Whips, and leather, and lube - Oh, my!

"You go in first." "No, you go in."

The District's adult toy shops are sometimes approached with sheepishness, sometimes with excitement, and occasionally by teenagers who first congregate nervously outside. Perusing costumes, condoms and adult games, customers walk a fine line between the public world and the private.

Sex toy shops: Please come in | Where in the world? | 10 Sex Toys for under $10

Sex toy shops: Please come in

To those students nursing fetishes or seeking some coital tomfoolery, the District's adult shops can be hard to find. Searching the Yellow Pages under "Adult" will yield a disappointing selection of continuing education programs, and a search under "Toys" directs you to Toys "R" Us.

Of course, not all Washingtonians actively seek out adult toy stores, as a certain stigma follows the shops. Some patronize them regularly; others detest their existence. Most, however, waver between taboo and intrigue, cloaking their more carnal impulses with laughter.

So it happens that many come upon these few stores by pure chance, wandering with a group of friends or even alone. Levi, a saleswoman at the Pleasure Place, which has locations in Georgetown and Dupont Circle, attests to the lightheartedness with which some patrons approach the store.

"[The store in] Georgetown is weird," Levi explaines. "There's a lot of congregating outside the door, and when you're working behind the register and it's a slow night, you can hear people outside saying, 'You go in first. No you go in. I'm not going in.'"

This sheepishness comes from the mix of humor and seriousness that defines the retail inside. Consider the film titles "Black Ass Candy" and "Bi Dream of Genie."

The names are good for a smirk, but some couples - and there are many couples who shop at these stores - view the films and many of the other products as aides to enhancing their shared passions.

Both of the Pleasure Places, Erotic Essential, also in Georgetown, and Sensations Adult Boutique all offer many of these different aides. The curious can browse the four locations at their discretion, but the Pleasure Place has all the aides and more.

As you walk in, shelves to the left hold a massive supply of lubricants, gels and pleasure creams. The shelves on the front wall have all kinds of naughty board games and puzzles.

The rest of the store, which has a large trestle bed with naughty mannequins, carries synthetic versions of every body part not under the sun. The store has cards, vibrators, lingerie, sensual candles and a full leather section with knee-high boots. They also have beads to stick in and rings to place around various parts of your body.

"They're toys right?" asks Levi. "But they're toys that imply a contact between people that's very serious in terms of health."

As a sex health educator, Levi takes issue with buyers that take the products too lightly. "A lot of times people will come in and not take the stuff as seriously as I do," Levi says.

"Say someone buys a bottle of pina coloda lube and uses it for penetration during intercourse. That's like an instant yeast infection. There's a lot of glycerin. Glycerin is usually the first or second ingredient. It provides a really welcoming environment for yeast production."

John Dimes, another retailer at the Pleasure Place, explains why a package of Anal Glow calls for the user to be a knowledgeable lover. "You don't want any old body loitering near your crack."

Dimes recalls a story in which a woman used an entire tube of gel when a drop or two was the recommended amount. The woman ended up not being able to urinate for 48 hours.

In addition to the potential harm unknowledgeable customers may face, these unique toys occasionally net their share of oddballs. Lisa of the Pleasure Place says: "There's this dude who calls up and he won't talk to any boys. He can only talk to girls. He tries his hardest to get us to describe things in the store, which we're happy to do - just not on the phone, because there's a fine line between describing a product and talking dirty."

The man has called multiple times to the point of disrupting business, using fake voices to disguise himself, she says.

Dimes remembers an inquisitive customer who wanted to know if his friend could make it in the pornography industry. The customer produced pictures of his well-endowed friend for Dimes to critique.

A few customers, according to Dimes, just get too personal in sharing the details of their sex life. "Everyone has sex, but I don't want to know about it," he said.

And so the problem makes itself clear: The compromise between the public and the private. Entering one of the District's shops requires visitors to be mindful of this line. This is not to say visitors can't laugh, but they should simply remember the seriousness with which some people regard the items.

Sex toy shops: Please come in | Where in the world? | 10 Sex Toys for under $10

Where in the world? Locations of the shops mentioned in the story above

Adult Sensations Boutique 1071 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Dupont Pleasure Place 1710 Connecticut Ave. NW

Georgetown Pleasure Place 1063 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Sex toy shops: Please come in | Where in the world? | 10 Sex Toys for under $10

10 toys to spice up your sex life for under $10

1. Penis Lolly-Pop, $1.95 This isn't your average Blow-Pop, though it has considerable charm.

2. Booby Water Gun, $7.95 Friends will laugh as water squirts in their face from these boobs.

3. For Beginners Bondage Dice, $6.95 Not sure whether to go with handcuffs or leather? These dice will show you the way.

4. Candy Whip, $4.95 Punish your lover, then eat the implement of torture-it's the best of both worlds.

5. Cheap Bastard's Sex It, $7.95 For those who are tight in the pocketbook but still want some fun, this kit come fully equipped with a "generic masturbation glove," lube, "a cheap condom," a rubber band and one free nudie playing card

6. Hop Along Peter or Hopping Vagina, $3.95 Wind them up and watch them go. The fun lasts as long as you do.

7. For Play, water-based lubricant, $8.95 Good for sex and slip-n-slides.

8. Erotic Pina Colada Butter, $7.95 If you get tired of licking your lover, just throw this butter in the blender and add rum.

9. Gummy boobs, $6.95 It's like dumping sugar on your significant other's chest.

10. Lick it and Love it Chocolate, extreme flavor love cream, $8.95 Lick it, love it, or visa-versa - and all with a chocolate flavor.

Sex toy shops: Please come in | Where in the world? | 10 Sex Toys for under $10

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