"Have you seen the box of dildos?"
Halfway through the Current's photo shoot at the Sexology Institute in Southtown, the seemingly offhand comment by Melissa Jones, its executive director, elicited loud giggles.
The dildos in question are the ones Jones uses for some classes offered at her new shop. They're for class-use only and, oh yes, they're sterilized after every course, she clarifies.
If you've missed the demure signage, approved by the city's Historic and Design Review Commission, you're not alone. The shop does little to set itself apart from neighboring stores. Still the sign has been up for eight months, and yet, the puritanical pitchfork-wielding mobs have stayed at bay.
Lavaca resident and performance artist S. T. Shimi — known as "Black Orchid" in the city's burlesque community — welcomed the new boutique.
"I've lived in Lavaca for the last 20 years — we're the original bohemians and hipsters," Shimi says.
She recalls previous shops that have sold sexy garments, but those usually didn't last. "It's silly to overblow it," she says. "It's just another business and for those of us who are tired about bars opening [we] should be supportive. Sex happens."
A call to the King William Association was also met with a similarly blasé attitude uncharacteristic to the traditionally vigilant organization. "There's not even been a whisper from anyone," shrugs Cherise Bell, executive director for the King William Association.
That wasn't the case for Rita Delgado, who opened Shades of Love off Bitters with sister Rosemary 15 years ago. Let's just say there was no welcoming party.
"We had people protesting the shop, arguing we shouldn't be in the shopping center. Thankfully, the person that leased to us had an open mind," Delgado says.
She likens Shades of Love as a service to the community: "Sex isn't dirty. It should be enjoyed, pleasurable and help sustain healthy relationships."
No such rough seas for Southtown's Sexology Institute. Once inside the renovated space, which has a history of its own and is rumored to have been a brothel in a previous lifetime, Jones' attention to detail and her clientele's comfort level shows it's nothing of the sort now.
The shop is broken down into three distinct sections: a boutique, a sliver of a toy store and a classroom. Cream-colored corsets in various sizes and lengths hang from stylish racks behind one of two shop windows — the other holds a display of vintage dress forms donning corsets — so the shop's innards are kept mostly hidden from passersby.
Imagine combining the airy quality of Anthropologie, a slightly toned down version of Victoria's Secret, with touches of Tiffany blue, the always-fabulous exposed brick and a hint of shabby chic — you've landed inside the Sexology Institute. Sure, the lace and frill of some of the garments could cause some mild blushing from the conservative set, but the front portion of the boutique focuses solely on providing cute bridal underthings, bath bombs, candles, chocolate-draped treats, jewelry and sure, a few flavored lubes — of the gluten-free and organic variety, at that.
The boutique might make for a fun afternoon of shopping in advance of date night or a girls' night out (which they'll start hosting in the coming weeks), but the educational component of the Sexology Institute is what Jones wants to talk about the most. Her office is filled with plush couches and dark, moody hues of red and blue — the ambience, along with Jones' personality and vibe, is what sets the Sexology Institute apart from other sex shops.
The well-educated 43-year-old mother of three and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — more commonly known as the Mormon Church — isn't the kind of background you'd expect from a sex shop owner and instructor. Not by a long shot.
When asked what made her dive into this particular field, the chipper blonde immediately shot back: "Church. I know. It's funny."
While away at church camp where she was a youth leader for teen girls, Jones and a few other leaders got to talkin'.
"One evening after all the girls were in their tent, several women were just visiting around the campfire, and they started talking about how they didn't like sex, or how it was only for procreation and how they never [achieved] orgasm. I thought 'Wow, I'm lucky, because I like sex.'"
Things actually changed after she told that tale to her husband of 22 years, who encouraged her to do something to help others discover the joys of sex, Jones says she enrolled in an online doctoral program she believed was partnered with the University of Nevada Las Vegas. But the UNLV registrar's office had no knowledge of such a program and did not list Jones as a Ph.D recipient. Jones was shocked to learn this news.
"I'm at a complete loss," she says, noting she's seeking legal advice. "My biggest concern is my employees, and what we've invested in this product, this store, and what we can do for San Antonio."
But she has too much experience and has invested too much time and effort to turn her back on her new venture, she says.
As a sex educator and coach, Jones explains, her coursework included several "Sexual Attitude Reassessments," aimed at exposing students to sexy scenarios while helping strip away preconceived notions of certain lifestyles.
"I had to go out to Vegas three different times. As a Mormon and conservative, I'd never been in a strip club," Jones says of her first SAR (and yes, she dragged husband with her), which she says she turned into a class paper. "That was profound for me...[it] let me take away all this judgment of people and realize they're just people and they want what we want, which is to feel loved and give love, however that is."
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