Read time: 6 minutes
This article is part of a month-long series about love and sex.
Darling Way is not a sex shop. Owner Beth Liebling is firm about that. It’s a boutique in Houston full of romantic treasures, elegant gifts, vintage books, gorgeous lingerie, and—yes, vibrators, handcuffs and artisan leather floggers.
“Sex shops are places people go to chase orgasms,” says Liebling, age 52. She’s more interested in love and romance, calling herself a “hopelessly optimistic romantic.”
Her shop sells romantic treasures, elegant gifts, vintage books, gorgeous lingerie, and—yes, vibrators, handcuffs and artisan leather floggers.
That attitude didn’t suit her well in her first career, as a divorce lawyer. She had gone into that profession with high ideals, thinking she might be able to help people. “I always hoped my work with clients would bring them to a better, happier place in their lives,” she says. “And maybe it did, kind of.” But still, so much heartbreak was hard on a romantic.
Then something even more heartbreaking happened: After twenty-two years of marriage and five children, she wound up getting a divorce herself.
As difficult as the process was, it was also liberating, allowing her to shuck her old self-image and think about reinvention. Liebling has turned her path and philosophy about romance and sex into a book called Love and Laughter: Sexy, Meaningful Fun For Everyone! Here she talks about her evolution.
How did you get the idea to start Darling Way?
At some point, I realized that throughout my entire law practice, I had never, ever, ever once heard someone ask for a divorce while they were also still enjoying a good, healthy sex life. (Yes, I did ask clients about this.) I started wondering: Was there anything I could do to help these people before their relationships got so bad? What if these couples had found ways to invigorate their marriage instead of end it? What if there were ways to help people keep having fun with each other, keep laughing with each other, and keep growing more intimate with one another—instead of growing apart?
I realized that through my entire law practice, I had never once heard someone ask for a divorce who was still enjoying a good, healthy sex life.
When I opened the shop in 2016, I knew exactly what I wanted it to be because I knew what I needed. I needed to feel sexy again. What I wanted was a place where a middle-aged woman—or any woman!—or anyone!—can go to feel sexy.
I wanted a place that celebrates beauty without airbrushing, a place that cares about romance in all its shapes and sizes, a place where curiosity about sex and bodies is safe and encouraged, a place that celebrates pleasure without shame.
What were some of the major obstacles you had to overcome to get the store open?
I didn’t know anything about retail. People said I was insane. No one could imagine how a shop could be respectable, tasteful, even elegant while promoting the joy of sexy fun. My bank of over twenty years refused to allow me to open a checking account for the business because they don’t like the “nature” of it.
It took me a year to find a landlord willing to rent to me.
It took me a year to find a landlord willing to rent to me because they were worried about what the neighbors would think. It’s still hard to convince people that it’s possible for sexy fun to be beautiful and uplifting. I have had my credit card processor shut down my account unexpectedly. I have had new vendors unwilling to sell their products to me. The challenge continues daily.
What was the reaction of family and friends to your desire to open Darling Way?
I have some friends and family who are very uncomfortable with my business and my forthright passion about it. To be fair, it is hard for me to be restrained when people ask me about it, and I can end up talking bluntly about a lot of things that have been deemed socially “taboo,” which some people find uncomfortable even if they are not active participants in the conversation. Unfortunately, this has caused divides that hurt on all sides.
Who is your typical customer?
There’s probably no typical customer except someone with a desire to rediscover romance. Even in the relatively short time since we’ve opened, I’ve seen so many people come into the shop and come to life! The transformation is incredibly motivating to me. I have sold vibrators and other romantic props to people of all ages, even couples in their 70s and 80s who still want to have sexy fun and intimacy even though one body or another doesn’t work the same as it used to. Being privy to people’s struggles and then invited to provide them with options and ideas to maintain or improve their romantic connection is one of the most meaningful rewards I could ask for.
How do you think you’re impacting lives through the store? What feedback do you get from clients?
I know absolutely that I am impacting lives through the shop and the book. I have seen romance rekindled, hope brought back to life, understanding dawn, and spouses laugh together after years of despair. Not only do I get rave reviews on sites like Google and Yelp, but I also get personal feedback that fuels my heart and passion like nothing else. I have babies born and credited to my help; I get thank you notes, texts and huge hugs from happier people.
How do you make clients comfortable buying items like sexy lingerie or sex toys for better sex?
This work is exactly what I was meant to do. And, at the risk of sounding cocky, I am really good at it. Not because I am perfect, but because I am sincere and honest. That’s why people are comfortable sharing their stories with me and allowing me to help them with intimate issues. I admit that I am just like them. I am damaged. I am insecure. I have loved and been heartbroken. I walk the same walk as I encourage others to do and I face the same risks. If I can do it, so can anyone.
I have sold vibrators and other romantic props to people of all ages, even couples in their 70s and 80s.
This is the way we are at Darling Way. We make people comfortable because we are authentic. We don’t fake things. We sincerely celebrate sexy fun, romance, love, hope, and beauty and find it in so many ways that others overlook. We encourage everyone to find their own turn on and indulge—whether that’s kissing in public that’s as exciting as all get out or candlelight and music in their bedroom or spanking. We never forget that loving wholeheartedly is the key to being a great lover.
Is there anything taboo for you?
My only big taboos are about consent (children and animals can’t ever give consent). Otherwise, I am happy accepting that what turns me on is weird to you and vice versa so let’s laugh together at how crazy we all are and how much fun it is to be this kind of sexy crazy. I am willing to share my own love stories whether they are good, bad, or embarrassing in the hopes that others feel comfortable sharing their own. I am willing to tackle even the darker sides of sex because I think to refuse is to give those issues more power than they deserve. Nothing is without risk or downside, but when we are more knowledgeable we can more fully enjoy the positives and minimize the negatives.
What do friends and family think about the store now?
It’s been an adjustment, but the people in my personal world have come to understand that Darling Way is truly an extension of me, so to love me is to also accept my passion and work. One completely unexpected surprise is that my oldest son and daughter-in-law now work full time with me at the shop and are amazing with clients. They share my passion for helping people with problems that others don’t even want to acknowledge.
What dreams and goals are you still aiming for with Darling Way? Where do you see the business going?
Over the next few years, I hope to open more Darling Way shops across the country. I want to help as many people as possible shift paradigms when it comes to how they see and value sex, romance, and intimate relations. I’ve created a concept that I call “Your Romantic Show,” which helps empower people to develop great sexy fun for the rest of their lives.
And I just came out with my book, which is another tool people can use to create more happiness. As one male reader explained, the book is “…sort of a sex language translator” so “men can discuss sex with their wives in a way that both can understand.”
I also have a radio show/podcast called “Love and Laughter with Beth” that airs weekly on ESPN Houston, and then lives on as a podcast. This show gives me the chance to openly talk about mating, dating, sex, and relationships with people across the world.