BDSM and fetish items were once considered l’enfant terrible of the sex toys/pleasure products market. In the past, many people who visited a sex shop to purchase a vibrator, lubes, condoms or lingerie didn’t know what to make of floggers, ballgags, leather restraints, butt plugs, blindfolds or nipple clamps — that is, if the store even carried such items. But just as spanking, flogging and bondage scenes have become increasingly prominent at vanilla porn studios, BDSM and fetish sex toys have become increasingly prominent in the sex toys/pleasure products sector — and items that were considered scary or intimidating in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s are both profitable and mainstream in 2016.
Rebecca Weinberg, director of sales and marketing for XR Brands, said that 30 years ago, many sex shops were reluctant to carry BDSM or fetish products — whereas now, adult boutiques feature them prominently. “In 30 years, BDSM has steadily moved from being in the shadows of the novelty world straight into the mainstream spotlight,” Weinberg told XBIZ. “Back in the day, you couldn’t simply walk into your local sex shop and find BDSM products. Typically, you would have to visit a specialty store to even find any real BDSM products, which back then, usually catered to gay clientele.”
The sophistication has evolved with technology, creating more varieties of toys in a ways that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. -Andy Ptashnik, Rapture Novelties
Weinberg noted that with BDSM having become so mainstream, it was only natural for BDSM and fetish products to achieve prominence in the pleasure products/sex toys sector. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hollywood’s portrayal of BDSM was very dark and full of torture, while today’s BDSM is found all over the mainstream in a new light,” Weinberg explained. “From the big screen to the runway, BDSM themes can be spotted. It’s a moneymaker and a draw for their clientele. From Louis Vuitton handcuff-style purses to Absolut vodka ads to wine to, of course, the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movie — the list goes on — the media have helped open the minds of the consumer and have left them intrigued and interested in learning more.”
In 2016, BDSM and fetish products are plentiful both on e-commerce websites and in brick-and-mortar sex shops — and according to Weinberg, whether consumers choose a physical or online store for their kinkier purchases can have a lot to do with where they are based.
“Convenience is a key motivator in purchasing products,” Weinberg observed. “Here in Los Angeles, there are a lot of stores to choose from all within our city. So purchasing a toy in person is easy. For someone in a small town, there might not be a store that carries your desired level of BDSM products anywhere near you. You may prefer the convenience and privacy of purchasing everything online. The BDSM lifestyle can be a very private part of your life or a very open part. Everyone’s preferences are different for very different reasons.”
Rob Phaneuf, vice president of product development for Pipedream Products, said that not only is the word “fetish” not a turnoff for pleasure product consumers in 2016 — it has been an effective marketing tool with products like Pipedream’s Fetish Fantasy Series. Phaneuf told XBIZ: “Rihanna videos, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus — all have helped bring sexual liberation and fetish into acceptance.
And ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ helped introduce millions of housewives to a whole other realm they may not otherwise have explored. This demographic learned that, ‘Yes, it’s okay to get handcuffed and spanked.’”
Phaneuf continued, “Our traditional items like handcuffs, restraints and whips all continue to do well because of the newfound acceptance. There’s an entire BDSM collection in shopping malls that features all fetish products targeting the younger demographic.”
Phaneuf said that the word “fetish” now has such a positive connotation that Pipedream is applying the word to items that weren’t called fetish in the past — for example, electrosex products.
“For Pipedream,” Phaneuf said, “we’ve taken a lot of items that weren’t considered fetish — that people had fetishes about — and categorized them as fetish. And now, they’re considered fetish. Our Shock Therapy line is a classic example: we took a genre that wasn’t considered fetish but branded it fetish and created an entire Fetish Fantasy Shock Therapy line around electrosex.”
Andy Ptashnik, managing director of Rapture Novelties, said that the Internet and the digital revolution have done a lot to make BDSM and fetish products as ubiquitous as they have become.
“The sophistication has evolved with technology, creating more varieties of toys in a ways that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago,” Ptashnik told XBIZ. “The manufacturing of toys has also moved from only a cottage type of fabrication to factory manufacturing, resulting in more variety and economics of scale factors. Although the cottage or craftsperson type of manufacturer will always exist, the consumer has a much broader selection of products at several price levels. The channels of distribution have opened up; so a consumer has many outlets to shop, including online, brick-and-mortar stores that have become boutiques, and many more exhibit/trade-type events where products are sold. Twenty or 30 years ago, purchasing was limited to a few exhibit/trade events and the classic sleazy adult shop.”
In 2016, consumers of BDSM and fetish products are by no means monolithic, and they can range from professional dominatrixes and people who are heavily into the BDSM lifestyle to soccer moms who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” cover to cover. And how much people are willing to spend depends on their interests.
“With the advent of the Internet, people are more willing and adept at exploring alternative sexual ideas,” Ptashnik observed. “Plus, information and education about BDSM is keystrokes away from anyone. In the 1970s and 1980s, information about BDSM was only by word of mouth, confined to those lucky enough to hear about it in addition to a few adult store publications. This explosion in information and education has transcended into a much broader market for fetish/BDSM products as well as the whole genre in general.”