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Sex shops seem like the kind of antiquated institution the Internet would have killed off by now -- who would go in person to buy vibrators and porn DVDs and jerk off in a public booth where another dude was jerking off 10 minutes ago? Lots of people, it turns out.

We spoke to sex shop veterans Audra Carr and Devan Thayer Lund to find out what life is like down in the trenches, and discovered that our local porn clerk knows more about the most intimate aspects of our lives than we ever imagined -- and for the most part, they wish they didn't.

5
Anal Is Big on Valentine's Day (and Other Bizarre Seasonal Shopping Trends)

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Valentine's Day is renowned as an international day of boning, but for many people, it's a very specific kind of boning. Apparently, Valentine's Day is that special time of year when you finally break down and give in to your partner's desire to shove things in your butt.

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"Brace yourself; I'm gonna try and get the bow in there, too."

As Audra puts it, "We will always sell out of beginner butt plugs, anal lube, pegging kits, anything to do with butt stuff." For the uninitiated, "pegging," a term invented by sex columnist Dan Savage's readers, is when a man is anally sexed by a woman wearing a strap-on, and if it's something you've been waiting until after a romantic candlelit dinner and a few bottles of wine to ask for, you should know that you're not alone. Valentine's Day is a veritable butt-sex free-for-all.

Christmas, on the other hand, is all about vibrators, dildos, and Fleshlights. There are a couple of reasons for this. Obviously, some people are giving them as gifts (for the love of God, mark your packages correctly -- you don't want grandma winding up with something you're going to have to awkwardly pass off as a "back massager") but Christmas is also break-up season. That's right -- Christmas sales of sex gadget are partially driven by the fact that a whole lot of us are jerking it around the Christmas tree. "I sell soooo many Rabbits in the two weeks before and after Christmas," Audra says. If you don't know what a rabbit is, it's a type of vibrator that ... you know what, just Google it after you get home from work.

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You may want to take one last trip to the petting zoo before "Rabbit" forever changes meaning for you.

And between Valentine's Day and Halloween, it wouldn't be surprising to see a tumbleweed roll down the crotchless panties and butt plug aisle -- sex stuff is a seasonal business, and things go dead between the two big shopping seasons. Which is weird, because you'd think a lot of this stuff would be perfect for Mother's Day.

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"That big box that sounds like a leaf blower is your main present, the rest of these are just full of batteries."

You can also learn a lot about shoppers based on what they steal -- certain items that are terrible sellers do great with shoplifters, presumably because they feel too weird bringing them up to the counter (the stolen items are no more expensive than the stuff people are willing to pay for).

"There's one particular dildo called a Ur3 Blush that nobody ever buys," Audra says. "I have never sold this dildo -- but people cannot stop stealing it. There is one man who has stolen this dildo 15 to 20 times ... I don't know what he's doing that's wearing out these dildos so fast, and I don't want to know." Other dildos, no problem. But that particular one, people just don't want to walk up to the counter with it. Other items inexplicably popular with shoplifters include crotchless panties, pasties, and double-penetrator cock rings (which are basically dildos you can attach to your junk to kill two birds with one stone, as it were, probably on Valentine's Day).

4
Yes, Jerk-Off Booths Are Still Popular, Despite the Internet

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If you've ever been to a porn store, you probably noticed a row of booths in the back that are sometimes delicately referred to as the "arcade," where customers can "preview" "films" and "masturbate furiously." Yes, people still use them. Yes, someone has to go in there and mop up the jizz. Are you wondering about who has to do that job? We were.

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"The booths? Me? God, no. I clean off the guy who cleans the booths."

"Most shops (at least the ones I know of) have contracted the cleaning out to a third-party sanitation company that comes around three to four times a day," Devan says. If that sounds a little infrequent given the high traffic these booths must see, that look of horror slowly taking shape on your face is entirely appropriate. Some shops have special, fancy (read: expensive) booths that are rented by the hour, and those are closed off after each customer until they're cleaned. "All the pay-by-the-minute booths in the back, though, are 'anything goes' in between cleanings, since most people spend less than 10 minutes in them," he says. Yes, it's likely that your booth hasn't seen so much as a Wet-Nap since the last guy blew his load all over the buttons.

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Your mother doesn't masturbate here; clean up after yourself.

But that's not even the worst part. "They're a cheap place to get high," Devan says, and that means it's not uncommon to find someone passed out or actively overdosing where you only expected a very enthusiastic chubby-fluffer. You'll pray for a sleepy junkie, though, when you come across your first dead body. Yes, whether it's due to heart attack or overdose, it's disturbingly common for people to keel over in the absolutely last location you'd choose as a final resting place.

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3
Stores Can Totally Sell Illegal Shit, if They Call It Something Else

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If you walk up to the register at a porn store, you'll probably find an odd array of products that seemingly have nothing to do with sex, like videotape head cleaner or room deodorizers. Who goes dildo-shopping and remembers at the last minute, "Oh, right, I'm out of Febreze"? The head cleaner might make sense for a store that rents porn, but who uses VHS anymore? Oh, naive youth.

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Only those experienced enough to adjust the tracking with their left hand know the truth.

Amyl nitrite, colloquially referred to as "poppers," is a chemical people huff that supposedly increases sexual sensation along with producing the usual case of the giggles that normally accompanies inhaling toxic fumes. Selling poppers is, of course, way illegal -- but selling head cleaner isn't. It's basically the same chemical, and everyone knows the only head you're cleaning is your own, but it's absolutely legal as long as we all talk about it in exaggerated sarcastic air quotes and never question why someone would want a room deodorizer that smells like rancid gym socks.

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Nothing more relaxing than scents like "Rave" and "Bang."

"We sold it as 'liquid incense,'" Audra says, "but we stopped selling it when people started drinking it, and we didn't want to be involved with that." Because if you can't trust your local smut peddlers to look after your health and well-being, then who? According to Devan, some people can't even wait until they get home to get their chemical-induced rocks off. "People take poppers and stuff for whip-its [nitrous oxide] into the booths all the damn time," he says. "Most people do whip-its either in the booths or at home, but poppers were almost strictly a 'do it in the booth' drug for those guys."

If we're making it sound like there is a whole class of people who like to just go hang out at the sex shop all evening, well ...

2
People Like to Hang Out at the Sex Shop -- and Often Bring the Kids Along

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Some customers are there to giggle and get a gag gift for a bachelorette party, as you'd expect. Others are enthusiasts who know exactly what they're shopping for. But there is another category of patrons who seem to be in it only for the atmosphere.

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"I'm just here to be seen."

These people never buy anything, they just come to hang out. They treat the porn store more like a social establishment, sort of like a coffee shop but with titties everywhere instead of shitty local art. "They never creep on people," Audra says. "They're just lonely and want someone to talk to." That's understandable, but you have to wonder what's going on in someone's life when "I desire human companionship -- time to go bother people who only want to jerk off in peace" starts sounding like a reasonable thought.

And then there are the shoppers who make it a family affair -- it's all too common to see women browsing monster dongs with their kids in tow. Obviously, the last thing anyone wants to see when they look up from the back cover of Cum and Cummer is Junior's wide-eyed, curious stare, so they're asked to leave. "Our store is 18-plus, no exceptions," Audra says, "even if it's a tiny baby who doesn't know what he's looking at. I've actually held babies outside of the store for women so they can shop."

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"Soon you'll have a new baby brother! ... Well, it'll be the size of a new baby, anyway."

Far be it from us to judge, but if you need lube so badly that you're willing to hand your baby off to a total stranger for several minutes, maybe try this newfangled Internet machine? We hear it has sex things.

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1
The Underground Sex Scene Is All Around You

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We're guessing our average reader couldn't rattle off a list of upcoming S&M events or swinger parties in their town -- it's not like there are people going door to door with pamphlets, like sexy Jehovah's Witnesses. But if you want to find out about all of the Eyes Wide Shut shenanigans going on around you this week, get a job at a sex shop. It will open your eyes.

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At which point you need these. Don't ask.

"I'm bait for swingers," Audra says. "The first time I was invited out was when I was helping this youngish couple in our fetish section." She politely declined their offer, but, "The guy said that if I changed my mind to come down to [their city] and find the house on some cross street. I didn't end up going, because that's not my scene, but for a good four months after kept getting asked by customers if I'd ever been there."

Meanwhile, BDSM enthusiasts also have public social gatherings called "munches" where they meet up, typically over undercooked hash browns, just to hang out and ask if they've whipped any good subbies lately. And Audra knows exactly when and where they take place, because she's constantly getting invited to them. So you may not have previously considered when sitting down at the Waffle House whether the gang at the next table enjoy beating each other in their spare time, but once you've put in a few months at the sex shop, you'll never even have to wonder.

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You also will never be able to visit another IHOP without trying to spot the truckers in crotchless panties.

Devan Thayer Lund can be found on the wildly imaginative Twitter handle @DevanThayerLund. Amanda Mannen will tell you everything she's learned about butt plugs -- and it is no small amount -- if you follow her on Twitter.

for more ways we're confused about genitals, check out 21 Things We Secretly Suspect about the Opposite Sex.

Related Reading: While we're on the subject of sex, Cracked talked to a legal prostitute too. We learned some crazy stuff. And that might be why we felt compelled to talk to a Dominatrix as well. In case you're less about the 'sex' and more about the 'insane life experiences' we also talked to a woman raised in a Christian fundamentalist cult as well as a dude who was shot for being an atheist in Bangladesh. If you have a story to tell Cracked, you can message us here.

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