“You want to do what?” sex toy shop owner Lincoln Chua exclaims when I tell him I want to work in his shop. It’s for a story, I assure him. I want to dig out the dirt on adult stores. Like, who shops there? What do they buy? Who’s into scary-looking anal beads? “Okay,” he says doubtfully. “Start on Monday.”

DAY ONE
Babe in toyland

I was a sex shop salesgirl DECOR 1

At the Midpoint Orchard branch of U4ria, the chain Lincoln, 44, runs with his partner Benson Goh, 42, no one but the staff will know I’m under cover. I’ll just be a salesgirl, and I promise Lincoln I won’t interrogate customers.

My first day is a seven-hour store orientation. It stocks over 5,000 items, including kinky bondage gear, vibrators and penis pumps. There are bullet vibrators shaped like scorpions for under $100 and fake breasts modelled after the D-cups of Bree Olson, the porn star who famously shacked up with actor Charlie Sheen. They jiggle like the real things.

The scariest is the chrome-plated penis cage. It’s a sinister-looking chastity belt that encases his shaft, so he can’t go at it with women – or even play with himself.

I get some hands-on experience smearing lubricants on my arm so I can describe their textures to customers. Lincoln makes me slide my fingers into male masturbators – jelly-like moulds guys use for DIY lovin’. The insides are modelled after the privates of Japanese porn stars like Maria Ozawa, whose naked, full-frontal pictures are on the packaging (with stickers covering their nipples). For the record, Maria’s so popular, her moulds are out of stock when I’m there.

A stylish, 30-something Chinese woman pops in looking for a catwoman costume. I watch how Lincoln attends to her, offers suggestions and then leaves her to browse on her own. Later, I practise my sales skills on a pair of female friends.

One of them’s looking for a sexy French maid costume, and I bring her a frilly design. “No, I want to show more skin,” she says. But she loves my next recommendation – a tiny, translucent white “apron” that barely contains her breasts and butt, and exposes her entire back.

Her friend’s looking for a quarter bra – essentially, a cupless bra with underwire and some fabric that displays your boobs in all their naked glory. I recommend to her a leather design popular with some women into kinky sex, so I’m told.

DAY TWO
Sexpert in the making

I was a sex shop salesgirl DECOR 3

I start serving customers, and some are quite surprising. Like a guy friend who drops by the store to give “moral support”. He eyes the male masturbators with more than casual interest. I’m surprised. I’d thought only lonely men over 50 would be keen on them. My friend is a saxophonist in a band and has plenty of admirers. Musicians. Groupies. You know what I mean.

I show him the shop’s bestseller – a nondescript cylindrical device that looks like an audio speaker costing $119. “Watch this!” I say, flipping open the contraption to reveal a masturbator with ridges, bumps and contours for stimulation. “No way!” he gasps. He’s tempted to get one, but “I feel guilty splurging on something… like that.”

“I wish I had the real thing,” he adds wistfully. I suddenly remember that he had gone through a hard breakup last year. Since then, I’d always sensed he was pining for love. Um, would my 20 percent staff discount cheer him up? He’ll think about it.

I’m surprised when a sweet 20-something comes in looking for a masturbator for her brother. “He’s devastated because a girl dumped him. I want something to cheer him up,” she says. She gets a round and squishy novelty design encased in rice paper. It’s meant to look like a wrapped bun – sure to make him laugh.

How about a blow-up doll, too? “No thanks,” she says. “I’ve done my part as a sister. I’m shopping for myself now.” She then grabs three sets of lingerie and a luxe, Swedish-made vibrator, racking up a $350 bill within 20 minutes. “I’ll get that next time,” she says, pointing at the Sqweel, which simulates oral sex with its rotating wheel of 10 “tongues” to sexcite your lady bits.

I get a kick out of introducing customers to products they never knew about. Like the 50-something auntie who wanders in with her son (who looks 20). While her boy prods Bree’s fake breasts, she gets me to explain what penis rings and dildos are for. Finally, she whispers: “Do you have anything that can make a woman’s down there smaller?” She adds quickly: “It’s for a friend.”

I bring out the Ben-Wa balls, weighted marbles you insert and hold inside your vagina by flexing your muscles (like Kegel exercises). Do this “workout” for 15 minutes a day, and you’ll feel your vaginal walls tighten. “Wow!” the auntie breathes, saying she’ll tell her “friend” to drop by. I slip her the address of our online store.

By day’s end, I’m hyped up. “It feels great helping people,” I tell Lincoln. “I love watching them leave happy, knowing they’ve probably satisfied their needs.” I move to U4ria’s Peninsula Plaza outlet for my third day. Can’t wait.

DAY THREE
Rough trade

Entering Peninsula Plaza, I see male foreign workers loitering around, shooting me stares. I feel less put upon once I enter the cosy, brightly-lit shop crammed with products. Benson is in charge here. The customers are rougher, with more men and foreign workers. Salesgirl Annie is regularly hit on by some male customers hoping to score her phone number, so a male employee is always in the store to help her fend off unwanted advances.

The hottest items here are creams and sprays promising lasting erections. Annie’s usual sales pitch: “You want longer? Harder?” Few say no. “We guys need this sometimes,” chortles one foreign worker as he checks out
a spray.

A group of tattooed men in their 30s comes in, speaking in Hokkien. I’m too intimidated to approach them, so Annie asks if they need help – and one does. He’s looking for a vibrator for his girlfriend. “Does this squirt water?” he asks, examining a girlie-pink model. No, it’s just waterproof, Annie explains. She turns on the gadget and lets him feel the pulsations while his friends gape. He nods and pays for the toy, happy as a schoolboy. Never judge a book by its cover, I tell myself.

My stint is finally up. After three days, I’d seen some scary products and touched more fake vaginas than I ever dreamed I would. Strangely enough, I’d yet to serve a customer who set off my perv alert – kinky requests yes, but no depraved ones. And believe it or not, most of the people seemed like regular Joes (and Janes) looking for some bedroom guidance.

“Pick something for yourself, on the house.” Benson urges before I leave. I select a discreet pocket-sized masturbator shaped like an egg. Leaving the store, I cheekily text my saxophonist friend: “You’ll never guess what I got you…”

Hmm, kinky!
SEX TOY SHOP STAFF TELL US WHAT TURNS CUSTOMERS ON

I was a sex shop salesgirl DECOR 2

“She bought a whip. She complained that her husband was too domineering in bed and wanted to show him she was in control.” – Benson Goh, business development director of U4ria

“The kinkiest request I’ve had was for a bondage swing, the kind you hang from the ceiling. It supports your body weight so you can swing freely during sex.” – Steve Yee, store manager of Naughty

“One man wanted a wireless bullet-shaped vibrator that can be controlled from a distance – something he could enjoy with his wife!” – Ferrine Lee, sales manager, House of Condom

“She wanted to pour a white liquid on her husband’s body. So she bought an edible white candle to drip the wax on him before licking it off!” – Cheng King Xiang, head webmaster of U4ria

“One woman asked for a remote-controlled vibrator. The remote would be given to her partner during a restaurant dinner, with the vibrator already in place for him to activate whenever he pleased!” – Isabelle Lum, business development manager of online sex store Alicemaple.com

This story was first published in Her World magazine February 2012 issue.