Burning Man erotica shop sparks sexual discourse

The annual Burning Man event is a haven for free expression of all shapes and forms. For some attendees, that means building gigantic art installations. Others celebrate by matchmaking burners with potential soulmates. Or, by providing some stimulating materials to keep attendees entertained until that soulmate materializes.

Tim Schapker, a 58-year old graphic designer and artist living in Chicago, chose the last route.

Schapker originally thought up the idea of the Little Free Porn Shop after walking past a neighborhood Little Free Library. The idea grew from a joke into a project, and he built a small structure to house his illicit wares resembling the type of cute sidewalk fixture that might otherwise be stuffed with discarded Dan Brown novels. 

Schapker unveiled it last year at Burning Man, which he has been attending since 2009 with the Stag Camp, a group of about 80 burners who attend the festival “alone, but together.” Following the Burning Man principles of decommodification and gifting, everything in the library was free of charge (Schapker declined to say how much he spent on erotica, but the amount was substantial). The library proved to be wildly popular.

“Every day I was restocking it, and every morning it was empty,” Schapker told SFGATE.

The Little Free Porn Shop at Burning Man 2022.

Courtesy of Tim Schapker

Last year, the library was stocked with 500 products; this year it will be double that number, with even more diverse offerings sourced from Etsy, eBay, garage sales and even the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago, Schapker said.

“It’s not just magazines,” Schapker told SFGATE. “I also include erotic pulp fiction, sex self-help books, there’s comic books. I’ve been trying to purchase artist chapbooks. Greeting cards, stickers, coloring books, lingerie — I try to source from extra small to 4XL for a lot of different body shapes and body parts.”

Although many people who stopped by the shop just thought it was a clever joke, Schapker was surprised by how the cache of pornography led to so many deep conversations about sexuality. 

“There was one woman who was a porn actor who was getting kind of teary-eyed just looking at these old magazines and remembering what it was like for her to be a porn actor then, and the amount of condemnation,” Schapker said.

This year, Schapker’s expanded inventory will include some controversial literary offerings like “Venus in Furs,” “The Story of O” and the works of libertine French writer the Marquis de Sade. He’s hoping that the materials once again spark the type of enlightening connections that are hard to otherwise hard to come by.

“That’s the magic of Burning Man — it provides you opportunities that you never thought you would have,” he said.

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