Twenty years ago, a person might have felt a little skeezy about buying porno flicks or skin mags from an adult shop. Kara McGee can sympathize, but times have changed. She and her husband, Kraig, are the franchisees behind Adam and Eve stores in Boise, Nampa, Pocatello and Coeur d'Alene; Portland and Salem, Ore.; and, most recently, Spokane, Wash. McGee said gone are the days of dim-lit, windowless spaces with sticky floors and brown paper bags. In the 10 years since the McGees got into the business with the Adam and Eve location in Nampa—among the first of the chain's more than 60 locations in the U.S. and Canada—the adult products industry has come out of the shadows as a way to promote sexual health, increase intimacy and, as she said, "sell people happiness."
Amid the run-up to Valentine's Day, McGee gave Boise Weekly a tour of her colorful, clean, brightly lit Fairview Avenue location and talked about changing cultural attitudes, the impact of the internet on the adult products business and what's currently popular at her stores.
Can you give me an idea of how busy this time of year is for you?
Usually the two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day are the busiest of the year, and then Valentine's Day and that weekend right before we usually are double or triple as busy as we normally are.
I imagine the internet had a big impact on this industry.
Oh yes, definitely. I think it's changed the movie sales of this industry dramatically. ... The percentage of sales of DVDs has dropped probably from 25 percent to 5 percent of retail sales. That's OK, because it makes our stores a little more boutiquey and not as hard or hardcore, perhaps. More people feel comfortable coming in shopping as a couple or women come in together; it's not as intimidating for them.
I feel like attitudes about sex and sexuality have changed a lot. Can you speak to that?
I think communities realize we're not a seedy adult store. We're just selling people happiness. Things to promote their sexual wellness and increase their intimacy. It's not a bad thing. It should be a good thing. Everybody has sex, so we wanted to make it accessible to everybody that feels comfortable coming in and asking questions and looking at things and talking about what they want.
Do you feel like people are much more informed consumers about these kinds of products these days?
Sometimes. Sometimes we have people come in that have researched everything, gone online or they've visited a ton of other stores. Sometimes we have people coming in who have no idea what to even ask or where to start.
That has to be kind of fun, helping people explore what they want.
It is. I love hearing from our staff how much they love their job because they've helped this couple or helped this woman and kind of broken down those barriers so people don't feel so awkward talking about their sexuality.
Body positivity must be a big part of what you do.
Absolutely. We carry lingerie from extra small to four- of five-X, so everybody has a chance to feel sexy. That's one of the things our staff is trained on: To help somebody find something that makes them feel sexy—not the stereotypical idea of what's sexy.
Is there anything in the novelty area that you see as particularly popular or gaining in popularity?
The prostate section is big. I think the anal play section has grown significantly over the past 10 years and the bondage section, because of Fifty Shades of Grey—the new one is coming out on Valentine's Day. That's been huge. We used to have a small bondage section that was probably like this [McGee pointed to a small corner display of colorful whips] now it's the entire wall, pretty much [opening her arms wide to a selection of handcuffs, ball gags, chains and leather clothing].
To what do you attribute the rising popularity of the anal products?
I don't know. Maybe it's just that people are talking about it more. It could be that it's always been there, but now people are feeling more comfortable talking about it. And improvement in products. Everything has a stopper, which is important, and it has a small neck, which is more comfortable. There are women and men that are designing products that are more body compatible. ... Not only is it pleasurable, it promotes good prostate health.
Reasonably priced, too. Only $20.
That's right. Everybody can afford to use this stuff.
What about over here? What are these?
Glass [dildos]. Glass is a big seller. It's Pyrex, so you can drop it and it won't break. You can heat it, you can cool it, you can sterilize it, you can stick it in your dishwasher—but don't let your kids empty the dishwasher. You can also put a vibrating cock ring on it and then you have a vibrating piece of glass, because it transmits vibration really well.
Pumps [for penis enlargement] are also a huge item. Our male lines have become more popular even though we've become more of a couple's store. The breadth of male products has grown. Lots of different pumps and cock rings. [Holding up a particularly sturdy looking pump:] This is a company that promotes increasing girth and length, if used over time.
So... does it actually work?
It does actually work. I don't know if it's permanent, but it does work.
I'm interested by that comment you just made about becoming more of a couple's store. Has that been recent?
Over the past 10 years our demographic has shifted. With people getting their videos online, I think more women and couples feel much more comfortable coming into a store like this together.
Is it an older demographic?
Absolutely. I'd say our biggest demographic is aged 25-45 women.
I know a lot of people in the Baby Boomer generation are staying sexually active a lot longer, so that's got to be a customer group that didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago.
I think you're right. Or wasn't as comfortable coming into a store like this. Which is great, because we've provided this environment that they feel comfortable coming into.
I'm struck by the amount of products that are related to or can aid with medical conditions.
We have a lot of products that are definitely made for women's sexual health. We obviously can't promote any medical fixes, but products that help aid people recover from various things like surgery or maintain intimacy even though they may have a health condition.
I imagine that requires a different kind of training for sales associates.
We always preface it with, "you should check with your medical professional," but we can definitely know about those different sorts of medical issues.
Who do you reach out to to get that kind of training or background? Do you contact medical professionals?
Yes, we have in the past, and I'd like to start a medical class series, like intimacy after cancer, or intimacy after chemotherapy, or intimacy with prostate issues—those types of things. I'm hoping some local physicians would be open to coming in and offering some of those classes. ... I was also a physician assistant in Pocatello and Boise, and I did that part-time as the kids grew up, which is probably why I emphasize the medical aspect so much. It's important to me.