Meet Tami Rose: The Woman Who Sells Mississippians Their Sex Toys
Hello, situation normies! Welcome to another edition of Smutty, a special section in Situation Normal where I put on my old trade reporter hat to bring you dispatches from the world of adult entertainment. Smutty stories are free, but I’d really appreciate it if you showed your support by picking up a copy of Not Safe for Work—a Chandleresque mystery disguised as a stoner comedy that’s very loosely based on my experience covering Porn Valley.
Meet Tami Rose: The Woman Who Sells Mississippians Their Sex Toys
It’s safe to say that Tami Rose sells more sex toys than anyone else in the state of Mississippi. Her store, Romantic Adventures, isn’t just the only adult novelty retailer in Jackson, it’s the only store of its kind within one hundred miles of The Magnolia State’s capital and most populous city.
On the one hand, Romantic Adventures sticks out like a sore thumb in a place like Mississippi. “We’re the buckle of the Bible belt,” Rose told me, adding that she’s used to pushback from local law enforcement, religious leaders, and certain elements in her community. But on the other hand, Romantic Adventures is a very popular store—a fact Rose seems to take with a mix of pragmatism, humor, irony, and frustration. “I do more $1 million a year in sales,” Rose said, “so someone here likes me.”
Back in my trade reporter days, I would’ve focused on the bottom line at Romantic Adventures, and maybe written a little about the legal challenges of operating an adult novelty store in a conservative state. Those kinds of stories were standard for my beat back then. But these days, I’m more interested in the human stories you find in the adult entertainment industry. That’s why I called Tami Rose and asked her to tell me everything. Lucky for us, Tami is a hoot, and she loves talking about her unique place in the world.
The conversation with Tami Rose has been edited for clarity and flow. My questions are in bold. Tami’s responses are in plain text. Please enjoy!
How did you become the owner of Romantic Adventures? What’s the story?
I was a licensed massage therapist, and I owned a day spa in town. Unfortunately, The Great Recession did us in. Actually, that was bad, but the [Deepwater Horizon] oil spill in the Gulf was even worse. I watched 12 spas in town close before I closed my spa.
The man I was dating at the time owned Romantic Adventures. I needed something to do, so I just showed up. I was free labor. I started working the desk, and within a week, I spotted a big business problem. There was a bookkeeping mistake that was costing the business about $100,000 a year.
That’s a lot of money! What was the mistake?
In a word: fuzzy handcuffs.
I think that’s two words.
Yeah, that’s true. Fuzzy handcuffs were the red flag. To be fair, point-of-sale systems can be complicated, and ten years ago they weren’t very user friendly. Anyway, nobody working there at the time knew how to run the point-of-sale system, so they were making this cumulative mistake and didn’t even realize it.
The problem was that they had entered the cost for a particular item, like fuzzy handcuffs, but they didn’t update that information. So the cost would go up, because costs almost always go up, but they didn’t raise the price. Basically, the margins were shrinking, and they didn’t even realize it. They were actually selling fuzzy handcuffs at a loss.
Now, that I own the store, I handle all the pricing myself. I keep the margins the same, so if I can get a product for less, I pass the savings on to my customers. But I keep a close eye on those margins!
I realize they were the red flag, but if that’s the item that alerted you to the problem, fuzzy handcuffs must be a popular seller, right?
Oh my god, yes! I’ve sold so many fuzzy handcuffs over the years. You know the scene in Star Wars where they’re getting smooshed in the trash compactor?
Yes, I sure do.
That’s my recurring nightmare. I’m in the trash compactor on the Death Star. Only instead of, you know, space trash, I’m buried up to my eyeballs in fuzzy handcuffs, and the walls are closing in to squash me.
How did you go from free labor and spotting the fuzzy handcuff snafu to owner of Romantic Adventures?
I bought out my ex. We tussled over the price for about two years, but he wanted out, and I knew it. His brother was a dreamer and a serial entrepreneur, and my ex was an engineer. I guess they thought this was easy money, but they really didn’t think about the people factor. He was ashamed of his business, and that showed up in the way the store ran in those days.
It sounds like you have tons of passion for your business and zero shame?
Absolutely. The secret is, you have to love people. I love people. And as a former massage therapist, I’m used to people telling me their deepest secrets. It’s normal for me to have those intimate conversations, even if the person I’m talking to is ashamed of the topic.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to women who don’t know where their clit is. I’m just really comfortable having those conversations. I don’t judge. I’m here to help, to educate. But I also hire a diverse staff. Nobody is a carbon copy of me here. My staff includes men, women, and trans people. We are different races, different sexualities, different body types. I hire that way because I want to make sure that whoever comes in the door can find someone they feel comfortable talking to.
Can you tell me a little more about your customers?
Oh boy. Where to start? We get all kinds of people. But I think what you’re getting at is that the typical customer in Jackson, Mississippi is a little different from the typical customer in a big city like New York, or Los Angeles.
Yup. That’s what I’m getting at.
Believe it or not, we have some folks who sit in the parking lot working up the courage to come in. They’re embarrassed, or ashamed, I guess.
A lot of people come in and do a lap, but then they go right to what they’re looking for, as if they didn’t want us to know that’s what they came here to get. That’s fine. We’re not judging. But if you do this every time you come in, who are you kidding?
There’s a lot of shame in this community when it comes to sex. Some of that is small towns. Some of that is religion. But a lot of it comes from the fact that we just don’t do sex education in this state. That’s a problem because sex is part of life, and so many people here don’t feel like they have a place to go with questions about their bodies and what gives them pleasure.
And Romantic Adventures is that place?
I hope so! But we’re different from stores you might find in a big city. For example, our store is in a building that used to be a roadside motel, so there are two wings. It just didn’t make sense to remodel and connect the two wings, so instead I created a women’s section and a men’s section. Customers are free to go anywhere they like, but most of the couples who come in split up to shop. The wife will send her husband in one direction, and she’ll go in the other direction. Then they’ll meet at the register. That’s Mississippi for you!
What’s the biggest misconception you hear about your store?
The biggest misconception is that the people who shop here are super-freaky. They’re not. They’re average, everyday people. And here’s the thing: we’re all getting older, OK? We’re one of the fattest states in the country, and our country is one of the fattest nations in the world. We don’t do sex education. We have lousy healthcare. These issues impact people’s lives in every way, and that includes their sex lives. People assume my typical customer is super-freaky, but the reality is they’re just regular people dealing with a lot of the issues I mentioned. They shop here because they’re trying to make their sex lives just a little better.
I imagine you talk to other retailers, as well as wholesalers and manufacturers. Are the sex lives of Mississippians different from the sex lives of Californians or New Yorkers, or are people pretty much just people no matter where you are?
It’s interesting. We are the hospitality state. There’s a ton of swingers events here. We see swingers all the time. San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles rock fetish very strong. I love fetish! I’m Portuguese, and I come from a family that made leather. I love leather! But I don’t sell much leather because fetish isn’t a big thing in Mississippi.
I sell a lot of supplements. A lot of customers come in on a Friday or Saturday night to buy supplements to help them perform. Then there are the swingers. They buy a lot of supplements because they wanna go all night. When I started in this business, I thought that of all my customers, it would be the swingers who would be open to kink and fetish. But that hasn’t been the case. I tried sell them leather, or S&M, but I got a lot of, not for me, thanks.
I’m sure there are super-freaky people in Mississippi, but they’re making their own stuff, or buying it online. They’re not coming here because I just don’t have enough demand to stock what they’re looking for.
Aside from supplements, what are some of your best sellers?
The category that’s seen the biggest increase recently are male “masturbators.” The category ranges from the handheld classics like the “pocket pussy,” all the way to full-on sex dolls. There are also automatic masturbators that do all the work—well most of it, anyway—for you.
For women, there used to be this media cycle where a magazine like Cosmo would write about a particular sex toy, and that’s what everyone wanted. But these days, TikTok is way more important. That app is like nothing I’ve ever seen in terms of driving sales. Everyone wants the Rose vibrator because there are so many women raving about it on TikTok. It helps that the women talking about it on TikTok are saying things like, I used it, and in thirty seconds, I had the best orgasm ever. That’ll get a woman’s attention. Of course, I like the fact that it’s called the Rose because I’m Tami Rose.
But there’s usually a larger cultural trend behind a best seller. Back when Fifty Shades of Grey came out, we had all these submissive men come in and say, my wife sent me here for… Only they didn’t know what to call them.
What were they asking for? I never saw Fifty Shades of Grey.
Ben Wa balls. Every adult novelty store in the country had exactly one set of Ben Wa balls at the time. They were sitting on the counter collecting dust. But then Fifty Shades of Grey hit, and suddenly everyone wanted Ben Wa balls! I couldn’t find enough Ben Wa balls to meet demand.
What did you do? How did you source all those Ben Wa balls?
Well, at the time I had an engineer in my back pocket. I had my partner draw up specs, and I thought, these are basically ball bearings. So I called up some manufacturers in Detroit, sent them the specs, and asked how much? They quoted me a great price for barrels full of them. We bought the ball bearings and repacked them as Ben Wa balls.
Have you ever been wrong about a product? Like, you thought something would sell really well, but it ended up being a flop?
Oh god, this happens all the time! One of my vendors had a party in New Orleans where we had a jazz funeral with a casket full of sex toys that didn’t sell. That was a lot of fun, actually.
We had a product once that turned a regular bath tub into a Jacuzzi tub. It wasn’t necessarily a sex toy, I guess. But it was a sexy thing, and I thought, I’d love a Jacuzzi, I’ll bet everyone would.
But they didn’t?
Nope. Maybe it was the packaging. In retrospect, it looked more like a piece of plumbing equipment than a sex toy. So maybe people just didn’t get it. Or, maybe people don’t like a Jacuzzi as much as I do.
It must be challenging to put aside your own ideas of what’s sexy and buy inventory that’ll meet the needs of, well, everyone.
Everyone has blindspots and biases, including me. When I first bought the store, I had a manager who thought she knew everything about our customers. But I wasn’t so sure, so I ran a test.
I gave her six feet of wall space to do what she thought was best, and I chose the inventory for another six feet. She chose specific items she just knew would sell. I went with a package the wholesaler put together because it had a cohesive look. The look of the display is very important in retail. Anyway, I didn’t even know what some of the toys were that I had ordered, but my section sold 1.8 times faster than her section. There’s a lesson there.
What’s the lesson?
You can’t look at someone and think you know for sure what they’re into. If you think that way, you’re fooling yourself. It’s a big wide world out there, and I need all the sprinkles in the rainbow for everyone.
But even someone in the pleasure business can’t please everyone, right? Can you tell us about some of the pushback you’ve gotten?
No, you can’t please everyone. One local politician was giving us a hard time. His girlfriend—not not his wife, mind you—came in and told us all about him. Jackson is a small town.
I do a lot of local radio ads to get the word out about the store. It’s always my voice. The tone of the ads is friendly, but they don’t scream sex. I want folks to know we’re here and we’re part of the community.
[Please click the Play button to hear Tami’s Sumthin’ Sumthin’ ad]
Another one of my ads is a spot I run every Memorial Day. We get a lot of good responses from that ad, but it’s not a sales pitch. I’m a Navy veteran and a widow of a Navy veteran, so the ad is just about me wanting to recognize the sacrifices our veterans make for us on Memorial Day. People really respond to that, and it’s a way of reminding folks that we’re a part of the community, just like other stores they frequent.
[Please click the Play button to hear Tami’s Memorial Day ad]
At the end of the day, Jackson is a small town. It helps a lot that people can hear my voice and know that I’m a real person, just like them.
Does the small town thing make it difficult on your personal life?
Yeah, it does, unfortunately. When people ask me what I do, I say I run a boutique. I have about five layers of questions before I tell new people what I really do. I can’t date in Jackson. Too many judgmental men around here. They’ll come into my store and buy something for their own pleasure, but they wouldn’t want to be seen with the woman who sells them their sex toys. It’s kind of sad, actually. But I’m not sad. I have a great relationship, but it’s a long-distance relationship.
What about the rest of your social life? Is it difficult to make friends?
I have plenty of friends. But when I’m trying to do stuff around town, I have to be on my guard. One time, I went to a painting class. There was this woman saying all kinds of awful stuff about my store. That was annoying, but honestly I felt bad for her. She was divorced. Her husband had an affair. Either her husband bought something at my store for his affair, or she thought he bought something from me. It didn’t really matter. She was hurt. It was easier for her to blame my store for what happened with her marriage.
But it’s more than just judgy people talking trash. You’ve faced legal challenges because of Romantic Adventures. Can you tell us about that?
Around the time I took over Romantic Adventures, the Baptist church went after us. They have a lot of influence, so that put pressure on the sheriff. He came in and seized $50,000 worth of toys off my wall. We tussled for a few years, but the case went nowhere. After a lot of legal back and forth, it came down to this question of whether or not sex toys are Constitutionally protected. Thankfully, the 5th Circuit had ruled in a different case that sex toys are protected under the 14th Amendment. That was a Texas case, but we’re in the same federal circuit, so that’s the law at the federal level here. But it’s still technically a state crime in Mississippi to sell a device that’s made for stimulating genitals.
Did you get your inventory back?
Are you kidding? No, I didn’t get anything back. I heard through the grapevine that the toys all went to the wives and moms of local enforcement.
After the leaked Supreme Court opinion in the Dobbs case, you wrote an op-ed in the Daily Beast. Can we talk about that?
Yes, I’d love to. This is really important.
OK, for context, a little after the leaked opinion the Court published the actual opinion in Dobbs, and that overturned Roe. A lot of the conversation that followed was about abortion for obvious reasons. But in your op-ed you made the point that there’s a broader attack aimed at everyone’s sex life, because the rights that protect our sex lives are grounded in the 14th amendment. Here’s a quote from your op-ed:
I have had government agents come in and seize toys off the wall as evidence in a case we tussled over for two-plus years. The only reason I have toys on the walls at all is that they were placed under the protection of the 14th Amendment by a case in Texas which is also in the Fifth Circuit.
The 14th Amendment is more important than you think.
This decision as leaked from the Supreme Court will wipe out the porn industry and the sex-toy industry in this country—not to mention rolling back our civilization by 200 years.
I’m not sure most people see the connection between what happened in Dobbs and their sex lives. Can you help us make the connection?
When Dobbs came down, shit got dark in my store. On one level, I’m worried about my own liberty. I’m putting my life at risk for sex. That’s really absurd, but it’s also terrifying.
Now, the legal risk for this business has always been there, but back when the 5th Circuit said sex toys were Constitutionally protected, that felt like a step in the right direction. I was still at risk of prosecution, and my business was still at risk of prosecution, but the law seemed to be heading the right direction. Now, it’s going in the wrong direction, and that’s very scary.
What about your customers? Do they see the connection between Dobbs and their sex lives?
Yes and no. People who can get pregnant understand that they can’t get an abortion in Mississippi. So that really changes our sex lives. I’ve seen a big uptick in questions about anal sex, not because it’s suddenly popular, but because it’s seen as a way to have sex without risking pregnancy. We’re doing a lot of education about anal sex. Think about that for a second. There’s something that gives you pleasure, but a court changes the law, and now your sex life is a very different thing. That’s crazy, and that sounds like the opposite of freedom to me.
Some of my female customers make the connection on that level. Like, they think, I better not get pregnant, so what kinds of sex can I have that’ll keep me from getting pregnant? That’s the thought process. But I don’t think they see Dobbs as a broader attack on their sex lives. That’s a more difficult connection to make.
What about the men?
It came as a big shock to the men of this state that an abortion ban would affect their sex lives at all, but it does. I don’t think my male customers understand the connection at all.
One of the things you mentioned in your op-ed is that it broke your heart that the Dobbs case came out of Mississippi. Do your customers make the connection between the laws affecting their sex lives and the politicians they elect to represent them?
I’m a liberal. That’s no secret. And my employees are liberal too. Our customers are major Trumpers, for the most part. The thing you have to understand, though, is that politics is a lot like football down here. You gotta pick a team. Everyone has a team. Someone to root for, or root against. But for most people, politics doesn’t go any deeper than that. They wear a MAGA hat, or put a Trump bumper sticker on their truck, but there isn’t much to say beyond that. We don’t really have political conversations. And it’s not like I’m talking politics while I’m selling you a dildo or some supplements. Honestly, though, I think what’s happening with cases like Dobbs goes much deeper than politics.
Well, there’s clearly an anti-woman, anti-sex agenda at work in our politics. But fundamentally, this is a rejection of pleasure, specifically pleasure for women and other marginalized groups. It’s backwards thinking that feels hundreds of years old. Personally, I think it’s worth asking the people pushing this agenda, what’s happened in your life that you’re afraid to feel pleasure and so quick to deny it to others?
We all have masks that we wear based on what other people think, or based on what we think other people will think of us. I wear a mask. You wear a mask. We all do. For some people, it’s all about putting on a hateful mask, but what’s underneath that mask? A lot of pain is my guess.
You know, there’s a saying that goes: what you resist, persists. You can’t legislate pleasure out of existence. But I see a lot of shame in this country, a lot of immaturity. America is a young country. In a lot of ways, it feels like we’re still in puberty, and because we’re not great at talking about sex, or doing sex education, America is having a really rough time with puberty.
Let’s end on a silly note that maybe speaks to some of that pubescent energy you mentioned. I noticed that Romantic Adventures has good online reviews. But one common complaint from negative reviewers is that you can’t return sex toys. Are those people for real?
Some people are nuts. Of course, you can’t return sex toys. Duh. It’s a health and hygiene thing. It’s also super weird. Nobody wants a used sex toy! But every now and then we get someone who wants to do a return. They get real loud and obnoxious. I’m talking Walmart-level loud and obnoxious. But that’s retail. You see some crazy shit go down in any retail business. Most of my customers are great, and like I said, they’re just regular people trying to make their sex lives a little better.
If you want to out Romantic Adventures, you can visit the store’s website, or book a trip to the Hospitality State and say hello IRL!
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Stick around and chat!
Usually, this is the part where I ask you questions. But I already asked Tami a lot of questions. So, I’m leaving the comments open. Ask anything you like, tell me what you thought of this story, or just say hello. All I ask is that you be respectful in the comments section. Thanks!