What I Learned From Working Graveyard Shift in a Sex Shop

Allan Mott quickly discovered

that the average

middle-of-the-night customer

at a sex shop isn’t a creep,

but just a normal lonely guy.

Back in 2002, they didn’t have cooking reality shows like “Top Chef” and” Hell’s Kitchen” to warn aware wannabe kitchen grunts from an industry that’s arguably crueler to the people who work in it than any factory farm raised animal they serve, so I eagerly took a job as a dishwasher at one of Edmonton’s finest restaurants.

I barely lasted two months. Turns out I didn’t enjoy working back-breaking 12-hour shifts six days a week. If Gordon Ramsey had been around to call me a pussy, I couldn’t have argued otherwise.

Having learned this valuable life lesson, I decided that for my next job I’d avoid anything strenuous. In fact, my ideal choice would be a position in which I got paid to do as little as humanly possible. If I could sit in a chair and watch movies all day, I’d be more than happy to accept minimum wage — I’d be sincerely grateful.

In other words, I wanted to be a video store clerk.

This wasn’t a newfound ambition. Every time I’d gone on a job search, I’d sent my resume to every video store in the city, hoping to impress them with my near-encyclopedic knowledge of film, but I never got the chance because who wants to have a short geek working for them when they could hire an adorably sullen teenage girl instead?

(Note: That’s not written with any bitterness. Given the opportunity, I’d probably make the exact same decision.)

But despite this past history of failure, I still got excited when I found a want ad in the paper for a video store position that was just a few blocks away from where I was living.

My enthusiasm didn’t last long, though, when I realized which video store it happened to be.

While Source Adult Video was not your typical sleazy peep show joint, it still wasn’t what I originally had in mind.

Source was actually a chain of stores all identically designed to be as open and well lit as possible in a clear attempt to both appeal to couples and discourage any attempts at public masturbation.

Mostly devoted to renting adult movies (which at that time still came chiefly in clunky VHS form), Source also sold adult novelties that ranged from “erotic” candles to vibrating wands designed to look like the kind of small rodents various celebrities have been rumored to enjoy intimately.

As benign as it was, I still couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed as I opened up the store’s frosted front door. I wondered if actually getting a job there would ever cure me of this (it didn’t).

Fifteen minutes later I was no longer unemployed, but the catch was that I would have to accept the 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM weekend shift. I had no problem with working graves, having been a habitual night owl since birth.

The next day I found myself being trained in the ways of adult video store clerking. The first thing I noticed was how the position fit in the same niche as psychiatrist or prostitute, in that the people who came up to our counter were frequently letting us in on the personal secrets they shared with almost no one else.

I remember one balding man in his forties whose hands were literally shaking when he handed over a tape he quickly grabbed from the store’s Gay section, as well as the guilty, shifty eyes of the well-dressed businessman who asked if we had any more tapes in a series devoted to rubber bondage gear.

My clueless tutor didn’t appear to notice his discomfort and made him repeat the name of the series four times before he told her to forget about it. I vowed at that moment to be much more respectful and discrete.

By far the most bizarre part of the shift was the mandatory novelty inventory, which required me to print a list of every dildo, vibrator, pocket pussy, tube of cherry flavored anal lube, etc., we had in stock and make sure it was still there and accounted for.

If you’ve never spent a late half-hour trying to figure out why you only have four rubber Ron Jeremy cocks, instead of five, you probably worked really hard in school. (Turned out someone hid the fifth one behind the penis enlarging pumps.)

Once I figured out nothing was ever actually done with the inventories I was supposed to do each night, I started faking them while I sat down and watched videos I brought from home.

As strange as it was working a job where 95 percent of the transactions I performed could be honestly concluded with a polite, “Have a nice self-induced orgasm!” I quickly came to realize that the average Source customer wasn’t a gross, disgusting pervert, but just a normal, lonely dude who was too homely/fat/short to get a girlfriend and too shy/sweet/poor to sleep with hookers.

That said, those guys have all sort of melted into a forgettable blob memory-wise. I really only remember the weirdos.

For example there was the guy who had a print out of our entire video inventory, which he used to make sure he didn’t rent the same thing twice. This might seem a bit OCD, until you found out he rented 16 movies at a time, which probably did make it hard to keep track.

I did the math and figured out that at an average length of 90 minutes, it would take him 24 hours to watch all 16 movies, which he would probably have to split up into 8 hour shifts for the 3 days he had the movies.

This meant that either watching porn was this guy’s full-time job or he was just recording them and building up his own library with the hope of opening his own store some day in the future.

But I didn’t find him quite as mystifying as the older gentleman with the suave mustache who came in and bought a new DVD (at $60 a pop) every Saturday.

That was odd, but what made it odder was the fact that his choices were always completely random.

One week it would be a gay DVD, the next it would be one that featured extremely overweight women, which would be followed by a vanilla bondage video and then a transgender flick. I didn’t give a fuck what anyone’s particular kink was, but it did become annoying that this guy seemed to want to have it all. It just seemed greedy.

OK, I admit I wasn’t totally lacking in judgment. One kink did bother me and that was when a guy my dad’s age would come up to the counter and hand over a tape like Barely Legal or Bring ‘Em Young (which went so far as to announce on its cover how many days its young participants were over the age of 18). That was undeniably creepy.

Another reminder of porn’s creepy side was the saga of one particular tape kept in the part of the store devoted to the crappiest of the crappy discount titles.

At one point it was by far the most popular tape in the store, simply because it’s front cover featured an attractive anonymous blond woman suggestively petting a horse. Many of the dudes who rented it were actually bold enough to try and get their money refunded when they came back to return it.

It got to the point that someone on another shift wisely attached a sticker to the cover that simply read, “She doesn’t fuck the horse.” It became a lot less popular after that.

Beyond this, the most annoying part of the job was dealing with customers who assumed that my working a minimum wage weekend grave shift position in an adult video store made me a qualified expert in all things freaky and/or deaky.

One gentleman would always pepper me with questions about how he could start his own porn company, as if I had been personally responsible for producing the videos he was renting.

But that was nothing compared to the many, many male customers who would come up to me with plastic representations of female genitalia and ask, “Is this any good?”

All I could ever do in these cases was politely nod, even though I personally felt that even just using lotion while masturbating was an unnecessary extravagance.

My distaste for these ridiculous assumptions did admittedly change on the rare occasions when an attractive woman asked the very same question. Then it was all I could do to stop myself from turning into Barry White.

“Oh yeaaaah, baby. All the sweet ladies love the Swinging Monkey Asiatic Dual Three-Speed Vibrator with Massaging Action. It rocks their world.”

Speaking of women, as hard as Source tried to appeal to them, they weren’t a common sight in the store. When they did come in, it was usually as the uncomfortable half of a young couple (“No, Darren, I am NOT watching THAT!” I remember one young woman standing up for herself when her boyfriend tried to convince her that they should rent the latest edition of American Bukkake) or because they were on the lookout for something to spice up an upcoming bachelorette party.

I do know that I never once rented a video from our very large Lesbian section to a woman, much less an actual lesbian. Take of that what you will.

Truthfully many of the strangest moments on the job had nothing to do with the fact that I was surrounded by pornography, but rather the standard weirdness that comes from working with the public in any capacity.

Three months in, I got a call from an acquaintance asking me if I wanted to apply for a writing position at the local publishing company he worked for. Within three weeks I was a full-time working writer. But that didn’t stop me from whipping out my best porn store anecdotes at every available opportunity.

As someone whose resume makes for some interesting reading, it remains the funniest job I’ve ever had and if circumstances were to ever force me to return to it, I honestly don’t think I’d mind (except for the whole “Being embarrassed to walk through the door thing”).

by Allan Mott


Originally appeared at xoJane


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  1. “the average Source customer wasn’t a gross, disgusting pervert, but just a normal, lonely dude who was too homely/fat/short to get a girlfriend and too shy/sweet/poor to sleep with hookers.”

    This is the realization that must never be permitted in a feminist-friendly society: the notion that sexless men aren’t predatory monsters or pathetic losers deserving only hatred.

    • That’s so strange. I’m a feminist and I think I just wrote something really accepting about why people might shop at a store like that.

      • Just a metalhead says:

        Some feminists are empathetic and sex-positive, a lot are not empathetic towards men and very sex-negative, at least in relations to male sexuality.

        You cannot go on feminist websites or read feminist literatures without being quickly exposed to people who loudly express the opinion that porn is intrinsically misogynistic and that men who use it are misogynist, that they are almost abusing the porn stars of what they consume.

        It’s even worse for johns, who, for many feminists, are just a step above rapists. They are assumed to be violent, to treat women like mere objects and to be automatically abusive. A very popular opinion on prostitution in feminist circles is that selling sex must be legal, but buying sex must be illegal as it is always an act of violence against women. The expression that sex workers are “selling their bodies” has been promoted by feminists and seeks to equivocate johns and slave masters.

        This is the reality of the feminist movement. If you disagree with it, I encourage you to speak up against it in your movement, to reclaim feminism from the radicals.

  2. People visit stores like this for all kinds of reasons. Loneliness is one of them. Pretty much everyone has a sex drive (save the asexuals) and desires for human touch and validation, but it’s not always available to everyone (for a lot of reasons, some no fault of their own, some due to dysfunctions) so normalizing sex stores, and sex work, would help a lot of people, men and women both.

    I only worry that a cycle of utilizing stores creates more isolation, secrecy, shame and less human connection and openness, as that seems detrimental to these sad lonely people who are only seeking that which everyone seeks. Not that the stores should go away, certainly, but I’d love for them to be considered less creepy and more “in the daylight” so that there is less shame overall.

    • yes, normalizing sex work will benefit both – male customers and women workers.
      Women dont need to pay for sex. Even the obese women can get laid left and right with lean guys and complaining why they wont date them.

  3. The author will also realize the same thing if he observes the men who hire sex workers.

    I think it needs to be acknowledged that obtaining sex is much more difficult for men than it is for the other gender, and paying for sex is an understandable, logical solution.

    Unfortunately there is only hatred and disgust for men who pay for sex. Women and feminists particualry hate those men, even the ones who claim to be sex-positive.

    • “I think it needs to be acknowledged that obtaining sex is much more difficult for men than it is for the other gender, and paying for sex is an understandable, logical solution.”

      As long as you’re wishing, I’d like a pony. (i.e., don’t hold your breath.)

  4. I just think it is time to legalize prostitution. As much as I hate the idea.

    But, clearly too many men are just sexually frustrated and need an outlet. We have highly intelligent Ivy League women working as $1000 an hour escorts, already.

    So, let’s just make prostitution as accessible and safe as porn so men can enjoy sex in a safe, clean, and regulated environment. The female sex workers would also benefit.

    • Good idea. What country do you propose to implement it? because it’ll dang sure never happen in the U.S., sad to say.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    “Truthfully many of the strangest moments on the job had nothing to do with the fact that I was surrounded by pornography, but rather the standard weirdness that comes from working with the public in any capacity.”

    Very good point. A retail graveyard shift, really any retail shift dealing with hundreds of customers every week, will bring you in contact with the small percentage of people who are memorably weird. I don’t mean that as a snobby remark, just stating the mathematical likelihood. I’d be curious if you had worked in a 24-hour convenience store if you’d have comparable experiences.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    Well of course the customers were odd. This was in Canada, right? In the U.S. the customers are totally different….

  7. wellokaythen says:

    Some interesting debate here about why men look at porn. Let’s not lose sight of the basics, because sometimes the basic explanation may actually be the best. Maybe the whole point IS the “self-induced orgasm” and not much else.

    Masturbation is fun. Porn has a way of making masturbation even more fun. Most men consume porn that increases the pleasure or intensity of self-pleasure. When men “consume porn” they usually masturbate while they view it. (I hope this is not news to anyone.) I call this the “Funner Wanking” Theory. No doubt for many men this theory is sufficiently explanatory. We can try to analyze this further and discover some deeper wisdom, perhaps, but we have to start here.

    The other theories I’ve heard have some merit, but they seem to be less explanatory, because they cover a minority of cases or overlook the physical basics.

    There’s the “Poor Substitute” Theory, which explains that what these men really, deeply want and need is intimate contact with a real live woman, but, since they are unable to convince a woman to have sex with them, these men are left with a pale imitation. Among more judgmental people, this could also be called the “Ugly Loser” Theory. This article flirts with this theory but eventually rejects it.

    A related theory is the “Unavailability” Theory, which suggests that the men who look at porn are willing and able to have intimate relationships with women, but they’re in situations where the options are extremely limited. This would also include being in monogamous relationships in which the other partner is not willing or able to have sex, so the man turns to porn as an outlet.

    I’ve also heard the “Objectification” Theory, which suggests that the larger problem is the social and cultural assumptions about male and female sexuality. The culture has convinced men that the best way to think about women is as sexual objects, and porn reinforces those feelings. So, if men were more conscious of gender dynamics and more intellectually engaged with their own sexuality, the demand for porn would plummet.

    A related one is the “Misogyny” Theory, in which men consume porn in large part because of the apparent effects of porn on women themselves. Porn allows men to give vent to their inherent hatred of women and fear of female sexuality. The men in this theory literally get off on oppressing women. This theory tends to go backwards, reading the effects back into the intention – many women feel uneasy about porn, so therefore that must be the main reason that porn exists.

    What these other explanations have in common is that they generally avoid talking about masturbation itself, except maybe as a distantly related substitute for in-person sex. Nowhere does wanking seem to be enjoyable for its own sake, but only to meet some deep emotional need going back to childhood or as a political statement or as a passive-aggressive assault on women.

    The odd thing about American society’s growing obsession with talking about porn is that we still maintain a taboo about discussing masturbation. This creates a really disjointed conversation, like trying to talk about funerals without talking about death. When a lot of people talk about “porn use,” what they’re really talking about is how they feel about masturbation. This makes for a very evasive discussion, even a dishonest discussion.

    I know sex/food comparisons are totally cliché, but they can be very illustrative. Let me try this one:

    A lot of men like cheeseburgers. We could talk about how some men are emotional eaters, so the burger provides a kind of substitute for love that they are not getting elsewhere. We could talk about how some men are food addicts, so the cheeseburger fuels a kind of addictive cycle. We could talk about how some men might eat a cheeseburger as an act of rebellion against people in their lives telling them to eat more healthily. Some men eat them because their food options are very limited. We could talk about how in American society traditional machismo extolls the masculine virtue of eating beef and denigrates fresh vegetables as “unmanly.” We could talk about industrial production of beef combined with mass marketing campaigns.

    But, are any of these the best explanation for the average man eating a cheeseburger? The basic fact to start with is that it’s enjoyable. He buys one with the expectation that it will add some enjoyment to his life.

    • “Poor Substitute” kinda weak if you have lovers or sex partners you enjoy, in fact that hurts most of them.
      “Objectification” men are not the only ones to look at porn..not even the only mammal.
      “Misogyny” And if you are Bisexual and look at gay porn and straight porn?

      “Masturbation is fun” hmm and porn as a masturbation aid kinda fits the ticket. it is also a way to explore fantasy.

    • Why might a man look at porn?
      hmm I wonder.
      Do ya think, just maybe, it could be the slim possibility that he likes sex and or looking at sexual beings?
      Just a theory.

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