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The Story of Sh! Women's Store

The Story of Sh! - Sh! Women's Store
When Sh! was launched way back in 1992, we had no idea it would be a journey that would alter the face of the British sex industry. We simply wanted to create a place we felt happy to shop in. From our first trip around the Soho sex shops to being taken to court, discovering Jessica Rabbit, introducing sex toys to the NHS, and launching Shush Life...

1991: Ky goes Shopping for a Vibe

Long (long!) before the internet and female-friendly sex shops were a Thing, a Yorkshire-lass named Ky Hoyle innocently went shopping for a toy.

A liberated young woman, Ky firmly believed that it was her right to explore and enjoy her sexuality. After all, it was decades after women’s lib, the invention of the contraceptive pill, Dr. Graftenburg's 'discovery' of the G-spot, and Shere Hite's Report on Female Sexuality. The government was running scary ads full of tombstones, warning that sex could kill. With the emergence of HIV, people were urged to take charge of their sexual health, or else..!

old style sex shops


What Ky experienced during this shopping trip was alienating, intimidating, and sleazy. The dark, dingy sex shops of Soho were owned by porn barons, run by male staff, and catering to male sexuality only (or at least their view on it). Amidst the DVDs and scratchy panties were the ‘toys’, each as phallic and graphically ‘realistic’ as the next, locked away in grubby glass cabinets. Fellow (male) customers followed her around, standing too close for comfort - clearly, a female looking at sex toys was fair game! (The only other women around were of the blow-up variety.) Even the chain that appeared more 'female-friendly' felt more about making women feel sexually attractive to men than about exploring their own pleasure.

Ky stomped off home, toy-less but inspired to make a change...

1992: Sh! is Born

Sh! Beginning
Ky set about creating a place where the individuality and complexity of sexuality were celebrated. With a budget of only £700, and a large tin of ironically playful pink paint, Sh! opened its door a mere three months later in April 1992. Ky chose to open the shop in an unknown area of London, Hoxton, for one simple reason; she could pay the weekly rent of £80 in cash directly to the landlord, who usually rocked up to collect the cash in his Ferrari. Hoxton has since become one of the most fashionable and expensive areas of the capital.
Sh! was the UK's first sex shop for women, and it was also the UK’s first-ever boutique-style erotic shop, a place where women could explore and discover their own, true sexual selves rather than having it dictated to them. The name was a playful comment on society's silencing of women's sexuality - with the exclamation mark sticking its tongue out to all that

To ensure that the shop would always feel welcoming to a female customer shopping alone, Ky decided on Sh!’s unique door policy: men were welcome when accompanied by a woman. This created a safe space in which to browse and shop.

The shop was well-lit, a welcoming and relaxed environment, staffed by approachable all-female staff, trained to give personalised advice, and to make matching the right toy to the customer their goal. Interaction and questions were encouraged and cups of tea, whilst browsing, offered. Demo toys were laid out on tables, all with batteries so customers could handle the vibrators in order to feel the intensity and listen to the volume before making their decision. (In those days, this was unheard of.)

Before a customer left the shop with her purchase, the staff religiously battery-tested each vibe to ensure it worked. This made Sh! the first shop to offer guarantees on all electrical toys, and to return faulty vibes to suppliers - much to their horror. At the time, it was very much assumed that a customer would be too embarrassed to bring back a faulty toy to a sex shop. Sh! changed this.

In the early days, the cash register was an old video box, sales were recorded by hand and the VAT was calculated on the back of an envelope. For the first few months, the only customers were loyal friends who supportively bought a new sex toy every week. Luckily, Ky was soon joined by Sophie, who with a more corporate background became the Financial Director and most probably saved Sh! from death-by-taxman.

Sh! was born out of passion, rather than business acumen. Ky is often asked if she saw a 'gap in the market' but she’ll truthfully say 'no’. She believed then, as she still does today, that women should have a place where the discovery and celebration of our pleasure is paramount.

1992: Press Explosion

 The press soon found out about Sh! and for the next few months, the door was opened to more journalists than customers. Every UK national newspaper and most women's magazines covered the 'novel' story of a sex shop for women, and every single article was positive.

To date, Sh! has been featured in thousands of articles across the globe, and below are snippets of what they've had to say.

Sh! Press explosion


'True Pioneers' The Observer Magazine

'Girls, do you feel out of place amongst the dirty-mac brigade in Ann Summers? Shake off the perverts in this women-only sex emporium: a cavern of erotic treasures with enough gold dildos and pussycat masks to keep every urban chick - not to mention their chaps thrilled' Evening Standard

'One of the most exclusive shops in Britain. Sh! is a rather innocent-looking boutique in Hoxton which can claim to be the country's first women only sex shop' GQ Magazine

'Very friendly women's sex shop (men welcome if accompanied) with everything you could possibly want: dildos, vibrators, harnesses, books, lingerie, the lot! Open every day, they've been going for over ten years so they know their stuff!'
Time Out

'This is a shop where women are made to feel comfortable…it works!' Daily Mirror

'A relaxed, non-judgmental place in which to shop for erotica & talk about products' Time Out Guide to Shopping

1992: Discovers Jessica Rabbit

Discovers Jessica Rabbit Vibrator

Ky regularly went to a sex toy warehouse in East London, looking for something, anything, that was different. She struggled to find female-friendly toys to stock amongst the stacks of 'realistic Mr Big John' vibrators. Then one day, in August 1992, she spotted a pile of dusty boxes lying at the back. Inside was something very different from the huge, veined toys that came in 'flesh' or black only. This one was pink, with candy-coloured beads in the shaft!

The pink vibrator was called 'Roger Rabbit' (but of course!) and thought it looked vaguely phallic, the shaft was actually a female-figure; the 'head' had a page-boy hairstyle and there was a rabbit off-shoot that looked very clit-pleasing (though back then, many catalogues described the bunny simulator as an 'anal tickler').

Having given 'Roger' a spin, Ky knew this toy was something special, something the women of the UK needed to know about. But first, the double-entendre name had to go and Ky decided to call her 'Jessica Rabbit' instead.

From the summer of 1992 onwards, 6 years before the Rabbit's famous appearance on 'Sex & the City' in 1998 and well before it became known as the ‘Rampant Rabbit’, Sh!’s Jessica Rabbit was featured in hundreds of mainstream women’s magazines and TV shows. The rabbit vibrator is even named in Wikipedia as “Jessica Rabbit vibrator” and subsequently dozens of online stores also use the name to promote their own rabbit-style vibrators.

1993: Creates Silicone Dildos

Starts Manufacturing Hand-Made Silicone Dildos & Strap-Ons

Ky may have discovered a great vibe, but finding fabulous dildos was a different matter entirely, so she rolled up sleeves and started making them.

'We started manufacturing dildos and harnesses very early on, simply because we couldn't find any that we would be happy to stock. All the mainstream strap-ons were huge and phallic, attached to twangable elastic. They were as impractical as they were ugly and definitely not making it onto our shelves!'

Silicone is the best material for sex toys; safe, non-porous, and very easy to clean - but it's also very tricky to work with. It's a cold-cure process that is temperature-sensitive: Too cold and fails to set; too warm and it can start to firm-up as it's being poured... Those first attempts at making dildos looked more like dog toys than sex toys, but the process has since been perfected and Sh! produces the largest range of silicone dildos in the EEC. Each and every dildo is hand-poured in a range of colours in our Dildo Lab in London.

Following the dildo manufacturing, Sh! started hand-crafting strap-on harnesses in soft leather, in designs that are both practical and flattering to wear. The fantastic manufacturing team also started hand-making a range of sensual bondage wear in a variety of beautiful colours.

Ky & Jessica Rabbit Vibe on TV

Sh! on TV

Jessica's first TV appearance was with a very young Graham Norton (Graham was delighted!), and Sh! has been featured on many TV and radio shows since.
Here's a small selection of TV and radio programs that have featured Sh!

There's more, but we haven't always been religious about saving it all… If you happen to have anything for the Sh! TV or radio archives, please get in touch.

1993: Dildo Stand Down!

sex shop standown

Just as Sh! started manufacturing silicone dildos, Ky was visited  by the local police.
'In May 1993, the local police stopped by and we took the opportunity to check if everything in the shop was in order, in the eyes of the law. We were advised to display dildos laying down rather than having them stand upright, in order to avoid breaking old obscure rules still on the statute books. It wasn't terribly serious but of course, police visited regularly after that - but it was usually the WPC's coming shopping!'

Since then, we've had lots of occasions when people in uniforms or styles of dress have blow away any misconceptions about stereotypes we may have started off with. These customers, and many, many more, have taught us never to assume anything about a person's sexuality:
  • The two nuns who wandered in collecting for a local charity and stopped a while to peruse goodies…
  • A woman in full burka who knowledgeably filled her shopping basket with hundreds of pounds worth of products, as her male companion trailed behind her…
  • The Hasidic Jew who came in to try on a nurses frock…
  • The magistrate in sensible tweed, who swiftly stripped off to reveal a body covered in tattoos and piercings…
  • The street-style teenage couple who tested every lube and asked a lot of very sensible questions…
  • The 80-year old who confidently announced she wanted to upgrade her vibrator, and proceeded to teach us a thing or two about vibes...

1994: Taken to Court

Sh! 'Not Guilty' as Sex Shop

UK law defines a sex shop as having a 'significant' proportion of 'sexual articles'. A 'sexual article' is defined as 'anything for the purpose of stimulating or encouraging sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with it' - only in Britain could a 'specialist' sexuality of BDSM be given equal prominence! With this in mind, almost anything and everything within the context of Sh! constituted to being a ‘sexual article’. Ky did argue with council officials that the Sh! vibrator stand could be made up of vibrating toothbrushes, and they'd still be defined as 'sexual articles'.

A sex shop license was a massive £17500 per year *and* it meant having a sign on the door, stating there were 'offensive' products inside. Which there most definitely wasn’t. It also forbade Sh! from allowing anyone under the age of 18 through the door – meaning that women couldn’t come into the shop with their babies.

The only shop for women in the UK was effectively trying to be shut down by the most 'right-on' council in London, so Ky decided 'to see them in court!'

Barrister of choice was the lovely Terry Munyard, a high-profile ethical lawyer involved NCCL (the National Council of Civil Liberties, now Liberty), active in the gay rights movement, instrumental in decriminalising gay relationships in Scotland and NI, and one of the first to publish articles on the employment rights of people with HIV and AIDS. As Ky stepped into the court, he whispered that he believed so much in what Sh! stood for, that if the Company was to lose, he wouldn't charge any fees.

What followed was the most bizarre day in Sh!'s entire history, when Terry proceeded to challenge the definition of a 'sexual article':

Waving a feather duster (a Sh! tickler) in the air, he demanded 'Is this a sex toy, Madam?'

'We believe health and sex to be intertwined – this court case highlighted the ridiculousness and untenability of the law. Condoms weren't considered 'sexual articles' whilst vibrators were deemed to be ‘sexual articles’. (We are very sure condoms are used for sex.) This was 1994, the case was thrown out and Sh! effectively won'

1995: Sh! First Catalogue

first Sh! catalogue

In the last decades, toys have (thankfully) changed almost beyond recognition. The first Sh! catalogue, printed in 1995, offered no toys specifically designed for clitoral pleasure – simply because there were none to find. This may seem surprising now, but the clitoris wasn't fully 'discovered' until 1998!
'At the time, all vibrators were designed for penetration. Most had a simple multispeed dial, and it was incredibly difficult to find toys that weren’t black or 'flesh-coloured'. The packaging was plastered with porn stars, often featuring ridiculous claims like 'this will keep her coming all night'. Some of the packaging was so nasty, it was refused shelf space. The most offensive packaging we saw was a waterproof bunny with 'F%k Her PSSY Clean' printed on the box'

Fun Factory (1996) and Lelo (2002) were the pioneers of change in women's vibrators, designing female-friendly toys in cool packaging. Women's sex toys have changed beyond all recognition with stylish and beautiful vibrators offering a variety of sensations and rechargeable through a USB.

Men's toys too, are on the change. Whilst there is still a lot of old-skool blow-up dolls and fake vaginas, there are a growing number of innovative designs that speak to the future. Tenga (est 2005), a Japanese company producing stylish masturbators for men, are leading the way.

1996: Charity Donation Refused!

Sh! Donations

In 1996, we were beyond shocked when a large Breast Cancer Charity refused the money raised from the sale of our catalogue.

'The first Sh! charity donation was raised by charging a small fee for our catalogue. We wanted to donate the cash to a renowned Breast Cancer Charity but were sorely disappointed when they refused our donation. Sex can stir up such strong, judgemental attitudes and we've had to face, and challenge, many of these over the years.

We found Breakthrough Breast Cancer to be more open-minded and they gratefully accepted our donation. BTBC have been our chosen Breast Cancer Charity ever since, and are recipients of any monies raised during Breast Cancer Awareness Month since'

Beyond this, we support women's and sex-positive charities and events by regularly donating prizes, and just a few of the organisations we've supported over the years include:

  • Albert Kennedy Trust
  • Barts Hospital
  • Breast Cancer Care
  • Brixton Library
  • Brook Young Peoples Charity
  • Ellenor Lions Hospices
  • Florence Nightingale Hospice & Cancer Research
  • Girlz out Loud (Wimfest)
  • Goldsmith Student Union
  • Gusset Grippers-Leukaemia & Lymphomia
  • Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust
  • Jo's Fundraiser - Hodgkins Lymphoma
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
  • Lady Fest
  • Lesbian Arts Events - York
  • LGBG Center Manchester
  • LGBT Essex Youth Group
  • LGBT Student Ball - Glitterball
  • London Friend Charity
  • Black Deaf Women's Support
  • London Pride
  • Metro Centre
  • Million Women Rise
  • Mind
  • Ovarian Cancer Action
  • Sence International - Deaf & Blind support
  • Stonewall Housing
  • Survivors Network
  • The Cristie NHS Foundation
  • V-Day London

1997: Our First Hollywood Star Customer

Sh! Customers


We've welcomed many famous customers at Sh! but 1997 was the year we served our first Hollywood star!

'We have welcomed many celebrities over the years; the original face of Girl Power, a Sex & the City actress, a supermodel, several chart-topping pop princesses, lesbian icons, boy band members and soap stars; a sports legend, a best-selling author, and an impressive number of Hollywood and British actresses & TV presenters'

Or how about creme de la crème of British comedy; let's just say a fab time was had by all at a private in-store party a few years ago!

Yes, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and serving a number of well-known faces. But - famous or not, discretion is paramount.

At Sh!, this doesn't just mean we'd never call the paparazzi, however famous the customer is, but also being mindful that *all* our customers want their privacy protected.

Over the phone, this means always asking if people are free to talk, and never leaving anything more than 'please call us back' on answer phones.
On top of that, our mail-order team always ensure that, as well as packing being secure and discreet, no identifying 'shapes' can be felt through the jiffy bags! 

1999: Hosts UK's First Erotic Class

2001aug HackneyGazette Lessons In Love

The first-ever erotic class in the UK was given at Sh! by Jo King, Burlesque Queen of Striptease. Education and empowerment have always been at the core of what we do, and from that very first class in 1999, we now host a whole range of workshops and talks with sex educators from Team Sh! as well as guest teachers from around the world.

Whether it's learning all about orgasms, female ejaculation, spanking, and BDSM or getting to grips with rope bondage, blow-jobs or seduction, our classes will help develop your erotic skills and expand your sexual education. Sh! classes are lots of fun, as well as informative and designed to enlighten, educate, and inspire.
Here's what a few of our guests had to say about our classes;

  • ‘Good class, lots of fun & good tips!’
  • ‘Impressed with the use of language - descriptive, helpful, professional & fun’
  • ‘The instructions were open, honest and very educated’
  • ‘Was lovely! Loved the girls’ show, good fun!’
  • ‘The 'top' and 'bottom' were very welcoming, relaxed and made for a nice atmosphere!’
  • ‘Love the atmosphere of the shop and the instructors!'
  • ‘It was presented in a very enjoyable way. Helped to relax.’
  • ‘I feel comfortable to talk and ask questions thanks to the simplicity of the explanations’
  • ‘I thought it was fantastic and incredibly insightful’
  • ’Thoroughly enjoyable!’
  • ‘The presenter led the class with the right relaxed fun attitude - it wasn't awkward at all.’
  • ‘Great teachers and great atmosphere!’

2000: Launched our 1st Website

first sh! website
'With the rise and rise of the internet, we came to realise that Sh! needed a website in order expand the business and reach new customers. It was year 2000 and our first website was created with the help of a HTML for Dummies book and cups of strong coffee. Having spent 8 years speaking to thousands of women in the shop, we knew what was important to our customers when it came to sex toys. We took the shop experience and placed it online: information, advice and personal touches. The Sh! website is now on its fifth manifestation and is bigger and better than ever.'

2001: Highlights Dangerous Sex Toy Materials

In early 2001 it was becoming clear that the chemical softeners used in jelly sex toys were potentially dangerous, and we began advising our customers to use condoms on these toys. As a standard procedure, we have always listed important information about the toys we sell: dimensions, volume, intensity, ease of use, how it’s cleaned, and what material it is made from.

Subsequently, we stopped stocking jelly toys altogether.

Understanding what is paramount to our customers when choosing sex toys, we've taken things one step further: you can now filter your online search by colour/ size / price / quietness / intensity / material / ease of use.

Tailored Advice for Every Customer

Our customers share very intimate aspects of their sexuality with us, and we feel very honoured that they do. We answer every letter, email, and phone call personally, and the advice we give is individual and specific to each and every customer.

  • One of our long-standing customers first contacted us after being diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. Fearing his marriage was almost over due to his inability to “perform”, he wanted to try a Sh! strap-on. We were delighted when, a few weeks later, he called us back to say they were enjoying great sex again, all thanks to his new strap-on!

  • A lovely female customer attended a couple of our classes before confiding that she is a survivor of FGM. Coming to Sh! has enabled her to connect with her vagina and start looking at ways of finding pleasure.

  • A wonderful couple came to see us, looking for advice surrounding the lack of excitement in the marital bed. They explained they had been married for a whole year, but not managed penetrative sex; they had each been brought up to think of sex as ‘dirty’ and ‘sinful’ – so no wonder they couldn’t connect! After spending the afternoon at Sh!, they left, happily swinging a bag of goodies. For this couple, it was all about permission-giving.

  • A woman in her best years stopped by the shop, looking for advice on anal play. It turned out she had a new, exciting lover – and judging by the twinkle in her eyes, she was having so much fun trying out all the things she’d preciously thought of as taboos - just goes to show you are never too old to have great sex!

Here's what a few of our customers have said:

'We got married yesterday and we have come here to celebrate the beginning of our erotic love!' 'Super friendly and helpful staff who helped us find just what we needed! Lovely shop, would visit again' 'Best sex shop I’ve been to out of 5 countries and 7 USA States' 'Bought my friend a vibrator here for her birthday and she had the first orgasm of her life – she’s 30. She is so happy and says it’s the best present ever!' 'My first time here and I felt totally at ease. Lovely staff'

2002: Fosters Links with NHS 

Women to get sex toys on NHS

We have worked with over 20 NHS trusts and had patients referred by hundreds of doctors and sex therapists. We developed our Vaginismus Dilator Set after seeing the unappealing, overtly clinical version offered by the NHS.

The Sh! Dilator Set is now commonly recommended by doctors and sex therapists. It was part of a Ph.D. project (The Royal United Hospital Bath Gynae Oncology department) to research the possibilities and implications of using vibrators in the post-surgery dilating process for women.

2002: Visits Downing Street

Ky Hoyle at 10 Downing Street

In 2002, Ky received an invitation to 10 Downing Street. The occasion was an AIDS Awareness event, hosted by Cherie Blair, prominent barrister and wife of then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

It would only be polite to take a gift for the hostess, and there was much discussion on what it should be.

Ky remembers that it was surprisingly easy getting the gift past security. At the time, she was convinced the No10 alarms would sound and she would find herself pinned to the floor by security guards as soon as the gift-wrapped box (which may or may not have contained batteries and wire connectors) was passed through the x-ray scanners.
Thankfully no alarms were set off! (Many have asked what Cherie received, but we're still not telling). The fact that Sh! was invited to No 10 shows just how far attitudes had changed in the decade from when Sh! first opened in 1992 to the invitation from Downing Street in 2002.

2002: Joins the Debate-Scene


Ky was invited to the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, sitting as a panelist on the session 'Must Have Sex in The Title’ in 2002. Feeling daunted but quickly getting into the swing of things, she offered her opinion on drunken reality TV, voyeuristic TV, snigger-ye-not TV, and - worst of all - judgemental TV.

Ky has since been invited to talk at many events and also been a panelist on various debates, most notably:

  • FPA (Family Planning Association) debate 'Do We Live in a Sexualized Society' chaired by TV presenter Matthew Wright 
  • WoW (Women of the World Festival): 'Are Women Finally in Charge of Their Own Sexualities?’, chaired by Louise Court, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine.

2003: International Sexology Conference

Sh! World Congress Sexology Cuba


In 2003, the team was invited to the 16th World Congress of the World Association for Sexology. The name of the Sh! seminar, in conjunction with Barts and the London NHS Trust, was 'Women & Sex Toys in Sex Therapy'.

The following year we were invited to the 2004 International Sexology Conference in Brighton. We challenged the notion of female sexual dysfunction and implored attending medical professionals to concentrate on function, response, understanding, and healthy sexuality instead.

2003: Sh! at Selfridges


Kylie Minogue, colour-coordinated strap-ons, and Team Sh! wearing fabulous corsets – it can only be Body Craze at Selfridges on Oxford Street in London!

Selfridges, the UK’s second-largest department store, invited Sh! to set up a concession for their Body Craze exhibition; a no-holds-barred celebration of the human body. Fairy lights, sex toys and delighted ladies-who-lunch browsing our stand – the Sh! concession was incredibly successful and certainly one of the most most popular pop-up shops during Body Craze 2003.

2005: Sh! Wins Erotic Award

Charity Erotic Award

The judges of Erotic Awards in 2005 were full of high praise and this is what they had to say about us:

'Everybody says this is the best sex shop in town - and the world - …so now we want to celebrate this vibrant, dynamic, successful and friendly store designed for women but also welcoming couples. They take their work very seriously and Angel travels the world attending sex conferences. Indeed, one paper at a 2004 International Conference on Medical Sexology mentioned Sh! as an influence on the use of dildos by women.'

2008: Sh! Wins Diva Award... & lots of other LGBTQ Awards :)

Other awards from the gay community include:

  • Best Gay Shop – Pink Paper Readers Awards. Sh! was the very first women’s shop to achieve this award.
  • Best Online Retailer - G3 Readers Awards
  • Best Adult Store (online) - G3 Readers Awards
  • Best Adult Store (high street) - G3 Readers Awards
  • Best LBGT-Friendly Business

2009: Makes Heston's Jelly Wobble

Heston at Sh!

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal came to Sh! in 2009. He was filming for the Victorian Feast episode of the Channel 4 series 'Heston's Feasts'. His mission was to find the perfect vibrator to make his Absinthe jelly wobble.

Heston approached this in a focussed and scientific manner, but his merry team of chefs was unable to keep their excitement under control and jelly ended up everywhere.

Heston and his team tested every vibrator until they found The One – a vibrator sufficiently strong to make Heston’s huge pudding quiver seductively when brought to the table...

We spent time explaining the difference between high-intensity vibes and deep, throbby vibes. In the end, Heston opted for a waggly, rather than buzzy, vibrator.

The following few days were spent the next discovering and removing blobs of jelly stuck to the walls, and re-cleaning the display toys to ensure all traces of sticky residue were finally gone!

2012: Celebrates 20 Years!

Sh! 20th Birthday

To celebrate 20 pioneering years, Sh! held a big birthday bash in the iconic ballroom at Café de Paris in London. There was a fine selection of burlesque performers, dancers wearing strap-ons, an aerialist performing to operatic music, and a fabulous Marilyn Monroe-impersonator signing ‘Happy Birthday to Sh!’ whilst throwing small bullet vibrators into the crowd…

Amongst the guests were several of the leading UK erotica authors, all of whom have read at Sh! book reading evenings and/or contributed free erotica for the Sh! blog, as well as several artists who have exhibited their erotic work at Sh!

Several party guests volunteered for intricate tying-up at the Japanese rope bondage demonstration, and all 150 VIP guests went home with bulging goody bags...

'In our 20th year, it was fabulous to be awarded  'Best Business' in the Qype Business Awards. In the same year we also won 'Best Shopping Venue' in the Qype Awards. Qype was the leading European consumer review site, which merged with Yelp in 2013, so to be crowned best business out of 750,000 other businesses listed on Qype in the UK was quite an achievement'


2014: Win 'Most Innovate Retailer Award' 3rd Time Running!

Sh! wins 'Most Innovative Erotic Store' (ETO Awards)


Our unique, passion-driven company continued to be acknowledged and rewarded with awards. We won the coveted Erotic Trade Only (ETO) Awards for 'Most Innovative Retailer 2011, 2012 and 2013, and our Store Manager romped home the title of Best Store Manager in 2014. And as if we didn't have enough to celebrate, we also found Sh! listed in Time Out Best 100 Shops in London.

2015: Co-Founds UK's First Support Group for Suvivors of Sexual Violence to Reclaim Pleasure

My Body Back Logo

In 2014, we received this letter about sex after rape. It was one of the most powerful, shocking, and inspiring letters we've ever received about a life-changing visit to Sh! (and we've received a few!), and we knew we had to do more to help.

In March 2015, in collaboration with My Body Back Project (the pioneering support space set up for survivors of sexual violence to share how they feel about their bodies and their sexuality), we hosted Café V, the UK's first-ever physical support group to help female survivors of rape and sexual violence understand and deal with triggers/flashbacks and regain positive, pleasurable relationship with their bodies and sex within a safe, supportive atmosphere.

2015: Wins 'Most Innovative' & 'Best Store Manager' Awards 

Renee Award 15

We were blown away to win our FOURTH 'Most Innovative Erotic Store' again. The ETO Awards are the Oscars of the UK erotic industry and as we were up against the big boys in the industry, it was a huge but very welcome shock! It means so much to have what we do and what we stand for recognised in this way; it gives us a real boost to keep on doing our 'most innovative' do!  'Best Store Manager' was our 2nd award of the evening, and Ky says:

'Whole-heartedly agree that Renee IS the best store manager! Others agree too, because she's been head-hunted several times and the erotic classes she delivers with such warmth & expertise have been infiltrated & recorded by competitors...

(Oh! this industry of ours can be a dark business, but our mantra is: 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!)

Luckily Renee remains as passionate about Sh! and as utterly fabulous as the day she joined us in 2007'


ETO Awards

2016: Wins Best LBQ Business Ultimate Planet Award


ultimatre planet best LGBT business award


4,000+ women cast over 47,500 votes and it was an honour simply to be nominated, so we were downright giddy with excitement when we were announced the winners! Kate, the fabulous assistant store manager at the time, attended the event.

'Most inspiring business serving the Lesbian, Bi Queer & Questioning community'

Sitting next to Sarah Walters was inspiring enough, so when called to the stage, she was dizzy with excitement and invited the whole room to attend one of our famous classes. :)

2016: Wins Best Individual Store Award

ETO Awards and Bottle

Despite initial bra-issues (there may have been a wild dash across East London to fetch such an item, eh Aphra!) and traffic jams all the way up to Birmingham, we managed to get ourselves changed and dollied up for a fantastic banquet dinner and ETO Awards  just in time…

And good job we did because we romped home the title of 'Best Individual Store' and celebrations lasted long into the early hours of the next morning...

2016: Wins 'Sex Shop of The Year' Award

Sexhibition Awards - Sh! Wins Best Store

Unfortunately unable to attend the very first Sexhibition Awards in person(s), we were thrilled to hear we won Sex Shop of The Year 2016 - thank you, lovely people, who nominated and voted! 

2017: Creates Vaginismus Awareness Day

vagvinismus awareness day

At least 2 in 1,000 women experience Vaginismus once in their lifetime - and probably many more who may be too afraid or embarrassed to seek medical attention and help.

With a 95% chance of treating the condition, we felt it was time to talk openly about Vaginismus, so we created Vaginismus Awareness Day (15th September) to bring Vaginismus and its effects out into the open.

Along with a brand new website with information and resources for help & advice, we also celebrated the launch of our brand new soft silicone vibrating dilating kit - the first in the world.

2017: Creates Soft Silicone Vibrating Dilating Kit (the world's first!)

silicone vibrating dilating kit for vaginismus


Having spent more than two decades listening to women talk about Vaginismus, and the pros and cons (mainly cons) of the dilating kits available to them; horrid plastic tubes. This got us thinking and the result is the Sh! Soft Silicone Dilating Kit with a removable vibrating bullet.

Recognizing the positive effect vibration can have on tense nerve-endings, we set about designing a shape that would work intuitively with a woman's natural curves whilst still remaining flexible with a bullet sunk into the silicone. We've had an overwhelmingly positive response - with one couple telling us it helped them conceive!

The Sh! Soft Silicone Vibrating Dilating Kits are hand-poured in our Silicone Lab in London and comes highly recommended by Psychosexual Therapists all over the country.

For more information on Vaginismus and resources that can help with this painful condition, please visit the website we created especially for this purpose:

2017: Moves to a bigger, better store!

We'd been looking for new premises for a while, seeing a variety of dark basements and being turned down by a number of landlords once they found out about the 'sexual nature' of the business, but as soon as we stepped into our cafe-share, it felt just right.

A mere 90-second walk from the old shop on the corner of Hoxton Square, it couldn't have worked out better!

It took blood, sweat, and tears (not even joking), but we moved the shop, Sh! HQ, and a massive warehouse full of stock, and set about making ourselves at home. The best part, for us, is that the team was now all in one place rather than spread out in different buildings. The Dildo Lab is a glassed-in cube on the shop floor, giving customers a peek of the mixing and pouring; the manufacturing team is busy beavering away in the back...


dildo making

We soon found that having a cafe on the premises has its perks, like when there are sweet-treat left-overs! Coffees, lunch, and dildos all in one place = WIN!

2019: Podcasts

Not having a podcast of our own (yet!) hasn't stopped us from chatting openly & honesty about sex and spreading our message about empowering & prioritizing women's sexuality on other people's podcasts;


2019: Ky Wins Diva Achievement Award


“Tonight’s DIVA Choice Award goes to a committed explorer of the senses.

Back in the days when the concept of “Sexual Wellness” was just a glint in Gwyneth Paltrow’s eye, tonight’s winner was toiling away at the coal face of female sexual pleasure. Indeed, come the second sexual revolution, (not too far off now thanks to this mystery woman) when Queen Megan is handing out awards for Distinguished Services to Strap-Ons, tonight’s visionary will be at the head of the queue.

This Yorkshire pioneer and maverick (she didn’t go to business school; she went to art school) opened the UK’s first ever female-focused erotic store in 1992. She’s spent a day in Soho looking for inspiration in the sex shops of the time, but the landscape was sleazy and male-focused. High points include introducing the women of Britain to the Jessica Rabbit vibrator, setting up Café V, the UK’s first support group to help sexual violence survivors reconnect with their bodies and working with the NHS to bridge the gap between sexuality and overall health.

Established on an investment of £700 and originally specializing in sexy yet comfortable strap-on harnesses and gender-free silicone dildos, her business has grown into a multi award-winning brand dedicated to women’s bodily enjoyment and has created a sea change in attitudes towards honest female sexuality. 27 years ago, tonight’s winner was seen by a lot of the mainstream media as the pervy weirdo lesbian who ran THAT East End sex shop.

But she stuck to her beliefs and those beliefs have borne fruit. She has become one of the UK’s leading exponents of sex-positive feminism and has brought orgasms and succor (and the new wave of clitoral suction sex toys) to thousands of women. The struggle to point out that female sexual pleasure is a right and not an indulgence is on-going. But this powerhouse continues to push boundaries, spreading her message passionately on TV, radio and panels around the world.


Stephanie Theobold / DIVA Awards 2019


Diva award

2020 Lockdown

The doors of Sh! closed.

Once it became clear that the bricks & mortar shop wouldn't re-open, the team needed to find another way through....

2021: Launches Shush Life

shushlife sex workshops

Out of Pandemic Pandemonium, Shush Life was born. With decades of experience creating open and empowering conversations about sex, we were determined to carry on our life mission.

Covid may have meant the closure of our award-winning physical store, so along with moving Sh! online, we re-imagined a new way to carry on educating and advising.

So, we re-worked our classes into courses, engaged a fabulous film crew, and created ShushLife!

Evie Fehilly & Banana ~ Mindblowing BJ's

Shush Life was launched with an online party and a whopping 50% discount on courses and toys.

2021: Helps 500 Women Orgasm Every Week!

Ky Hoyle

Following on from the launch, Ky was featured in a Sunday supplement with a memorable headline:

'I Help 500 Women Orgasm Every Week'

It's was a great headline ( calculated from the amount of women we've helped over the years - Ky doesn't personally help 500 women per week orgasm - she'd not have time to do anything else, if she did! ;)

Regardless, it soon caught the attention of the production team at This Morning, who promptly booked Ky for a virtual interview with the nation's favourite duo, Phil & Holly.

Despite there being a few rumblings on social media about how orgasms, vaginismus etc were not fit subjects to be discussed at 9am, after the show, requests for advice came flooding in, and we spend most of the week answering each one individually...

Other newspapers wanted in on the action and here are a few links to Ky's 'Queen of orgasms' newfound fame:


2021: Partners with First Sex Shop For Folks with Cancer

sex with cancer logo

During our many years in business, we've had the honour and privilege of meeting and working with many wonderful folks. Like Brian Lobel and Joon Lynn Goh of Sex with Cancer, for example.

Sex with Cancer is an online shop, an artwork and a public campaign exploring how people living with and beyond cancer can take agency over their own health and wellbeing. We are incredibly proud to partner with this fantastic project and on the SwC website, you will find our expert advice and specially selected pleasure products. Take a peek!

We're buzzing that SwC caused a buzz in the media:

Dazed | Londonist | Independent | Refinery29 | Daily Mail | Retail Innovation Tech Hub | OutNews Global | Hinton Magazine | ATV Today | Hackney Gazette | Xbiz | Explode Podcast | Cosmopolitan

2022: How I Got My Libido Back - Sh! in The Sunday Times

sunday times how I got my libido back

After the author Kat Lister’s husband died, the idea of sex — or just being turned on — seemed like a distant memory. Could the people behind the UK’s first women-friendly sex shop help her?

'When I brushed aside the curtain and wandered inside I was looking for a map pin, not to escape my grief, but to emancipate my body from the past. It was the spring of 2019 and nothing looked the way it should. Six months previously my husband had died of a brain tumour, leaving me a widow at the age of 35. Standing among the display tables at the Sh! women’s erotic emporium, which was studded with brightly coloured gadgets and toys, I pondered a part of my body I had ignored for so long'

Read the article on @Shwomenstore Instagram

More Sh! in the press!


Renee & Rosie were very proud guests for the very first episode of Untold Pleasure, the new podcast by Cancer, Sex & Intimacy. 

 Cancer, Sex & Intimacy insta page of podcast



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