Sex-positive and thriving: How one woman in Chicago turned sexist comments into success

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Withstanding the test of time, a recession, and a pandemic, Searah Deysach’s feminist, sex toy store Early to Bed has flourished for over 20 years. This mom and pop shop isn’t your corner grocery store, but a place to go to buy the things we’re taught not to talk about. Over time, the establishment has become a safe space for sexual exploration for everyone: from beginners looking for their very first vibrator to seasoned kinksters looking to add something new to their collection.

Sex positive and thriving

Early to Bed is located in the Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago, IL, offering sex toys and gender-affirming care in a sex-positive, warm setting for every gender.Annabel Rocha

This labor of love grew from Deysach’s passion for sex toys, and desire to create a sex-friendly shopping experience for women. As a graduate student at the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1990′s, she had a budding interest in toys but found her options for shopping in Chicago did not provide a warm, welcoming environment to women customers like others in cities like New York and Seattle.

“It wasn’t fun. It felt creepy. It didn’t feel empowering, and I was really disappointed by that,” she said.

According to Bed Bible, there are currently 8,951 brick-and-mortar adult stores in the U.S. but Reckon could not find statistics on how many are owned by women. About 82% of women own at least one sex toy, still, sexual double standards and the stigmatization of female pleasure exist, socializing men to be more sexual and internalizing shame and guilt in some women for doing the same.

Deysach was determined to create a woman-friendly, now gender inclusive space to encourage sexual liberation.

Come September 2001, with no relevant work experience, besides a job at an independent children’s toy store, and an underlying feeling that she was not on the right path, she felt the time was right to take the risk of opening her own sex toy store to create the place she wanted to shop at.

Others felt the need as well. Deysach recalls that within a year two other women-owned sex toy stores opened – both of which are now gone.

Sex positive and thriving

Store owner Sarah Deysach says that she opened up the type of sex toy store she felt was lacking in Chicago in the 1990’s, one that catered to the needs and desires of womenJamie Kelter Davis

“I really got into it because I was really passionate about sex toys and being friendly to people. And I think that that is sort of part of the reason why we’re still here and other people might not be,” said Deysach.

Adding fuel to the fire was the misogynistic response she received when telling others about her new venture.

“Every person, who was a woman, who I brought this up to was like ‘what an amazing idea, oh my god we need it so bad.’ Every single freaking dude was like ‘it takes a lot of work to run a business, nobody needs that…’” she told Reckon. “I really enjoy doing things out of spite.”

Sex positive and thriving

“We don’t yuck anybody’s yum as long as it is safe, sane and consensual,” store owner Sarah Deysach told Reckon.Annabel Rocha

The ethos of Early to Bed is infused with Deysach’s feminist values, which to her means being inclusive of all genders, being human-orientated and being sex-positive.

“We don’t yuck anybody’s yum as long as it is safe, sane and consensual,” she said. “I want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable in my store, whether you are a 22-year-old queer, trans adult or senior citizen who’s just figuring out sexual exploration.”

According to the Trans Legislation Tracker, 533 anti-trans bills have been introduced so far this year, compared to just 143 for the entire year of 2021. Simultaneously, conservatives are now eyeing a national abortion ban, according to Slate.  As the right continues to attack the rights and bodies of women, trans, and gender expansive people, affirming spaces like Early to Bed provide empowerment through community and pleasure.

Vibrators, lube, and gender-affirming gear

Deysach said that her personal wheelhouse of expertise are dildos, vibrators, and lube, and her favorite thing to help customers shop for varies.

“Helping people pick out their first strap on is just…” she trailed off, smiling. “There’s a lot of different dynamics that we get to see with couples, but folks picking out a strap on together tend to be some of the sweetest kind of dynamics because they’re really often very involved together in this decision.”

It’s these monumental sexual moments in customers’ lives that reinforce the importance of why she opened up the store over two decades ago.

“I love helping a middle aged woman, who’s recently divorced and never had an orgasm, find a vibrator that’s going to help her with that or somebody who’s, you know, had something going on in their body where they want a new kind of lubricant,” she said. “Like there’s just so many little bits that make it feel good.”

The business also prides itself in offering gender-affirming wear and sex products made for or suited to trans individuals, even opening a gender expression gear website, Trans Essentials, in 2012.

“What we carry has evolved. I mean it was literally me and like 10 vibrators I liked at the beginning,” she said. “We try to be very responsive to our clients’ wants and needs.”

Sex positive and thriving

A variety of dildos line the back wall of Early to Bed. Many contain notes from employees with recommendations or more information about the product.Annabel Rocha

Early to Bed has infused community outreach and education into the culture of the business. Before the pandemic, Early to Bed hosted workshops to provide education covering topics like “how to write a dirty letter” or “Kink and BDSM for beginners,” based on information customers asked or topics community members asked to teach. According to Psychology Today, BDSM has become increasingly mainstream since 2011 with the popularity of the book series, then the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. The pandemic also changed how Americans have sex, while people tended to have less sex overall, according to the Kinsey Institute, 1 in 5 reported being more experimental when they did, including trying new positions and being more open with their partners about their fantasies.

Her desire to include this element ties back to her own shopping experiences, when she would ask questions in sex stores and nobody working at the shop knew the answer.

“We now work with the veteran’s hospital on providing gender expression gear. We’re teaming up with Planned Parenthood. I do talks at colleges and social groups and all over the place, so I really just have had a very yes attitude, and I think that that has allowed us to really kind of diversify.”

Only 18 states require medically accurate sex education in classrooms, and 29 require abstinence be stressed, according to Guttmacher Institute. With a lack of comprehensive sex ed in U.S. classrooms, including a push in some states to implement anti-abortion content like the Baby Olivia video, people have questions and don’t always feel comfortable asking their doctor. Early to Bed tries to fill those gaps by giving individuals and couples a place to turn to for some of those answers.

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