Venus Envy Ottawa: Cranking Sex Education Up To 11 For 10 Great Years

Friday, January 14, 2011

By Jon Pressick for

A tenth wedding anniversary is traditionally celebrated with a gift of tin. Are there any tin sex toys out there? If there are—and they are a good one to use—then you’d find them at Venus Envy in Ottawa, where they will be celebrating their own 10th Anniversary on Saturday January 29.

“I think that shops like Venus Envy normalize sex and make the taboo more acceptable,” affirms the shop’s founder Shelley Taylor. “We give people a sex positive space to explore and learn about sex and sexuality and it's hard to remember, but it's only been about 15 years in Canada since educational sex shops existed in Canada. The climate has changed a lot in those years and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.

Shelley didn’t jump right in to the idea of opening a sex shop. She attended a youth entrepreneurship program and started a personal chef and catering company in Halifax. Not finding that personally satisfying, she got the idea for the first Venus Envy store. “I opened Venus Envy in a tiny spot in 1998 as a sex shop and book store primarily for women, but it soon turned into a store for everyone.“

When considering the challenges of opening the second shop in Ottawa, Taylor admits that finding a physical space to rent was the most daunting. “When we got to Ottawa, we had this package of laminated information, media stories, letters of appreciation, and so on that we'd lug to meetings with us,” she recalls. “We were trying to 'prove' that we're respectable and that they could rely on us not to tarnish their 'good' name.” Despite this initial difficulty, when asked if the nation’s capital is a good place to have an educational sex shop, she replies with a resounding “YES!”

That belief in the community inspires an aspect of the Venus Envy experience that Shelley is most proud of. “One of my favorite things we've done is to establish the Venus Envy Bursary Fund. We throw parties and donate a portion of our sales to the fund and give two, $1500 bursaries to women and trans people studying in Ottawa each year.” As part of the celebrations on January 29, there will be a party called Perfect 10! at Club Saw later in the evening to benefit the bursary program.

Giving back to the community does not just happen in the form of bursaries though. Daily interaction with their patrons sets Venus Envy’s staff apart. And those customers, be they new to sex products and literature or veterans of the scene think very highly of the shop. “Our customers are so nice,” beams Shelley. “They say that we've made shopping for sex toys as comfortable as shopping for shoes. And that they appreciate both the product selection and the fact that we don't try and tell them what they should buy. Though some folks would love for us to just tell them what's best for them and that makes for a pretty funny stand-off.”

Carrying the tag of ‘educational’ sex shop is also a distinction Shelley and the staff take seriously. Though offering a wide variety of workshops, Venus Envy promotes and provides guidance for the public on a wide variety of sexual topics. The workshops predominantly take place at the shop, but Taylor also enjoys giving talks in classrooms or on campus. “It's great to be in that space where people are already open to learning and so there's generally a lot of discussion which I think makes any session so much better. And it's fun for me to get challenging and interesting questions!” They are also approached to present to doctors and other health professionals, which Shelley also finds satisfying. “It feels great knowing that we're helping people talk to their clients and patients in a more sex positive way. We try to give them the language to relate and gather more pertinent information that might help someone feel more at ease and more validated.”

The future is a simple and noble one for Venus Envy. Having just launched a new website that was two years in the making, Shelley Taylor just wants the shop to perform for the community. “I can't see us opening another Venus Envy anytime soon, I'd like to just do what we do and do it better all the time.”

Come to Venus Envy’s 10th year Anniversary Celebration, 11am¬–7pm, 320 Lisgar Street, Ottawa.

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