It was a Sunday afternoon, and while other Istanbullus were strolling through markets and lingering over brunches along the Bosphorus, I was in hot pursuit of a sex shop.
But not just any sex shop. I had gone to sex shops owned by men before in Istanbul, and if I learned anything from that experience, it was to not do it anymore. This shop I was searching for was something quite different: woman-owned, woman-run. It was, according to its website, the oldest and only of its kind.
I did my best to ignore the leering and kissy sounds
But first, let’s back up to the first shop I had ever visited, one run by men. It was 8 p.m., and I was on my way home from my office, which is generally quite conservative (as in, try not to be seen heading to a sex shop after work). Instead of crossing at the kofte meatball stand to my apartment, I continued down Tarlabasi Boulevard. I did my best to ignore the leering and kissy sounds—“normal” fare for a woman walking alone at night in this part of town—along the way.
Three blocks later, I found it: a neon sign blinking, “Erotik Shop! Erotik Shop! Erotik Shop!,” from the top story of a darkened, boarded-up building. A headscarved teyze (term for an older woman, like “auntie”) passing by clucked at me in disapproval as I stepped closer.
Five flights of stairs later, I was inside, surrounded by four dirty white walls amplified by fluorescent lighting. There was one other person in the one-room shop—a mustachioed, overweight, balding man behind the counter who looked me up and down two times when I entered.
“I’m just looking,” I said with a polite, tight smile.
“Let me help,” he insisted, his eyes following mine as I scanned the unimpressive selection of vibrators.
“No, that’s OK,” I said more firmly.
All I could come up with was “Sik istemiyorum,” which literally translates to “I don’t want penis.”
“I bet I know what you want,” he said, pointing to the back wall of nothing but dildos in every size and color. When I hemmed and hawed—what’s the Turkish word for dildo?—he held up a pudgy finger, disappeared behind a filing cabinet and returned with something black that was the size of my forearm as well as what appeared to be a bright red boomerang.
All I could come up with was “Sik istemiyorum,” which literally translates to “I don’t want penis.” That seemed to throw him off long enough for me to get out.
My second time, at a shop in Sishane, the atmosphere was less garish, even if it did have a Vegas-style sign. Inside, it still felt like being in someone’s dingy apartment, but I did appreciate that there were two fewer flights of stairs and the lack of fluorescent lighting. Actually, there was less lighting altogether.
Somehow I ended up haggling over the price of a vibrator. It indeed was a sleek, silicone beauty, but I was not about to fork over TL 350 (roughly $180), even if it did have seven speeds. My friend, a Turkish gay rights activist, was helping me haggle. But it was still an unnerving experience.
The shop owner spoke up. “But this one is very special. Isn’t it worth it?” Was he smirking, or was I imagining it?
I left empty-handed. And then I downed a pitcher of Turkified sangria.
“Stop your whining,” my friend told me. There was another sex shop, “owned and operated by a woman,” he said. It would be different.
That’s how I came to be chasing down an address scribbled on the back of a receipt and weaving in and out of the side streets of Taksim on a perfectly good spring day.