Who opened the first sex shop in the world?


Massage oil, vibrators, and edible underwear; it has never been this easy to buy sex toys. You can find everything you need online. The origin of this sexual valhalla? That would be the world’s first sex shop, named after its free-spirited founder, taboo breaker, and heroine Beate Uhse.

Condoms and ‘marital hygiene’

Beate Uhse was born in 1919 into a liberal family in Germany. As the first female physician, her mother was quite liberal in offering sexual education and handing out contraceptives. She passed on her emancipatory ideals to her daughter.

In the 1930s, Beate became one of the few female stunt pilots for German film companies. But because she had worked for the Luftwaffe in the Second World War, she wasn’t allowed to pilot an aircraft anymore after the war. In order to make a living, she decided to go door to door to sell products to housewives.

Pamphlet X

These housewives told her how afraid they were to get pregnant in those first few years after the war. Beate thought about her mother’s contraceptives and created a brochure that could help women determine their fertile days. This guide for periodical abstinence, Pamphlet X, was the start of her career in the sexual industry.

After selling 32,000 guides, she used the profits to start Beate Uhse Mail Order Co. in 1951, a mail order company that sold condoms and books about ‘marital hygiene’. After ten successful years, the Roaring Twenties started and the accompanying sexual revolution gave Beate the opportunity to expand her company and strengthen her position in Germany. In 1961, she opened a sex shop in Flensburg. It was the world’s first sex shop.

Police and rules of decency

At first, the shop was described as a ‘specialty shop for marital hygiene’. This was a wise decision, because not everyone was happy about the idea of a sex shop. Although the sexual revolution was already banging at the door, the early 1960s was still a very conservative period. Nobody spoke openly about sexuality and especially not about lust, desire, or (self-)pleasure.

That prudery led to frequent visits from police officers, because people claimed that Beate’s shop violated societal rules of decency. By the time 1992 came around, Beate and her shop had already been sued about two thousand times. Beate was also mocked and excluded socially. The society of German publishers refused to accept her as an author and she wasn’t allowed to become a member of the local tennis club. The latter didn’t bother her that much by the way. She simply created her own tennis club.

Female lust objects

In the early seventies, the sexual revolution started to really gain a foothold in society. Laws in Germany were not as strict anymore and the focus on ‘marital hygiene’ shifted to lust and sexual pleasure. Beate’s catalogue and sex shop added sex toys, sexy lingerie, and porn to the collection. And in 1971, the first sex shop with video booths opened in the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam.

Even then, this wasn’t exactly welcomed by everyone. Especially feminists were critical about the objectification of women in porn videos. According to them, there was a clear difference between opening up the conversation about traditional images of women and the images of women as lust objects in greasy video booths. The sexual revolution was about sexual freedom, the right of abortion and contraceptives, and removing the stigmas surrounding female sexuality.

Porn wasn’t part of that and Beate Uhse’s video booths and porn sales were frowned upon by many feminists.


Beate Uhse’s influence on the way we currently look at sexuality can’t be overstated enough. She didn’t just found a successful company as a woman in a time where that was very difficult and start the erotic imperium of sex shops as we know it, she also spread magazines and books that addressed and fought against stigmas. Above all, she was determined to do what she believed in despite the resistance and social exclusion.

Of course those feminists had a point when it comes to selling female-unfriendly porn. With that in mind, Beate was maybe more of a business woman than a feminist, as her biographer suggests. At the same time, we owe the fact that we can freely enjoy everything sex shops have to offer to her pioneering. Building on what she started, there are now thousands of sex shops worldwide founded by entrepreneurial women who expand the horizon of female sexuality.

No more stigmas?

Nowadays, sixty years later, sex shops are a normal part of society. Nobody is protesting against sex shops anymore and police officers won’t come around to talk about general decency. The growing number of sex shops shows that our culture has changed and that lust and sex aren’t topics you can only discuss behind closed doors anymore.

We watch movies like Fifty Shades of Grey and we anonymously order adult toys online to give our sex life a boost. Anonymously is the key word here. Shame is hard to get rid off and to be honest, nobody would feel comfortable when the delivery man hands them a package that visibly contains sex toys.

A range of erotic products

That actually makes sense on some level. Sex is perhaps more exciting when it goes hand in hand with a little mystery. The fact that we’re allowed to freely explore our bodies and are able to choose from thousands of sex toys doesn’t mean that it isn’t great to do this from the comfort, and safety, of our own homes.

We now see sex shops for what they are; shops where we can find various products that help us enrich our sex lives and embrace our sexuality. If you visit an online sex shop, you’re not limited to contraceptives, some massage oil, or a simple vibrator. There is a huge variety of erotic products waiting for you, whether you’re into BDSM or you finally want to discover if that G-spot really exists or not. There’s nothing more relaxed than searching for sex toys on your own laptop, which is another thing that we owe to the first sex shop, considering it was the first post order company doing business in the red-light districts.

That way, sex shops continue to contribute to the open culture where women can freely explore their sexuality. A culture where buying a sex toy is just as normal as buying food.

Also read: The best high-end sex toys for women

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