Samantha & Paul Evans are the owners of JoDivine, a sex toy shop that only sells skin safe products, because they know they promote better sexual health and pleasure.
Samantha is a former nurse with a particular passion for helping their customers enhance their sexual pleasure through the use of sex toys and lubricant.
Q. What was it that led to you starting Jo Divine?
Sam: The idea actually came about after noticing Passion Parties springing up in the U.S. These were events where women came together to learn about products of a sexual nature, such as sex toys, dildos, etc. We thought the idea might work with couples but, after focus testing it with our friends, nobody was interested! At the same time, I’d come across a natural lubricant called yes that had completely transformed my sex life with Paul as I’d had some sexual health problems after using some of the brand names lubes that contained all sorts of ingredients such as glycerine that hadn’t agreed with me at all. I became evangelical about the yes lube (and still am)!
Paul was looking to change from working in computing and, between the two of us, we decided to set up a toy shop, initially just selling one product, the Lelo Gigi, which was one of the first toys to use a skin safe silicone. It’s a new, velvety material that is soft to the touch and slightly pliable. For a long time, sex toys were either made of jelly, rubber or latex which can all be washed but are all porous so absorb bacteria and degrade. Both Paul and I were both adamant we wanted to educate people not just about sex toys and lubes but about making sure that the products they bought were not going to harm them in any way. We’re still the only one in the market that will only sell skin safe sex toys and natural lubricants.
Q. What’s your most popular item?
Sam: The Picobong Zizo, a great first-time vibrator, battery operated and great for helping women with gynae issues too along yes organic lubricants. I say it’s great for first-time users because it’s a normal penis shaped product, skin safe and reasonably priced. Our customers tend to be 40+, many much older and often with no experience of using a sex toy. For some of them, they’ve come to us because their partner has died and they want to pleasure themselves. As a former nurse, I’m used to talking to people about intimate topics and I find many of our customers open up to us about their sex lives. I’ve come to understand that there are a vast number of women who, for instance, have never had or know about clitoral orgasms and so I feel it’s partly my job, in selling them their first toy, to discuss the kind of pleasure they’re seeking as everyone is so different in this regard.
Q. Do you think there’s a stigma about bringing toys into the bedroom?
Sam: For some, there will always be a stigma but attitudes are changing, sex toys are in mainstream media and people recognise that sex toys can enhance their relationship. Sex and the City certainly helped in educating people in their 40s and 50s but, sadly, everyone seems to associate sex toys solely with the Rampant Rabbit when, in fact, there are thousands of toys on the market!
Paul: You will always have men for whom the idea of a penis shaped toy can be seen as threatening but most don’t have a problem with their partner using a bullet (a small vibrator) shaped toy or something like the Lelo Lily (a pebble-shaped vibrator) to stimulate their clitoris while they are having penetrative sex.
Q. I remember a time when the idea of men using sex toys and suchlike was considered deviant. Do you think that's still the case? If not, what has changed?
Paul: Male sex toys will always be harder to sell as men have a right hand. There is still an expectation that men are always ready for sex which often isn't the case. We have found that women will buy a product for themselves then buy one for their male partner when they receive our catalogue - his and her sex toys.
Our most popular male sex toy is the Hot Octopuss Pulse III. This is a bendable sleeve that features deep vibrations that give men a different kind of sensation than using their hand or being inside their partner. It feels more like a massage than in being stroked or using a sleeve-shaped sex toy like the Fleshlight, for instance. And it’s very effective for men who may suffer from Erectile Dysfunction too.
Q. What do you recommend for customers who have not purchased a toy before?
Sam: Don’t assume bigger is better, choose skin safe products and always buy good quality lubricant to use with the product. Give us a ring to discuss what you’re looking for as we’re always happy to speak to our customers.
Before spending your money familiarise yourself with the products available to understand what type of toy you want. What do you want it for, external or internal stimulation or both, for couples play, solo play?
Q. You run the shop with your husband. How has that impacted on your relationship?
Sam: We work together every day from our home so sometimes work invades our personal life, you don’t get a break but it's fun, we get on, we talk all the time and because we have the same/similar ideas for the business we don’t have to explain to each other what we mean or want.
Paul: We do disagree at times but having been married for 20 yrs what couple doesn’t?? Having access to lots of sex toys and discovering yes organic lubes our sex life has improved too! Sex has always been a very important component in our marriage so we actually enjoy bringing our work home with us!
Q. How can couples introduce the idea of using toys in their relationship?
Sam: Talk to each other, discuss what they would like to try, don’t just surprise your partner, we have had a few returns because it is an unwanted gift! If you struggle to orgasm through penetrative sex suggest a small bullet/clitoral vibrator, easy to slip between you and use during intercourse. Check out websites together to discover what you would like to try together. If you do want to surprise your partner, choose something small and unintimidating.
Q. There are so many sex toy shops on the net now. How do you remain relevant to your customers?
Paul: We believe we are unique in being the only sex toy company still in business after 10 years who only sell skin safe products. This is something we are passionate about but has held back our progress at times as far too often people only look at product price and do not consider the impact a bad product could have on their health.
We also offer a huge amount of online sexual health and pleasure articles in our magazine and spend time advising and educating our customers and healthcare professionals on the phone and via email too.
Being independent we offer personal customer service and can advise about the majority of our products because we’ve tried them. We’d rather have satisfied customers who will return to buy another product rather than end up with someone who has a product they cannot use.
Sam: Using my nursing background we also work with many healthcare professionals in the NHS and private practice who recommend our products and articles to their patients to help them overcome sexual issues and enjoy a better sex life. We even created a health brochure with our local hospital which is now given out across the UK by many healthcare professionals.
Q. How can using toys help older people improve their sexual health?
Sam: Having many older customers we know that using a vibrator can keep things working. Use it or lose it! Vaginal dryness, tightness and decreased sexual sensation are part of the ageing process and menopause yet using a simple sex toy and pH balanced sexual lubricant can really help.
Many women buy their first vibrator from us. Some buy them to help gynae issues or when their partner has died or their relationship has broken up. We have many customers in new relationships who haven't had sex for years and want to resume it with a new partner so buy a slim vibrator to get back in the sack.
Paul: Vibrating cock rings are ideal for men who struggle to maintain an erection or to help them last longer by restricting the blood flow out of the penis. The Bathmate can help treat erectile dysfunction, but being an exerciser it can also help prevent it in the first place.
The Hot Octopuss Pulse III is an amazing male vibrator that can be sued with a flaccid or erect penis using pulse plate technology.
Q. How important do you think sex is in a relationship?
Sam: For many sex is important and when it changes or is affected by illness, disease, or the ageing process relationships can break down. It makes you feel good, releasing endorphins that improve your mood, boost your immunity, helps you to sleep, makes you look younger.
It is a choice and there is no normal sex, it can be hard when sex drives are mismatched which is when sex toys can really help.
Q. Since the advent of 50 Shades and similar books, do you find more older people are requesting products that reflect BDSM scenarios?
Paul: It isn’t a huge part of our business but we have been pleasantly surprised at the response when we recently added some new bondage products to our brochure.
Q. I know quite a few people who don’t feel that toys have a place in their relationship. Why do you think that is?
Sam: Shame, embarrassment, upbringing and the view that they will replace a partner or be better than them. They still have the image of seedy sex shops in Soho but sex toys have moved on from horrible jelly products, although they still remain in places, to beautifully designed quiet products made from high-quality materials and many of which don’t even look like a sex toy.
Q. What specific toys would you recommend for men & women 50+.
Sam: There is no specific toy, however using a vibrating cock ring can help men maintain an erection and offer clitoral stimulation, the Satisfyer is great for women with decreased sexual sensation. It uses suction and vibration rather than direct stimulation. And the Bathmate, although not a sex toy promotes erectile function. For women struggling to orgasm through penetrative sex, a simple bullet is ideal too and inexpensive.
Q. What’s your favourite toy?
The one thing we use every time during sex is yes lubricant.
Q. What has been your family’s reaction to running a sex toy shop? How has it impacted on your children’s lives?
Sam: The children are all teenagers and our daughter is now 18. They go with the flow, they’ve told a few friends, some who thought we were spies as our daughter said she couldn’t talk about what we did, other friends have said “we’re cool!”. She’s even written an article for her new website called “My Parents Sell Sex Toys”.
Paul: We don’t really talk about our work when we meet new people unless they are in the industry or healthcare professionals. When we do talk about it the majority of people are fine and interested in what we do especially about how we came to create Jo Divine and the health work with the NHS, although we have had a few people who didn’t believe that we owned a sex toy company!
You can find all the sex toys listed and more at Jo Divine.