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Sarah Martin’s Journey From Christian Purity Culture to Sex Toy Store Entrepreneur

Sarah Martin poses in Kiss and Ride, their queer sex toy store

Sarah Martin never expected to open a sex toy store. Raised in Christian purity culture in rural Georgia, Martin knew little about sex growing up. “In purity culture, we’re not taught anything about our bodies…I just had a bunch of shame and fear-based knowledge,” Martin says. In high school, a friend of theirs—who was also a member of the church—got pregnant. The church “made her stand up in front of the congregation and apologize for the sin of having sex before marriage,” Martin says.  

Throughout high school, most of what Martin learned about sex could be summed up simply: That you shouldn’t have it before marriage. Most people in their church married in their early 20s. Martin, who married at 23, was considered a late bloomer. They married a straight cis man. “I thought I was straight,” Martin says. Though they liked their husband, their sex life was unpleasant. Penetrative sex with him was painful. Martin assumed this was just how sex was, until over a year into the marriage when they mentioned the pain to her mother-in-law, who told Martin that sex shouldn’t be painful. It was then that Martin began educating themselves about their body.  

 A few years ago, while on a trip to Spain with their husband, Martin had another epiphany: They were queer. “When I realized I was queer, it kind of opened up my understanding of sex beyond just penetrative,” Martin says. When they told their husband, their husband revealed that they are non-binary.

After coming out, Martin and their husband stumbled upon a Spanish sex toy store that functioned as a queer community center. “It was just a really centered space where I didn’t feel uncomfortable asking questions,” Martin says. They dreamed of opening the same thing back in their hometown. When they returned to Atlanta, Martin discovered a community that made them feel less alone in their experience. “I found a lot of former Christian queer people who are also learning to unpack that shame,” Martin says. They started brainstorming what a queer sex-toy store would look like.  

But they were working as a teacher full-time and didn’t have a lot of money, so they opened a pop-up shop first, called “Kiss and Ride” that she premiered at Southern Fried Queer Pride. “I ended up breaking even on my first investment,” Martin says. “So that was really exciting to me, because it was the validation I needed.”  

Before searching for a space in earnest, Martin did market research to see if a queer sex toy store was viable in Atlanta. What they found point to yes: only 13 percent of people felt comfortable shopping in Atlanta’s adult stores, and 95 percent says stores don’t carry items that affirm their gender identity.  Soon they began holding fundraising events, like lube wrestling, to raise money. They searched for other funding, but investors didn’t want to support a sexual wellness space. So they started a GoFundMe, invested savings, and took out a loan.  

Martin found a perfect space, but when the landlord discovered Martin was opening a queer sexual wellness store, they turned them down. A dozen landlords refused to rent to Martin. They wanted to quit, but then they thought about the community. “All the anti-trans legislation that’s coming out has been a huge driving force [that] we need and we deserve a safe space and no one’s gonna give it to us besides ourselves,” Martin says.  

Finally, they found someone who said yes: Liminal Space Collective. Kiss & Ride opened in November with a curated collection of sex toys from indie, queer, and feminist companies. FTM toys sit on shelves next to butt plugs the colors of the trans flag. Wand vibrators sit in an artful array on shelves, across from a display of dozens of lubes. But Martin plans for the store to go beyond selling sex toys, and become an education and community center. Next year they  hope to provide trauma support groups and workshops on chest taping for trans men .  

“It’s kind of like a selfish endeavor, to have a space like this,” Martin says. “I want to expand my knowledge. And this is a really fun way for me to do it.” 



Hallie Lieberman
Hallie Lieberman
Hallie Lieberman is a historian and journalist. She’s the author of Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy.