This sex shop owner fosters healthy sexuality for women, queer, non-binary and trans folks
Insights from Searah Deysach, Early to Bed (Andersonville)
Searah Deysach began her business, Early to Bed, like many small business owners do: as a frustrated consumer looking for a better shopping experience.
She opened “Chicago’s first woman-owned and women-oriented sex shop” in 2001. At the time, sex shops were predominantly male-owned and male-oriented. This lack of inclusivity inspired Searah to imagine a different kind of shop. “I felt that there wasn’t a place that I wanted to go shop for sex toys where I felt like me as a queer woman was supported, that was education-focused, that was happy, where I could touch things.” With this vision in mind, Searah found a location in Edgewater and created her own destination location for safe and accessible sex toy shopping.
From the very beginning, Searah faced difficulties that more traditional business owners don’t have to consider. “I’ve had specific problems being a sex-oriented business with credit card processing and insurance rates. We are still treated as high risk.” Despite the early struggles, Early to Bed grew in its new location and eventually expanded online. In 2013, after many years in Edgewater, Searah found her current space in Andersonville just south of Foster Avenue.
Over Early to Bed’s sixteen years, certain things have remained unchanged in the sex shop business. “We are still talking to people who were born with vaginas and vulvas about how to have their first orgasm...We are still talking to people so much about very basic sexuality.” But with new toys and tech coming out all the time, many people are much more informed about what they want. “There is a much higher expectation of quality, which is great because the industry is in a different place than it was fifteen years ago.” Offering a carefully curated selection of toys and accessories, every item is the best of its kind. Almost all of the items are on display out of their packages, and there is even a station to sample their selection of lubricants. Unlike traditional online retailers, Early to Bed quality-checks all toys before purchase, and they are happy to answer any questions about use or care.
Searah and her staff also stay well informed on all aspects of healthy sexuality. “I have a group of people who work with me who are incredibly informed, trauma informed, consent informed and we’re very honest with people a lot of the time, when it comes to consent issues, in a way that people maybe aren’t expecting to hear from us.” Their goal is not to judge or preach the ‘right way’ to be sexual but to educate people about the importance of listening to both their bodies and their partners. “We’re still fun. We love pleasure. We love talking about sex, but we’re going to be really honest with you. And I think that is a huge difference between this type of sex toy store and a less mission-driven, more profit-driven store.”
On top of encouraging their clients to be open and communicate honestly about sex, Early to Bed is a valuable resource for those questioning, identifying or transitioning their gender identity. “We have a lot of trans folks who are our clients. We have, what I think is, the most extensive collection of transmasculine gear in the city. We have a whole website dedicated to just non-sexual trans guy stuff. We are really embracing that community as much as we can, so that’s been a shift over the years.” Searah also runs ftmessentials.com and transkids.com, two sites that provide resources and products for trans individuals. “I try to separate Searah the sex lady from Searah the trans gear person. I wanted to have a really safe place to share those resources.” As the parent of a gender nonconforming child, Searah understands the need for more information and support surrounding trans issues. “When you search stuff about trans kids, you either get lost in a world of hate, or you get lost in a world of social service agencies, which are great but not what you’re looking for. So I feel like having a one-stop place that has both resources and some gear for the young ones is necessary.”
In addition to their retail and online stores, Early to Bed hosts workshops, welcomes class trips and offers lectures for local colleges. Their website also features tips and advice about topics that people may be too shy to ask about in person. Common fears often stop people from talking about sex toys or pleasure, whether at the store or in their lives. “We’re still struggling with people who are afraid that they’ll replace their partner, upset their partner. There’s this fear that sex toys interrupt what is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ sex.”
Early to Bed not only loudly supports healthy sexuality and the LGBT community, but Searah makes an effort to support other queer and female small business owners whenever possible. “I will pick up a book by a local woman author, and we’re not a bookstore, but I want to support that woman. Or pins. Or smaller scale things that I am making a conscious effort to support these smaller businesses who I think need support.” This attitude means that Early to Bed is full of truly unique, high quality and ethically sourced items from around the world and within the community.
For some, the idea of shopping for a sex toy in the light of day may be intimidating, but Early to Bed does everything they can to make the experience completely comfortable. “Some of the best conversations are with people who come in and are like ‘I just have to tell you, I have no idea what I’m doing.’ And if someone says that to us, we just start at the beginning. What do you like? What do you feel comfortable talking about? I think that that is really transformative for a lot of people.” If you’re in the market for something special or just looking to learn more about sexuality, gender, feminism or pleasure, come see what they have in store at 5044 N Clark Street in Andersonville or online at Early2bed.com.