In a conservative country such as the Philippines, sex can be a rather challenging topic to talk about, often reserved for secret conversations with our most trusted friends. For the curious, this can grow to be a frustration. After all, having the desire to explore the depths of human sexuality should be perfectly normal.
Over the years, however, there have been noticeable efforts in trying to fight this stigma by spreading sex positivity—from talks given by sex therapists on how to have better sex to brands that are releasing products that promote extra care for your area down there. Ilya, a sex shop located in Maginhawa that is truly one of a kind, has proven to be one of these trailblazers.
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“With the industry being taboo, the challenge was in the conceptualization of Ilya. How do we make sex and sex toys seem more appealing to the general market? How do we normalize the concept?” shares AJ Osmeña, Ilya’s co-founder.
After thorough research and consultations with different groups such as friends and family, the academe, as well as religious and medical groups, it certainly seems as if they had cracked the code. Forget about your expectations of a dimly-lit, sketchy-looking store: As you first walk towards Ilya, its bright, cheerful interiors make it seem like you’re simply headed to a gadget store. The fact that they also sell ice cream in delicious flavors such as Butter Beer and Dark Chocolate Rum can easily call the attention of any wandering passerby. Rather than making you feel guilty about entering, you are warmly welcomed by its staff and its cheeky displays that bring about a childlike curiosity in you.
According to Osmeña, the reactions of first-time customers are generally positive. “There is that sparkle in their eye, the change in their tone of voice as they get more into the topic. There is genuine interest—much like how one would describe that childlike excitement when learning something new,” he says. Ilya’s customers range from millennials to senior citizens, from those who know what they want to individuals who want to try something new. “We love learning from them as well,” adds Osmeña.
And much like his colorful description, we all acted in a similar manner when we first saw and felt the toys for ourselves. Oohs and Ahhs filled up the room as we were introduced to the most innovative gadgets that we didn’t even know existed. When we had questions, the store’s staff immediately gave us informative answers that further schooled us on the topic.
According to Osmeña, proper education is the best way to fight stigma. “As to how sex toys assist in discussing sex in our country, I think it should have the same treatment with any challenging topic in a conservative setting–to speak about its benefits very matter-of-factly. The goal is to educate, to clarify misconceptions and to inform,” he says.
Easy-to-use, simple, non-intimidating, cute and well-reviewed—these are the descriptions that Shop Ilya’s bestsellers have in common. These include the mini-sized Ticker Toyfriends for females and the Svakom Hedy sleeve for males. The store also carries toys that aren’t as simple but still do great, sales-wise. An example is the We-Vibe Sync vibrator, which is perfect for long-distance couples. “They can be controlled directly through the toy’s button, by remote, or by a mobile application. Just as long as you have bluetooth and wifi, you’re good to go!” shares Osmeña.
Osmeña continues to talk about the unique branding of his store. “Since sex can get quite heavy and controversial at times, we try our best to make things as light as possibly by injecting jest and fun. Filipinos love humor. In addition to this, sex toys are also useful in opening up discourse on the topic,” he says.
True to his words, a few friends of mine had expressed interest when they learned I was shooting Ilya. Others have also reached out to me when I had released articles on dating and sex in the past, opening up about similar experiences. “There’s no debate that sexual health is an integral facet in our being,” Osmeña starts. “To put it simply, sex toys are tools that we can use to make our lives a little better.”
Ilya is located at Unit 2H, 189 Maginhawa, Diliman, Quezon City. For more information on the store, head over to their website (www.shopilya.com) or follow them on Instagram (@shop.ilya) and Facebook (/ilyacomeandplay).
Photography by Kieran Punay of Studio 100