Other Nature: Berlin’s Alternative Sex Laden
“Berlin makes it possible to take chances and push boundaries.”
I’m sitting with Sara Rodenhizer, the force behind Other Nature, Berlin’s only queer, feminist, vegan, eco sex shop. “We decided to call ourselves these very particular labels. In lots of cities it wouldn’t fly, but Berlin is a city accepting of radical ideas.”
Other Nature opened in 2011. Missing her native Canada’s feminist sex shops and uncomfortable visiting traditional ones with their “crappy toys and sexist exploitative porn,” Sara and her former business partner found a quiet, tucked away location in the heart of Kreuzberg and opened the doors.
Entering Other Nature feels like stepping into your favourite cafe. Clean black lines stand out against white walls. The airy space is furnished with vintage tables and comfy seats.
“We wanted it to be like a living room,” Sara explains, “to be cozy and welcoming and to avoid the super sterile and impersonal look of some alternative sex shops. It’s not perfect, but it has character, like us!”
There is one essential difference between ON and your local coffee shop, and that is the fine array of vibrators, lubricants, whips and dildos artfully arranged on every available surface.
The warm welcome and beautiful aesthetic are the key to Other Nature’s mission. It sends a clear message that there is no shame or embarrassment attached to buying sex toys. So whilst a trip to a regular sex shop might involve quickly grabbing what you came for and getting the hell out, preferably with no eye contact established, here you are encouraged to stay, browse and maybe leave with something you had previously never heard of.
Bountiful advice is on hand, in the form of the well-trained staff, who not only know everything about the products but are well versed in giving new customers a gentle introduction.
“We’re invested in helping people feel comfortable and making sure they have a positive experience in the shop, that’s what we do,” Sara explains. “Lots of people are uncomfortable talking about sex. If someone is a little shy and reticent, we don’t go straight into slang or medical speak, we try to meet them where they’re at and use the language they’re comfortable with.”
ON is more than a pleasant consumer experience, it is also founded on a strong ethos. Sara was drawn to Berlin by its active queer community and is determined that the shop should enhance the community she loves. To that end, ON is a ‘proudly queer and straight friendly’ shop, rather than the more commonly used and noncommittal ‘queer friendly’. Besides providing a meeting place and information point for queer events and groups, the staff have a strong background in queer-specific advice. A look in the back room reveals a small but perfectly curated collection of gender and queer theory books, which puts the ‘LGBTQ’ shelf of most bookshops to shame. These sit alongside queer erotica, sex manuals, graphic novels and even a sexy colouring book or two.
The shop’s feminist roots are manifest in their choice of non-sexist products, most particularly the porn collection. Whilst publicly debate about porn, sexism and exploitation rages on, ON amongst many others is of the view that whilst porn can stay it has to be better porn. That means no exploitation, more diversity, and less reinforcement of misogynistic gender roles. To that end, the shop stocks a wide selection of feminist and queer porn made with these ethics in mind.
ON is a totally vegan affair - this is where you can grab milk protein-free condoms and lube. It is also a much needed resource of vegan BDSM ware, forming an important link in Berlin’s growing vegan lifestyle market. The shops eco-friendly message is not only about the environment, but also keeping their customers safe. You know that new vibrator smell (right)? Like a bouncy ball or a shower curtain? That comes from a chemical called Phthalates, a cheap plastic softener and firm favourite of the sex toy industry, which not only irritates the skin but contains toxic chemicals which degrade with use, can be absorbed through the skin and are linked to various health risks. Shockingly, Sara warns, so unregulated is the sex toy industry that even being listed as 100% silicone is no guarantee. It seems a trusted sex shop, who you know will sell you safe products, is essential in this day and age.
This is a conscientious, thoughtful shop which is a joy to visit. Sex is, after all, for everybody. At Other Nature, shopping for sex products is for everybody too.
Visit Other Nature at Mehringdamm 79
By Katie Sheinman