Magic and toyshops: narrative and meaning in the women's sex shop

Carter, Frances Hannah (2014) Magic and toyshops: narrative and meaning in the women's sex shop. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The sex shop aimed primarily at the female consumer is a phenomenon which forms part of our everyday understanding of the sexualisatian of culture or the mainstreaming of sexual representation and consumption. The women's sex shop privileges notions of female empowerment achieved through the consumption of goods and spaces dedicated to the pursuit of female erotic pleasure. Prioritising women's interpretations of the visual presence of the women's sex shop, this project establishes how the sex shop is re-made for its female consumers, making it both acceptable and desirable to a new audience. Primarily its aim is to interrogate the ways in which design is put to use to reflect, materialise and contribute to discourse around feminine sexuality and sexual pleasure. Utilising a feminist research methodology this thesis takes as a starting point the voices of women consumers and retailers, facilitating a new reading of the ways in which women negotiate the meanings invested in the spaces of gendered sexual consumption. In line with the testimony of participants, investigation begins by positioning the women's sex shop in relation to its progenitor, the traditional male sex shop, the model without which the women's shop could not be envisaged or designed. Secondly it investigates the ways in which the design of the women's sex shop and its goods, appropriate or resist established , normative and classed representations of female sexuality expressed in the geographical position of the shops, the interior layout, the external façade and the use of visual references. In conclusion, drawing on consumer narratives, research exposes a visual and spatial symbiosis between the 'seedy' masculine and the stylish women's sex shop. Key tensions and contradictions are unearthed in the things and spaces of the women's shop, calling into question the notions of female sexual agency and empowerment it proposes.

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