What's the hottest new trend to hit the pleasure industry in an era of terrifying politics, wars on sexual freedom, and the glorification of guns? Simple: it’s orgasms.
Less than halfway into 2018, we’ve already seen abortion come close to abolition and human rights and safety stripped away from the LGBTQ+ community. These days, it’s difficult to even take out a modest sex toy advertisement on Facebook, much less secure net neutrality.
Consumers are much smarter and more concerned about saving money when making purchasing decisions. More designers, developers and manufacturers are thinking ‘customer first’ and developing to meet the needs of the consumer.
At the end of the day, we the (exhausted) people are just hoping for a damn good climax — at least before they’re declared illegal, too.
“It sounds funny, but one of the key things people are asking for is a product that actually delivers an orgasm,” says Lovehoney’s product manager Bonny Hall.
Much to politicians’ dismay, the pleasure industry came back with a bang in 2018. If there’s any industry that knows exactly how to thrive while battling lawsuits, jail time and hate from Big Brother, it’s one that was literally born of illegalities. This time around, though, we’re battling more than one-percenter cronies and lobbyists. Smart manufacturers are making sure over-hyped, under-delivering sex toys are as much a thing of the past as prohibition.
“This is a big change-over for quite a few brands who may have not had to worry about this in the past,” continues Hall. “Consumers are much smarter and more concerned about saving money when making purchasing decisions. More designers, developers and manufacturers are thinking ‘customer first’ and developing to meet the needs of the consumer.”
Although summer’s biggest trade show (the business-to-business ANME Founder’s extravaganza, for the uninitiated) has yet to commence until later this month, this year has seen a wider variety of orgasmic gear than the sex toy CEOs of yesteryear could have ever predicted. Overseas production has become more affordable than ever, and more regular folks are coming out of the kink closet, creating a prime opportunity for startups and old standards alike to delve into the kind of vibrator R&D that dreams are made of.
Coming in Colors
No doubt to the delight of retail merchandisers, the ol’ game of “how many colors of the exact same product can we sell to a single store?” is finally winding down.
As the industry has slowly learned the ropes of serving LGBTQ+ people and other atypical market niches that long went ignored, choosing silicone shades has become a more picky process that favors quality over quantity. Instead of the usual palette of 50 shades of pink and one starkly white shade of flesh tone, toy creators are using color to tell a story and make an impact.
“We’re seeing a lot of toys this year designed with bright colors and smooth silicone material, giving the products a welcoming yet luxurious look and feel,” says Nichole Grossman, director of marketing at CalExotics.
The company’s recently released California Dreaming line of revamped, rabbit-style vibrators is a prime example of color artistry at work. CalExotics chose just three summery shades — a soft yet vibrant yellow, a warm, light coral, and a dusty sunset purple — to accent this specially curated brand.
Each uniquely-hued toy features different technical functions, subtle changes in form, and individually designed packaging that plays to some of the most popular California fantasies.
Each vibrant bunny comes with its own special set of features, and coupled with CalExotic’s hazy images of SoCal summers, these vibes draw consumer eyes with their aesthetics just as much as their luxurious designs.
“Consumers can enjoy the San Francisco Sweetheart’s rocking shaft and flickering teaser, the Venice Vixen’s vibrating shaft and clitoral encaser, or the Beverly Hills Bunny’s internal beaded rotating shaft and bunny ear stimulator,” explains Grossman.
Lush palette choices that play like sweet candy for the eyes have been reflected across myriad brands this year. The Dodil, a silicone dildo with a heat-sensitive, moldable core, shines like the bluest ocean waters in a single shade option of teal green. The decision to build an entire brand around a single color was more like a well-timed statement than just another design aspect to consider.
“Ultimately gender wears a coat of many colors, as it is a diverse and lived experience for numerous people, who cannot or will not be labeled as either male or female,” writes the Dodil’s inventor Richard Almgren on his company’s blog.
Teal green is pretty to look at, but it’s ultimately the color’s gender-neutral vibe that has drawn consumers around the globe. Now that consumers have options, they’re choosing sex toy shades that speak to their generation’s progressive sexual values — and won’t turn off a potential partner, regardless of their gender identity.
“Let me tell you already who in the next decade won’t be buying sex toys stuffed into packages plastered with pink-ribboned, half-nude images labeled as “female sex toy,” writes Almgren. “That is my daughter and all her friends. Just as pretty much everyone else born on this side of the millennia.”
Tech on the Rise
“Finding new ways to use new technology, I think we’re all searching for those new sensations and new experiences to go with it,” comments Zabrina Law, trade marketing manager at LELO.
At this point in sex toy history, it’s almost impossible to separate sex tech from modern design. With the exception of completely motorless toys and the occasional three-dollar, “watch battery-style” bullet vibe (because let’s face it, those things are never going away), there’s somethin’ kinda techy goin’ on with every new product release. Pleasure manufacturers have gotten their paws on mainstream tech advances, and they’re far from letting go.
No stranger to new sensations, Lovehoney has released one of the industry’s most pondered sex toys of the season: the Uprize. This self-erecting phallus looks like some sort of sex-tech space oddity, but its concept and operation are surprisingly simple. A self-rising stiffy is such an obvious and yet previously overlooked addition to the sex toy market that some manufacturers are wondering why they didn’t engineer it first.
“The release of the Uprize by Lovehoney was a surprise in that it is a first of its kind as a bionic dildo,” says Erin Worgan of BMS Enterprises. “However, it is unsurprising that we are seeing these new waves of incorporating technology into pleasure products. It’s exciting to see new and unique designs, and we’re sure that the sex-tech world will only continue to advance from here.”
You’d think a toy that achieves its own hard-on might have something of an ego, but the Uprize still makes your pleasure a priority. This girthy, electronic dildo vibrates with 10 different speeds, and that upward curve is perfect for hitting G-spots and P-spots. This big boy is even an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Pop it in Lovehoney’s corresponding harness and feel the power of popping a real, live boner, no matter what parts you’ve got downstairs.
Sex machines have absolutely burst out of the closet over the last year. The Sybian has held the industry standard trophy since the late 80s, but a slew of newcomers are moving in on uncharted territory with more mainstream, modernized versions of this specialty power toy.
“Over the past 12 months one of the standout products to enter the market has been The Cowgirl,” says Bonny Hall, product director at Lovehoney. “It’s a monster of a machine but so well-designed and developed to meet the consumers needs. It’s a big investment for anyone but I think that this is going to start a major trend for more sexy sex machines that you wouldn’t mind having in your home. A lot of older designs are clunky, heavy and not very attractive. This has definitely been a game changer.”
The slick, trendy Cowgirl is causing a stir with a recent live exhibition at the Museum of Sex in New York City. Visitors are encouraged to climb on (fully clothed, of course) and experience this heavy-hitting wonder right in the middle of a museum art gallery. The Cowgirl’s hefty $2,000 price tag places it higher than most wall-filling, flat screen TVs, which has left space for similar competitors to give the machine market a go.
Similar saddle-style vibes, like Motorbunny and The Tremor, promise all the vibrations of a luxury ride-on vibrator without draining your savings account. Both machines retail under $1,000, and the Motorbunny levels up with attachment versions of all your favorite sex toys.
Valley of the Dolls
Life-size sex dolls were once a proverbial pipedream of the rich a la Real Doll, but now companies like the appropriately-titled Pipedream Products are pumping out versions for more modest consumer budgets. The company’s Ultimate Fantasy Dolls are designed down to the last humanoid detail. The wrinkly skin on their feet and perfectly manicured nails are so realistic that you almost forget you’re looking at TPR cleverly molded over a metal skeleton. These plastic babes even come with an insertable warming wand to heat up their sexy parts prior to penetration.
“The variety of dolls that are currently being offered on the market stand out the most, especially when there are a lot of them together,” says Danielle Seerley of Shibari Wands. “The artificial intelligence being brought to the forefront in this category is fascinating to me. Not only is the technology progressing so fast, but also the affordability.”
Although the Ultimate Fantasy Dolls aren’t tech-enabled (at least not yet), Pipedream’s Dirty Talk interactive masturbators bring a bit of electronic banter into the bedroom. Though they’re not the whole woman, these poundable private parts beg for more and moan like a pro porn star when they’ve got a hard member stuffed inside them. The addition of a headphone jack for those moments when you’re both horny and stuck with a roommate is both ingenious and hilarious. Leave it to Pipedream to bring sex tech down to earth with a product that serves up just what straight, male consumers crave: a sex toy that speaks to their inner dude-bro on all levels.
Classics You Can Count On
And then there are the classics, the old-schoolers, the traditionals. Call them whatever you want, but certain sex toy staples are here to stay no matter how fast the tech river rages. There’s simply no way for history not to repeat itself in some fashion, and the past is most evident in the industry’s collection of updated magic wands.
“I think a lot of brands have been focusing on honing and improving their existing products and expanding existing lines — really perfecting the products they already have,” says LELO’s Sabrina Law.
LELO’s Smart Wands have been prominent sellers for years. Coated from top to bottom in the company’s signature silicone, the “smart” aspect comes into play when users press the wand’s rumbly head into their flesh, causing a gradual, natural increase in power. Unlike most wand-style toys, these power players are 100 percent waterproof thanks to that all-encompassing silicone bathing suit.
Le Wand by COTR, Inc. is another obvious front-runner in the re-styling game. This sleek, luxury version of the world’s favorite back-massager-that’s-actually-a-vibrator features rose gold accents, is rechargeable and offers cordless ease. And in a pleasure power move, Le Wand doesn’t hide behind any gimmicks. Le Wand’s website is chocked full of sex education, self-pleasure tips, and the company also offers specially designed, insertable silicone covers for full-power internal sensations. After all, those 10 vibration speeds and six patterns are only going to do so much for your backache.
“I may be biased, but I think of the wand as ‘the little black dress’ of the toy category. As concepts and design aesthetics change, top-selling styles tend to remain consistent. The designing process seems to be embracing that idea and taking classics to the next level,” says Shibari’s Danielle Seerley. “The quality of materials and technology that have come out over the last five to 10 years have been incredible. Why not leverage your resources to make a strong performing item even better?”
Shibari’s own collection of wands has grown over the years to include the ultra-femme Hello, Sexy! Collection. This affordable line of sensual massagers is a fun contrast to luxury brands like Le Wand with kitschy, mini bling-bling vibes — decked out in faux crystal-encrusted handles — that pack a punch, and a sleek, mid-sized, shiny black wand with pink accents, LED-lit buttons, and 20 speeds of vibration and pulsation.
Wands are notorious for pushing prices into the triple digits for consumers, but much of Shibari’s success lies in their pricing.
“We try to be very strategic at Shibari with every new item we release,” explains Seerley. “We have focused on taking classics, making them better, and affordable for everyone. Customers shouldn’t have to compromise quality to afford a product that they like.”
Masturbation for the Next Generation
What do you gift an industry that already has everything beyond its wildest dreams? Manufacturers are now saddled with the task of creating the next big thing in a market that is overflowing with a whole lot of big, large, in-your-face things. Today’s toys take serious space and priority in our homes and hearts, and that’s no accident.
“As society has become more sex-positive and open to new experiences, we’ve seen a definite increase in demand for well-made products for a wider range of kinks and interests, and I think the industry is really stepping up and providing people with some amazing new options,” Law said. “Our goal is always to push the limits of what’s possible and find new ways to excite people, whether it’s with shape, power, technology or experience — though we hope all four at the same time.”
As COTR Inc founder Alicia Sinclair has famously said in several fashions, our pleasure deserves to take up space. Whether or not Sinclair intended to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, pleasure products are taking up a lot more space these days — on mainstream shop shelves, in magazines at the local grocery store, and in online shops that never would have approved of such naughtiness just a decade ago.
Our political fate is in the hands of a maniac, our planet’s health is seriously at stake, and when it comes to the future of our world, it’s anyone’s guess when the next meteor is going to crash and send us the way of the dinosaurs. Oddly enough, the most rational, progressive people seem to be the ones making sex toys. The best gift we can give the industry — and, in turn, all humans — is a rush of orgasmic endorphins. The world can only change when we’ve got the tools to make people happy, and what could possibly bring more smiles than the power of great sex?