For femme and queer-presenting folks, going into a sex store can be downright scary. Between the leers from creepy people, confusing products, and invasive questions from staff, going sex product shopping can be an experience many don’t want to even try. But Awakening Boutique wants to change all that.
“I think that it’s really clear that Denver needed a space like ours because so many people from the community, so many sex therapists, so many doctors, so many sex workers, just so many people, started approaching us almost immediately,” said Rose Kalasz, one of the co-owners of the store. “We’re also learning from them just as much as they are learning from us.”
Run by two good friends, Kalasz and Tory Johnson, Awakening sprung up in April 2018 when the two needed a change of pace in their lives and realized that Denver didn’t have a safe space for women who identified as queer or feminist, or just people who wanted a better experience, to go for sex products. Since they’ve opened, other spots like Vanilla Kink have come on the scene, but there are still only a few places out there that Kalasz and Johnson feel are truly providing a safe space to the community.
“A big part of our mission was that we wanted to make it a comfortable space for people to approach, no matter what level they were at in their sexual journey or their feminist journey,” said Johnson. “Especially for folks who just don’t feel comfortable coming into something that feels like a sex store, we wanted to add other things, so you can come in and look at the novelty products; you can look at the cards; you can grab a T-shirt and work your way back to the sex products. You don’t have to rush into things.”
When the two first decided to start their business, they began with a pop-up store. That was so successful that they became regular residents in the Nomad space in RiNo. Then, when a space came available on South Broadway, where they initially wanted to open their store, they jumped on the chance. Now, after only being open for a little over a year, the two already have two store spaces, and they couldn’t be happier about it.
“Our idea from the very beginning was destigmatizing sex, basically, and how it shouldn’t be something that’s like a back-alley entrance with, like, blacked-out windows and such,” said Kalasz. “We want it to be a cute boutique, something that’s just normal. You come in to buy a T-shirt and a candle and a vibrator because they’re all like things that bring you joy. That’s normal; that’s not weird.”
In addition to providing this kind of space for people, Awakening Boutique is a lot more than just a place to shop in peace and pick out some of the best products around. It’s also becoming a hub of sexual knowledge and education. The store does a workshop or class almost every week, and they only ever charge enough to pay the presenters, not taking a fee for themselves.
“We just did the first in a four-part series about sex-positive parenting,” explained Johnson. “We’ve done one on queer sex education; we’re going to do one on sexuality and media literacy one, and another on porn and social media. We also always do a ropes class, and we’re planning to offer a bunch more classes in 2020.”
Whether they’re providing a safe space for queer people to shop, helping feminsts and people of all kinds buy sex toys, or leading workshops for the community, Awakening Boutique are doing a lot more than the average sex shop, and they think that’s going to become the new normal.
“When we go to trade shows, you can really, instantly tell who is old industry and who is new industry, even based on what people are wearing,” said Kalasz. “You can tell by the packaging on the products; it changes every time we go, like these old-school brands are realizing that they have to modernize packaging and design rather than being so porn-forward. And you can also tell by the quality of things, we don’t carry things that are not body-safe. Ourselves and our colleagues are always making sure we carry the best-quality products.”
To support Awakening Boutique, ask a question about their products, or book a private party to help support funding for their classes, visit
Photos by Jessica Christie