News & Politics

Two DC-Area Sex Shop Owners Are Dishing on What They Saw During the Pandemic

Photograph by Evy Mages

About Our Sex Lives and the Pandemic

This article is part of Washingtonian’s June 2021 cover story about sex in and after the pandemic. We chatted with locals about their quarantine escapades and struggles, talked to sex shop owners about the bestselling toys, heard about safer ways to get naked online, examined intimacy through a stunning series of photos, and mused about the future of sex. Dig in here.

Hart’s Desires

Lotus Blooms

Adams Morgan and Suitland Locations Alexandria
Shani and Tony Hart are a wife-and-husband team. Shani also sex-coaches. Owners Teal Dye is a sex educator with a master’s in human sexuality studies.
College students, drunk brunchers, and the 60+ in DC; Black Washingtonians of all ages (particularly millennials) in Prince George’s County. Clientele Empty-nesters, baby boomers, swingers, new moms, kinksters, queer folks, married couples in and around NoVa.
Tony opened in 2008; Shani joined in ’14. Years in Business Dye’s been running the store (founded 2009) since ’17.
“Everybody wanted stuff in their butts!” —Shani The Pandemic in Seven Words “We’re trying to make upset people happy.”
Sales jumped after BLM protests because the store was included in lists to support Black-owned businesses. Biggest Surprise Lingerie. It’s “one of our favorite conversations to have with customers taking time in the middle of a pandemic to feel good.”
As they shuttered stores and let staff go, Shani and Tony saw an online surge. Between March and June ’20, the couple shipped 4,816 orders. Toughest Pivot The popular lubricant Sliquid experienced massive shipping delays because a manufacturer had to prioritize medical equipment such as hand sanitizer. Dye got loans to buy big orders as often as possible.
Anal-oriented toys were up 30 percent in spring 2020. Wild Sales Stat $40,000 in dildos and $80,000 in app-controlled toys sold in ’20.
“One of the craziest questions I used to get asked a lot was ‘Is Covid like an STI? Can it be transmitted sexually?’ I’m like, ‘Uh, you can get it just by talking to somebody at the grocery store!’ ” —Shani Awkward Moment Staffers are consulting with customers online, which sometimes means they’re demonstrating a thin, strappy bodysuit over Zoom—but the buyers have their cameras off. So it’s like an empty virtual fitting room.
Clitoral suction toys, app-controlled toys, and couples games such as sex-position dice, foreplay cards, and seductive massage guides. What’s Selling Dildos and strap-on harnesses (usually bought in pairs) were constantly out of stock. Also, quarantine kits for striptease or bondage.
In the future, robot sex. Shani says she’s seeing prices drop for high-end sex dolls, and there’s increasing popularity of app-connected luxury tech (a growing NSFW industry called teledildonics). The Next Big Thing “I’m imagining a lot of sex parties,” says Dye, who predicts that foreplay tools such as corsets, restraints (cuffs and rope), and impact toys (crops and paddles) will be in high demand.

This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.