MJ Pullins ’94: Owner of Hubba Hubba
By Isabel Martinez ’24
Although Wellesley’s admission pamphlets like to stress how different and special Wellesley students are, there is one common denominator between us and all other college students: we’re thinking about sex. But how does our unique setting as a historically women’s college in a suburban oasis affect our sex lives? Stereotypes range from cultish lesbians to uptight prudes, to girls obsessed with finding their Harvard Husbands, each with varying degrees of truth.
One weekend, my friends and I were running on Mass Ave to catch the Local Motion — a shuttle that runs between Boston and Wellesley — when we came across a sex shop called Hubba Hubba, which, upon further investigation, is owned by a Wellesley alum, MJ Pullins ‘94. To find out more about her career journey, Wellesley experiences, and advice for current students, I sat down with MJ to discuss all things sex and relationships.
MJ is well versed in Wellesley students’ experiences over time because not only is she an alumna, but she also worked in Wellesley’s Alumnae Office before owning Hubba Hubba. MJ has fond memories of her time, saying “I loved my job, working with all the classes from 1935 to 2022. I loved everybody!”
But after years of working in the office, her clinical depression made it hard to continue at her job, so she resigned in 2018. At the same time, Hubba Hubba, founded as a punk-rock store in 1979, was in the process of being sold after the founder passed away in 2017. At a career crossroads and feeling that her age made her vulnerable in the workforce, MJ was ready to make a bold move: “I thought maybe I should buy the store!”
MJ did just that and re-opened the store in January 2019, spending the rest of that year re-building Hubba Hubba’s reputation. Reflecting on that period of time, she says: “We made it through the pandemic, we are bigger, and we are better! It has not been easy, but it’s a lot better than having someone tell you what to do.”
As the owner of a sex shop, MJ has gotten to help people from all walks of life, which she says is the best part of the job. “I get everything from the virgin who got married who needs help widening, to the 70-year-old man in Dockers, to the drag queen who’s looking for a new outfit.”
She gestures to a wall of Pleasers heels and tells me that lately, more sex workers have been shopping at Hubba Hubba. When asked about how her location affects her audience, she says, “Of course we get a lot of college kids coming in because of where we are. We don’t really have a target audience, we’re a little bit of something for everybody!”
MJ gushes about what she loves most about her job: helping to improve people’s lives. “I can actually sell someone something that will make their life better. It is the most fulfilling thing I can ever imagine doing, and that’s very sustaining. People can come in with any problem and I'm like, ‘I can make that better!’” She gestures around the store and explains that they sell a curated collection of toys and clothes, with no vulgar names and “nothing crass”. In terms of the organization of the store, there is no “men’s” or “women’s” section. In fact, she explains the intentionality behind it, saying “We keep it as generic as possible. Everyone can use every toy for whatever body.”
When I ask about any stigma she faces from owning Hubba Hubba, she is quick to assure me that the city of Cambridge and the residents of the community fully support her. She points behind the register and tells me that a Dunkin’ Donuts worker from across the street has a package back there that he’s coming to pick up after his shift. “For the people who live and work here, I make sure the store window is always G-rated because there are a lot of families who walk past, which is part of being in the neighborhood.” When I ask about how the Wellesley community has responded to her owning the store, she tells me that everyone has been very supportive and excited. “Most people are like, ‘That’s so cool!’, especially in the Wellesley Makers group.”
She attributes the lack of stigma to a change in people’s attitudes towards sex over the last decade. “Sexual health and awareness is not what it was. I think everyone at this moment can recognize how important and vital it is for your whole person. Masturbation improves your immune system, so it’s good for COVID! It’s also one of the best cures for dysmenorrhea, so if you have bad cramps, masturbate! I wish more people knew that; they actually make heated vibrators just for that purpose!”
While the stigma of sex is diminishing, it was alive and well during MJ’s years as a Wellesley student. “We never talked about sexual health. Nowadays you have the Sexual Health Educators (SHEs), but we never had anything like that. We were terrified of sex because we were living during the AIDS epidemic.”
As she tells me stories of her college years, it’s clear that we are still facing a lot of the same issues around sex and relationships today. When speaking of her own college experience, she describes external perspectives. “Everyone assumed we were all lesbians. But what’s interesting is that in my time, the proportion of people who were gay was minuscule, maybe 10%.”
During a semester at Wesleyan, MJ stayed in a house with 5 female Women’s Studies majors, and tells me about a frustrating conversation she had with a friend. “One of the women liked a guy and I told her to ask him out. She was like ‘I can’t ask him out’, and my brain literally exploded. Like, you don’t shave your armpits, you're a Women and Gender Studies major, just ask him out! And they’re all judging me because I’m in my pink little cashmere sweater and pearls and they’re like ‘You're just wrong’, and my brain is melting out of my ears!”
Clearly, MJ’s experience at Wellesley changed her views on sex and relationships in ways that her Wesleyan friends couldn’t understand within their traditional co-ed college environment. “The problem with a co-ed environment is that women will perform for men and will defer to them, which is why we still need historically women's colleges. I see couples shop, and the girlfriend defers to her boyfriend and asks him ‘Well, what do you think I should get?’” She explains that Wellesley makes it possible for women to not have to diminish themselves in order to be likable to men. “You get to pick and choose when you socialize, and you are now driving the bus and tend to be more aggressive. Like, ‘I don’t f*ckin’ have time, I have these 15 minutes allotted for socializing. I want you, and we're gonna do this, so let's do the thing.’”
MJ then explains how she made use of her very limited social time, proving that Wellesley students are excellent multi-taskers. “I could have a boyfriend at MIT, a boyfriend at Harvard, and a long-distance relationship, knowing they would never meet! I remember seeing Harvard on Friday, running to Boston, changing in a hotel room, going to MIT on Saturday, and coming home on the F*ck Truck Sunday morning, then calling long-distance on Sunday night.”
After hearing all of MJ’s incredible stories, I knew I had to hear what advice she had to offer today’s Wellesley students. On the whole, MJ thinks that Wellesley students need to loosen up, relax and remember that there’s life outside of classes. “This is your one chance to live life! Go see the city, go do sh*t, go to nightclubs, pretend you go to BU, wear slutty clothes, sleep around, piss off your neighbors in the dorms! Just do it! If you're not getting yelled at once a week by somebody, you’re not living right!” I jumped in, sharing that while I was uptight in high school, the pandemic shifted my perspective and made me re-assess my priorities regarding school, which she agreed with fervently.
Putting her forefinger and thumb together, she said, “You have this many minutes, and those could get taken away, and what have you done?” She tells me that after college, you don’t remember your classes or grades, but the times you went out of your comfort zone and the lessons learned from mistakes. “You remember lying on the bathroom floor wishing you hadn’t drunk liquor from a plastic bottle. Never drink liquor from a plastic bottle! Words of wisdom!”
MJ’s advice on sex and relationships reflects the lessons she learned from the stories she shared. On dating, she says “Maximize that time! Your job is to see what’s out there and figure out what you like. Dating is dating; you’re not committed. You need a buffet: a little of that and a little of that. Not one person needs to be all things — especially at this age, not everyone can be all things at all times. If one’s busy with midterms this week, go out with another one!”
She continues with candid sex advice: “Porn is a lie, if you saw it in porn, don’t do it! Don’t take yourself so seriously! Sex is supposed to be fun, you’re supposed to laugh! It’s a game, people forget it's a game and is supposed to be funny! These are our grown up versions of games, that’s why we call it play, and these are toys. I work in a toy store for adults!”
MJ also recommends students do research on things they have questions about, but to be careful and use reputable sources like kinkly.com. “Come in and ask any questions you want! We love talking about this stuff and educating people!” If you need an added incentive to come in and look around, Hubba Hubba has a discount code for Wellesley students and alums. When you drop by, be sure to use code GALENSTONE!
After talking with MJ, I had a renewed sense of gratitude for my position as a Wellesley student. While our experiences with sex and relationships may differ from most college students’, stories like MJ’s make me think that ours are also more special because of our unique situation. As I left Hubba Hubba, I checked my Tinder and Bumble messages and wrote myself a note to buy another Local Motion punch pass.