Getting into SEX… Education.
I’d been working in the sex shop for a while now. I was 19, nothing was shocking me anymore and my product knowledge was expanding. I started thinking about everyone differently and watching people in public – especially their behaviours in the shop. I cared about things like frenulum’s, the perineum, clitoral hoods, urethras and the like. I’d failed science terribly at school so this was my first-time having confidence in a proper understanding of anatomy. I was getting really good at my job, and as I’ve mentioned before, it was nice to know that I was doing well at something for once. People would only have to allude to what they wanted and I’d be able to ‘prescribe’ them a suitable sex toy or accessory. I was totally confident with the product and could talk to anyone comfortably – our customers were straight, bi, pan, gay, asexual, cis, trans, non-binary – everything. I worked with a group of butch straight guys who were less phased by the presence of queer people than I was. The environment was so unique and I’d found that my naturally curious and flirtatious nature worked here. It didn’t feel like work, other than the days I’d turn up having been to a nightclub the night before (and the morning of).
But you know what part of the shop went completely over my head? The fetish & kink section. I didn’t understand why anyone would want to beat the crap out of each other. I’d been to fetish clubs in the past but only as an excuse to dress up, and had never explored into the playrooms. The whole thing was an exercise in vanity and self-expression on my part. I was never personally invested in any of it. I certainly didn’t judge anyone for doing it but it just wasn’t on my radar. I was very young so my understanding of the idea was people would tie people down and beat them up. Like I said in my other piece when I ordered the PVC outfits for the shop – I’d done it on the trend that celebrities like Rihanna and The Spice Girls etc. had propelled into the zeitgeist. I mean, if people wanted to get beaten up for doing nothing they’d just have to move to Eltham and grow up looking like I did – surely? My manager, Jess, would make friends with all of the working girls and make sure that they knew who I was – she seemed to take pride in introducing me to these big names in the underworld and telling me in detail why what they do is important and how much of a service they truly provide. I’d always been particularly enamoured with the glamorous escorts and female Dom’s (Dominatrix) that would come into the shop – and loved how they commanded everyone else attention shopping in the store at the time. It was all very camp and seductive.
One day, Jess got me chatting with a female Dom (let’s call her ‘Victoria’) and Victoria took a bit of a shine to my innocence. She clearly made really good money and didn’t need to come to the store, as could afford much more expensive gear than a Soho sex shop could provide (Remember this was back in the days when Soho wasn’t full of designer clothes shops and fifteen different types of Chi-Chi sandwich/coffee bars – it was still a bit rough). I think she just liked the vibe instore and the team. It was very much like being part of a family and I was definitely the younger brother. I’d sat on the till point with my legs crossed, gone through supplier catalogues with her and we’d put together a huge custom order which would ship directly to the shop for her – and in an attempt to gain her approval I gave a generous discount. She kept saying how cute I was and how I should wear makeup to confuse the straight men – and of course, I loved this attention.
The store was open until 1 am and she had wanted to take me for a drink, so Jess let me go early and she walked me to Barcode Soho (RIP) where we took a seat at the back of the room. Jess was going to join us after closing up and cashing up. I remember the way people looked at us together and I have to admit, I felt really cool to be associated with this intimidating mega-babe.
We got talking about everything from my sexuality, to how I was finding the shop – and we eventually got into her line of work and what it ACTUALLY meant. I made a flippant remark about how it must feel good to be paid to beat men up and was quickly corrected – it’s not about beating men up. Victoria explained to me eloquently what domination meant and what having subs was all about. She taught me about trust, about why her men come to her, and what she gets out of it. I learned about how men used her services to fight their own internal battles, from childhood abandonment issues to social anxiety – right through to super-successful businessmen who have metaphorically ‘reached the top’ having chased the rush of success, cocaine and god-knows-what-else but now nowhere else to go. In her words, she “brought them back down to earth” and delivered an experience that cannot technically be bought – as you could request Victoria’s time and company but she’d heavily vet you before agreeing to provide her services.
I’d never thought about the psychology behind some acts of BDSM because it had never really been on my radar before, but it all began to make sense. I asked hundreds of stupid questions and had each one patiently answered, I think in retrospect Victoria appreciated someone with genuine curiosity and who had no agenda. I just wanted to absorb everything that she had to say. Mostly because it was so interesting but also because I’d felt embarrassed that I’d made assumptions and pre-judged the entire community.
I didn’t realise until years later how much of an effect this experience had on me. I don’t want to go on too much about coming from a working-class background but in my life experience at that, stage in my life, you ‘just get on with things’. You don’t psychoanalyse situations or look for depth beyond the obvious unless you’re in love or you’re actually studying something at school. And my sex education at Roman Catholic school was abysmal – I knew nothing other than porn I’d found online. But my evening with Victoria (and eventually Jess who joined us at Barcode) taught me so much about sexuality and the deeper meanings to so many acts of self-expression, curiosities, and taboo sexual acts. I felt quite disappointed in myself for not being more clued up. I’d only been at the sex shop for under-a-year but I’d convinced myself that I was this sex expert with tonnes of knowledge. When I am interested in a topic, I like to tear it apart and understand it from the ground-up. Something had been sparked and I began to become obsessed with the psychology behind sex.
Now, I knew that I was never a particularly kinky, submissive or dominant person sexually. I’d always seen sex as a bit of an equal playing field, as I was fascinated by pleasure and orgasms – for everyone involved. The idea of being dominated definitely didn’t turn me on, and the idea of dominating someone who was being passive didn’t either – but I did like the idea of lugging heads with dominant men and becoming what’s known as a power bottom. Or those that ‘top from the bottom’. I’d known I’d been moving in that direction as soon as my body had matured and boys had started treating me differently. I wouldn’t bat my eyelids and act coy – I would challenge them. I’d stand nose-to-nose with boys and feel powerful when they’d melt through the awkwardness. I’d been bullied for years so feeling the axis flip, helped me to make peace with what had happened – and actually allowed me to psychoanalyse my bullies. Mum had always said they’d been jealous of me. Dad always said that the boys that called me ‘Poof’ fancied me. Were they right?
The guy my cousin beat up.
One experience, in particular, stays on my mind. I’d been aggressively approached by a guy as I was walking home alone from school. He’d caused some trouble with my older brother which had led to my cousin beating the crap out of him previously. Twice. (My cousin Oliver passed away in 2016, but growing up he was a security guard to all of us – especially me). This guy approached me and got me with my back against a wall in an alleyway behind Sainsbury’s in Eltham High Street – basically telling me that he was going to beat me up because of what my cousin had done. I don’t know what happened in the next few moments, as it’s all a blur. Probably lost to adrenaline. But he just randomly got very close to me, so close that I could smell his hair gel and started to whimper and moan like he was having sex. He was somewhere between gyrating against me and humping me, looking both confused with himself and laughing. I was just as confused. I then felt his boner sticking into my thigh. He said something like “you did that to me” and I said something along the lines of, “I know I fucking did” – I remember being proud of how blasé and direct that I sounded – I was imitating what I’d seen Madonna talk like on TV. It was like he’d had an episode or something – as he suddenly got himself together, pushed me square over and then walked off. I went down like a sack of shit as my knee’s had almost buckled. I remember that my whole body was shivering heavily the entire walk home – like I was freezing cold. I could not stop quivering or hold still to do anything. I realised at that moment how much I’d got off on giving him a boner and taking the power back.
What had interested me the most about it, in retrospect, was that his dominant behaviour had completely dissolved in front of me. The rude boy that I was expecting to beat the crap out of me became putty in my hands. And why? Because of sex. He wanted me and because of that, I had won. I hadn’t absorbed that at the time because he’d just really confused me and, in my opinion – he had acted like a fucking fool. It wasn’t the first time I’d given someone a boner but it was the first time I’d really seen myself have an effect on a man’s demeanour. Little did I know, there’d be a lot more of that coming. I don’t know if I saw myself as fully back then, as I was still getting to understand it all. I had no gay sex education other than photos I’d seen on my allotted 30-minute timeslots on the computer to browse AOL at home. Boys started to treat me very differently from the age of 14 and I knew the game was changing, I just didn’t understand just how much it was about to change. I was about to go from feeling like a freak no-one wants around to someone almost in high-demand with no understanding as to how or why. Which sounds really exciting but it was really quite traumatic. I’d describe it as giving the work-experience kid, the job as CEO… I had no idea what I was doing.
Connecting the dots.
Fast-forwarding back to being 19 and having had our night-out with Victoria, I got fascinated by the idea of how our interests, fears, passions (etc, etc) fuelled the sex shopping our customers did. Where I’d been recommending products and advising on toys on a surface-level, I had started to learn beneath the surface where it was necessary. Yeah, some people just want to cum – and that’s fine. But other people have needs that they want to be fulfilled and as someone with a growing interest in sex education, I needed to begin to study what I was talking about a little harder. And I needed to be able to recognise those people. And how did I do that? I would quiz people. The working girls at the brothel around the corner would get their ears chewed off by me, with tonnes of questions. All the time. I’m sure I drove them mad but they were very patient with me. We had a few male dom’s who’d come in and I’d try and chat to them – though they’d be harder to chat with. I’d ask my manager 150,000 questions about her vulva and got her to repeatedly explain how and why certain toys, angle’s and sex positions helped her to reach orgasm. I found it interesting that certain types of men helped her cum, too… but that’s not my story to tell.
Things were starting to make sense, and dots were connecting as I allowed them to. My own experiences were now paying into my fascination with sex education. I’d think about my experience with the guy who’d wanted to beat me up, the men approaching me in Soho, the “straight” men propositioning me at the shop – and I wanted to get into the mindset and understand it all. I began to think about the emotional side to sex, and comfortably settled into more of an empathetic role when it comes to sex education – rather than a sexual aggressor. That didn’t appeal to me at all. I didn’t want to be sexy, I wanted people to be able to turn to me with the things that made them feel embarrassed and would always be able to pinpoint the customer in-store who had told us 75% of what they want. I’d do my best to get that other 25% out. This is a pattern that I’d take into my own sex life, often taking ‘closeted men’ under my wing and helping them understand their urges. It’s also why I’ve turned down many sexual and romantic situations with certain guys, as I knew that they wouldn’t feel good for it in the long run. Lots of that understanding and empathy comes from my work and my understanding of sexuality. Little did I know that 12-13 years later, I’d be here – doing what I do now. When you come from where I come from, you don’t expect much – you just appreciate the opportunity to try. I owe a lot to those sex shops in Soho.
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