At first glance, you might not even know High Tide is a sex shop. A stone’s throw from the dining district around Hardware Lane, you’ll find a warmly lit shopfront with light timber minimalism that would be perfectly suited to the sale of candles or homewares. Instead, it’s artfully arranged sex toys, equipment and quality leather goods, unpackaged and on display for curious eyes. Tucked away in Rankins Lane in Melbourne’s CBD, it’s a welcoming place to broaden your sexual horizons.

Owners Paige Aubort and Søren Poulsen are dedicated to redefining perceptions of sex and intimacy. “High Tide predominantly attracts first-timers, which means that we often get to meet people who are genuinely eager and excited to begin learning about themselves and expanding their knowledge,” Aubort says.

Aubort and Poulsen probably don’t fit your expectations of traditional purveyors of adult goods. Former bartenders who met working at Shady Pines Saloon in Sydney, they’ve been together for four years, and they brought Aubort’s vision for High Tide to life just over a year ago. A fashionable pair in their thirties, they radiate the kind of approachable, smiling energy that puts you at ease in intimate discussions. Neither clinical or crass, they speak with a matter-of-fact warmth about the items on the shelves and the potential therein.

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Many guests (as they are known at High Tide) find the store via word of mouth, including sex-shop newbies aged in their sixties and beyond. The toys are diverse and body-safe in a range of pricepoints, arranged not by gender or specific usage but by colour. Guest are encouraged to pick up, touch and imagine. Turn on a vibrator, handle a harness, compare dildos, feel the texture of a sex sheet, make the unfamiliar familiar. “Every toy sold, every post created, and every workshop held pushes us toward a more inclusive and open-minded future,” Poulsen says.

They also host a raft of workshops, covering everything from rope tying and vulva exploration to life drawing. They consistently fill their 20-person capacity with a mix of queer and cis-hetero attendees, mostly femme-presenting twenty- or thirty-somethings and couples aged around 40 to 60. The store is curtained off, converted with cushioned chairs and floor seating, ready for a new type of sex education. “One class was themed ‘Ritual’, which found the store lit by candlelight, and an altar wrapped in fabrics for the model to pose on surrounded by flowers and ornaments,” Aubort says. The host, artist and life-drawing instructor Rosie Turner, “read from her journal, intertwining the concept of rituals, self-pleasure and artistry. It was divine.”

Future workshops will cover kink, sensation play, power dynamics and somatic breathing. “We all have kinks, fetishes and fantasies, some more known than others,” Aubort continues. “What we’ve discovered is that everyone is willing and wants to discuss their personal experiences with masturbation and the use of toys, but [usually they haven’t established a] practice of verbally processing such thoughts and experiences. We need more conversations to normalise these discussions. I think we would all feel much less alone.”

Poulsen agrees. “Sex, masturbation, self-pleasure, intimacy … aren’t about finding the one holy grail toy,” he says. “It’s about variety, newness, reinventing the wheel, being nervous and trying it anyway … sitting with yourself and checking in, listening, and responding. It’s a long life ahead of us, filled with much potential for joy and pleasure – we just have to be willing to take the first steps.”

High Tide
5 Rankins Lane, Melbourne

Wed to Sun 10am–6pm