As visitors walk into the bright open shop, they notice right away that it isn’t a typical sex entertainment venue. There are no posters with women in suggestive lingerie or striking come-hither poses designed to appeal to the "male gaze."
This is Matie Fricker's Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center. Fricker, the owner of Self Serve, said people of every gender, from ages 18 to 80, go to Self Serve to learn how to achieve sexual satisfaction for themselves and for their partners.
"We believe sex is health and pleasure is good for you," states the Self Serve website.
Patrons find hanging plants in the windows, lots of cheery sunlight streaming in through southern facing windows, a couch with a brightly colored — and anatomically correct — vagina pillow nestled at the arm and a myriad of sex toys displayed on shelves that line the walls.
The heater buzzes as warm air fills the space and seems to invite people to make themselves comfortable and feel welcome to ask questions.
Rather than being a place solely focused on providing an entertaining and sexy experience — like a strip club or an adult video store — Self Serve distinguishes itself as a place where people learn about themselves and their partners and where people can get individualized advice and support.
"Some people like a little dirty with their sex, and that’s great. We don’t have judgement about people’s likes and dislikes. (Self Serve) is about offering options and an opportunity to practice discernment," Fricker said.
Even though only about 60% of the shop’s patrons identify as women, sometimes people who identify as men wonder if they are welcome in the space. When that happens, Fricker emphatically reassures them that they are welcome.
"We remove all of the gender from everything related to sex in this space, and that was a really intentional choice," said Fricker. "It’s interesting (though) to see who has pushback and is saying this store is just for ladies, because what they are really saying is when you include women, then you discount the experiences of men."
Fricker explained that their clientele "tends to just look like the community of Albuquerque" in just about every way, with the only exception being that they have a higher percentage of queer clients than the general population.
"There is a perception that because I am queer that this is a lesbian sex store," said Fricker. “That’s really not how it works on the day-to-day here. But I do think that there are a lot of people in our community who feel more welcome here certainly than they do in other spaces."
She also pointed out that "a lot of folks who come in are more open to out themselves than they are in other spaces. People who identify as members of sexual and gender-marginalized groups will often find their voice here," Fricker said.
Self Serve first opened in 2007 and, in April of this year, moved to their new location on Morningside Drive, which is less than a block north from where they started.
"Not being in an industrial area is important to us. Sex toy stores traditionally have been — because of zoning — forced into the dark corners of our communities. Self Serve has been intentionally pushing back against that. We are still proudly in Nob Hill and we have an even bigger footprint than we used to, and that’s a pretty cool thing," said Fricker.
Gazing out the nearly floor-to-ceiling clear glass storefront windows, Fricker said, "We don't hide what we do from anyone walking by... If we hadn’t had twelve years of being deeply connected to the Albuquerque community, we couldn't have made that choice. Being part of the community makes us less scary for folks."
Despite the fear, sex-positive stores like Self Serve have been around in major cities like San Francisco, New York and Seattle for more than 45 years. Good Vibrations in San Francisco first opened in 1977 and is attributed with creating "an erotic consumer landscape different from anything that previously existed," according to Lynn Comella in her book "Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure."
As the only store of its kind in the state of New Mexico, Fricker suggests the local demand for sex-positive education like what Self Serve provides isn’t likely to decrease anytime soon. Self Serve may even be impacting what other traditional sex toy stores in Albuquerque are offering, and Fricker says that's a good thing.
"I want sex to be better for everyone, everywhere. I want communication to be prioritized. I want everyone to have access to higher quality products," Fricker said. "When (our competition) becomes better, we become better."
Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lissaknudsen