Pleasure as Priority: An Interview with Inclusive Sex Shop Founder Beth Hankes of Earth & Salt
interview with Beth Hankes (she/her), founder of Earth & Salt
Join us Wednesday, 03.03.21 at 4:30 pm EST for a live conversation with our CEO Lindsay Wynn and Beth Hankes to learn how to prioritize your own pleasure.
As a brand that thrives on collaboration and creativity, we encounter a whole world of storytellers and pleasure seekers — artists and athletes, poets and photographers — that inspire our lifestyle and fuel self-discovery. This week we sat down with Beth Hankes (she/her), founder of the recently launched inclusive sex shop Earth & Salt to discuss pleasure as a pure form of self-care, self-love, and self-discovery, and the importance of integrating (sexual) pleasure seamlessly into our lives.
We love a good origin story. Why “Earth & Salt” and why now?
Earth and Salt was inspired by the landscape of Burlington, and by the elemental and sensual aspects of the body. Earth and Salt is us and our world. It’s soil, salt, water, forests, rocks. And it’s our bodies; we are earth, we are salt. We smell and taste of it. This deeply natural and elemental nature that exists in each of us is what I hope to help people return to.
Launching this business feels so timely because we have so many things in our daily lives that separate us from our innate selves; grind culture, racism, health crises, sexism, emotional neglect. It’s easy to treat sex and sensuality as something we’ll get to when we have time, but treating sex as a silo separate from the rest of our lives is unnecessary, limiting, and harmful. My goal through Earth and Salt is to help people contextualize sex and sensuality as something both important and possible as part of daily life.
What makes Earth & Salt different from other sex shops, or online stores?
Earth and Salt as a business takes a holistic and inclusive approach to sex and pleasure, one that is more expansive than other sex shops. Through the business I am very interested in offering products that enable a connection to pleasure, no matter someone’s age, ability, race, gender, or identity. Pleasure is possible for everyone, but it looks different from person to person.
Once I launch our sex ed content we will also be sharing stories and creating workshops that offer a contextualized view of sex and pleasure. Think burnout and its effects on desire; how to find a sex therapist; the scarcity mindset and how it shows up in relationships; sex during end of life. There are so many aspects of life that interplay with sex, and bringing those into the conversation will hopefully inform and empower people to live healthier and more joyful lives.
Your “ultimate goal is to see all people free to live in their pleasure.” What does pleasure mean to you? Are there limits to who or what we define as pleasurable?
Pleasure to me is simply joy, and it can be physical, emotional, or mental. It’s important to think of pleasure in an expansive context like that, because there can be so many complexities to truly feeling pleasure in any of those types of experiences. Knowing how to access pleasure mentally when you might not be able to do so physically, and vice versa, can be deeply uplifting and comforting. So no, I don’t think there are limits to what can be pleasurable. It’s all about figuring out what works for you individually, in this period of time, and how to experience it in a healthy and confirming way. There is SO MUCH joy available to us, and I am so excited to help people access that for themselves.
Now more than ever, it’s become evident that pleasure is a privilege, constrained by our social status, financial position, race, gender, and sexual orientation. How can we “level the playing field” so that everyone, everywhere can pursue pleasure without constraint?
Personal to me and other adult store owners, we need to offer product options that cover a wide range of price, sexual interests, and identities. We also need to do community outreach and get involved with local organizations so that our offerings, whether products or educational materials, are available to all within our communities. And we must continue to expand our knowledge so that we can continue to provide the most up-to-date educational information.
Broader than that though, this country is in deep need of a standardized, comprehensive sex education program for schools. Providing educational content early on in life around anatomy, birth control, sexuality and sexual fluidity, relationship dynamics, and gender identity, would be transformative at every level of society. To have the knowledge of what’s normal (which is almost everything, as it turns out), how to treat other bodies, how to protect yourself, and how to build relationships with others could alleviate many of the interpersonal dynamics and hatred that exists in our daily life. Then we could experience a more equitable environment for pleasure, and create generational change that would have long lasting impact.
2020 was for getting back to basics. It felt like there was less emphasis on a proactive pursuit of pleasure, with more focus on reducing pain, or painful experiences. How can we actively pursue pleasure this year?
I think we know now that we can’t just wait for the world events around us to change. We can take our part in changing them through protecting our health, voting, etc., but the cumulative effects of those efforts takes time. So we have to look at our day to day lives and see where we can find or make space for pleasure, starting with what kind of pleasure we want more of in our lives. Do you want to have more enjoyable sex, do you want to have more alone time, do you want to eat food that makes you feel great? I’d suggest identifying the one or two things you’re craving more of and figuring out when and how you can add that to your life. And as always, start with a small goal — it’s easier to achieve, and you’ll be experiencing more pleasure sooner, with more frequency.
Not only did you choose to open a niche brick and mortar shop, you chose to open one in the midst of a pandemic. What were/are some of the obstacles you’ve encountered that you turned into opportunities?
Earth and Salt was meant to be a brick and mortar shop (and will be some day), but the pandemic pushed me to open online first. I was disappointed by this at first since I want to build a community space, a place where people can be validated and uplifted by the environment around them. It’s going to be a lush, vibrant space when I can bring it to fruition. But opening online has been a real opportunity in that I can be far more nimble in figuring out what brands I want to work with, what products my customers are most wanting and needing, and who locally I want to engage with. Additionally, 2020 was an oddly great year for networking as it’s so easy to jump on a Zoom call instead of figuring out the logistics of meeting people in person. I found it much less intimidating that way, and I think I’ve been able to push myself to meet many more people because of it.
We believe unlearning is just as important as learning something new. What did you unlearn in 2020 that you’re applying in your professional or personal life?
Unlearning is huge. There is so much that we need to individually and collectively unlearn. One thing I unlearnt in 2020 is valuing niceness. I used to think being nice was a gold standard in both personal and professional relationships, but I realized that being nice is often just a way to keep a distance between myself and others. It’s a convenient exchange of pleasantries, and often a free pass to let so much go unsaid. What I’ve noticed is that being nice rarely forges real connection. And what I need more of, and what I think a majority of folks need more of, is real connection. So instead I’m focusing on kindness.
Being nice is a convenient exchange of pleasantries. It’s often a free pass to let so much go unsaid...and rarely forges real connection. And what I need more of, and what I think a majority of folks need more of, is real connection. So instead I’m focusing on kindness.
In addition to non-gendered sex toys and after care, Earth & Salt carries over 30 titles of books. If you had to recommend just one book for someone to read this year, what would it be and why?
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski. And I would recommend this for anyone that inhabits or loves a female body. This book blew my mind chapter after chapter, not only about human anatomy and having sex, but also how the mind connects and reflects back to the body.
It’s easy to think the sexual experience happens just in one’s genitals, but really it’s a full body, mind, and emotional experience. Nagoski breaks that down so beautifully, and having that knowledge can really empower people, as well as alleviate so many concerns and questions that people carry silently with them.
READ MORE The Momotaro Apotheca Reading List
How do you source the brands you carry? Do you test all the products?
Oh I wish! I have yet to try all 240+ products, but am working my way through (what a life). I do very consciously choose which brands and products I carry. I research brands by type, and then research to see if there are product options made by brands that are owned by women, femmes, queer folx, Black, Indigenous, or people of color.
I also keep an eye out on social media to see what brands are making waves, and then vet their ownership and business practices. There are a wealth of options right now, which thankfully makes it possible to shop one’s values, but also makes it difficult to parse and keep up with all the options. I genuinely enjoy taking that responsibility off my customers and providing them with a group of brands that they can feel good about supporting.
Between social distancing and social media, brands need more than products to succeed; they need a community. How are you building your community?
I in part created this business because I felt alone in my struggles around my sexuality, and unseen when I shopped at other adult stores. So I’m being publicly vulnerable with myself and my experiences as a gesture to my followers that they are not alone in their desires or their struggles. I want to share stories, resources, information, and products that resonate with my customers, that make them feel seen and understood. From there I can build a community of people that feel supported, and then hopefully we can collectively support each other, and then support worthy organizations and causes.
Favorite Momotaro Apotheca product?
I’m obsessed with Tonic. For a few years I was avoiding any skin or bath due to an allergy I have to a common cosmetic ingredient. It wasn’t a major impediment for me, but I really did miss the ritual of adding something to my bath to make the experience more special and sensual. I started using Tonic recently and LOVE it. I can use it without issue, it makes my bath smell incredible, and it softens my skin beautifully.
Favorite form of self care?
Taking a walk down the bike path that runs along Lake Champlain, especially with a fancy cup of coffee or a rich hot chocolate. It’s a great break from screens, and walking always helps me destress.