I've been alive for thirty whole years now, and I like to think of myself as a fairly confident, open-minded person. After all, I speak as someone who's interviewed upwards of 100 people about their sex lives, heard intimate details of one night stands and put my hand up at an actual F1 press conference and asked Lewis Hamilton what his favourite Pussycat Dolls song was. I'd like to say that I'm pretty much made of steel. But every now and again, something so embarrassing happens that I consider leaving London, finding a lovely dark cave somewhere, and living off roadkill and the occasional Ocado delivery until all of mankind has died off in some kind of nuclear accident and I can re-emerge without the risk of meeting anyone's eye. Yes. That bad. And weirdly, all of those moments included a sex toy. What I'm saying is: the Lovehoney warehouse. I'd probably die of blushing.
1. That time where my neighbour accused my lady parts of attracting foxes
Living in a big city is, as most people know, a right old test of your patience. You can choose who you live with in your flat, but you can't choose who your downstairs neighbours sell their home to. And in my old flat, our lovely neighbours sold up to a very uptight couple who clearly thought I was a bin-averse slattern. Weekly, the male half of the couple, who we'll call Owen (because it's nothing like his actual name), would remind me to “put the bin bags in the bin, not on the pavement, because it attracts foxes”. Really? What a flipping news flash, mate, I KNOW. And every time, I'd remind him that I was aware of this fact, and why would I put them next to the bin when I could put them INTO the bin with no extra effort? Whoever it was placing the bin bags on the street, it was NOT me. One day, instead of waiting until I left my house to lecture me on bin etiquette, Owen banged on the door. I came down, in my pajamas, to see what I could have possibly done now. “Issy, I told you, put the bin bags in the bin, not on the pavement,” he shrieked borderline hysterically, and pointed to what took me at least three seconds to realise was a massive pink vibrator, lying half-out of a split bin bag. Owen looked at me, we both stared at the fox-chewed sex toy, he looked back at me accusingly and hissed: “You're attracting foxes!” I fled back indoors, half-laughing, half-mortified. I never worked out who the mystery bin bag dumper was, but two months later, I moved.
2. That time when I was ashamed in Amsterdam
A couple of years ago, I won a trip to the red light district of Amsterdam in a nightclub competition. That's right: hotel, flights, transport, everything paid for by the nightclub. The only hitch? I had to go with a stranger. I know this sounds like the kind of story you read in Take A Break where I end up dead at the end, but it was actually very innocent. A man called Tom and I were sent, with a bundle of cash, to Holland, and we were given a camera to film our sexy exploits for the big screen at the nightclub. After two days, though, we'd discovered five new pieces of information: we didn't fancy each other, we had enough cash for two separate hotel rooms, I was so scared of everything Tom had to wait outside the toilet cubicle in bars because I thought someone might attack me and sex workers chase you and threaten you if you film anywhere in the red light district. Also, that the nightclub remained unimpressed when we told them we'd spent part of a day at the Anne Frank house and the other part at the zoo.
So, in an effort to get into the sexy swing of things, we went into one of the shops to see what can only be described as a disembodied lady part, moulded in rubber SO natural-toned, it apparently felt like flesh. “Touch it!” insisted Tom from behind the camera. “No! Ok … NO!” I would squeal. I just couldn't bring myself to touch this weirdly realistic body part. After ten minutes of getting my fingers just centimeters from it, I'd snatch my hand back (no pun intended) and scream. Until we were thrown out. That's right: we were asked to leave the sex shop, as we were putting the other customers, some of whom were in the, er, booths at the back having some quiet time, off. We were being looked down on by men who watch videos in tiny cubicles. As the owner chucked us out, I felt a deep sicky feeling in my stomach, and realised it was shame.
3. That time I was tricked into sex-dress shopping
I haven't always been the sex-savvy, wise woman that I am today. Back in 2004, I was a wide-eyed, innocent student living in Stoke-on-Trent and my flatmate (let's call her Emma, because that was 100% definitely her name) asked me to come shopping for a Halloween outfit with her. Her intended destination? The ‘private shop' behind Tesco in Hanley. It was, predictably, terrifying, as a sex shop behind a supermarket in Stoke-On-Trent can only be – filled with things I didn't want to see, things I didn't know were legal, and things that I couldn't believe fitted inside human bodies. After several uncomfortable minutes watching Emma flick through rubber maid's outfits, I stepped outside to give my eyes a rest from the horrors contained within the shop. Of course, who did I bump into on the street? My manager from my part-time job in a well-known cinema chain's call centre, just on his way to do a big shop for his wife and two small, innocent children. Children who'd hopefully never have to see the inside of a private shop in Stoke-on-Trent.
“What are you DOING?” he gasped at me, hanging around on the steps of a shop with blacked-out windows. “Er, fancy dress outfit shopping with Emma?” I replied, but in that very instant realised that I definitely wasn't. I had been tricked! There was no way she was going to wear that outfit outside her bedroom. I was SEX DRESS shopping! I was helping her to pick out something to have SEX in! I went very, very red. “I just saw a double-ended dildo,” I blurted out in the hope it'd make the awkward silence less, well, awkward. It did not. “Well … have fun then!” my manager replied. “You've got Saturday 12-9, right? See you then.”
4. That time my new flatmate thought I was a sex toy hoarder
I worked at More magazine for two and a half glorious years, and for all of that time, I never ran short of comedy birthday gifts for my friends. Every week, boxes and boxes of sex toys, lube, condoms and various sex-related gifts would arrive at my desk, and I loved it. Friend feeling down? Post them some JLS branded condoms. Someone having a birthday? Here's a glow in the dark dildo. Starting a new job? Take this Fleshlight to put your pens in. Never a dull day at More. When I left my job, I wasn't about to let the sexy gift party end, so I packed up a box of vibrating cock rings, pina colada flavoured lube and scary looking spanking paddles in a bag and bought it home, shoving it under my bed. And quickly forgot about it. Until I accidentally broke my bed. I wish I'd broke it in a hotter way that “flopping down a bit too violently on it while drunk and alone” but it needed fixing, fast, because there was NO WAY I was paying my landlady for a new one. My boyfriend came round with a drill, I summoned my lovely sweet new flatmate Tim to help me pick the bed up, and it wasn't until my boyfriend started drilling that I realised Tim and I were staring straight into the biggest under-bed sex toy pile the world's ever seen. What could I say? I just looked straight ahead, avoiding his judgmental gaze, until the bed was fixed.
5. That time with the sweet potato
I don't want to propagate the idea that I spent a lot of my twenties carting sex toys around London like some kind of vibrating plastic mule, but after a particularly bountiful delivery at work, I shoved a handful of small, novelty shaped vibrators in my bag. Everything from guns to lipsticks to rabbits to rockets – honestly, the sex toy industry is CREATIVE – all perfect/totally inappropriate presents for a baby shower I was going to that weekend. On the way home, I thought I'd pop into ASDA and get a few things. Yes, I know: there was literally no way this wouldn't go wrong, but I did it anyway. You can guess the rest: I'm standing in the queue, patiently waiting to pay for the unfortunate combination of a box of tissues, a large sweet potato and some white wine, when my phone goes off way down in the depths of my bag. To access it, I basically have to dig down through a tangle of vibrators, my phone charger, a magazine, my wallet, my Bag For Life and a thousand other things, all spilling out onto the belt. Did I answer it before it stopped ringing? No. Did the kind-faced old lady at the checkout tell me to ‘take care of myself' with a concerned look? Yes she did. I now shop at Sainsburys.