Searah Deysach loves sex toys, but she won’t sell penis-shaped birthday candles or novelty plastic breasts. “I don’t want to sound like the lesbian with no sense of humor,” she says, “but it’s this awful attitude–like, ‘Hey, boobies!’ And I love boobies, but what’s fun about creepy replicas of genitalia?”

Deysach, who’s 28, opened Early to Bed, Chicago’s first woman-owned sex shop, in September. Inside the Edgewater storefront, abstract watercolors of naked women hang on the walls, and silver lamps illuminate displays of dildos, vibrators, harnesses, and butt plugs.

In 1998, says Deysach, “My girlfriend E-mailed me to say, ‘We need a dildo, can you get one?'” Once she started investigating, “I sort of fell in love with the whole industry, knowing how products are made and the materials used. I realized I was wasting all this energy and knowledge on me and my girlfriend.”

Deysach, who has degrees from both art and pastry school, was working in an office at the School of the Art Institute and looking for a new direction. When she floated the idea of opening a store of her own, it stuck. Everyone, even her mother, thought it would be a perfect fit and pestered her to follow through. “All the zines I started, the shoe store, the catering business, no one ever cared about them or mentioned them again,” she says. “But sex toys, no one let that drop.”

She quit her job in fall 2000 and headed west for an unofficial apprenticeship at Good Vibrations, San Francisco’s legendary woman-owned adult boutique. For two months Deysach hung around the store, observing what worked and what didn’t and crafting a vision of her own ideal business.

For example, the biggest obstacle to women’s comfort in adult stores? Packaging, she says. Thus, there are no boxes, wrappers, or bags on the sales floor at Early to Bed. “The boxes for sex toys are ridiculous,” she says. “They’re always geared toward men–you’ve got a woman’s vibrator, and there’s still a picture of a naked lady on it. And what’s worse, it’s got some horrible name, like the Clit-Buster.” The box is also a barrier, she says. “You don’t know how it’s going to turn out, you don’t know how strong the vibrations are, what it actually feels like. I’d rather have things out for people to try.”

On a recent afternoon three pairs of women roamed the small store, slowly examining the merchandise, hand-testing massage oils and lubes, and calling out questions. “I want to be the answer lady,” says Deysach, who also writes a sex column for Punk Planet magazine. To that end, leaflets throughout the store explain products and customer-penned reviews cover one section of the wall.

This spring Deysach started hosting a series of workshops, with topics such as “How to Write a Dirty Letter” and “I Heart My Clit” (a masturbation seminar). She also hosts occasional parties at the store as well as in-home “pleasureware” gatherings.

So far, she says, business is good, although she’s been a bit apprehensive since the Honeysuckle Shop, another woman-oriented adult boutique, opened in Lakeview. “I’ll have to work harder,” she says, “but we’ll be good competition.” As it is, she says, even though weekday afternoons can be slow and lonely, “for the first time in my life I have a job that feels like it has a purpose.”

Early to Bed is at 5232 N. Sheridan, 773-271-1219. Hours are noon to 7 Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 9 Friday, noon to 10 Saturday, and noon to 5 Sunday. The next workshop, “Erotic Edgeplay: S & M for Couples,” is Tuesday, June 18, at 7:30. It’s $10, or pay what you can, and reservations are required. See for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.