Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm
Ten years ago, Ellen Barnard, a social worker, and Dr. Myrtle Wilhite opened A Woman’s Touch, a retail store in Madison offering education on sexual health. Buoyed by the success of the Madison store, they branched out and opened a Milwaukee store at 200 N. Jefferson St. in the Historic Third Ward last year.
The store provides an education-through-retail concept for women and men, Barnard and Wilhite said. The store sells books, sensation play toys, candles, sexual enhancements, greeting cards, jewelry and lingerie.
Through the store, Barnard and Wilhite offer information on sexual health for women from youth to beyond menopause, sexual and relationship education for any kind of consensual adult relationship and instructional classes that are designed to be both fun and informative.
“It is not about us, and it doesn’t have to be,” Wilhite said. “Whoever you are and whatever you are looking for, as long as it is adult and consensual.”
Classes at the store include: Rediscovering and Restoring Sexuality After Breast Cancer; Middle Eastern Belly dance; Couples Massage; Our Beautiful Female Bodies: A Body Image Workshop for Women; and Chocolate Tasting with “Dr. Chocolate.”
“The original vision was to own a nice sex shop, because 11 years ago, nothing like that existed,” Barnard said. “Within six months, it became a lot more.”
Barnard has taught sex education since she was a teenager and before she started A Woman’s Touch, she served as a social worker and taught sexuality issues to people with disabilities. She has served as a sex counselor and sex coach for about 14 years and holds a master’s degree in social science work.
Wilhite is a physician specializing in internal medicine and general wellness with a master’s degree in public health. She has given up her medical practice to be able to focus on her company and educating the masses on sexual health.
“When you attain a state of sexual health, you are contributing to your psychological health,” Barnard said.
A Woman’s Touch has evolved into a resource center where many individuals recovering from cancer or people who have been diagnosed with a sexual dysfunction go for non-medical options to restore or improve sexual health.
A Woman’s Touch often works with post cervical cancer and breast cancer patients to find solutions that do not involve hormones but allow them to recuperate their muscle tissue, Wilhite said.
“There are many practical, non-medical things you can do,” Wilhite said.
However, the resource center’s education does not stop there. Many people have issues with their sexual health and have not been diagnosed with a sexual dysfunction. Many have not even talked about their problems with their partners or their doctors.
“Twenty to forty percent of people with sexual issues will bring them up to a health care practitioner,” Wilhite said. “We have learned that most health care workers have almost no training in sexual health. So, we tell the doctors and nurses where to send people when they ask.”
Wilhite and Barnard currently partner with 52 health care providers in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. A Woman’s Touch sends the providers brochures, newsletters and samples of lubricant to hand out to patients when the subjects are brought up, whether the issue is the libido, or painful or unfulfilling sexual intercourse, Barnard said.
“We have had a great partnership (with the providers), and they have been very supportive,” Barnard said.
In addition to newsletters, samples and brochures, A Woman’s Touch has put packages together for menopausal women and provides ways to help women get through menopause that are non-medical, Barnard said.
“We are in the process of developing an extensive training program to help health care providers to set up a sexual program,” Wilhite said. “We can teach them how to talk to people about sex and what things matter, what things don’t matter. We can fill a hole in the system.”
Wilhite has developed a lubricant made of a simple formula that A Woman’s Touch plans to package in nontoxic bottles and sell through its second company, Lotions Ltd. The new company was created when Barnard and Wilhite became wholesale distributors of Liquid Silk, a lubricant manufactured by Bodywise Ltd., based in the United Kingdom.
A Woman’s Touch currently has 13 employees. With the Madison and Milwaukee stores and Lotions Ltd. combined, A Woman’s Touch has about $1.25 million in annual revenue, and the company is growing, Wilhite said.
“We want to continue to expand, reaching people with questions and informing them on how to improve their sexual health,” Barnard said. “Our goal is to get more people to know about the store.”
The Milwaukee location is in a 3,300-square-foot space leased from Milwaukee-based Wellston Properties, Barnard said. A Woman’s Touch plans to lease a room in the space to a sex coach for private conversations with individuals and couples, Barnard said.
“We have an interest in helping to fill the advocacy niche between the health care system and individuals’ questions,” Wilhite said. “People ask questions but they don’t get information. Those questions can be answered. We can help (doctors) be better health care providers and if consumers know to ask questions, the two groups can interface better together.”