By Kerrie McKinnon – former Store Manager, Flirt Adult Stores
When I was asked to reflect on my life in the adult industry, I honestly didn’t know where to start. So naturally I took my thoughts back to where it all started.
In 2007 I walked into an adult store in Orange NSW for the first time. Little did I know that the experience would shape the rest of my career – I saw an ad for a job on the wall for a shop assistant and the rest is history.
At the time I was working as a cake decorator and not pursuing any particular career goals but I knew that I had the personality to converse with many types of people – so without hesitation I submitted my application and thus began my journey with Flirt Adult Stores.
In the beginning the two Flirt stores represented a vast array of lower priced adult products but also a wide variety of toys. The majority of customers regularly stocked up on their DVDs and magazines, which were the bread and butter of the adult stores at that time. Those were the days where you couldn’t stock them fast enough, and the sale of an $80 toy was a great day, and talk of anal play made folks giggle with embarrassment. Of course the question ‘would your friends and family have a problem with you working here?’ was one of the first asked before a job interview.
Within the first few months of working in this environment I knew that the adult industry was where I wanted to be. Meeting people from all walks of life and talking with them about the most sensitive of subjects. Knowing that the non-judgemental environment allowed them to open up about their deepest feelings as well as their darkest indiscretions. I took it upon myself to learn more about every unique and intriguing subject that was introduced to me and I took pride in researching them and being ready and able to assist the next person that shared the same views and needs.
Like most adult stores we offered no judgement on sexual preferences, or towards people who shared bizarre fetishes and value., Yet the social acceptance of the adult industry was still pathetically low. Most people would have been shocked to see an advertisement for a vibrator in a magazine, but this was also the era of industry innovation, where the promotion of sexual health rapidly expanded.
I believe that in earlier years, a lack of knowledge about what the adult industry stood for was its major PR problem. Yet there were some defining moments. Think back to the late 90s when Sex in the City featured ‘the rabbit’ vibrator and women around the world responded – and in enormous numbers! This was a defining moment for the industry and helped shape the opinion that women were increasingly self-sufficient and in control of their lives… all the way into the bedroom.
I think back to the arrival of a toy promoting couples play using the most innovative design. 2003 was the founding year for the We-Vibe. It took a few years to trickle into retail stores of Australia but this little purple gem would go on to be one of the largest names in the history of sex toys. The vibrating panty blasted its way into suburban homes thanks to Catherine Segal and ‘The Ugly Truth’ in 2009. Every second person walking into the stores would ask for the ability to squirm and moan submissively under the remote control of their partners… hands free.
The book release in 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey, opened the minds of mothers, housewives and the like into the world of domination and submission. The phrase ‘mummy porn’ was peppered into polite conversations and we saw a surge in bondage products across the world. The social acceptance of this risqué sexual play finally emerged. But let us not forget the game changers, Womanizer and Satisfyer flooding into the market within 2014 – 2016, changing the minds of so many women who had previously believed that ‘it has to have the vibration of a jackhammer to make me orgasm’. Seeing all of these moments flow into the market and alter people’s thoughts about adult play was key to my developing obsession with the adult industry.
Within three short years, of my joining the Flirt team we opened another store on the mid-north coast of NSW at Port Macquarie. Being a part of this transition really taught me that this industry wasn’t just about products, or sales, or marketing. This industry thrives on knowledge! Any store can have an array of products, but to have your staff truly understand why a product was designed and manufactured was what stood any store above the rest.
I would spend many days and nights reading everything there was available to learn about the innovation and technology that was changing our industry from ‘sticky floor stores’ to sexual wellness stores – stores where we were helping other people’s lives – and this is no exaggeration, we were changing people’s sex lives. Before the end of 2017 a further four stores were proudly opened and the presence of high quality adult stores in rural/country NSW was fierce.
Reflecting on my 10 years within the Adult industry, changes in product preference and trends stood out. Internet and accessibility made the bread winning DVDs become obsolete. This left the only customers stocking up to be the dedicated fans of hard covers… and the customers that were scared of the dreaded search history …. and of course, the good old chaps that didn’t spring for an internet connection just yet.
We jumped from $80 high end toys to $300+ products that interacted from across the world. Masturbators that were simulating visual and physical penetration, vibrators that remembered our favourite settings and Kegels that told us when to ‘squeeze’. It was a new age, and even two years beyond that, the technology is still evolving! This is where my passion lies: how far can we go and where will this industry be in another 10 years?
I strive to see 100% acceptance and respect that sex is life – without it we wouldn’t be breathing! Rid the stores of snide remarks and complaints from strangers of our destruction to their communities! This change can only come from presence and knowledge within said communities. Hiding stores, hiding passion and the importance of sexual pleasure will not change conservative people’s views, it will only make them believe it is where we belong – hidden. The magnitude of that transgression is damaging to everything the industry stands for.
The hardest truth whilst working within adult retail was that although you adapt your personality and the false status of a counsellor with many of your customers, you do not have the credentials to back it entirely. It was many years of helping people on the surface but wanting to delve deeper into the biological meanings of their needs, fetishes and feelings of acceptance or inadequacy, that lead me to my decision to study Psychology and Sexology. To become a certified sexologist meant that I could help clients on the utmost professional manner, to study further the nooks and crannies of the industry; to find out what is needed, what hasn’t been designed yet, and is there a missing area that needs to be addressed when it comes to sexual health, acceptance and more importantly education?
Being a part of this change is so important to me, and we as a country still have plentiful years of change to work on. With the constant fight against the social norms in the topic of sex, change takes four times as long for us so we need to keep pushing and not let the fighting current wash it away.
So, I have now taken the leap from my ever-loved security blanket of in-store retail and I stand strong on my professional path within the most amazing industry I have ever known. I am proud of the last 11 years that have brought me to this point. I see my future standing before vendors, store-owners, staff and community, educating further on the benefits on sexual health and pleasure. I have had the honour of meeting world renowned sexologists, manufacturing toy giants and powerhouse distributors within my years and I have been given the opportunity to continue to work with them as an ambassador. The future to travel further delving into the inner workings of what will make this industry excel even more would be nothing short of a perfect profession for me.
As I have quoted to many… ’Never turn your nose up at an industry just because you don’t understand its presence. If it was simple and finite it wouldn’t be enough to change people’s lives.’