Samantha Bard is the co-founder of Shag Brooklyn. Opened in 2009, this sex-positive shop also functions as a gallery and event space. All the staff there are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and they really make sure everyone who walks in their doors feels welcome and tended to. Their mission is to combine art and sex and foster an open, inviting, and educated experience for all who stop by.
Can you give us some brief background on who you are and what drove you to open Shag?
I am a visual artist and I was getting my MFA when I became disillusioned with the art world - most of my work dealt with issues of gender, intimacy, desire, and sexuality - so I decided I would open a shop on my own terms that united sex and art. Shag was a natural extension of my art work. I met my business partner (Ashley Montgomery) shortly after that and she wanted to bring a strong sense of community to the shop, hence the workshops and events. We both believe that sex should not be taboo and should be viewed as a normal, healthy part of life, which is why we created a "sexy" shop rather than a sex shop - we are a lifestyle shop that aims to create a comfortable, accessible, and non-judgmental space for everyone.
Shag is clearly not just another lingerie or sex toy store - it's more of a community space where you host art shows and various events as well. Can you tell us about how the intersection of art and sex works at Shag, as well as give us some examples of workshops or events you have hosted or plan to host?
We host 5 art exhibitions a year - sex and art have been united since the beginning of time, and it just feels so natural for us to create a space that offers others a platform to express their creativity. We also host workshops through the year. Past examples include: a class for adults on how to prevent child sexual abuse and our Intro to Shibari class. (Click here to see the workshops listed on their site.)
We also produce a theater production company called The Shag Playhouse - we offer site specific immersive theater that's extra sexy :)
Of course many people come to Shag to shop! Will you tell us about the wonderfully curated selection of toys, adornments, and products you carry at the store? What are some customer favorites?
In terms of the toys we carry - we carefully curate our shop, testing products and make sure we sell only products that we can stand behind. We also carry an array of other items, from bath & body, lingerie, jewelry, home goods, and greeting cards - most made by local artists and designers (we have over 50 local artists and designers making sexy products for Shag). We have items such as hand-made floggers and other BDSM gear, hand blown glass toys, hand carved wooden toys and paddles; much of our lingerie is designed locally, as well as the jewelry, bath & body products, greeting cards, and many other products.
Some customer favorites are Pandora Pops - these are hand made aphrodisiac lollipops that REALLY WORK! Our customers love them.
Also, our hand crafted massage candles and oils are best sellers, as well as a commercially made oral sex lip gloss - we can barely keep those in stock!
And of course, many toys are favorites - the Lelo Ina Wave and We-Vibe Sync, for instance. Also the Crave Vesper is very popular.
What advice would you give to newbies to stores like Shag or people who may be too shy to come in and explore?
People who wish to shop anonymously can always shop online, but there is a down side to that, meaning that you cannot see or feel the toys before you buy them. If you are shopping sites like Amazon, you also run the risk of getting imitation toys that may or may not be body safe. Buy from a trusted store!
If you can find a sex positive, women friendly store (like Shag!), the staff can help guide you through the process of picking out a toy - they are extremely knowledgeable and non-judgmental, and they are there to help. Another plus is that we have tester models of all of our toys to demo to customers - that way customers can feel the intensities, different modes, ease of use and many other things that go along with being able to see how something works before you buy it.
What does sex-positive mean to you and Shag? In an article by Melissa Fabello on Everyday Feminism, she talks about her hesitance to embrace the sex-positive movement without a critical analysis saying more questions ought to be asked, that freedom in sex is not so black and white, and we all live within a patriarchal paradigm to a degree and we need to acknowledge that. She says, "Sex-positivity is a movement that arose from a need for us to accept and value sexuality without guilt, shame, and hurt. I’m about that. But when we stop asking hard questions in favor of assuming that everything is revolutionarily enlightened and therefore devoid of the intricacies of oppressive structures, I have to step back..." What are your thoughts on this and the need for critical analysis that she brings up?
We do consider Shag to be a sex-positive space, a space that can "accept and value sexuality without guilt, shame, and hurt" as she states in her article, but while there are inherent waves of politics that surround shops like ours, we feel we do not need to be "political" - there are simple things, such as pleasure, love, connection and intimacy. These are the things that we like to push to our customers. At Shag we like to say "Live and let love" - that everyone deserves to have a fulfilling sexual life regardless if you're a feminist, a pro-lifer, a conservative or a liberal - when we say we are sex-positive, we aim to be accessible for all. And of course we all have our personal politics, so if we change a few minds on the way, that's Ok, too, but that is not what Shag aspires to be. We want all people to feel safe and comfortable within our walls.
Also, I don't think that we HAVE stopped asking questions - I know that in my day to day routine I am constantly asking questions and being asked questions revolving around all topics of sexuality, some questions tougher than others. Why does she think that we are assuming that everything is enlightened? We're not even close to that, but I think that we can still identify as sex-positive while questioning the larger picture of where we all stand within the culture of sex.
How does Shag promote safety and health in sexuality?
Safety and consent are huge at Shag - our staff, while we don't call ourselves "experts", are extremely knowledgeable. We ask a lot of questions and hopefully can give our customers the best advice that we can regarding both of these issues.
What did your sex education look like? Currently, sex-ed is under threat throughout this country - what are your thoughts on the issue?
My sex-ed in high school? Basically non-existent! And I think it is worse now. We have been guest speakers at some high schools in Brooklyn since NYC doesn't have a budget for in-house sex-ed. We answer questions from the students, talk about safety, consent, and how to navigate the sexual world as a teenager. It blows me away that these sex-ed programs were cut and that progressive teachers now have to take it upon themselves to reach out to people outside of their schools to come to talk to their students - sex is such an integral part of our lives and as a young person it shapes our sexual being. To not have resources and knowledgeable adults to help them find their sexual footing on a regular basis is appalling.
Now for a non-Shag/sex-specific question! Who are three women who have inspired you in your life?
Madonna - what a genius.
Cindy Sherman - influential in terms of my own art work.
Judy Wu - a friend I haven't seen in way too long, and someone who was ALWAYS inspiring and motivated me to create - more than anyone else.
Lastly, what does feminism mean to you?
I am not a self proclaimed feminist, but I do understand that many people automatically identify me as one. I feel that there are many misunderstandings and myths surrounding the meaning of the word, and the meaning of Feminism has changed so much throughout the years, it is difficult to pin down, is sometimes used as a buzzword, and is not necessarily accurate from person to person. I come from a generation where Feminism meant something different than it means today, so for me it makes more sense to just be "me", without having to label or align myself with other people or organizations.
Instead of shouting from the roof tops and preaching from the podium, I prefer to lead through action - small every day actions. To change a whole mass of thought is difficult, to change one mind at a time can be more effective and organic, and Shag is the perfect place to teach tolerance, respect, understanding and compassion. I am not trying to change the world, just trying to do the right thing and bring a little more happiness and pleasure into it, one person at a time.
We are all humans, and even though we may be different colors, genders, sexes, cultures, etc, we are more the same than different. We all love, get angry, have hopes and dreams, traumas and tragedies. We all also deserve the chance to attain happiness and pleasure, even if it is fleeting. I also believe everyone deserves the right to be heard and the freedom to choose (and I mean the freedom to choose ANYTHING - who they vote for, who they have sex with, how they identify, what they eat - the list goes on forever) and that their choice should be respected and not judged. Every person has a different circumstance that will lead them to their choice, and if we haven't walked in their shoes we have no right to tell them they made the wrong choice.
That's really the bottom line - so I guess if someone says that I am a feminist and they carry that definition, then they can call me a feminist. Otherwise they can just call me Sam.