In a country as conservative as the Philippines, sex shops are usually very difficult to find and access. They’re usually found in the sketchiest places in the metro. It’s hard enough (pun intended) to talk about sex in general in this country, even in an academic and legislative context, let alone try and bring up any kind of information regarding sexual accessories.
Enter (another pun intended?) Ilya, an online sex shop that caters to all the kinky needs of your average (albeit more open-minded and clearly more sexually active) Filipino, all while being fun and educational. Where physical retail sex stores tend to come off as lowkey and sketchy, Ilya is different from the get-go, from their eye-catching brand designs to their in-depth guides to toys, accessories, and sex-positivity.
Young STAR got to speak with co-owner Arvin Alvarez on the Ilya brand, accessibility, and, in her words, “saving the world one sex toy at a time.”
What inspired you to start Ilya?
It’s a bit of a quirky story, actually. AJ Osmeña, my partner, and I went to a sex toy shop to buy something as part of a dare. We both had never been to one and thought it would be a funny experience. But when we actually went into one, we were both shocked. The items were not as beginner-friendly and the entire atmosphere made everything a bit cold and awkward. I didn’t know the first thing about sex toys and there I was face to face with huge-ass dildos and replicas of actual people’s genitals. Nothing bad about these things, but it was just not presented in the way we expected. To add to that, there was no one we could ask and the entire experience felt like a visit to a really cold-ambiance drugstore.
And after that experience, we laughed and joked about the whole thing. We got to talking about why these things are considered to be taboo. Then we joked about making this awesome sex toy shop that would make people feel comfortable and how our shop would be playful and cater to everyone’s kinks but wouldn’t force you to see things you’d rather not.
“We realized that our refusal to talk about these things, intimacy and sexual health, and the more we consider it taboo, icky, and dirty; the riskier it becomes for everyone.”
Were there any hesitations in opening a store of this nature given our country’s general religious conservatism?
Yes, of course. Even before worrying about our country’s opinion of our new venture, we had to face the challenge of telling our parents about it. (laughs) Imagine having to tell your parents “I’ve decided to sell sex toys for a living.”
But going beyond that, we recognize the risks of opening such a shop locally. We knew early on that we would get some weird looks and ill reactions. Apart from potential customers, we also consulted with different groups such as those of the religious sector. They contributed a lot in understanding the market and where the the taboo-ness comes from. It also made it just much more appealing for us because then we knew that we were actually changing something.
A very unique aspect about your branding is the aesthetic. Comments being that your site looks “friendly” and “not super sketchy”. What made you decide to have this kind of branding?
I think besides the brand that we envisioned for our shop, what made us want to present it this way is the whole idea that it’s a sex toy shop. It should be fun, exciting and a bit naughty. We allowed ourselves to have fun creating the shop. I mean, think of all the puns and jokes you can play with! (AJ’s got the funniest and also the worst of them, try reading our ordering info.)
“It’s an openness to the idea that sex is healthy and should be pleasurable. It should be enjoyed without judgement.”
On your site, you have guides for all kinds of toys and other accessories such as lube, and even one guide specifically for first timers. How did the idea of making these guides come about?
We’re a sex toy shop that’s all about intimacy (may it be with yourself or another person) and sexual health. We made it a point to dedicate parts of our shop to education. We don’t want our clients to have to go through the same confusion we did. The second reason is that we realized that our refusal to talk about these things, intimacy and sexual health, and the more we consider it taboo, icky, and dirty; the riskier it becomes for everyone.
For you, what is sex-positivity and its relation to sex toys?
It’s a belief, attitude or culture that doesn’t judge anyone for their choice of sexual activity as long as it is consensual and responsible. It’s an openness to the idea that sex is healthy and should be pleasurable. It should be enjoyed without judgement. So it doesn’t matter if you have it tons of it, a little of it, or heck if you even want none of it, if you have it alone, or with a partner, or with partners, if you have it vanilla or kinky, if you have it the same way over and over again or you wanna explore, it shouldn’t matter. You shouldn’t be judged for it as long as it is consensual and responsible because after all, it is your body.