opinion

Sex Toy Market Big and Changing

Joe D
I picked up a not-so-old copy of Inc. Magazine recently and read an article explaining why the adult sex toy market is growing by leaps and bounds. It claimed what surely those in the adult entertainment industry know - that sex toys are a $2 billion industry moving out of the shadows and right into your local shopping mall.

For this article, Inc.com interviewed some of the savvy toy industry entrepreneurs, many of them women, who are cashing in on America's more-and-more acceptable naughty side. America's sex toy retailers are proving there's more than one way to stimulate a flagging economy.

For decades, the U.S. sex toy market, which, excluding the porn industry as such, accounts for up to $2 billion in total adult industry sales every year, was dominated by a handful of big companies like Doc Johnson and Good Vibrations. But that's all changing thanks to a mix of e-commerce and a gradual shift in sexual attitudes among mainstream consumers.

"There's an extremely supportive environment out there compared to the competitiveness of the mainstream tech world," said Suki Dunham, the young co-owner of OhMiBod, a Greenland, N.H.-based vibrator company she and her husband launched in 2006. Dunham, a former marketer at Apple, used the Adult Entertainment Expo to unveil a new line of Naughtinanos, an iPhone-compatible device that vibrates in sync with a caller's voice.

A big problem faced by all adult industries is funding – from oppressive Visa and Mastercard policies to getting a bank loan for a sound business plan.

Pat Davis, the CEO of Passion Parties, a national sex toy supplier based in Las Vegas, told Inc. she has been turned away from banks and other small-business lenders on the grounds that their boards refuse to support pornography. She replied, “Neither do I -- our business is about education and we're very clear about who we are and what we're about."

Launched in the mid 1990s, Davis's company supplies kits and training to more than 20,000 independent counselors, who organize product promotions in homes across the nation (Imagine a Tupperware party for sex toys, wrote Inc.).

Davis said the parties offer a greater awareness of sexual aids among women who, like herself, are not comfortable going into their local sex shop. Even so, Davis added that women of all ages are far more sexually empowered than they were a generation ago -- and that is good for business. “I think shows like Sex in the City have made it far more open for women to look at these issues and speak more frankly about sex," she continued.

Still, Dunham told Inc. Magazine there is a bad stigma around the industry that many smaller sex toy retailers are hoping to clean up by ‘disassociating their products from porn.’ "The bigger companies used to be run by men and marketed to men," she said. But in the past few years alone, sex toys -- or pleasure products, as they're now often called -- have begun appearing on Amazon.com, Walgreens.com, and other mainstream shopping sites. At Fred Segal, a boutique department store in Los Angeles, shoppers can browse for sex toys while sipping a cappuccino.

As Davis put it, "We're empowering women from the bedroom to the bank."

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