Jellywink Boutique is not your typical sex store.
Not everybody feels comfortable exploring their sexuality or shopping for books and products at a traditional adult store, especially if they are trans, queer or differently-abled.
Erin Voss is hoping to support those communities by re-opening Jellywink, a local sex-positive, all-inclusive sexuality resource center near Fourth Avenue.
The original shop — owned by Ally Booker who wrote a sex column for the Tucson Weekly — closed two years ago. Voss, who used to love shopping in the non-judgmental shop, says the community has been pretty bummed about it.
"There were a lot of LGBTQ+ books around and a small sitting place to read," recalls Niko Berger who works with the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation. "I remember spending some time in there just trying to learn about toys and things I hadn't considered. A couple weeks after that, the store was gone and that was a shame. It felt like a safe space to be and a safe space to explore new things and learn more about my body."
Keagan Autry, another former customer of Jellywink says it was comforting to walk into a store that was a welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community.
"This is something that was especially meaningful to me earlier in my transition when being in environments that were friendly made all the difference," Autry says. "It was a space that was very inclusive and I haven't always gotten that vibe at other shops."
After hearing several stories like that, Voss decided to buy it and reopen it.
Voss will not stock pornography, but she will stock books, lingerie, safe-sex products like condoms and lube, pleasure items and gender-affirming products for the trans community.
The shop will also host workshops; lectures and presentations on topics like basic sex education for all adults — straight, queer or trans; reconnecting with sexuality after assault; sex during pregnancy; kink; and more.
The basic sex-ed class for adults will specifically be queer inclusive, Voss says.
"What that means is, in school if you're lucky, they might teach you how to put a condom on a banana or something; but if you're not a person who has sexual relations with someone with a penis that is completely useless to you," Voss says. "So, how do you protect yourself from STIs if you're a woman having sex with other women? There are just way more layers and complexity to sexuality than like, this is a penis and a condom."
Introductory or basic workshops will be led by Voss and more advanced level-classes will be led by experts like doulas or sex educators.
"It is going to really create a safe place for queer and trans people because if we are being honest, sex is still hetero-normative while there are queer and trans people who may not have a safe place to ask questions and find proper ways of sexual health care," says Emilio Galindo, a health education specialist for Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Arizona.
Being trans gender-queer can mean being confused and maybe upset about your body and sex-ed was minimal and hetero focused, Berger says.
"Places like Jellywink and inclusive sex-ed are vital," Berger says. "That way everyone is learning about bodies. All bodies. And normalizing all bodies and all sexual experiences."
Voss has been working on getting the store open for several months and plans to be open by mid-May. But all of that depends on funding and that's been hard to come by.
Gofundme shut down Voss' fundraising campaign four hours after she put it up. Her goal was to raise $8,000 for building repairs, furniture and basic business expenses. They didn't provide a reason, but Voss thinks it's because of sexual content.
So, she started a new campaign with a different crowdfunding site and tried to promote it on Facebook so all of her 1,400 followers could see it. Facebook would not allow her to promote it, saying they do not allow ads that show cleavage or promote pornography. However, she was wearing a t-shirt up to her neck on the ad and she doesn't sell porn.
"At that point I was like really, what is so dirty and wrong about what this business does," Voss says. ""This is a good place. We are helping people. It's infuriating. I felt very silenced. I was literally being censored."
She said when she shares the link to the fundraiser on her Facebook page, nobody sees it because of the algorithms. After sending direct messages to about 80 people she's been able to raise $2,700 of the $8,000 so far.
Despite the problem with censorship and fundraising, Voss is confident her business will fill the need for a safe place for everybody to explore and learn without feeling judged or dirty.
"This is not a smutty sex shop," Voss says. "It's way more than that. It's about helping people grow and heal and celebrate their bodies and their lives and their lovers."
P.S. The word Jellywink isn't some cool, kinky thing you didn't know about. It's literally a made up word that sounds kinda cute and kinda naughty, Voss says.