A social worker and a physician since 1996 have operated an unusual Madison boutique whose inventory is designed to help achieve sexual intimacy in subtle to blunt ways. Think silk stockings to sex toys, art to condoms,games to movies (but no booths for watching porn).
A Woman's Touch, 600 Williamson St., sells sexually explicit materials and devices, but the store's tone is feminine, educational, romantic and daring. A partial wall separates incense, candles, lingerie and massage oils at the store's entrance from the more graphic devices that vibrate or work to achieve orgasm in other ways.
Not for sale are movies with racial stereotypes, herbal supplements (“most do not work the way they are advertised”), metal handcuffs (“can cause damage to tendons or nerves”), lambskin condoms (“porous”) and “The Joy of Sex” (“times have changed and this book has not adapted”).
Free advice given
Owners Ellen Barnard and Dr. Myrtle Wilhite are life partners who provide free sex advice through store brochures, an online forum and face-to-face chats with customers. Store employees also are trained to be helpful, discrete, matter-of-fact and sensitive to the wide variety of shoppers' needs and comfort levels.
The advice that is dispensed has assisted rape victims, the elderly, the terminally ill, the disabled, bored couples, single people without partners and others. Store owners and staff refer those in need of extended counseling to other health professionals.
Barnard and Wilhite have been booked at national health care conferences and called to address health clinic physicians. They talk about sexual intimacy issues and say health care providers usually don't gain this education in medical schools.
Online questions about sexuality, sexual pleasure and sexual health are answered in a direct and dignified manner. Questions also are addressed through phone calls to 888-621-8880.
Store owners also designed a vibrator for women living with a sexual dysfunction because of conditions such as cancer or menopause.
Frank talk, workshops
The average adult, Barnard contends, uses TV shows and movies as a barometer for expectations that are false in real life. She says frank talk about sexual health is socially unaccepted, and that the effects of illness and aging complicate the already-sensitive discussion.
In addition to shopping, people of any sexual persuasion visit A Woman's Touch for workshops and talks. Topics are wide-ranging and include massage for couples, pole dancing, belly dancing, burlesque and safe sex.
The store is open daily and is located inside a subdued strip mall entrance. Orders also are taken online.