When Jacq Jones was a junior at St. Olaf College, the Minnesota school’s health services didn’t provide condoms to its students. Frustrated by the lack of access to contraceptives, she joined a group of classmates who put “free condom” envelopes on the back of their dorm room doors. Although that was a few decades ago, Jones’ ongoing passion for helping others express their sexuality in a safe, consensual manner is the driving force behind Sugar, her 11-year-old, education-focused sex toy store in Hampden.
“I feel that sexuality is a basic human right,” says Jones. “Whatever that looks like—from someone who is asexual to people who are into things that I haven’t even thought of—there should be access to information and products that help you express that.”
After several years of working everywhere from Planned Parenthood and Women Accepting Responsibility in West Baltimore to the New York City sex store Babeland, Jones wanted to create a business that combined retail and pleasure-based sex education with nonprofit qualities, such as a mission statement and a close-knit community. With encouragement from her wife, Shelley Ziegler, Jones opened Sugar on Roland Avenue in March 2007.
Since then, Sugar has grown into a sex-positive community staple that not only offers a wide variety of products such as wrist restraints, vibrators, and massage oils, but is also devoted to educating customers of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations on new ways to celebrate their sexuality.
The shame-free store, now located around the corner on West 36th Street in Hampden, hosts about three workshops every month—including a free, 20-minute session on the first Friday of the month—that are taught by instructors who span a variety of genders and ethnicities. “We want to ensure that all different kinds of people feel comfortable shopping here,” says Jones.
Thanks to the mainstream success of films such as Fifty Shades of Grey, Jones says she’s seen an increase in the public’s overall comfort with sex toys. As the demand has grown—with more people exploring “adding whipped cream to hot chocolate,” as Jones puts it—companies are now making products with quality materials at a lower cost, allowing stores such as Sugar to offer customers high-end toys at more accessible price points.
This cultural shift opens the door for Jones to continue the work she has been doing since college—helping as many people as possible have safe and positive sexual experiences. “The Baltimore community is incredible,” she says. “I want to do everything I can to give that support back to them.”