USM alumni create sex-positive space
When imagining a sex shop, one may conjour an image of a shanty building on the far side of town with walls plastered with posters of pornstars and faulty fixtures flickering light in dark rooms. Its quiet, embarrassed clientele hover awkwardly in the isles.
Pepper’s Parties, Too! breaks the stereotype of adult novelty stores by offering experienced staff with knowledge on sexual health and a comfortable atmosphere. Owners Kathi “Pepper” Sherman and James “Dr. Pepper” Hubbard, alumni of The University of Southern Mississippi, share a passion for sexual education and help others achieve comfort in their romantic relationships.
Hubbard obtained a doctorate in research psychology from Southern Miss.
“I’ve done a lot of statistical consulting,” Hubbard said. “I’ve at least had one article, one presentation each year. My background is literally staying in the background [with] researching, publications and presentations.”
Sherman has a master’s degree in counselling psychology and said she uses her degree through Pepper’s Parties.
“I went into psychology because I wanted to help people,” Sherman said. “This i saway that I can do it most efficiently. I still feel like I practice psychology. I do a lot of counseling in the store – a lot of relationship counseling. Because I don’t have my license to do individual therapy, sometimes I’ll say, ‘You guys might want to go to counseling, then come back to me, and we can talk more about the sex part.’”
Sherman started doing in- home product demonstration parties for women 20 years ago. She said she approaches sex from a sexual wellness point of view.
Local erotica author Kim Jones said she first met Kathi at one of the parties.
“She’s not intimidating,” Jones said. “I don’t want to go in some places and say I’ve got a problem. You feel safe to talk about things around her. The first time I walked into Kathi and James’ store, I felt comfortable. It’s not like you’re in an adult store.”
Sherman said the parties led to a store out of her house that she and her husband never planned on having. Four years ago, the duo established Pepper’s Parties, Too! in Hattiesburg. Sherman and Hubbard plan to open a party store in Ellisville.
“I find that in Mississippi, because a lot of people have been sexually repressed, some people are very uneducated about sex,” Sherman said. “I get to teach them.”
Mississippi currently requires public schools to teach pro-abstinence sexual education in schools without requiring contraceptive education. Mississippi also does not require STD or HIV/AIDS education.
With this in mind, Sherman and Hubbard aim to educate the Bible Belt on how to have “safe, sane, consensual sex” and promote sexual wellness.
“There is a big difference between ‘selling sex toys’ and the interactions you see between Kathi and our staff,” Hubbard said. “I even do it. We’re providing information, that’s first and foremost, and we get the benefit of being able to make a living. We’re not just the clerk selling sex toys.”
Sherman said her staff is very well-trained and knowledgeable.
“We have sex experts that we attend [meetings] with,” Sherman said. “[James and I] might view one of their training sessions online, and then the staff has to watch that training session. It can be about any sex topic, sometimes things that aren’t so popular or uncomfortable to talk about.”
Sherman and Hubbard offer more than a way to fully express sexuality. With the knowledge to educate anyone who walks through their doors, they create a sex-positive environment conducive for spreading information about sexual health and wellness.