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Need a complete guide of sex shops in London?
The city of London has dozens of sex shops providing mainstream sex toys, DVDs and adult material through to specialist fetish outlets. Some rub shoulders within the city’s high-class retail areas like Oxford Street with bright open frontages whilst others lurk seedily on the back streets of Soho like a throwback to London’s rich red-light era.
Here, you can find a brief history of sex shops in London, some of the big news stories and an A-Z listing of the city’s biggest and best sex shops.
A History of London’s sex shops and Pornography
Though sex toys have been in existence since the Ancient Greek and Egyptian times, it wasn’t until the widespread availability of printed material that pornography became a commodity in England. During the 19th century, printed matter (including prints and literature) could be purchased on the street in much the same way as a newspaper; Holywell Street (now Bookseller’s Row) off The Strand was a particular hot spot for buying erotic literature.
The first piece of printed pornography that gained widespread distribution was ‘Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’ by John Cleland, published in 1748. Banned in the US until as recently as 1966, the book covered group sex, masochism and bisexuality and was deemed ‘the lewdest thing I ever saw’ by a prominent bishop of the day. The term pornography was aptly applied to the text, being originally used to describe ‘writing about prostitutes’.
In 1839, the invention of the daguerreotype (an early form of photography) offered a new medium for the distribution of explicit imagery and it took just seven years for the first such image to make it to market; the 1846 daguerreotype showed a very solemn couple, mid ‘insertion’.
The 19th century saw a huge rise in the amount of pornography available on London’s streets; much of which was still purchased in the streets or ‘under-the-counter’ around the red-light districts of Southwark, Soho and the East End.
As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, Soho was fast becoming the largest of these districts and, by the 1960’s had begun to gain more prominence with the opening of many sex shops. The first of these can be attributed to Carl Slack and, from an initial handful in the early 1960’s the total had grown to 59 by the mid-1970’s. Initially illegal, many of these shops were regularly raided by the police unless shop owners paid their bribes. Many of these original stores consisted of two zones; a formal and public reception room where innocuous goods were on sale and a secret backroom where more hardcore material was available.
The seventies saw a major divide developing in the sex shop industry with the mainstream markets of shops like Ann Summers (originally opening in Marble Arch in 1970) to the ‘backroom’ shops littered around Soho.
By the 1980’s, anti-corruption clampdowns within the police force along with tighter licensing controls lead to a clean-up of Soho’s sex shop industry.
Under the Indecent Displays Act 1981, all licensed adult shops in the UK were, and still are, required to ensure that their goods are not on public display. The act requires them to:
- Display a warning sign at the entrance to the store.
- Ensure that no explicit sexual items are visible from the street.
- Ensure that customers are aged 18 and over when purchasing adult material.
Depending on the borough, additional constraints may also apply.
With the City of Westminster leading the way for a new and legitimised industry for sex shops, the 1990’s saw a rise in the ‘high street’ sex shop with boutiques like Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium and Ann Summers claiming prominent positions within mainstream retail areas.
Today, London is still a tale of two cities when it comes to sex shops and you can find a wide array of retail outlets from trendy outlets and national chains to the dark, windowed emporiums that evoke a nostalgia of sleazier days. Not only can you find sex shops in the old red-light district of Soho but across London’s 32 boroughs; both Camden and Islington have become popular areas.
London Sex Shops in the News
The capital city is often in the headlines for firsts in the UK as well as across Europe and the sex shop industry is no different with sex shops in London regularly featuring in the news.
First hardcore store opens on Oxford Street
In 2004, Harmony (the now national web based sex shop) expanded its operations in London from its initial retail outlet in Soho to an expansion of a flagship store on Oxford Street. The news was greeted with outrage by local trade group, the Oxford Street Association. A spokesperson at the time suggested that the proposed opening was:
“…totally inappropriate. There is a place for shops like Harmony and it is in Soho.”
Nevertheless, Harmony’s opening went ahead and the company has since expanded into Charing Cross with a smaller boutique store.
First Women’s Only Sex Store Opens
In 1992, the world of the sex shop took an egalitarian turn as the city’s first women-only shop opened in Hoxton. Sh! has since grown to fill a gap in the market for women’s products and is one of the UK’s largest online sex toy retailers. The shop was the brainchild of Kathryn Hoyle who decided to rise to the challenge of pioneering a break away from what was previously found to be a misogynistic trade. Turning 25 this year, the company started out with a shop designed to be unintimidating and friendly and was Europe’s, and London’s, first women only sex store.
Today, the premises at Hoxton are still running strong and has been voted one of Time Out’s 100 Best Shops in London as well as being crowned ETO’s Most Innovative Store for four out of five years.
Restaurant inside a Sex Shop
La Bodega Negra is one of London’s sexiest and most secretive dining locations. Situated in Soho, this hacienda style restaurant has two dining locations. The first can be found on Moor Street and is a street-level taqueria with a colourful menu and mainstream location. However, if you head around the corner to Old Compton Street and head inside the seedy looking sex shop then you find the entrance to the over 18’s dining experience. Reservations are by booking only and you will find your way to the basement level cave setting where you can enjoy your food in a subterranean room beneath a sex shop. Don’t forget to get a souvenir of your meal as you leave the restaurant!
The Future is Fellatio
After opening in Geneva in 2016, the Fellatio Café is set to open in a location near Paddington in London. The café, installed with booths occupied by sex-bots that provide fellatio services with coffee, the capital city looks set to have a serious contender to Starbucks in the near future.
A-Z Directory of London’s Sex Shops
100 Shades of Blue
100 Old Street, London EC1V 9AY
Ph: 020 7253 1085
A small shop offering same day delivery in and around the London area, 10 Shades of Blue supplies sex pills, poppers, toys and lingerie. The website doesn’t have an online shop so you will need to know what you are after in order to make an order.
Open in various locations around London including Oxford Street, White City and Marble Arch
Ph: 0333 440 6969
The UK’s most well-known high street sex shop, Ann Summers offers a mainstream shopping experience where you can find lingerie, sex toys and fancy dress. Also known for its party planning, Ann Summers is also an online retailer and is a multi-million pound, international corporation.
4 Kentish Town Road, Camden Town, London NW1 9NX
Ph: 020 7485 0800
Providing an online presence for enlightened couples (mainly in Ireland) under the name, Kinky, Blue Rose is the high-street frontage. The shop specialises in the essentials, bondage and couples play. You can find a good range of products online but the in-store experience is a little more limited.
7-11 Drayton Green Rd, London W13 0NG
Ph: 020 8567 9506
Originally opening in 1978 in West Ealing, Cherrypye offers a good range of the essentials including vibrators, dildos and lingerie. However, they also stock a basic range of bondage, anal play and boots/shoes.
35 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 5JX
Ph: 020 7734 3438
One of Europe and the UK’s first gay sex shops, Clonezone originally started trading from a wheelbarrow pushed around Soho’s nightclubs in 1982. By 1984, the company had started trading from a bricks and mortar shop in Soho and now has several shops around the UK and Europe. You can find everything from toys for urethral, nipple and anal play to fetish specialities.
Coco de Mer London
23 Monmouth St, London WC2H 9DD
Ph: 020 7836 8882
A designer Boutique in Covent Garden, Coco de Mer brings an elegant touch of class to the world of sex shopping. The shop stocks a range of designers from Stella McCartney’s range of lingerie to Paul Seville’s bondage wear.
76 Bolton Cres, London SE5 0SE
Ph: 020 7091 0031
A small gay-friendly sex shop in South East London stocking a basic range of essentials along with fetish items.
Fifty & Dean
50 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 4UB
Ph: 020 7494 4798
Specialising in toys for him, Fifty & Dean boasts the ‘largest range of fetish and sex toys in Soho’. You can find everything from male masturbators to sex dolls, prostate massages to penis pumps and enlargers.
Open in Charing Cross and Oxford Street
Ph: 0333 241 6969
Originally causing a stir in Oxford Street for being the first ‘hardcore’ sex shop in this mainstream retail market, Harmony has been trading since 2004. The shop is less ‘hardcore’ than you would be lead to believe and you will be hard pushed to find anything that you can’t find in most sex shops around the UK. Chastity devices, bondage play can all be sourced in-store alongside essentials, sexy clothing and erotic gifts and games.
86 Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London SE1 7AB
Ph:020 7401 8219
Opening in 1988, Honour specialises in clothing from uniforms and lingerie to fetish wear such as PVC, latex and leather. You can also find sex toys as well.
49 Shelton Street, London, WC2H 9HE
Ph: 020 7836 5894
A specialist fetish wear shop in Covent Garden, Liberation has been described as ‘London’s coolest kink boutique’. It stocks a range of men and women’s latex fashion as well as adults only sex clothing; hoods, masks, corsets, robes and aprons.
53 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4HS
Ph: 07808 650100
A Covent Garden boutique stocking designer collections of sex toys and sexy lingerie, Madame Liberty is a luxury end shop. You can find basic essentials in-store as well as gifts and games.
30 Upton Lane, London E7 9LN
Ph: 020 8586 7227
A small independent shop in Forest Gate, Pirate stocks a wide range of good quality basics. There are some good reviews for the site available online and the owner is friendly and helpful.
5-7 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 0DR
Ph: 020 7734 4031
The biggest gay sex shop in Soho, Prowler has been trading since 1974 and stocks a wide range of DVDs, books and magazines. You can also find a variety of toys, underwear and stims.
17A St Alban’s Pl, London N1 0NX
Ph: 020 7226 0665
Opening in 1991, Regulation is a male fetish specialist shop and stocks bondage equipment, gay sex toys and custom made designs. Selling across Europe and America, the shop has a stock of over 5000 products.
Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium
57 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6PB
Ph: 020 7613 5458
The first female friendly sex shop opening in 1992, Sh! was established to provide a safe and unintimidating environment for women to purchase their erotic toys.
Soho Original Books
121-125 Charing Cross Rd, Soho, London WC2H 0EW
Ph: 020 7734 4121
Achieving cult status in London, the first Soho Books opened in 1993 and is an independent chain of adult bookstores combining literature and sex toys. Bright and open shops, you can find plenty of adult toys as well as books.