Since its origins in the 1970s, the novelty industry has grown as a result of ever-increasing, yet largely underground, consumer demand. Phil Harvey, president of Adam & Eve, recalls the response from his original clientele.
"My partner and I started an experiment in mail-order condoms in 1970," he said. "There was a substantial demand in the U.S., and nobody was filling it."
Harvey and his partner quickly recognized the potential for selling other sexually oriented merchandise, whereas attempts at marketing everyday items floundered. "But just as soon as we put in something with a little erotic appeal," Harvey said, "sales took off."
Since then, the market has grown by the expanded availability of merchandise and increasing sales revenue is evident.
"We might have had a dozen sex toys in our early catalogs, whereas now we might have 60 or 70 vibrators," Harvey said.
Last year, sex toys accounted for about 30 percent of Adam & Eve's $65 million in sales, according to Harvey. The company sold 15 million-20 million toys.
Today, wholesale and retail catalogs are flooded with a plethora of new products. Yet there are a few toys that have stood the test of time: old-school stocking stuffers Mom and Dad might have enjoyed on long winter nights.
"I think the G-Spot vibrator pretty much changed the way massagers were seen, as far as Adam & Eve is concerned," said Katy Zvolerin, director of public relations at Adam & Eve. "It's still hugely popular."
The G-Spot's signature "bent profile" marked a departure away from anatomically correct models. That trend has been brought up to date with the introduction of super high-end, aesthetically designed toys that look more like pieces of sculpture — some no bigger than a cellphone and manufactured from a wide spectrum of materials. Discreet and unintimidating for female consumers, these products are likely to grow in popularity at a time when the overall customer base for adult toys is 75 percent female.
Adam & Eve also offers Candida Royale's Natural Contours massagers and the Synergy vibrator, designed by The Sinclair Institute.
"When a vibrator is beautifully designed and looks classy, it has a much better chance of finding its way into mainstream catalogs and websites," said Harvey, describing the Synergy. Old favorites like the Rabbit vibrator (with its infamous appearance on HBO's "Sex in the City") and the Hitachi Magic Wand still enjoy plenty of marketplace action as well.
Dr. Carol Queen, noted sexologist at Good Vibrations, named the Hitachi Magic Wand as a personal favorite.
"If you want to go year-in and year-out in popularity, it's the Hitachi Magic Wand," said Coyote Days, senior toy buyer at Good Vibrations. "It is recommended by sex therapists because of its strength, and it's one of the strongest toys around."
Days foresees a new genre of vibrator with a product called the Laya. "It has become very popular with our customers," she said. Shaped to mimic the curvature of the hand, the Laya "sits over the mons area and the clitoris with maybe a little bit of labia stimulation, as well," she explained. It retails at Good Vibrations for $42.
As a retailer, Good Vibrations finds customer education and nonaggressive sales tactics are just as important to marketing as new design innovations, particularly around the holidays. "At GV, you can turn on the vibrators; they're not boxed up," Queen said. "And we interact in a nonpushy way with customers, to let them know we can help them make their choice if they get confused."
Websites like Vibratorsfaq.com also supply sex toy information online with frank answers to questions like, "Can I electrocute myself?" and, "If I use a vibrator, am I still a virgin?" as well as providing descriptions of popular sex toy styles.
And for the guys on your Christmas list, Good Vibrations offers "prostate awareness" that attracts another potential market: men interested in prostate health or looking for their "Pspot." The Aneros, a medically researched, ergonomically designed, hands-free prostate stimulator, is marketed specifically for men and is so popular that it has its own Yahoo users group.
For the more traditional male, TopCo Sales offers the Virtual Sex Stroker. "It's insightful to the needs of men," said Kaisa Janzen, public relations representative for TopCo. "It's an interactive program that comes with a masturbation device that actually hooks into your USB port. It's pretty limitless. Once it interfaces with the Internet, you can do a lot," she explained. "You can go online and get different scenarios. You can download new models and locations. The Stroker responds to the user, so let's say you thrust into it, the on-screen model works back with you."
And just like in real life, you have to warm the girl up, go through foreplay and give her compliments, Janzen said. Retailing for around $170, the software with accessories is less expensive than an Xbox, making it an ideal stocking stuffer.
And with holiday shoppers in mind, Janzen points out TopCo has a full line of body creams and lubricants, including favorites such as a gingerflavored lubricant and peppermint whipped body cream.
At Doc Johnson, CEO Ron Braverman cites the burgeoning female and couples market for dictating future trends in materials. "Women will choose [toys] based on color, size and the feel of the product," Braverman said. Items for couples are also "geared more towards the feel," he adds, with "a more realisticfeeling item than a more realistic- looking item."
Once well known for anatomical correctness, Doc Johnson continues to develop technological advances in materials and design. "One of the things we are working on very diligently is upgrading the entire quality of product itself," Braverman said, adding that several of Doc Johnson's classic items are being reworked in new materials.
Updating the Rabbit vibrator, Doc Johnson does its own take on interactivity with the HighJoy Enabled iVibe Rabbit. "This is an item you can actually use over the Internet, one-onone with your partner, when couples have got to be separated… or are just having a longdistance relationship," Braverman said. Customers also can use their iVibe Rabbit on the HighJoy.com website to hook up with other iVibe owners through personal ads and chatrooms.
In Grinch-like fashion, recent attempts at enforcing laws banning sex toys in states such as Alabama and Texas seem to have done little to put a chill on sales or revenue for adult novelties. "I don't think that it affects the purchasing public," Braverman said. "What it does affect? The freedom of individual people of that state to enjoy the freedoms that other states enjoy."
Harvey agreed. "Items designed to make the sexual experience more pleasurable are enjoying very strong markets " he said, "and that tends to be a more important generality, in my view, than leftover laws in three or four states."
Overall, it seems societal attitudes toward sex toys have turned from naughty to nice. "People are far more likely to call them 'sex toys,' than the old lingo that referred to them as 'marital aids,' and with that came a certain bias," Queen said. "In reality, the majority of people who buy and use them are almost certainly just into pleasure, play, exploration and indulgence."