Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jill McDevitt's Feminique Boutique to celebrate four years in the borough


The Femininque Boutique, West Chester’s controversial (and only!) “sex shop” is celebrating its fourth year anniversary on Saturday, May 5th, with an open house / birthday party. The store’s own, 25-year- old “sexpert” Jill McDevitt, promises the event to will fun and inspirational, right down to the day’s cupcake offerings: cream-filled penises and vulvas.

At 15, most girls are still nervous high-school freshmen, trying out for the cheerleading squad and awkwardly making out with their boyfriends at the Friday night football game. Not McDevitt, With the youthful exuberance of a 15-year-old young woman, she decided that she wanted to be nation’s foremost “sexpert.” While speaking at West Chester University recently, McDevitt pointed to a “how-to” sex column in a back-issue of Cosmopolitan as the source of inspiration for her aspired career. She declared that day, she would have her own sex advice column and she hoped to be the go-to experts that the editors at Condé Nast called for expert testimony whenever they needed a quote from a sexual advice columnist.

It didn’t take long for her goal to be realized. In her freshmen year at East Stroudsburg University, McDevitt was dishing out sex advice to a roomful of xco-eds when the editor of the campus paper walked by and caught drift of her conversation about “the double standards of male and female masturbation.” On the spot, she offered McDevitt a campus sex column in the university newspaper. It soon because the talk of campus – and not everyone was happy to read her open-minded opinions about sex, a theme that would repeat itself constantly over the next six or seven years.

A year later she decided to transfer to the University of Waterloo in Canada, because it was the only school in North America with an accredited B.A. degree program in “Sexuality, Marriage, and Family.” It took her just four years of college to achieve her dream of becoming a “sexpert.” Finding a job in her field, however, proved to be as daunting as finding a red-coated beaver on the hustling street of Montreal. McDevitt found herself in an unwelcoming and unrelenting job environment. With no job offers in hand, she decided to take out ads and pass out flyers marketing “in-home presentations” for bachelorette parties or “girl’s nights”, though McDevitt stressed her ability and willingness to to work with men, too.

No one was rushing to sign up for her lectures or bachelorette parties. She quickly recognized the need to establish a “headquarters”, a place she could sell products and begin to amass regular customers with a recognizable brand name. Just 18 weeks after graduation, at 21-years-old, McDevitt signed the lease on a storefront in downtown West Chester. Unfortunately, in the days that followed, she found herself in the center of a fire storm of controversy. Acquiring a retail permit for Feminique Boutique, as she aptly decided to name her store, was her first hurdle; the borough’s classification of her store as a “sex shop” made it considerably more difficult to ascertain.

After hiring an attorney, who pointed out the borough had no ordinance against a shop that sold sex toys and bedroom lingerie, she was granted a permit, much to collective chagrin of the clergy and parishioners at St. Agnes Roman Catholic church, just three blocks down the street of her shop. In fact, the church has refused to concede the permit issue and more than 100 members of the church crowded council’s chambers to protest the permit. In a letter to the editor at the time, a St. Agnes sister wrote “Jill McDevitt gains a Ph.D. in a field that brings suffering and heartache. The respect and reverence of our body and that of others fulfills God’s promise.”

McDevitt steadfastly maintains on her website that “free expression of one's sexuality is a vital part of being human, women are sexual subjects, not objects, and women have the right to access sexuality education and products in an environment that is sex-positive and female-friendly.” She had created a store that focused on female sexual empowerment, and describes her boutique as “categorically vanilla and PG-13.” Nevertheless, the media firestorm that soon ensued propelled McDevitt into the local, and briefly national, spotlight.

Despite the presence of hundreds of protestors gathered at borough council meetings, “the press was on my side.” When the story broke on the internet, it went viral and she received an outpouring of support from individuals all over the world in the form of blogs, people who signed petitions and donations to her legal fund. According to her own calculations, the air time and column inches she received in the local news gave her an estimated $35,000 worth of free publicity. Even as an inexperienced 21-year-old entrepreneur, McDevitt soon recognized the value of free marketing. She smartly decided to “milk her 15 minutes” for all it was worth. She recently published a book, "Fighting the Crusade Against Sex: Being Sex-Positive in a Sex-Negative World," and has five more in the works.

She writes a sex blog for Chester County’s Daily Local newspaper and has been featured in several Philadelphia weeklies. Most recently, Entertainment Weekly asked for her expert input on the recent success of the erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey and Philadelphia Magazine contacted her and will soon feature her in a personality profile, she said. She is also self-producing a short reality TV series that can be accessed through her website. Her next personal challenge is to teach a sex education workshop in all 50 states and as many international locations as possible.

She alleges that current public school sex education programs are “embarrassingly horrendous.” In fact, McDevitt recently volunteered in the Dominican Republic to teach high-risk children sexual safety and wrote about in an article for the WC Press. On her website, McDevitt describes herself as a sexologist, feminist sex shop owner, sex educator, public speaker, entertainer, blogger, author, and sexual rights advocate. She strives to create a “sex-positive” environment at the Feminique Boutique, where men and women do not feel ashamed to ask questions, and can explore their sexuality in a safe and comfortable setting.

To date, McDevitt has educated over 3,000 women and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality; upon completion she claims that she will be the only person in the world with all three of their degrees in “sex.” Feminique Boutique is located at 104 N. Church Street in West Chester, Pa. The store is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. McDevitt is available for sex education workshops, parties and in-home demonstrations. The 4th anniversary party of the opening of the shop is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 5th. Mike Driscoll, a student in my Public Affairs Reporting class, contribued to this story.