Mainstreaming of BDSM Broadens Category, Consumer Reach
It’s been just more than 30 years since Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke lit the silver screen on fire in “9 ½ Weeks” with the film’s underlying themes of BDSM. And more than a decade since a young and unknown Maggie Gyllenhal was spanked by her boss James Spader in “Secretary.” Since then, BDSM seems to have graduated from the underground to full-fledged mainstream.
“One of the most visible catalysts for the public’s growing acceptance of BDSM has been the media,” says Chad Braverman, Doc Johnson COO/CCO. “In the past five to 10 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in press coverage and mainstream portrayals of BDSM on multiple platforms — in movies and TV shows, pop culture and the media. BDSM’s increased exposure has introduced millions of people to more open communication about sexuality, new ideas for sexual connection, and the world of sex toys in general. But BDSM as a category has most definitely enjoyed the most growth during this time.”
Within the last five years, British author E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” outsold J.K. Rowling’s entire “Harry Potter” book series on Amazon.co.uk; and a year ago consumers spent more than $500 million worldwide to see the film adaptions of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. The book/film franchise even spurred the term “mommy porn” as viewers learned all about the male lead Christian Grey’s red room where he doled out dominance and sadism to Anastasia Steel.
“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ successfully awakened an entire population to the pleasures of BDSM,” says Sunny Rodgers, brand manager and sexual health expert at Diamond Products (Pipedream Products, Sir Richard’s and Jimmyjane.) “Although the fanfare has leveled off since the film release, I foresee the segment of BDSM continuing to grow and thrive in the years to come, mainly due to ‘Fifty Shades’ making the fetish lifestyle hot, sexy and overly appealing. The content in both the books and the movies illustrated the sensual boost BDSM can bring to a relationship.”
“The media is a powerful influencer, adds Braverman. “Positive portrayals of sex toys, and experiences of sexual pleasure in general, have gone a long way in helping to destigmatize and promote acceptance of our industry; and while the advent of online shopping has been tremendously positive for our industry as a whole, pleasure product shoppers will always be attracted to going into brick-and-mortar stores, due to the nature of the product. There’s still a wide demographic of people who want to feel, touch and see the power of the item in person before they make a purchase; and many of the people who were unwilling to walk into a sex shop 10 years ago, might feel much more open to doing so today.”
The mainstream flip has driven the market for BDSM-related products way, way up. And manufacturers have stayed current and competitive for their customers at every level.
“We believe in offering products to every consumer,” says Joanne Queenin, executive administrator for Sportsheets International. “So we have a Good, Better and Best model of products. Our ‘Good’ category is Sex & Mischief for customers who are ready to experiment, want something basic and high-quality but not too scary. This line uses quality materials, is well-constructed and has introductory features. Our ‘Better’ line features Sportsheets and is designed for the consumer more committed to fantasy play and BDSM. This customer is looking for upgraded materials, extra features, expandability and a limited lifetime warranty and they are willing to pay for them. They are more brand conscious and come from all ages. Then we have the ‘Best’ line which is called Edge. It’s geared to those that are looking for the best and are usually experienced in bondage, they often own Sportsheets products, they are leather lovers and they are highly experimental. Edge is made of superior materials, has increased durability, premium features and a limited lifetime warranty. We appeal both to those that don’t know anything about fantasy play and are beginners, to those that dabble or are a bit more sophisticated in what they want and are willing to pay for it, to those that are into high-end products.”
Retailers report that BDSM staples have been consistent hot-sellers and have not slowed down.
“Leather products like cuffs and paddles and rope have been hot for several years,” says Braverman. “We are also seeing that consumers are gradually starting to explore more niche BDSM/fetish products. Right now, our two fastest growing BDSM subcategories are nipple clamps and cock & ball accessories.”
“Our Pipedream Products’ Fetish Fantasy collections were introduced even before the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ phenomenon,” says Rodgers. “Steady sales and continued positive feedback for those lines show that BDSM will continue to flourish. Many fetish and BDSM products can be quite expensive, but Pipedream Products has kept a focus on top quality at affordable prices so that more consumers have the opportunity to try these sensory-stimulating pleasure products. We have BDSM products for every level and every price point.”
“Many of Pipedream Products’ Fetish Fantasy items are geared toward BDSM beginners, while Fetish Fantasy Extreme offers products for more experienced shoppers,” says Rodgers. “Our Sir Richard’s COMMAND Collection was recently released and features industrial-strength nylon, professional-grade stainless steel, and interchangeable BDSM designs that can appeal to a wide range of users. The perennial classic bestselling BDSM toys are most often the beginner items, such as handcuffs and blindfolds. These are entry items into the elegant world of BDSM. I think that’s one of the reasons why Goop recently featured our Jimmyjane Intro Bondage Set, which includes handcuffs, a blindfold and a paddle. I think our Pipedream Products’ Fetish Fantasy Series — International Couples Sex Machine will continue to be a bestseller due to being the first handheld portable sex machine that can be used by both men and women, simultaneously or separately. I predict that our Sir Richard’s COMMAND Collection will also be a huge success based on the quality of the products and the ability to customize fit and interchange components. We have some new Fetish Fantasy additions that we’ll be premiering at ANME in July that should really create a buzz with their innovation and creativity.”
With the increasing interest in BDSM and the innovativeness of manufacturers, BDSM gear is clearly here to stay. For retailers, comes another question — how do you successfully combine beginner products with the more sophisticated tastes of hardcore BDSM customers?
“The best sell-through happens when retailers invest in enough product and shelf space to tell the full brand story,” says Braverman. “The idea with Kink by Doc Johnson was to provide our customers with a complete range so that they weren’t just getting a Kink butt plug or a Kink fuck machine, but an entire wall of Kink to display in their store. whether brick-and-mortar or online, so that the end consumer would have access to the full Kink.com experience. For our Kink by Doc Johnson line, having the soft products grouped together with the edgier products is a benefit. It encourages shoppers to explore more unfamiliar territory, that they might find they are interested in, but might not have otherwise known existed. We’re very happy that our customers have been grasping the importance of carrying the complete range, which is in line with our original concept for the collection.”
For other manufacturers, consistent packaging and the message of the products provides retailers with ideal selling points.
“Pipedream Products’ Fetish Fantasy lines packaging and messaging is all very similar from soft bondage through extreme fetish, so all the collections can be displayed together in a uniform theme,” says Rodgers. “As far as mixing softer BDSM products with more advanced options, merchandising the edgier items toward the bottom of the wall display and the softer products at eye-level helps convey a solid message while still offering an assortment for all customer preferences. To help with merchandising, we offer our exclusive online Planogrammer system so that retailers can custom-design their own in-store BDSM displays. Even in a small store space our Planogrammer system allows retailers to create a unique income-producing display that can speak to customers and their individual BDSM needs.”
“Providing a wide array of BDSM products offers your customers more options to buy, and more opportunities to upsell,” says Rodgers. “Fans of a whip may be open to trying a flogger or paddle. Having more BDSM items that offer unique opportunities for sensory play will attract more return customers. Admirers of our Fetish Fantasy Series — Shock Therapy electro-stimulation products may also want to try the Fetish Fantasy Series — Deluxe Wartenberg Wheel. Many BDSM items are collectible and we created an appealing incentive for collecting our latest BDSM addition, the Sir Richard’s COMMAND Collection. Every COMMAND product is interchangeable via professional-grade carabiners so that customers can mix and match their COMMAND BDSM products for optimum versatility and enjoyment.”