• Wed, Dec 22 2010

Confessions of a Former Bible Belt Porn Store Clerk

Stories like this were pretty common where I worked, especially at the store “up the street” (we often referred to the two stores as the one “down the street” and the one “up the street.”)  “Up the street” was a quaint little porn shop which sat quite conspicuously besides a Toys R Us -zoning laws notwithstanding, we were there long before they were- in a rather conservative town in a rather conservative state.  In other words, not really the kind of town for established “pillars of the community” to be openly gay or bisexual.  In a lot of ways, our porn shops were like cult temples, or as one of my less sensitive co-workers put it, the “homo underground,” where anyone could just come on down and be themselves -often with unfortunate results.  And by “unfortunate results” I mean the incidents that involved drunk and/or pill-popping old men with younger… professionals in the booths, all cruising for a piece of ass either from other customers or those of us (all male, remember) behind the counter.  Naturally, it was a part of our job to kick these folks out –we’re a porn store, not a brothel!- and that’s when the hilarity often ensued.

I still own the distinction for being the only Puerto Rican (the only non-white male, period) to have ever worked at those stores.  Between that and the bisexuality, I was “exotic.”  Which meant I got hit on.  A lot.  Mostly by older white men and young black men on the down low who read my vague flirtations – or at least my non-homophobia- not as a way to generate sales (which it was), but as an open invitation for me to be their “pool boy.”

To be fair, “incidents” were actually pretty rare.  I worked five times a week, including weekends, switching shifts between both stores, over the course of three years.  Excluding the times where I got very boldly hit on (which I personally don’t count), I’ve had perhaps twenty notable “incidents” in that span of time, and there are guys who have worked there longer who have had even fewer than that.  As one could imagine, most customers at a porn store don’t usually want to draw attention to themselves.  I had entire shifts where I didn’t have to speak to anyone.  In fact, most of my shifts were like that.  Most nights, I just sat behind the counter and read comic books.

Because of all that quiet time, I eventually came to view our little shops as a sort of confessional for men and women from all over North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia (as far as I know, it’s still illegal, or at the least extremely restrictive, to open up Adult Novelty Shops in those latter two states, which meant we saw a lot of Virginia and South Carolina IDs).  I spent many a night, and made many a sale, by just sitting quietly behind the counter and looking cute, occasionally listening to men and women open up about their sex lives and how utterly boring they were, how they had all these desires they wished to express but were afraid to, mostly because of the embarrassment and ridicule they expected to come their way.

But I loved my job.  Beyond the general awkwardness of having to explain Da Life to loved ones and potential dates, I still believe that Americans, especially in the South -and I’ve lived on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, both as a child and an adult, so I’m reasonably sure about this- are extremely repressed. Unhealthily so.  I really got a thrill out of helping people open up about their “deviant” desires, helping couples, especially, open up to the idea of experimenting with this or that toy or even with a DVD from a genre that they typically avoided.  (FYI: the most sales we made on DVDs, at least while I was there, were gay and interracial, despite the latter being the fourth smallest selection in our library).  It’s the only retail job I’ve ever had where I left on good terms with the management, and I know from my supervisors that most of my customers, in the main, appreciated my “guarded enthusiasm” as well.

I quit in August, 2010, exactly three years, almost to the day, that I started.  I left behind daily, albeit dubious, flattery, a low-stress work environment, and the only retail job I ever even vaguely believed in.  I came away from that place a lot more open about not only my own sexuality and sexual practices, but way more accepting of others’ as well.  That’s the big secret of porn store clerks, at least in my experience: we don’t typically come into the job as sexual freaks, at least most of us don’t; we’re just regular people who take on a job that looks kind of cool and laid back on the surface.  The only thing Da Life taught me was that my desires and fetishes were not that very unusual at all, and that maybe I should be more open about what I want and who I want it from -if only to avoid eventually becoming that old man who comes into the porn store to hit on the clerks.

From Our Partners

Share This Post:
  • Christian

    Yeah, I hear you on that final thought, Ernesto. Nobody wants to spend their golden years as that guy. Oh, and on the subject of high-end porn’s focus on unattainable physical perfection, you should post a follow-up list of which comic book heroes you read most during your shifts…

  • Ernesto

    Huh, *there’s* an idea…

  • Sara

    I found this article interesting and fun to read. I am also an ex porn shop worker, though I am female (I’m also Puerto Rican lol).

    I worked at a porn shop for a little bit over a year and the thing that stuck out the most to me is the amount of people who came in and spilled their guts out in regards to their personal sexual experiences, fantasies and habits. I never asked for this information, but so many people were eager to share it.

    I stopped working at the shop back in 1994 and moved on to the phone sex business. I currently own a phone sex company and it’s basically part of our business to hear all of these stories.

    I find it interesting though, when I meet people in person (never clients, just people in general), the same thing happens. Once people find out I’m in the adult industry, they love to tell me all of their personal sexual experiences. I’m always polite about it. I listen and sometimes comment, but to be honest, I’m not interested. Sometimes it’s pretty annoying that people think that just because I’m in this line of work, I want to know every detail of their sexual lives. I don’t.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m open minded about these things, but it’s kinda the same thing as when you meet a doctor and all you can talk about are your medical problems. Give us a break! lol

    • Ernesto

      Yeah, totally. I mean in the sense that people were willing to spill their guts while I was at work, I was okay with it because it helped me make suggestions on what they should buy, but, outside of work, what you’re talking about is exactly the reason me and my roommate were generally coy about it. I didn’t want to become some sort of underground sex doctor. Just the same, I learned *way* too much about *way* too many people just because I essentially sat behind a glass counter filled with dildos and read comic books for a living. It’s cool to find out the person you’re dating is into something, not so cool when you hear it from the random guy or gal sitting next to you in the bar.

  • meranie

    Nice, Ernie! <3