Mainstream Eyes Novelty

Oliver Adams
You may have seen mainstream intimacy product manufacturer K-Y’s sexy new Yours + Mine lubricant advertising campaign that’s been airing on national television spots. Perhaps you’ve walked into a CVS and noticed Trojan’s vibrating ring condom or Durex’s line of Play vibes and lubes.

These new products from mainstream brands that you’d find in drugstores have prompted the question of just how much they’re encroaching upon the business built by traditional adult novelty manufacturers. Despite growing fears that these new offerings from K-Y, Durex, Trojan and other mainstream companies will steal their customers, many adult manufacturers are saying they’re not afraid of the competition — in fact they welcome it with open arms.

Keith Caggiano, vice president of The Screaming O, is one of the leading proponents for the new mainstream offerings.

“It’s terrific for us to have these guys with very long, credible reputations putting out these products,” Caggiano said. “I think the smart adult manufacturers should be smiling right now because [these companies are] taking the whole product and creating more mainstream acceptance, which will mean more business for the whole adult industry.”

Caggiano should know. The Screaming O unveiled a new line of products geared especially for convenience stores at the National Association of Convenience Stores tradeshow last year at the same time Durex launched its Play line of vibrators and specialty lubricants.

“They’re spending all the money and putting out all the awareness about it,” he said. “So our particular product category will already exist in drugstores.”

Al Bloom, director of marketing at California Exotic Novelties, concurs. “Doors are slowly opening; this is a first step, which is a good thing for the industry,” he said. “If anything, new users are being introduced to sex toys in a nonadult environment, and that’s good overall.”

This means opportunities for mainstream stores to openly stock and promote the sale of adult products may become more frequent, and adult retailers all agree this will strongly affect their businesses — for the better.

“We have not been ill affected by this, because we have a different customer base,” said Mark Franks, CEO of Castle Megastores. “The [person] that’s walking into Target isn’t going to walk into even the most couples-friendly adult store. But maybe if [a customer] becomes comfortable with these products because she’s been introduced to those products by CVS and Target, maybe she’ll come into our store and buy not only the products she’s comfortable with but also try some new things.”

The main factor adult manufacturers are banking on to maintain and improve their businesses is the superiority of their products. Most believe that once customers become accustomed to the idea of purchasing adult products to improve their sex lives, they’ll no doubt want higher-quality merchandise.

Alexander Giebel, owner of high-end lubricant manufacturer Pjur Group, sees the new market saturation as just another way to introduce customers to his product.

“It’s obvious that [mainstream manufacturers] have the financial muscles to bring their lubricants into the market, but quality-wise we’re on another star,” he said. “I think it’s generally good that lubricants are getting more awareness, and our job is to show the market that there is a difference in quality.”

In addition to lubricants and vibrating rings, Trojan has also unveiled a brand new fingertip vibrator that’s on sale at the Sexual Wellbeing section of and other online retail sites. Some might say that these new mainstream offerings are simply carbon copies of existing adult-brand products, but Franks believes that having the competition from mainstream companies with big advertising budgets will ultimately improve the overall state of adult products and retailers across the field.

‘The big problem is that everybody has something pretty similar to everybody else’s; there’s nobody coming out with the next iPod,” Franks said. “What I mean by that is, there’s nothing coming out that people don’t have that they don’t realize they need yet. We need more creative innovation, more products that will help to drive the market. There’s a lot of stuff coming out, but the market would be doing better if the people making these products were spending more time making better products, instead of just putting out volumes of similar items that keep diluting themselves and one another.”

For most, it appears that the competition from mainstream manufacturers will prove beneficial. Bloom likened the situation to the early 1980s when many in the adult industry feared that Hollywood, through large-scale home video distribution, would begin making adult movies and marketing them to mainstream audiences, effectively phasing out the adult industry. It never happened, and according to Bloom, adult businesses shouldn’t sweat this new foray by the mainstream, either.

“The face of adult products has certainly changed over the years, and consumers are much more open-minded,” he said. “Mainstream outlets are selling to new users and novices, and it will be many years before a full range selection at major mainstream retailers will begin to rival traditional adult outlets.”