Venus Envy - Sam

Venus Envy

Instagram // Facebook

226 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1X1

Interview: Nikki Gillingham, Blue Whale Communications

Photography: Marianne Rothbauer, Rothbauer Studio


Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started.

Before owning the store, I worked at Venus Envy as an employee for a number of years.  I loved the day-to-day of selling sex toys just as much as I expected. I’ve always loved talking about sex and been interested in the sexual health field, so this is really a dream job for me.

When I first started working here, one thing that really surprised me was how many people came to the store to talk about difficult and painful issues in their sex lives and relationships. People would often tell me that they came to the store because they felt so much more comfortable asking questions here than at their doctors, or that they had talked to a health professional but gotten really unsatisfying answers.  

Having so many of these experiences in the store made me realize that I wanted to become a therapist so that I could offer more in-depth support around things like pain, discomfort, and healing from trauma. So I left Ottawa for a few years to get my Masters degree in Social Work, and then came back and ended up taking over the store. I’m still in the process of launching a more formal therapy practice on the side, but I love that owning the store gives me the opportunity to creatively share some of that holistic knowledge. Right now, I’m especially having fun doing sex education through our Instagram account :)

There can be this idea that sex is way down at the bottom of the list in terms of priorities - like you can take care of everything else first and then finally see sex as important. But sex, at its best,  is about connection, play, and liberation. I think most of us could use more of all those things in our lives, and it’s my personal mission to support people in prioritizing pleasure.


Why is education such an important part of your philosophy?

Our culture is ripe with misinformation about sex. So many of us got terrible sex education, if any at all, and that means that most of us are relying on pop culture and porn to give us examples of what sex looks like. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things as entertainment, but they aren’t meant to be instructional. But because we don’t have access to other honest, straightforward, sex-positive information, those are often the places we turn to.

When our bodies don’t work the way we think they “should”, or the sex we have doesn’t look like the sex we see on TV, it leads us to feel like something’s wrong with us or our relationships, and that can result in a lot of intense shame.

Honest and accurate sex education is the way to counter those messages. Having that information supports people in exploring their bodies and sexualities, and lets them decide what they want and what feels good for them. That’s why education is so important to us!

Practically speaking, the education we do is so varied. Sometimes it’s through one of our regular workshops in store, or by helping a customer pick out their first sex toy, or talking with someone  about which lube ingredients work best for sensitive skin. It might also be helping someone find a great book where they can see themselves represented by the characters, chatting with a parent about some ways  to support their trans kid, or hosting a conflict resolution workshop. Sometimes people think it’s funny that we’re a sex store that does all these other things, but to me, anything that impacts how we feel physically or emotionally will also impact how we feel sexually. It’s not like we can box off that one part of ourselves  and only let it out between the hours of 9pm to midnight.

If you want to have hot, fulfilling sex over a lifetime, it probably won’t always (if ever!) look how it does on TV. And really, I’m so grateful for that. Our culture can be deeply unimaginative about what ‘good sex’ looks like, but in reality,  there are as many ways of having sex as there are people in the world.


Tell us a bit about your Access Fund and Pay it Forward program.

Our Pay-It-Forward fund started to help people access binders and gaffs, which are both gender-affirming products that we most often sell to trans and non-binary people. At regular price, a binder costs $49.95 and a gaff costs $24.95, so the cost makes them inaccessible for a lot of people. Through our Pay-It-Forward program, we have a pool of money that people can donate to in-store or on our website, and then we use that pool of donations to pay for binders and gaffs for folks who can’t afford them. It’s been amazing to see the community show up and donate to this fund!

The Venus Envy Access Fund is a new project that will provide small grants or loans related to sexual health and reproductive justice. We’re still in the fundraising phase, but we’re excited to bring this very needed resource to Ottawa.


What is it like to be a part of the Ottawa business community?

I feel really lucky to be part of a network of thoughtful, conscientious, community-oriented business owners in Ottawa. There is something so special to me about businesses who see it as their mission to give back to the communities they’re a part of.  I think that also resonates with people living in Ottawa, and has helped to build the strong ‘Shop Local’ ethic here.

On a scale of 1-10 how adventurous/ naughty are Ottawaans? :)

In my professional opinion, I’d say Ottawans are a 10 on the naughty/adventurous scale. We might be a little quieter about it than other cities, but there is definitely a kinky underbelly here. I think we’re probably even more adventurous than other cities because we need an outlet from all the bureaucracy!


Did you always know you wanted to run your own business?

Honestly, not at all! I always saw myself working in the non-profit world. But I realized pretty quickly how little patience I have for the red tape that often comes with government funding. I think of this as both a character flaw and a strength :)

Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart, but ultimately I love that I have the freedom to be creative, take risks and do things differently.


Favourite spot to grab a coffee in Ottawa?

Bread by Us! Their coffee (and food) is so tasty, their staff are really friendly,  and they are so supportive of their communities. I also love that they have a suspended coffee program that is like our pay-it-forward program, where people can donate money for coffee and food for other folks who can’t afford it.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?

I love to read, bake, play board games… really anything that gets me away from a screen. I also love food and eating out - Ottawa’s restaurant scene is so exciting right now!

J'adore Beauty Bar & Lounge - Jenny

J'adore Beauty Bar & Lounge - Jenny

Pure Kitchen - Kyle & Olivia

Pure Kitchen - Kyle & Olivia