Emily Irwin – Passionfruit, Melbourne

By on November 11, 2015

I started working at Passionfruit in 2010. I had been a regular customer for a while, and one day Michelle (Passionfruit’s owner), offered me a position. I felt as if a miracle had occurred. Here was a chance to work at a store I loved, with a woman I greatly respected as my boss. I stammered out an excited “Yes, please!”, while being acutely aware that I was wearing tracksuit pants, flip flops, and no bra. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Passionfruit is my second home, and it’s experiences have helped mold me into who I am today.

A typical day
A typical day for me at Passionfruit involves a lot of education, attempts to reduce stigma, and bad puns. One of the most important things I discuss with my customers is product awareness. The adult retail industry is unregulated, and not everything is body-safe. However, there are fantastic brands out there who take their customers wellbeing into consideration. One of our main roles is to keep our customers fully informed while helping them find the right product.

Quite often customers will come in with a medical objective in mind. We have a lot of referrals from specialists for sexual difficulties ranging from vaginismis to prostate cancer. The next step is finding a product which will fulfill the customer’s medical need, while still creating a pleasurable experience for them.

I attempt to provide a friendly and safe space for everyone who walks in the door. Our customers discuss a lot of intimate details, and we have a responsibility to reduce feelings of vulnerability and unease. Every customer is different, so I find an approach suited to them. Some prefer humor, others a more serious tone, and many just want to race the vibrators. Above all, I provide an empathetic ear.

We also do a lot of work outside of store hours. We run workshops, speak at medical conventions, provide one-on-one coaching, and record instructional videos. Victoria (another sex educator/sales assistant) loves editing my videos because it gives her the opportunity to showcase my blooper reel.

The most significant influence in my working career was/is
My colleagues are easily the most significant and positive influence in my working career. Michelle has provided me with support since I first started, and has encouraged me to expand my role from a simple dildo slinger to sexpert. Michelle saw a need for a place where sex could be approached in a holistic, fun, and healthy way, so she went out and started her own shop! My hero! Victoria is constantly helping me reach my full potential. She’s designed sex toys in Copenhagen, lectured on sex toy design at RMIT, and is possibly one of the funniest people I have ever met. Staff meetings have never been more fun (think strap-on ballet). They’re family to me.

Additionally, my work and studies influence each other quite heavily. I have always been interested in pursuing a psychology career. Working at Passionfruit has made me want to specialise in sexual health and wellbeing, and psychosexual counseling. Studying counseling techniques has also helped me develop better active listening skills and rapport with customers.

I’m most proud of
I completed my Bachelors of Psychological Science in 2014, and started my Graduate Diploma of Psychology this year. I came from a Steiner school with no ENTER score and a graduating class of 14 people. University was a whole new world. It’s been a long journey, but worth it. I better see tears from my family and partner at my graduation ceremony!

One of the most memorable moments was
This is by far the hardest question! There are many memorable moments at Passionfruit. I had a customer come in one day looking for a vibrator. They spoke for a while about the things they were going through, and quietly began to cry. We talked for a long time. They ended up buying a product, and left with a smile. Michelle received an email a couple of days later, which she forwarded onto me. It was from the same customer. They wanted to thank me for my help, and let me know they were very happy with their new purchase. I stood in the middle of a busy sidewalk for a long time, reading and re-reading the email on my phone. It was one of those times where I can honestly say I was overwhelmed with joy.

Last book I read
The last book I read was Gerard Egan’s ‘Skilled Helper Model’. I am studying my Graduate Diploma of Psychology, and a lot of my reading is for class. At the top of my personal reading list is ‘Come As You Are’, by Emily Nagoski, PhD. Nagoski uses scientific research to debunk misinformation about sexuality.

A prerequisite for any bag I buy is it must be able to fit at least one book. I love fantasy novels, and have read Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ trilogy many times …but the best way for me to unwind is with Harry Potter.

Favourite movie/TV show
One of my all-time favourite movies is ‘The Princess Bride’. There are so many great lines.
My partner and I have just started the ‘Daredevil’ series, which is fantastic so far. I can’t wait to watch the latest season of ‘Game of Thrones’. I’m waiting for all the episodes to be released so I can watch it in one go.

What would most people not know about me
When I am not working or studying, I train circus skills. I work on lyra, tissue, pole, and contortion throughout the week. It’s a lot of fun. My youngest brother started training with me just over a year ago. I am very proud of how quickly he learns new tricks!

I’ve had the privilege of performing at Perth Fringe Festival in 2013, and Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2014. The group I regularly perform with was started by my training buddies and I after we decided it was to unleash our madness upon the world.

My favourite place
As soppy as it sounds, my favourite place is wherever my partner is. We have so much fun together. My new game is hiding from him in the supermarket, and then slowly following him around while humming the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme song.

What I like best about my job
What I like best about my job is talking with customers. I’ve been privy to personal stories, beliefs, fears, and masturbation techniques. It’s an incredible experience having strangers be so honest with you. There has been a lot of laughter, and a few tears. It can be a challenge for some just coming into an adult store, but they overcome their hesitations and leave happy. Those are the best times.

If I could change one thing
Greater interpersonal communication education. We are told again and again that the key to relationships is communication, but we are not taught how to communicate. It’s hard to improve a relationship when you can’t adequately explain what you want to your partner. It takes a lot of practice to be able to speak honestly with someone about your wants, needs, thoughts and feelings. I have many customers who are unsure about how their partner will react to them buying a sex toy and are afraid to talk to them about it. Others are desperate to act out fantasies, but have no idea how to approach the subject. Communicating effectively is a skill which needs nurturing, just like any other skill.

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