At the tender age of 13, Sharon Gordon was selling her father’s Playboy magazines to her school mates, in what some might say was a portent of her future career. But it was only decades later, after a bruising divorce and walking through the “corridors of greed”, that Gordon exited the corporate world to become a successful entrepreneur in the sex industry.
“I’m a qualified attorney, and I practised human rights law for very many years. Then I went into corporate and was the CEO of Human Resources for (global resources company) BHP Billiton until Brian [Gilbertson] fired me and I became an entrepreneur,” says Gordon, who dabbled in a number of “little businesses” until the shocker came.
“I got divorced in 2002; I was just over 40 and going through a mid-life crisis – my divorce destroyed my self-esteem. I didn’t think I was ever going to be in love, or have sex again,” Gordon confesses and tells the story of how she found herself in a seedy sex shop for the very first time.
“I’ve always enjoyed sex. It’s really, really good for you, so (I thought) clearly the only thing left for me was to own a vibrator. I went off to one of ‘those’ stores on Corlett Drive in Johannesburg,” Gordon admits. The first Friday she made it to the location, but didn’t go in because the shop just looked far too “seedy and disgusting”, so she turned back.
“The following Friday I had two tequilas for breakfast and was very, very brave. I put on my hat, dark glasses, and went into one of ‘those’ shops. I had the worst shopping experience of my life. It was seedy and dirty and there was porn on the screens. The floors were sticky and the guy behind the counter looked like he’d just had a sexual encounter with himself. I didn’t know what I needed or what I wanted, and there was nobody on hand to give me advice. It was just shocking,” Gordon says, recalling the experience. After walking out of that sex shop on Corlett Drive, after buying her first vibrator, Gordon felt dirty. “Walking out with my purchase I thought that nobody deserves to feel this filthy about their sexuality.”
Gordon views sex as something sacred and still wanted to enjoy herself without going to have one-night stands. “It made me feel filthy, in fact I think I went home and had a shower. And that’s how the idea was born,” she says. Gordon was a long way off from creating her brand, which would be called Lola Montez. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the brand uses the name of a 19th century intellectual and entertainer who was the courtesan and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. She used her influence to drive liberal reform – much like Gordon who marched headlong into what was a conservative market. It is also the name of an online store and Sandton-based sex shop that predominantly caters to the female market. Unlike sexual attitudes in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, South Africa’s view on all things carnal has been conservative and heavily influenced by religion. This country has a legislated framework that should predispose us to more liberated sexual attitudes, but the lived experience of sex and sexuality in SA is very different.