We Asked Some Dallas Sex Shop Workers What They Think About The City Banning Exxxotica.
In case you haven’t kept abreast of the ongoing spat between Dallas and the Exxxotica Expo, let’s catch you up real quick: Mayor Mike Rawlings and members of city council moved to stop the porn-centric affair from returning to town after its first stop through the region last year, and, following an 8-7 council vote, they got their wish and blocked the convention from making its second appearance at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in as any years. That vote is already bringing about legal ramifications for the city, with more lawsuits — including one from the organizers of Exxxotica itself — likely on the way. Also, because city council enacted its ban with language specifically aimed at Exxxotica, this is only the beginning: Sniffing blood in the water, a second porn convention called Adultcon has begun inquiring about possible dates for renting the convention center for its own purposes.
That’s right: Rawlings and the council members supporting the ban are so distraught over the idea of Exxxotica returning to town that they’re willing to endure a First Amendment lawsuit, national ridicule and the loss of city money. They want to make it explicitly clear that our city is just too stiffly moral to let Exxxotica into a public event center (even though they already once did), and that the kind of salacious goings-on at the convention simply will not be tolerated (for a second time).
By the way, a quick online search on Yelp turns up 17 adult shops in the area. So is it possible that these bold strokes — efforts made in attempt to paint Dallas as too darned virtuous for Exxxotica’s smut — should be taken with a grain of salt? You’d think. But how do the people who work at some of Dallas’s various sex shops feel about the Exxxotica ban? Well, interesting enough, turns out the city council isn’t the only group divided on the subject.
Nick Zarbin, store manager at the Spot Boutique in Dallas, is upfront about his feelings: “I’m glad they banned it,” he says.
He mostly takes issue with the convention’s promotion of pornography and differentiates his store from Exxxotica by explaining that the Spot Boutique’s purpose is to tend to its customers’ sexual health and education. He says his store’s inventory is intended to help couples have better sex and that some of of those items have such benign appearances that their amatory purposes aren’t readily discernible. After three years working at the shop, Zarbin says his experience here has been “more gratifying” than past work he’s done in different adult shops.
“Exxxotica isn’t sex-positive,” Zarbin says. “It’s a porn convention. Our store is about bringing people together. Exxxotica is promoting porn, and objectifying women.”
Zarbin’s concern with Exxxotica’s treatment of women is in line with some of the issues that were brought against it during talks at City Hall. But Dallas Police Chief David Brown has noted that undercover officers at the event did not find criminal activity and saw no observable rise in prostitution during Exxxotica’s time in town last year. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily end the conversation on whether there are exploitative aspects to Exxxotica; there are also issues with My Free Cams, a sponsor of the event, and the uncomfortable business of cam modeling.
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But not everyone in the local sex industry has strong feelings about the Exxxotica Expo either way.
“I don’t know anything about it,” confessed one employee we spoke with at New Fine Arts who was partially obstructed behind a formidable vape cloud. In fact, many people we reached out to on this subject declined to speak out on it for fear that their comments would be incorrectly attributed as being the official views of their employers, and not their own personal feelings.
Another sex shop employee, this one from Paris Adult Bookstores, seemed bemused that Exxxotica would push for a public venue, stressing that “[Dallas has] a right to say no” to the organizers’ request to use the convention center.
But city attorneys are less sanguine about that point — and, because they’ve already voiced skepticism about the council’s ban surviving a court challenge, outside counsel is being retained to represent Dallas in the lawsuits that are already on the way.
It should be noted too, of course that Exxxotica does have its share of allies among the workers at Dallas’ various sex shops. Keisha Smith, who has worked at one local adult shop since 2011, is firmly on the side of the convention and decidedly unhappy with the ban.
“[I’m] not sure why it’s a problem,” she says, taking issue with the idea that people who might be uncomfortable with sex and sexuality are able to interfere with the curiosities of people who don’t have such issues. “They have a Mary Kay Convention, [even though] some people don’t wear makeup.”
Smith also highlights how the Exxxotica Expo can benefit stores like hers. She says it’s a chance for people to get familiar with products they might have questions about. Because the Expo is supposedly focused on education and not just sales, people who attend it can receive the kind of detailed information about certain products that online research can’t provide. In turn, those more informed and more interested people can translate into sales for local shops — y’know, just the sort of consequence that brings more money into the city.
Does Dallas have a problem with sex? Some residents may take more issue with it than others, but adult businesses can and do indeed do well here. Christie Nitz, a store manager for Condom Sense, is proud of the work she does at her shop and of its success.
“Profits have gone up the last five years,” Nitz says.
While she hasn’t been following the events around the Exxxotica ban closely, she says she is put off by the idea that the city would intercede against a convention that’s helping introduce people to lifestyles and novelty items that can help spice up their lovemaking. She also has her guesses as to why Dallas feels compelled to act now. Her main point: “Older, more influential people have more sway while the average people don’t care” about the sort of things that go on at Exxxotica. She’s speaking generally there, but her assessment of the situation is supported by the news that billionaire Ray Hunt was among those who reached out to request that city officials enact the ban on the convention.
Nitz, for her part, loves being in a position to help people enjoy a healthy sex life.
“My job is to make people happy,” she says. “In some ways, [this job] makes me feel like a nurse.”
Nitz says she also has no desire to keep sex and sexuality repressed. And, really, she has no reason to worry about that, even in light of the council’s majority position. Lost in all of this Exxxotica talk is that people in Dallas are clearly interested enough in sex to sustain multiple franchises that cater specifically to intimate experiences.
“The taboo was left behind with the last century,” she says. “Everyone’s having sex.”