Right now, the storefront just off of Cherokee Street is still a construction site. A pile of plaster has been recently chipped away to expose a historic brick wall. A family of squirrels lives in the air conditioning wall unit.
But Sarah Michelson and Willow Rosen have big plans. The space will house a midwifery center, community space for parenting classes, and “Box,” a feminist sex toy shop.
“I’m seeing it as one mission,” Michelson said. “Midwifery is about life cycles, sex is about life cycles.”
Michelson and Rosen met in midwifery school and became fast friends. The idea of bringing the three ideas under one roof came because they saw a gap between society’s acceptance of sexuality, birth and parenting.
“With those who identify as female or are identified as female, you have this dichotomy between those who are allowed to be sexual and who are allowed to bear children,” Rosen said. “When one person decides to do one of those things you have one or the other.”
So what is a feminist sex shop?
Philosophically, it means creating a space that is safe and accepting to everyone. Products range from lubricants and vibrators to “packers”— models of a penis that can be worn with a harness.
“It’s respect for the autonomy of one’s body, no matter one’s biological sex or gender. Knowing that you don’t need permission to explore yourself and explore your sexuality,” Rosen said.
“I think right now in a lot of the spaces that exist, and a lot of the stores that aren’t feminist sex toy stores, there’s still this ‘I have to go sneak in,’ or ‘I have to go at night,’ because … sex toys,” Rosen added. "That’s not the only place that sexuality lives. And if we keep it there we lose the opportunity to bring it into a healthy space."
In stark contrast to typical highway porn shops, feminist sex stores tend to be decorated as high-end boutiques, with lots of natural light. It’s a relatively small, but growing market—The Tool Shed in Milwaukee and Early to Bed in Chicago have similar company missions.
Feminist sex stores are also part of a shift to sex toys that are made of high-grade silicone or natural materials such as ceramic, glass or stone. Unlike condoms, sex toys are not FDA approved, so information about what they consist of may be hard to find. When their store is up and running, Michelson and Rosen say Box will join the Coalition Against Toxic Toys — a group that was founded in 2005 by the owners of the Smitten Kitten, a Minneapolis-based feminist sex toy store.
But above all, the space will be inclusive. Michelson and Rosen will both see clients at the midwifery clinic next to Box. There, Michelson will offer prenatal appointments up to 36 weeks of pregnancy for women who wish to give birth at home. Rosen, a professional doula, will also take clients when she graduates from midwifery school.
In addition, the space will host childbirth education, breastfeeding groups, and parenting groups for alternative families (though the pair reject that term).
“It would be anyone who’s on the LGBTQQI spectrum, a polyamorous family, a family where there’s more than one parent of the same sex or gender, folks who have interesting situations where they’re not married or a divorce where they’re still friends. Just something that you’re not seeing in the other parenting groups,” Michelson said.
In other words — families who might not have a box to check on census forms.
Rosen just finished chiseling the plaster off of one wall in the new space, and Michelson says she’ll tile the bathroom after a contractor can put in the plumbing. But the two hope to open Box at 3350 Ohio Ave. in St. Louis as soon as June 3. They’ve begun an IndieGoGo campaign to raise additional funds for merchandise.
Follow Durrie Bouscaren on Twitter for more health-related news: @durrieB