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Adult toys a hit in recession-hit Britain

"We have regular customers who come to the store and happily spend 300-500 pounds in an hour," said Renee Denyer, manager of Sh! - London's first sex shop for women that has been doing roaring business since 1992.

world Updated: Aug 03, 2009 23:24 IST

"Hello, how are you? Would you like to have tea or coffee?" That's not a waiter's line but the way customers are greeted at Sh! - London's first sex shop for women that has been doing roaring business since 1992.

Despite recession, adult toys sell like hot cakes in London. The current adult toy market in UK is worth 250 million pounds as per the Hewson Group, a market analyst company based in Norwich in East Anglia.

"We have regular customers who come to the store and happily spend 300-500 pounds in an hour," Renee Denyer, manager of Sh!, told IANS.

Couples ranging from heterosexuals to LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestite) come to the sex shop and choose from an array of products.

There are trained staff to guide the customers to choose from hardcore DVD, lingerie, toys, magazines, fetish wear and bondage kit to name a few for both sexes.

The people who frequent such shops in London range from 18 years to 82 years. The price starts from 99 pence for a lubricant sachet to an astounding 500 pounds for a contraction machine.

Earlier, such shops were mostly found in Soho, centre of the west end of London, famous for its notoriety on sex shops, entertainment industry and its busy nightlife.

Times have now changed and today such shops are not hidden in dingy bylanes or from the prying eyes of passersby.

At London's busy high street, Oxford Street, one can see any number of shops like Harmony and Ann Summers vying for attention among clothing shops and department stores.

The decor with baby pink or its dark shades with black combinations or frilly curtains are not to be missed by naughty eyes.

But at Sh!, men are not welcome unless they are with a woman. "Our women-only policy makes a huge difference, women feel comfortable and safe at the store, there are no men peering at them," says Denyer.

According to Sarah Marchant, sales and customer care assistant of Harmony, "everyone's sexuality is vibrant and people from all walks of life come to the shop and buy what they want".

Marchant's comments were true as one could see young, middle aged men and women and even elderly people purchasing adult toys without any inhibitions.

A customer in her late 70s, who looks younger than her age, said, "I lost my husband four years ago after four decades of married life, but thanks to these aides am still enjoying my libido."

Hewson Group recently did a street survey to understand what female shoppers really want in terms of 'erotic goods'.

"The reasons are, as you would expect, complex. Excitement and enhancement in sex would be simple answers," said Judy Pearce, research director of the Hewson Group.

Pearce projects the sale of adult toys in UK market at worth well over one billion pounds by 2014.

Marchant has been working at Harmony for the last two years and believes that it's people with money and steady jobs who buy adult toys.

It's interesting to know that the National Health Service (NHS), the public funded healthcare system in Britain, has been recommending such toys to women with difficulty in reaching orgasm since the beginning of this decade. However, NHS warns that sexually transmitted diseases can be transmitted if such toys are shared and not properly cleaned after use.

Harmony has come a long way since it started its venture in Oxford Street five years ago and today they have more branches. Window displays are strictly restricted to lingerie and you can't see mannequins with adult toys.

According to Denyer, "The online business is also good, but are looking ways of optimising it. Customers prefer to visit the shop as they get to meet the Sh! Girlz (saleswomen), drink cups of tea as they browse, squeeze or touch the goodies."

Walking around an adult toy shop, with a steaming cup of tea is bound to warm your senses anyway.