Spotting industry trends in toys made for lesbians is hard — literally — as in hard penis-like products.
Although today’s novelties encompass everything from harnesses to safesex panties, the tried and true dildo reigns supreme, albeit with some new bells and whistles.
Right now, strapless strap-ons and strapless harnesses are the latest and most dominant trend in the lesbian toy market. —Cherise Romero, Company Account Manager, Eldorado Trading.
And with wider mainstream acceptance of same-sex couples and media attention like celebrity Ellen Degeneres’ Covergirl TV ads, consumers of dildo-like products are welcoming girl-on-girl goodies with open arms.
Creators of girl toys say the market has evolved to include new technologies, shapes, sizes, colors, accessories, and packaging but are all targeting the base of consumers who want their penis-substitutes packed with some panache.
Fun Factory’s Emilie Rosan says at the Dinah Shore lesbian vacation getaway in Palm Springs last March, her company observed a huge amount of interest in dildos and straps. “That’s the good old-fashioned way but it works great. We sold many dildos such as the Tiger, Magnum and the flexible The Share.”
In fact, the traditional product is so strong Fun Factory launched two new double-ended dildos at ANME in July, specially designed for female couples: the Sonic and the New Wave meant to be used in a “scissor position.” “We had female couples test our prototypes in three continents. The testers received a number of toy candidates we designed and had to pick the one they preferred, after using it,” Rosan notes.
The results reinforced the market segment’s love of dildos “They [the respondents] filled out comment sheets and I even interviewed some over the phone to get some feedback on their experience. This feedback helped us pick the designs that we would end up producing and selling,” Rosan says.
Fun Factory’s research spurred the company into expanding by making molds that give dildos a variety of textures, from “silky smooth” (Share product) to highly textured Amor (for more drag and sensation).
But sometimes dildos need a little help. That’s where harnesses — the most recent development in helping girls get off — have come into play.
Eldorado Trading Company account manager Cherise Romero says, “Right now, strapless strap-ons and strapless harnesses are the latest and most dominant trend in the lesbian toy market.”
“Tantus Feeldoe is one of the most popular strapless strap-ons, and with its variations, has done a lot to propel the popularity of these products. There are also new players in the market like RodeoH who have developed a dildo harness in the form of boxer briefs, which has been very successful,” she adds.
And RodeoH’s Jennifer Taylor agrees with Romero’s assessment, welcoming her creation’s popularity, but she doesn’t think her company’s products are part of a trend. She believes that the market is finally engaging with an alternative audience in a whole new way. “RodeoH has simply opened the conversational door. We want to be about creating experiences. So, I wonder if the products have changed and actually become ‘lesbian sex toys’ or are we simply targeting an audience that has truly been overlooked with some new toys and existing ones (which are actually for everybody).”
If anything, the “trend” according to Taylor, is finally engaging the consumer.
She maintains that women love to be acknowledged and represented in all their diversity. “By acknowledging diversity, it gives the business a vehicle to transform and grow a segment of their client base (they may already have) but really harness and leverage the buying power of that community by... ahem... acknowledging them and giving the consumer a vehicle to express their experiences and sentiments (i.e. via social media vessels),” she adds.
Liberator Inc. Executive Vice President Michael Kane, whose company produces the Valkyrie Harness, says he taps his “community of lesbians” who run the gamut from “traditional couples to queer,” for product intelligence and to get their pulse on new trends.
He says the market still wants a “skin colored and textured, double-ended toy,” that heightens intimacy. But he agrees that it’s important to consider opening up ideas to include what actually goes on in the minds and bedrooms of customers.
One of Liberator’s lesbian confidants notes the psychological impact for lesbians who want to embrace the male role. “Fabric and panty style harnesses are popping up, and Liberator has launched their own original line for the femme who wants to top with a toy. I can’t tell you how psychologically different it feels to pull on something that mimics men’s underwear versus something that mimics women’s underwear. The idea that women would want to look like men because they sport a penis suggests such a limited, hetero-normative approach to sexuality.”
Following that thinking, RodeoH’s Taylor listens intently to her market’s concerns so as not to pigeonhole her potential customers.
“The best thing about working a community is actually listening to the feedback and modifying your existing product as necessary with that same feedback. But, don’t stop there. Take it one step further and let your community know that you’ve changed. Let the consumer participate,” Taylor notes.
And that often means practicality as well as the promise of sexual fulfillment.
Kane says manufacturers need to consider how realistic textures and materials that can be sterilized are now key to the lesbian market, stressing that materials should be even more lightweight because harnesses simply cannot hold a dildo at an angle that doesn’t point south no matter what they are made of unless the actual toy is significantly curved upwards and is lightweight.
“When I designed the Valkyrie Panty Harnesses I was thinking of femme tops, but also included a Brazilian panty style that was easier to wear under clothes,” Kane explains. “It was also clear to me that it was easier for a woman to wear who doesn’t want frills, but also may not be into men’s underwear looks.”
Kane reveals that his company is now busy designing more adjustable panty styles, boyshort styles and a teddy to go with them. He says he’s also developed a “safer-sex panty” and a vibrating panty that is higher quality than most of what is on the market today.
But it’s not only penis-like products and accessories that are exciting consumers.
Adult novelty distributor Williams Trading Company’s Kelly Szwed points to the hand manipulated “Toy Two Our Way Dildo” as being very popular because it extends the length of the user’s own fingers which “enables a comfortable and secure reach while keeping the rest of the hand free for external stimulation.”
“While other toys can feel synthetic, this supple design allows you to feel your partner’s internal temperature, muscle contractions and climax,” she says, emphasizing the use of new manufacturing materials.
Eldorado’s Romero adds that both the 2 and 4 by Wet For Her, and finger and tongue vibes, are also very popular phallic-free lesbian products while Fun Factory’s Rosan says small external vibes that can fit in a harness (such as the Laya), and buttplugs are also products that continue to sell well.
And Liberator’s brain trust weighs in with the “Little Su” product that they say is “a brilliant product that’s fun for the wearer (for female to female frottage).”
“The We Vibe is also incredible for that use as well, and fits really well,” Liberator’s group says. “You can wear it behind a strap-on much easier than a bullet for comfort, and it is a great way to train a top to have an orgasm behind their strap-on or during frottage.”
But no matter how great or innovative a product may be, success depends on packaging and superior marketing efforts,” as RodeoH’s Taylor points out.
The Liberator crew says, “We don’t think any woman wants to buy a product in an opaque box with an image of a super tan porn model on it in a contorted position. We want to see the product and know that it will work for us, not that girl on the box who is obviously trying to get a man’s attention in a sea of orange-tan flesh in fluorescent-lighted stores. The package should be clean, show the product and give detailed information about contents and care.”
Rosan adds, “Our new packaging for ‘Couple Toys’ shows the product very clearly on the box. Toys designed for female couples need to look functional. There are less marketing tricks involved in selling these toys, no porn stars on the box, nothing that looks like a luxury gift box, etc.”
One of Liberator’s resident lesbian confidants sums it up by saying, “Marketing to ‘lesbians’ should be different of course than marketing to non-lesbians.” The key is creating an “affinity” for the product that the consumer can relate to.
“Knowing the ins and out of how people express themselves sartorially and sexually is key to developing this type of product and marketing. You have to know why they wear what they wear, and why they enjoy what they enjoy.”