A Woman’s Touch: doc, social worker run erotica shop

booksDown a quiet hallway, tucked near the back of a small Madison strip mall, owners of a unique boutique since 1996 have aimed to tickle, tantalize and stimulate all of the senses.

Think feather boas. Silky lingerie. Chocolate pasties. Fragrant teas, candles and massage oils. Explicit books, movies and games. Devices that vibrate and tease. Items to lubricate, mount or strap on. In all directions are resources to boost physical pleasure, sexual intimacy.

This is A Woman’s Touch, and it’s not the average X-rated retailer that pops up along major highways. Shop owners are a physician and social worker – Dr. Myrtle Wilhite and Ellen Barnard – who freely provide sex advice for singles, couples, the aging, the ill, the frisky, the disabled, the curious, the inhibited, the bored and the brave.

Does that cover all of us?

“This is not your dad’s adult entertainment store,” Ellen told me, eight years ago, and her conclusion still applies. Store design and tone feel dignified and feminine. Visitors won’t confront an assault of vulgar language or booths to watch porn.

What shoppers see first resembles a Victoria’s Secret, although lingerie sizes stretch to 3X, to include more of real life in Wisconsin. Nearby are silk stockings, some in need of garter attachments, which also are sold here.

The wild and wide assortment of sex toys is confined to the back of the store. Some glow in the dark. Others are camouflaged as lipstick tubes or bathtub rubber ducks. Hard to ignore is the build-your-own option.

Most items are displayed with written explanations, but if some shapes or purposes remain puzzling, store clerks matter-of-factly provide as much detail as desired – and offer coaching about which device is the best match.

Your questions, or situation, won’t be considered too elementary, odd or hopeless. Store owners and staff have worked with rape victims, terminal cancer patients and near-centenarians (although those in need of extended counseling are referred elsewhere).

Ellen and Myrtle also dispense advice to physicians and other health professionals, addressing clinic staffs to national conferences. “We are a small business that has made an impact all around the country,” Ellen says, because most health care providers receive little education about how to advise patients with sexual intimacy issues.

She laments societal tendencies to keep serious sex talk taboo.

“We spend so much time teaching young people how to drive a car, but no time on how to drive their own bodies” for sexual pleasure, Ellen notes.

The sex educator says this means the average adult sets up false expectations, sometimes based on movies and television shows, and the physical effects of aging or illness further complicate sexual health.

“There’s a whole lot that people have to figure out, or not,” she says. “Who are you going to ask?” When confronted by change, Ellen notes that “lots of people just give up” unnecessarily or assume sexual satisfaction should be defined by what worked when younger or healthier.

Basing sex on frequency, intensity, partners or positions means setting yourself up for failure. So does basing it on guilt, obligation, shame or expectations – yours or others’.

“Our brains are absolutely in charge of how we interpret our sexual experiences,” she maintains, and A Woman’s Touch pays attention to sexual health as well as pleasure.

For more about A Woman’s Touch, 600 Williamson St., Madison: a-womans-touch.com, 888-621-8880. Shopping can happen in person or online.

Upcoming workshops include Talking to Your Kid(s) About Sex, 1-3 p.m. April 6, and Couples Massage, 1-3 p.m. April 27. Other sessions include erotic/exotic dancing: belly dancing, burlesque, pole dancing.

Many sexual health topics are addressed frankly online by the business owners. Brochure examples include The Good Sex Diet, The Path to Healthy Sexuality, How to Choose a Game and many more explicit subjects.

A question-and-answer area addresses dozens of additional concerns and curiosities.