Over the last seven issues, we’ve caught people all over Europe in situations which show their sexuality. Before this issue we had Snapshots in countries ranging from the Czech Republic to the Netherlands, Montenegro or Norway (see related articles). This time we offer you something quite different – Snapshot in the USA. This surprise can meet every European – beware of book stores!

Adult Book Store

This summer she did it! It was her first journey to the US. She was eager to get to know this big country. So far, mostly her telly had displayed to her the American way of life. Among these images in her mind was a certain prudishness that she knew from the family series “7th Heaven”. On the other hand, she had also seen Playboy Bunny breasts and Big Cribs exposed on MTV.

Now, she was sitting eagerly in the backseat of the eco-friendly Prius, which her friend was driving through a very small town near the East coast. Happy to have some personal sight-seeing she was looking out of the car window – outside, she saw a small and provincial video shop, a petrol station supplying all those pick-up trucks with their much needed energy, a diner with a classic advertisement lighting up the car park in front of it, an adult book store (not illuminated), and a florist. Wait a second! An “Adult Book Store”? Her first thought was – gosh, they even have their own shops for erotic literature! Do they also have a shop for romantic literature, for self-help books or science fiction?

She told her American friends how stunned she was. ”This is splendid! Buy some red wine, invite your love over, and buy a book in the “Adult Book Store” in order to have a pleasant yet also frivolous evening – is this how you do it in the US?”

Quite surprised, her friends turned around in their seats. How could she have thought that the “Adult Book Store” was a bookshop for adult literature? They laughed but after a while explained that…actually it was a simple sex shop! You might buy a porn magazine or two, but definitely not exquisite erotic literature. No Anaïs Nin, no Catherine Millet.

How could she have thought that the “Adult Book Store” was a bookshop for adult literature? They laughed but after a while explained that…actually it was a simple sex shop!

I admit: it was me, back then in the car, with my American friends, wondering about sexual explicitness and linguistic disguise.

As a young European, you will at least have passed by some of the famous red-light districts in Europe – be it the Soho district in London, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, or the De Wallen in Amsterdam. You might have been raised in a medium-sized city, where there are at least one or two sex shops, or a strip club. They are just there, nothing to be ashamed of.

Religion and state seem to be one. Photo: sebsphotos; Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This made me wonder: these days, why do you still have to disguise sex shops and call them “Adult Book Stores”? Apparently, everybody knows what can be found behind the shutters. In Germany, for example, there are still shops for “marital hygiene”. However, this is supposed to attract witty customers nowadays. In the US, on the contrary, many things seem to be linguistically and seriously covered up: you do not say, “I have to use the toilet.” Instead you go for the harmless using of the bathroom. Another example: “Hi, how are you.” This question – without a question mark – is used as a statement by shop assistants in order to welcome customers. Do we really need all this disguise? A simple “hi” would serve the purpose, and so would the honest name “sex shop”. As our (European) sex shops are mostly called.

This prevalent cultural difference between the two continents might be due to the fact that religious views are strong and sometimes even radical in parts of the US. Regarded from the fundamentally religious position, sex in general is more vice than joy. Lust without a purpose for God or society is not appreciated in some religious circles. There is only one way of having “good” sex – if it serves the means to conceive a child. And how does a sex shop come into it in this respect? Clearly, no such devices as “baby-making hand-cuffs” or “looking-forward-to-the-little-one whips” can be found in a sex shop.

Maybe, if industry did develop sex toys with these names, a sex shop could also be thus called in some parts of the world? Because then, a sex shop would be something positive for many more people, and it would need no disguise anymore. Could that be the solution – disguise some things and thus reveal the whole?

There is only one way of having “good” sex – if it serves the means to conceive a child.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. This would only exclude others from the picture. It would not help to make the world a better place, either socially or sexually. Hypocrisy would still govern the world. As long as sex is regarded a dirty pastime, we can only do our best to talk about it, to relieve it from some myths and scaremongering. This might also help prevent teenage pregnancies, or HIV extinguishing whole countries.

We definitely do not need over-sexualisation in the media, but we need honesty. To call a sex shop a “sex shop” is only part of the whole. Thus, sometimes, we just need to talk dirty in order to make the world a better place!

Cover photo: Thomas Hawk; Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0

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