Despite the eyebrow-raising merchandise sold at the Safe Sex Store, a lot of which can’t be named here, Beth Karmeisool’s store on South U has functioned mainly as a social services clinic and clearinghouse for sexual health. HIV was the issue of the day when she opened twenty years ago. Her voice broke a few times describing what became her life’s work. When she started the store in Royal Oak, “It was the early Nineties. I was volunteering for an agency that worked with adolescents dying of AIDS. There was a lot of stigma around the disease and … there wasn’t any reliable and consistent information being disseminated. Or if it was, it was in a clinical, sterile environment. I wanted to have a friendly environment that welcomed all people regardless of age–you don’t have to be eighteen or older to come in here–and regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. A lot of tears have been shed here,” she says. “People become your family, and it’s a lot more than dollars and cents.” Aside from sex toys, she sells practical items like condoms and pregnancy test kits.

In 2009 she got her master’s in public health from U-M: “I wanted to increase credibility for my mission, for what S3 stands for.” She also is a Michigan certified sexual health counselor and HIV test counselor.

South U has become increasingly pricey real estate. “When I came into this location, it was affordable and available to me.” But she says her demographic is aging anyway, and she no longer needs the campus location. “Sexual health isn’t just about adolescents. A large percent of my customer base is now baby boomers. Menopause, prostate cancer, breast cancer, these all affect sexual health.”

The store will close by the end of October, but she’s not going out of business: she’ll continue to sell online, and blog, at She’s currently looking for a place to hold workshops on a quarterly basis. “I haven’t found one yet that feels right. I need rooms for private counseling, a setup that is sensitive to the needs of ‘guests,’ as I call them.