The Muslim-owned sex shop that wants to redefine sex-ed in Park Slope
Sid Azmi was working as the chief of radiation therapy at a New York hospital when she had the idea to open a sex toy shop. She saw her cancer patients struggle with feeling sexy during their treatment, especially those recovering from procedures like double mastectomies.
In 2014, Azmi left her job at Beth Israel Medical Center to open Please, which she calls an “educated pleasure shop,” in Park Slope.
As a Muslim woman with a background in medicine, Azmi felt there was a lack of universality in common conceptions about sex. She hoped to create a space where people could come to learn about and explore their sexuality free of judgment and stereotypes.
“Please is very different from other sex shops. We don’t look like a sex shop, foremost. We have no pornography, no pink neon signs,” Azmi told the Brooklyn Eagle. “My deepest intention for opening Please is to normalize sexuality and to make sex a dinner table conversation for everyone.”
Like many girls in the Muslim community, Azmi was subject to female genital mutilation as a baby. She had her labia minora and clitoris removed.
When she was 5-years-old, Azmi was molested by a family member. The relative continued to assault her for several years.
For Azmi, Please is also a place to share her own journey with sex and sexuality, and she hopes to empower other survivors of rape in the process.
The shop occupies a hip storefront seamlessly sewn in between boutique stores and coffee shops on 5th Avenue. Azmi chose the corner space for its large windows because, she says, “That’s how we normalize sex: openness.”
Inside, visitors are greeted by a centerpiece of colorful dildos, interspersed with informational cards Azmi arranged “like a museum exhibit.”
On top of the predictable array of vibrators, lube and leather kink, the shop has a small library of books with titles like “The Burlesque Handbook” and “Lesbian Sex Secrets for Men” and offers in-house workshops on exploring sexuality for all ages, including kids.
In her workshops for children, Azmi is primarily concerned with making them aware of their own anatomy. She begins her lesson on sexuality with teaching kids about masturbation, then integrates conversations about consent, sex with a partner and STIs.
“By the time I get to talking about disease, the faces that look at me are like, ‘Wow, there’s so much we can do ourselves, why do we bother get it on with someone else?’” Azmi said. “That’s a good place to start, because when you’re empowered to do things and explore by yourself, you know about your likes and dislikes, you know your boundaries and you are able to voice them better.”
In Azmi’s view, sex education in the United States is too centered around diseases, forcing many kids to turn to highly sensationalized versions of sex in movies and pornography or rely on information from friends to understand their own sexuality.
According to the Center for American Progress, only 20 states require sex and HIV education in schools that is medically, factually, and technically accurate. Eighteen states mandate that students are taught to only engage in sexual activity in marriage. Only 10 states mention sexual assault, consent and healthy relationships in their sex education programs.
“It’s rare to hear a woman’s voice in the conversation about sex, and Sid is a very fact-forward and progressive thinker,” said Saskia Katz, founder of A Women’s Thing Magazine, where Azmi writes a monthly sex column. “She’s not afraid of using harsh terms, and she has a very open approach to the way women perceive and talk about sex, which I find really impressive.”
Not everyone is so supportive of Azmi’s mission, but the critics haven’t stopped her so far.
“When you open a sex shop, people will have certain views of you — and as a mother, people have even more judgements,” she said. “But I’ve always been attracted to controversy. It forces me to redefine what normal is, when at the base of it is something good.”
Ultimately, Azmi said, she believes that education and open conversation about sex is a vital first step to healthy intimacy. It can also open the door to the kinkier side of her business.
“Sex is frolicking, sex is being playful, sex is kindness, sex is sometimes aggressive or BDSM. When we come from an informed place, we can diversify sex and make it a more wholesome, indulgent experience,” Azmi said, dipping a chocolate croissant from a bakery down the street into a cup of coffee. “Why just eat a croissant when you can go to a bakery and have a whole array of options?”
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