It may be chilly out there, but things are heating up. The most romantic weekend of the year is fast approaching and the raunchiest chick-flick in history is about to land. Our once-conservative love lives have been awakened and more and more people are venturing, giggling and curious into the realm of adult toys.

But where do you go? Do you dare venture to Ann Summers and their glittery hen do party favours? What about the dark doorway adorned with feather boas down a city side street?

Knowing that recent events were bringing such questions to mind, I decided to direct them at the person I knew would have the answers. Shawna, honorary local girl, has been building her design-led, body safe online adult store (SexSiopa.ie) over the last few years and is the second participant in the GirlAboutTown interview series.

(Gold star if you get through this post without giggling)

I have an A&E nurse friend who could scare you into celibacy with the things she’s seen – so let’s start with Sex Siopa’s “Body Safe” ethos and why it’s so important…

It has always been so important to me to only stock toys made from bodysafe materials, because the whole of the adult toy industry is unregulated. There are so many manufacturers who use chemicals (mainly phthalates) that have effectively been banned in children’s toys and many other consumer products because they have been linked to a shed-load of horrific health problems including cancers and endocrine disruption. Labeling is unregulated too. A toy can say that it is phthalate-free on the label, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I always tell people that if it smells like plastic, chuck it out. That’s a good indicator that it is made from a porous material like PVC and these chemicals are leeching out of it.

Suitably terrified. So it’s fair to say a lot of your products don’t look like what you’d be used to from Ann Summers parties and raunchy hen nights…

The first rule of architecture and product design is “Form follows function”. I won’t stock a toy just because it’s pretty. There have been loads of toys that have been hyped up that I have passed up on because their functionality is rubbish. In terms of aesthetic, I decided at the very start of Sex Siopa that I didn’t want to stock just pinks and purples. There’s this assumption in the industry that toys produces those colours because that’s what sells, but it’s a vicious circle – that’s what sells because that’s all they’ll stock; which tells the manufacturers they should churn out more pink and purple toys. It insults my intelligence as a consumer.

That said, we’ve seen a real shift to more modern toys like the ones I stock, because customers are feeling more comfortable talking about their toys and toy design. If we write reviews, blog posts and emails to manufacturers, that will influence the quality of sex toys being made in the future.

With 50 Shades liberating the modest masses – but what do these kinky newbies need to look out for if they venture into an adult store or start browsing online?

Have a good long think about what kinds of acts turn you on, what are your limits, etc before buying anything. Discuss those fantasies with your partner(s) – which can be totally hot on it’s own. Start small and improvise with things like dressing gown ties or silk scarves to see if that’s your thing.

If you do decide to purchase a flogger or pair of handcuffs, etc., have a look at a few blogs and forums to see what brands they like. It’s always better to splash out a bit more on something that is of excellent quality and will last a long time than spending 20 quid on something that is going to break after a few uses. If in doubt you can always email me – I’m happy to make recommendations even if it’s a product I don’t stock.

So, any advice for those Valentines shoppers looking for something a little exotic?

I’ve made a few fab gift hampers for Valentines, but it always depends on the person you’re buying for. Is the person male, female, or somewhere in between on the gender spectrum? Are they a long-term partner or someone you’ve just started seeing each other? Do they like internal or external stimulation? Have they owned a toy before or are they first-time buyers? So many questions! If you’re really lost, I now sell gift cards too so you can let them choose what toy they’d like.

I wanted Sex Siopa to be a place where everyone feels welcome. I work to make sure my site reflects that. I want it to be a celebration of the toys’ design rather than trying to tell my customers what kind of person I think should buy the toys. This is because many of the toys I sell are multifunctional and would suit all types of bodies.

Shawna also offers discreet shipping as standard, and can also ship your local Parcel Motel for free so whether it’s a surprise for a partner or a gift for yourself, no-one has to know about it if you don’t want them to.