Let’s Talk About Sex: Curious Promoting Sexual Wellness Through Education

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Many adult shops foster the same sketchy atmosphere: dingy basements, no windows, spaces that conjure feelings like you’re doing something wrong. Curious the Shop wants to bring the toys and conversation into the light.

The queer-owned, women-owned operation curates a list of body-safe sex toys, as well as sexual education workshops that have a little something for nearly every sexuality, gender identity, orientation and age.

In Columbus, “We don’t have anywhere that is really focused just on education and making sure that everything that is provided is something that has been vetted,” says Chelsea Varnum, one of the four Curious founders.

Varnum has a Master’s in Human Sexuality Education and has been a sex educator for seven plus years. While earning her degree, she worked in a shop with intentions similar to Curious.

Sex toys are a largely unregulated industry, so Curious denotes body-safe to indicate toys free of harmful chemicals.

There are a ton of toys out there that have a chemical called phthalates in them,” Varnum says. 

Phthalates are banned in children’s toys because of cancer-causing connections.

Varnum wasn’t the only one that noticed the lack of more open, education-based adult shops in Columbus. When Varnum moved to the city she connected with Bake Me Happy Owners Wendy Miller Pugh and Letha Pugh. The couple had visited boutique sex shops in other parts of the country with more educational, you’re-not-doing-something-wrong environments. When they found out Varnum had a background in sexual education, they were intrigued.

Wendy and Letha didn’t have the experience or time to fill the gap themselves, but had always discussed the concept of starting something with Varnum. Over a happy hour, the idea turned from “what if?” to “let’s do it!”

The trio also brought in Varnum’s friend Kristin Torres, and together balance the duties of the new operation. Wendy and Letha bring the knowledge and experience of owning a small business to the team. Wendy says their role lies largely in execution – setting up the structure, website, marketing, etc. Also married with a child, “From the beginning we had to put boundaries on it,” Wendy adds. 

It’s a delicate balance that sometimes means using any spare moments from the bakery to focus on Curious. Multitasking at its finest, Wendy says they are finding ways to make it work.

Torres and Varnum take on the tasks of vetting toys and developing their educational classes. Curious curates its list of toys by looking at ingredients, quality and reviews, highlighting some of the best toys over the last few years. Varnum says they can also work with folks to find body-safe options for toys not included in their current collection.

“The classes are what we think people have expressed being interested in,” Varnum says.

Curious has a current lineup of four classes: Sex Toys 101, Viva la Vulva, Booty Basics and Revolutionary Relationships.

Wendy and Varnum say the reception has been largely positive – but not without the expected shyness and nervousness often attached to the subject.

“We knew that people were going to be shy, and they are,” Varnum says.

Most people don’t feel comfortable walking up to a stranger and talking about their sex lives.

“We’ve learned we really have to build trust with people – it’s kind of a scary subject,” Wendy says.

Varnum says she’s received notes that people attending classes or pop-ups were nervous coming in and didn’t really know what to expect, but find Curious’ approach helpful.

“It’s been really exciting and I think it’s really pointed to the need for something like this and how much stigma and shame we still associate with buying toys and buying products that will connect us to our sexuality,” Varnum says.

She reiterates the connection between sexuality and health and wellness.

“How do we understand our bodies and how it works?” Varnum asks. “When we know that better, we’re better able to connect with our partners and ourselves.”

Curious will offer three classes over the next month, and plans to start offering home parties and pop-up events. The shop is currently building up inventory so party participants can walk away with their newly purchased toys, and so Curious can stock its online store.

“Our long term goal would be have a brick-and-mortar store,” Wendy says.

Curious will keep with the pop-up model that requires little-to-no overhead for as long as possible, while building towards a location that would offer space to sell products, have classes, and potentially include areas for therapy.

For more information, visit curioustheshop.com.