be 18+ to purchase or view pornography. Most sex shops carry adult videos, meaning that most sex toys remain strictly in the hands of adults.

Many sex shops in Canada are now selling more eco-friendly sex toys which are free of phthalates. Phthalates are known to cause endocrine disorders, testicle malfunction and cancer. Even though there are a number of popular Canadian websites for purchasing sex toys, brick and mortar sex stores are still the bread and butter of the industry in Canada. Also becoming popular in Canada are sex toy parties, which are a similar idea to the tupperware parties of the 1980s, only with sex toys.


Front window of a Tokyo sex shop advertising adult toys

The first sex shop in Italy was opened in 1972 in Milan by Masia Angela and her husband Ercole Sabbatini. This was the first "official" sex shop. Since then Italy has become overrun with sex shops, mostly in Rome. It is known as Sex Shop Citta' di Milano. This store faced opposition from conservative segments of the Italian population, and was closed several times by the police. Its establishment marked a turning point in Italian mores, however, and today many more sex shops have opened in the country.


In Japan, the sex shops contain hentai magazines, adult videos and DVDs.


Sex shops are very rare in Singapore. These shops mainly sell lingerie and various sex toys.

See also


  1. ^ Lords back sex shop licence ban (25 April 2007)BBC NEWS

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