Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium

The Sh! store in Hoxton Square, London

Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium is a female run British business selling sex toys, strap-on harnesses, dildos, bondage gear, lingerie, books, DVD's and accessories. Founded in 1992 by Kathryn Hoyle and Sophie Walters, the company also manufactures dildos and harnesses, and commissions BDSM equipment, lubricant, massage oil, toy cleaner and vibrating toys.

The Sh! shop is located in Hoxton Square, London. A second shop, on Portobello Road, ceased trading in May 2012. The company also runs a mail order business via the company website and has its HQ in Forest Gate. Sh! is a small company, employing 9 women.

Founder's biographies

Kathryn Hoyle was born in Ilkley, West Yorkshire and grew up with a feminist mother, a free-thinking father and one brother. She attended her local school, Ilkley Grammar, before going on to complete a foundation art course in Bradford and graduating with a degree in Fine Art from The Faculty of Arts and Architecture, Brighton University.

Sophie Walters was born in Bracknell, Berkshire and went to Marist Convent Catholic School in Sunninghill, Berkshire. At 17, she started a business and commerce course at Windsor College. Upon completion of the course Sophie worked for Securicor Heathrow, Air Courier Division and later on for Roy Bowles Transport & Cargo. In 1989, she took up the position of Logistics Manager at Sony Corporation Air Cargo and then, after meeting Kathryn in 1991, joined Sh!

Cultural impact

Sh! was the first sex shop in the UK focusing solely on women. Sex shops were created to cater mainly to men's needs. One of the effects of the sexual revolution was that women took charge of their own sexuality and with that have pushed into the sex business.[1]

However, in late 2014, the company changed its door policy regarding male customers; previously men had to be accompanied by a female to enter the store and browse. Since October 2014 the lower floor of the premises is open to all customers, including unaccompanied men, while the upper floor remains women-only.

Vibrators were first developed as medical equipment to help cure women of hysteria by inducing hysterical paroxysm, also known as orgasm. Many medical practitioners working with sexual dysfunctions have limited or no knowledge of vibrators or dildos, so Sh! has been working to educate practitioners from NHS Trusts.[2]

The Sh! website provides advice and guidance and the shop offers customers to opportunity to handle various toys or to speak to highly-trained staff. The company is the only sex shop which offers a 30-day warranty.[3]

Hoyle discovered the Rabbit vibrator in a sex toy warehouse in 1993. It was named “Roger Rabbit”. The renamed toy "Jessica Rabbit Vibrator" has since gone onto fame, starring in television shows including Sex and the City. However, it was in 1999, when Cosmopolitan ran an article on female masturbation, that the "Jessica" really started to enter women's homes.

Pornography and sex shop licensing

Sh! stocks women-friendly, pornographic material, such as films by Anna Span, available to its customers. Women-friendly means depicting female desire convincingly and realistically, as opposed to mainstream pornography which embodies the male gaze and objectifies women by making them into a tool for both the male pornographic actor's sexual gratification and the viewer's purposes.

The pornography which Sh! stocks is softcore - that is, having any explicit money shots and genitalia blurred or pixelated. This is due to the premises not having the appropriate licensing to stock hardcore pornography.


Sh! runs educational workshops and collaborates with National Health Service Trusts in providing sex toys for women with sexual difficulties.This includes a dilator set, composed of vibrators of varying diameters. The Sh! dilator set is also part of a PhD project, at The Royal United Hospital Bath Gynae Oncology department,[4] to research the possibilities and implications of using vibrators in the post-surgery dilating process for women.

2003 International Sexology Conference

In 2003, Adeola Agbebiyi from the Barts and the London NHS Trust, Kathryn Hoyle and Angel Zatorski both from Sh! Women's Emporium, part-took presented two papers exploring the relationship between women and sex toys.[5]

Sh! Sex Toy Workshops

Sh! wrote the introduction to sex toys and safer sex for the Oxford University Student Guide.


Sh! is also one of three remaining women's bookstores in London and has a comprehensive selection of women's erotica and books dealing with women's sexuality and related issues.


Sh! has been awarded Ethical Consumer status (by for their informed and information-giving standpoint on sex toys. Sh! has also won the 2005 Erotic Awards Special Judges Award[6] for being 'the best sex shop in town ~ possibly the world!' In 2007, Sh! won the g3 magazine Readers Poll 'Best adult store online' and 'Best LBGT friendly business'[7] and in 2008 the business was awarded the Readers Poll 'Best online retailer' award.[8]

In March 2012 Sh! was awarded the UK & Ireland Shopping Venue of the Year, and the UK & Ireland Best Business of the Year, at the first annual Qype Business awards.[9]


  1. Navarro, Mireya (2004-02-20). "Women Tailor Sex Industry To Their Eyes - New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  2. Hill, Amelia (2002-09-29). "Women to get sex toys on the NHS". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  3. Moore, Anna (2003-07-20). "A Woman's Touch". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  4. Archived September 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. "Erotic Awards 2005".
  6. "g3 Magazine Readers Poll 2007 results".
  7. g3 magazine, June 2008
  8. Jeremy, Yelp CEO (2012-10-24). "Yelp Official Blog: Welcoming Qype to the Team". Retrieved 2013-11-04.

The Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium online shop.

Coordinates: 51°31′38.2″N 0°4′55.5″W / 51.527278°N 0.082083°W / 51.527278; -0.082083

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