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A sex shop or erotic shop is a retailer that sells products related to adult sexual or erotic entertainment, such as vibrators, lingerie, clothing, pornography, and other related products. The world's first sex shop was opened in 1962 by Beate Uhse AG in Flensburg, West Germany, and sex shops can now be found in many countries. Many sex shops also trade over the internet. Sex shops are part of the sex industry.
In most jurisdictions, sex shops are regulated by law, with access not permitted to minors, the age depending on local law. Some jurisdictions prohibit sex shops and the merchandise they sell. In some jurisdictions that permit it, they may also show pornographic movies in private video booths, or have private striptease or peep shows. Also an adult movie theater may be attached.
Near borders of countries with different laws regarding sex shops, shops on the more liberal side tend to be popular with customers from the other side, especially if importing the purchased materials by customers to their own country, and possessing them, is legal or tolerated.
There are also many online sex shops selling a variety of adult content such as toys, fetish wear etc. These types of shop are often favoured by the consumer as they have less overheads and can be perused within the comfort of the home. Their discreetness is also appealing to some.
Almost all licensed adult stores in the UK are forbidden from having their wares in open shop windows under the Indecent Displays Act 1981, which means often the shop fronts are boarded up or covered in posters. A warning sign must be clearly shown at the entrance to the store, and no sex articles (for example, pornography or sex toys) should be visible from the street. However, lingerie, non-offensive covers of adult material, etc. may be shown depending on the license conditions of the local authority. The Video Recordings Act 1984 introduced the R18-rated classification for videos that are only available in licensed sex shops. No customer can be under eighteen years old.
The Ann Summers chain of lingerie and sex toy shops recently won the right to advertise for shop assistants in Job Centres, which was originally banned under restrictions on what advertising could be carried out by the sex industry.
In London, there are few boroughs that have licensed sex shops. Soho has fifteen licensed shops and several remaining unlicensed ones. Islington and Camden each have multiple sex shops; the former also has three pornographic cinemas. In the early 1990s, London's Hackney council sought to shut down Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium, because they did not have a license. Sh! took the council to court and consequently won the right to remain open as there were no sufficient reasons for the closure.
Sex shops in Scotland are regulated under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.
In the United States, a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s (based on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution) generally legalized sex shops, while still allowing states and local jurisdictions to limit them through zoning. Into the 1980s, nearly all American sex shops were oriented to an almost entirely male clientele. Many included booths for viewing pornographic film loops (later videos), and nearly all were designed so that their customers could not be seen from the street: they lacked windows, and the doors often involved an L-shaped turn so that people on the street could not see in. While that type of store continues to exist, since the end of the 1970s there has been an evolution in the industry. Two new types of stores arose in that period, both of them often (though not always, especially not in more socially conservative communities) more open to the street and more welcoming to women than the older stores.
On the one hand, there are stores resembling the UK's Ann Summers, tending toward "softer" product lines. On the other hand, there are stores that evolved specifically out of a sex-positive culture, such as San Francisco's Good Vibrations and Xandria. The latter class of stores tend to be very consciously community-oriented businesses, sponsoring lecture series and being actively involved in sex-related health issues, etc.
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The first sex shop on the continent of North America was "The Garden". which was opened in October 1971 by Ivor Sargent on tony Crescent Street in downtown Montreal, Quebec. The Garden combined the basic concept of Beate Uhse (Germany) and Ann Summers (U.K.). The store's opening attracted long lines of curious shoppers. The Palm Beach Post commented: "Like the chicken or the egg controversy,no one is really sure which came first-the sex boutique or the so-called Sexual Revolution".
There are no specific laws against using or buying sex toys at basically any age, however there are laws about pornography. Although the age of consent is 16 in Canada you have to be 18+ to purchase or view pornography. Most sex shops of today carry adult videos, which means that most sex toys remain strictly in the hands of adults.
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The first sex shop in Italy was opened in 1972 in Milan by Angela Masia and her husband Ercole Sabbatini. This was the first "official" sex shop. Since then more with sex shops have opened, mostly in Rome.
Sex shops have operated in Australia since the 1960s, first in the urban areas of Sydney, notably Kings Cross. Sex shops in Australia are regulated by state laws and are subject to local planning controls.
The world's first Muslim online sex shop called El Asira opened in the Netherlands in 2010. It had 70,000 hits to the website in the first four days of operation.
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