Nfld. & Labrador

There was no queer book and sex store in St. John's. So they started one

While many Canadian cities have at least one well-known queer book and sex store — spaces that are often seen as community hubs and important sources of radical literature — St. John's has been lacking one.
Robin Follett and Pepper teamed up to open Prude, a new independent store in downtown St. John's. (Submitted by Kelsey Stasiak)

While many Canadian cities have at least one well-known queer book and sex store — spaces that are often seen as community hubs and important sources of radical literature — St. John's has been lacking one.

Until now.

Prude, a queer and artist-owned bookstore and sexual wellness shop, opened its doors in downtown St. John's during the winter. It's run from a small space on Clift's-Baird's Cove, one of the small streets connecting Water Street with Harbour Drive.

"Our customer is probably someone who hasn't always felt comfortable in traditional sex shops. Maybe the industry in general hasn't felt fun or welcoming to them," said co-owner Robin Follett, who is opening the store with a photographer named Pepper.

"We want to make a space for them."

Prude takes a holistic approach to sex. Follett and Pepper believe a wide range of factors like having a comfortable domestic space, staying active, staying intellectually stimulated and staying engaged in your community can all positively influence your sexual experiences.

The selection of items for sale in the cosy shop reflect their comprehensive approach to sexual wellness, along with a program of events designed to bring people together.

Prude opened this winter on Clift’s-Baird’s Cove, off Water Street in downtown St. John's. (John Gushue/CBC)

Prude's name is both a coy joke and an earnest invitation to people who might not think of themselves as especially sexually outgoing to come in and browse or get involved in some of the store's programming.

"We love all the products we have and that's one part of it, but we really want it to be more than a store," Follett said.

"We want to create a space and a community, somewhere that's fun and interactive where people can talk and explore and get excited."

Prude's owners aim to provide a comfortable place where customers can shop and ask questions about its products. (Submitted by Kelsey Stasiak)

Prude carries a small but curated selection of high-quality sex toys produced by companies that craft and market their toys to be more inclusive of a range of genders and relationship types.

Follett says that the pandemic has seen many people trying out online dating and long-distance relationships, a trend the sexual-wellness industry has been quick to respond to with new and innovative toys designed to help facilitate those connections.

One example is the new kinds of technology available at Prude is We-Vibe, a series of toys that can be operated remotely in conjunction with a video chat app. The store will also carry items related to fertility and postpartum care, including affordable multi-pack pregnancy tests, ovulation tests and heated pads designed to ease pain related to postpartum recovery.

It felt important to Follett and Pepper to have a brick-and-mortar store so that people could come in and see these intimate products in person. They wanted customers to be able to hold the items in their hands and get a feel for them.

Prude offers a selection of toys, products and literature that ranges from contemporary erotica to non-fiction about sex workers’ rights. (Submitted by Kelsey Stasiak)

They chose their location on Clift's-Baird's Cove in part because there is a small studio in the back where they can work on their respective art practices. Follett studied fashion at Ryerson University and George Brown College. During her studies she explored using leather and latex to make work influenced by BDSM, burlesque and drag cultures. Follett is interested in the intersections of sex and fashion and hopes to use Prude as a venue to continue exploring the complex relationship between these two intimate modes of self-expression.

Prude's customers will have the opportunity to be fitted for Follett's custom-made, hand-crafted leather harnesses and chokers at the shop. Pepper is a photographer and will use the space to document Follett's creations.

Prude will also offer a selection of literature ranging from contemporary erotica to non-fiction about sex workers' rights, as well as progressive children's books and literary fiction that touches on questions about gender and sexuality. The owners will order in books should customers request them as well, making the shop a valuable resource at a time when there are few independent bookstores in the city.

Follett and Pepper are also planning to program a number of events through the store, including workshops, panel discussions and — later — dance parties (all adhering to COVID-19 safety precautions). Follett will facilitate the initial workshop and is considering tassel-making with vintage rabbit fur for the first session. The owners are open to topics related to sexual wellness for workshops and panel discussions and said they would love to hear from the community about what skills they'd like to learn and ideas they'd like to hear discussed.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Eva Crocker is a writer living in St. John's.