Adult Retail Leaders Reveal Latest Trends Shaping Intimacy

Adult Retail Leaders Reveal Latest Trends Shaping Intimacy

Whether it’s the latest must-have tech function or embracing cultural shifts, the world of pleasure products is in constant evolution. Sex toys are becoming as diverse as their users, serving as a symbol of sexual empowerment and progressive attitudes. To appeal to today’s sex toy users, manufacturers are turning to higher quality materials, versatile designs and innovative technology that are making sex toys relatable and validating — on top of opening the doors to sexual exploration.

Sex education has played a crucial role in bolstering the acceptance of pleasure products as part of a healthy lifestyle. The availability of product education and how-to videos have made it easy to familiarize oneself with toys and what they do discreetly and from the comfort of one’s own home.

Sally Cotching, Voodoo Toys strategy director, says, “There's more information in mainstream media than ever before about orgasm and masturbation: like how to use a vibrator to reach climax, and the positive benefits of orgasm such as increased serotonin levels, reduced stress, better quality sleep etc. With articles popping up in mainstream outlets, and influencers on Instagram sharing details of their lives — including what sex toy they like to use, it's helping consumers view pleasure products through a sexual wellness lens rather than an overtly sexual lens.”

According to Deborah Semer, the CEO, founder and inventor of the Joyboxx hygienic adult toy storage system, a general lack of healthcare along with dealing with toxic stressors are driving consumers to become more open-minded about pleasure products.

“Health is true wealth and everyone values wealth,” she said, noting that people are trying new things like “organic food, supplements and pleasure.”

“Once people think ‘hole-listically’ they realize wellness isn’t just from the neck up,” Semer added. “Beyond addressing physical pain, erectile dysfunction and other medical problems ‘down there,’ people are interested in learning how to spark real joy inside, like orgasm and oxytocin.”

Shape of Pleasure

While certain classic sex toy shapes aren’t going anywhere, pleasure products have evolved to not look like “a sex toy.” According to Xgen Products President Andy Green, consumers are looking for “something you could accidentally leave out on your nightstand and not have to be worried about someone asking about it.”

“The trend over the last few years has definitely been towards more mainstream designs and shapes — toys that don’t look like your typical vibrator,” Green said.

According to BMS Factory’s Erin Worgan, there is now a greater appreciation for “unique, modern styles and shapes that look more like a work of art than a sex toy,” she said. “The traditional, phallic shapes will always sell well but more of the market is being taken over by these more modern styles.”

As manufacturers try to create toys that can be enjoyed universally, the result has been the proliferation of ergonomic shapes. The wide variety of new, unique shapes has helped to address the physical needs of consumers, such as those with mobility issues.

Toys such as Clandestine Devices' Mimic emphasize its ergonomic fit in the palm of one’s hand — or as Jade Leon, the company’s operations manager put it, it’s an “extension of one’s self.”

“If you did a 360-degree look at the Mimic + Plus, you'll realize that each those curves cater to the masses, whether it is the curves on the placement on the body or in one’s hand,” she said. “The preferences of colors are consistently evolving just like the color of the clothing people choose to wear day-to-day. Giving the consumer new exciting colors to choose from allows them to feel like that toy is matching their personalities as well as their toy box collection.”

According to Leon, the marketplace is embracing more extreme shades of the rainbow, including a monochromatic variety of tones. The new colors speak to today’s shoppers that are looking for a more modern, chic look.

Casey Murphy, the product educator for Bedroom Products says, “Companies such as Dame Products color outside of the lines with different hues. This presents a unique and modern vibe while still achieving cohesiveness. Rich colors like teal and maroon have a sleek aesthetic, but they also really stand out on a retail wall.”

While pink and purple may always prevail as the preferred colors for sex toys, more vibrant shades are finding their way onto retail store shelves and into customers’ shopping carts.

“The hottest color trend so far in 2019 has been a resurgence of bright pastels, including electric teal, bubble-gum pink and lavender purple,” Worgan said. “These colors have been around but rather than the pale pastels these same colors are being amped up as rich, saturated hues.”

Just as diverse as the variety of designs are the new colors of pleasure products, with customers looking for new and fresh — or as Worgan put it, they are “no longer searching for the average pink jelly rabbit vibrator. Brands are creating premium toys with unique color options, which are expanding the choice and availability to customers. The latest shade that is currently trending is coral. We are seeing newly released and upcoming products in this beautiful color as predicted by Pantone’s color of the year ‘Living Coral.’”

Although in the U.S. we’re seeing a new wave of gender-neutral toys and marketing campaigns, the trend isn’t as prevalent worldwide.

“Gender and sexual preference considerations in manufacturing are mostly an American West-Coast driven effort,” Semer said. “That makes sense as California is the most diverse state and the founders of the adult retail industry are here. New products are being launched, staying away from gender-specific language and images.

“Globally, this isn’t happening that I can tell,” Semer continued. “Languages like Spanish and Italian have binary gender identity built in. I was just looking at a product from Germany that says Men ONLY and felt slighted for everyone prevented from using that product due to the packaging. I think counting sexuality and gender identity in business metrics will happen eventually because they are at the core of who we are, how we live … and spend money.”

While finding an ergonomic shape that fits all different bodies might be an impossible feat, manufacturers are employing flexible materials that users can adjust according to their body.

“Adjustable toys have the ability to adapt to the user’s shape and needs providing maximum pleasure,” Worgan said. “This versatility in toys is a positive change in the industry that allows for more accessibility.”

For those that find ergonomic toys aren’t for them, manufacturers are creating a vast selection of options for consumers to choose from.

“I always say there are so many toys in our catalog, and on the shelves and walls of any store, because each person is unique in size, shape and sexual response,” Blush Novelties Marketing Manager Ducky Doolittle said. “We need to give consumers options and allow them to explore their own preferences. The Nöje G Slim is a stellar G-spotting toy when the bulbous head is inserted, but it also makes a great ‘bullet-on-a-stick’ type vibe for anyone with a bigger body, or a pregnant body. It also ideal for a person with mobility issues like a back injury or shoulder injury. Designing for fantasy is fun, but designing for real bodies and their needs is essential.”

Even items with a distinct purpose — such as a sex machine — are embracing versatility with the introduction of new attachments, accessories and added functions through Bluetooth connectivity.

“In terms of attachments as analogous to traditional vibrators, we’ve found that every customer is looking for the ‘right fit,’ which makes sense because no two people are exactly the same,” Motorbunny CMO Craig Mewbourne said.

“In addition, reassurance that body-safe materials are used is of chief concern. It’s important to our customers to know all our attachments are made from 100 percent premium platinum-cured silicone, for instance.”

Tech Revolution

When it comes to sex toy technology, we’ve seen everything from the Twerking Butt from Topco Sales to talking strokers (Talk Back Super Stroker by Pipedream Products), toys that sync with virtual reality porn and other innovative functions like Bluetooth connectivity.

“Motorbunny is invested heavily in, and is in fact a pioneer of, connectivity as the next feature that will be in demand,” Mewbourne said. “Crossover experiences like gaming and video-chatting should be seamless for the next generation of users that require connected devices and all the creativity they allow. Motorbunny LINK technology is an example of the simple, one-click interface that makes a whole new world of possibilities accessible.”

With the internet connecting people from across the globe, and other long-distance couples situations, it wasn’t long until the pleasure products industry invented ways to keep partners intimately connected from afar.

“Even though [your partner] isn’t with you always, thanks to smartphone technology we are able to video-call them from anywhere on the planet,” Svakom Sales Manager Alex Feynerol said, “So why not satisfy them sexually as well? And this is where I see the market going. More and more, brands will get on the train of developing toys that can be operated by a partner even if they are located on the other side of the planet.”

One of the biggest sex toy trends to hit the marketplace in recent years are suction toys.

“We can’t begin to predict the next big trend in sex toy technology, but we encourage change, and thoughtful design in our product designs,” Worgan said. “The introduction of Pleasure Air Technology from Womanizer was an ingenious new pleasure product for women, and it would be great to see such a game-changing brand-new toy or function for men.”

In addition to these new clit stimulators, Worgan says travel-size vibes are currently in strong demand. “Customers are looking for travel-sized, compact toys that can be discreet but are still powerful and high quality,” she said.

With consumers becoming more experienced and more sophisticated in their desires, Doolittle says consumers are seeking stronger vibrations that deliver a deeper frequency of sensation.

“Therefore, Blush continues to engineer our own motors,” she said. “We now have our own research and development center, full of engineers working to bring that pleasure!”

Timeless Classics

Clever new pleasure product design and technologies may be sprouting up and taking the spotlight, but there are classics that will never go out of style.

“The market seems to be split right down the middle when it comes to traditional sex toy popularity and unconventional design,” Murphy said. “Demand for beginner-friendly designs will exist forever, because new pleasure products consumers surface every day. These consumers naturally lean towards more discreet products: whether it’s a couple’s cock ring, bullet vibrator, or even a massage candle — and that demographic is exactly who Bedroom Products is creating a dialogue with. The beauty of our industry is that there is always something that will appeal to every consumer — so the potential for success as a manufacturer is truly wide open.”

Among those industry mainstays are rabbits, bullet vibes and wands, Feynerol said.

“Those styles, for sure, will be a must-have for any woman for a long time still.”

Adding some versatility to these timeless styles is making them appealing to today’s shoppers.

“Wands can double as a back massager, and with a lot of companies now coming out with wand attachments for both men and women, the possibilities are endless,” Green said. “The rabbit style will always be popular as well, thanks to ‘Sex and the City.’”

While we may imagine sex toys of the future to look like space-age creations, many consumers are looking for old-school phallic, lifelike dongs. Worgan assures that these will never go out of style.

“They play a significant role in the market and will always be a tried and true shape that customers look for,” she said. “In addition, while the shape may vary from the traditional rabbit, dual-stimulation vibrators seem to remain a staple item.”

Another sex toy fan-favorite is G-spot toys, Doolittle says. “Curvaceous G-spotters, realistic vibes with pronounced phallic heads, and high-performing bullets,” she said. “We can do all the high design in the world, but these classics continue to hit the spot in both design and price point for the mass market.”

While still a niche category, Mewbourne believes ride-on-top power vibrators — aka sex machines — are “timeless.”

There will always be a segment of people who crave a straddle experience,” he said. “Those, and the electric toothbrush.”

Bondage Blossoms

With the “Fifty Shades of Grey” craze behind us, the bondage category has shifted to a more concentrated space that’s focused on delivering quality products for those that are in it for the long-run.

“Bondage is still extremely popular,” NS Novelties President Lavi Yedid said. “While some of the excitement has subsided, the genre has found its way into people’s life. Possibly there are not as many new entrants into the field today as were a few years ago, but the ones who enjoyed the experience are now looking to grow their collections of genre-related products.”

Phoebe Frost, a PR and communications executive at Lovehoney — makers of the official Fifty Shades collection of pleasure products — says that bondage sales continue to be “explosive.”

“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ may have introduced a new audience to BDSM play by shining a mainstream light on bondage, but now that people have had a taste of more adventurous sex (and the pleasure that comes with it) they’re completely captured, which keeps them coming back for more,” she said.

Kerry from Rouge Garments, which manufactures everything from restraints to items for medical play, agrees that Fifty Shades opened the doors for new fans of kinky sex. Among the trends that she’s recently observed driving the category is that “leather is still on the rise and PU for vegan-friendly products have become popular recently.”

Bijoux Indiscrets has taken a mainstream-friendly, fashion-forward approach bondage with a collection of stylish harnesses, collars and other bondage essentials. By offering styles that are just as much day wear as they are bedroom wear, Bijoux Indiscrets bridges the gap between fashionista and fetishist.

“Our bondage pieces are fashion statement pieces combined with everyday clothes and very sexy in bedroom over bare skin or combined with lingerie,” Bijoux Indiscrets co-founder and designer Elsa Viegas said. “In this category of bondage-inspired fashion, harnesses are our bestsellers but closely followed by handcuffs and floggers — the classic ‘never go out of fashion’ iconic pieces of bondage play.”

Balancing between mainstream fashion and erotic design trends, Bijoux Indiscrets has embraced today’s conscious consumer with vegan leather products.

“The consumer behavior trends reports show that caring for the environment and animal welfare is the fastest-growing consumer segment and that, along with our own brand philosophy, was key to decide to launch a vegan bondage collection,” Viegas said. “Without asking we got our MAZE collection PETA-approved and that was a very exciting moment. The consumer looks for alternatives that respect the planet and the animals and our collection have both, made of polyurethane and metal it combines recycled and recyclable materials and no animals are harmed in the process.”

Yedid argues that it’s not a vegan movement that is inspiring shoppers to buy products made out of alternative materials.

“Vinyl found its way into the BSDM scene not because of the huge influx of vegans who now practice bondage and kink but rather from a drive to find a cheaper, cleaner and different material than leather,” he said. “So while leather is still a popular material for BDSM, more and more man-made materials are finding their way into this arena.”

Sportsheets Marketing Director John Turi admits that there has been a growing interest in alternative materials for bondage goods, but assures that leather is still very much a top choice for BDSM enthusiasts.

“The most popular trending materials that we are seeing are classic leather and also vegan leather,” he said. “In the past years there has been a request for a quality vegan leather, and we have answered that call with our Saffron by Sportsheets collection. With products ranging from paddles, restraints, ball gags and positioning gear, the PU leather is so supple and luxurious it’s hard to tell it’s not real leather.”

Black continues to be the color of choice for bondage shoppers, although manufacturers have introduced dressed-up styles with metal accents and unique cuts.

“Although we’ve tried different colors and shades, black is still the most wanted color when it comes to lingerie, sexy clothes and of course, bondage,” Viegas said. “In our Maze collection, ‘leather’ stripes got thinner and metals more ‘goldish’ making it more feminine and fashionable — but black is still the color for sexy and sophisticated, no matter the country or market.”

In order to stay within the comfort zone of bondage newbies, Bijoux Indiscrets has ways of showcasing body parts that are often fantasized about — such as “designs for feet, hands, neck and some harnesses and body chains that highlight and frame butt cheeks and cleavage,” she said.

To reflect the edgy bondage lifestyle, black is an ideal color choice, Turi says.

“The most popular colors within the BDSM category have always been dominated by black and red,” he said. “The classic colors bring a darker edge to the look of the product, and helps set the scene for the play ahead. However, as bondage is becoming more widely accepted and becoming more mainstream with appearances on TV shows, and at fashion events like the Met Gala, the trend is starting to go towards a more fashion-heavy look like clear PVC.”

Latex fashion also crosses over into the mainstream fashion world, and companies like Lovehoney are making sure they stock a variety of options for shoppers.

“In the last year or so we’ve started stocking a lot more latex-wear for those who want to wear it in or out of the bedroom, and as a result we’ve also branched into offering more colors of latex, with brighter shades like pink and purple being really popular,” Frost said.

In order to introduce bondage fans to more traditional pleasure products, Lovehoney has introduced “mixed box sets” that contain BDSM gear alongside sex toys.

“In the past, these categories have been sold separately, but one of the most popular questions we get asked by customers is ‘what do I do with my partner once they’re tied up?’ Mixed kits, with restraints alongside simple toys like bullet vibrators and sex dice have expanded customers’ play potential and are proving to be very popular. The Fifty Shades of Grey Pleasure Overload 10 Days of Play is a great example of where this has worked wonderfully.”

Lube for Life

As a must-have for most pleasurable sexual experiences, there’s a lube for just about every occasion and enough varieties to satisfy the needs and desires of all consumers. Lubes area also constantly being reinvented with new ingredients to cater to different sensitivities, as well as to create new sensations for lube lovers.

Tori McCrobie, who’s in charge of U.S. account development for United Consortium, says that “the more nuanced categories there are on the market, the more people realize they have choice.”

McCrobie continued, “Sexual health products aren’t as taboo as they once were, which means people are thinking about them like any health product — asking, ‘Does it have unnecessary additives or chemicals? Do I want to put this on my body?’

Voodoo Toys recently ventured into the lube category with Gender Fluid personal lubricant, which is available in water-based and aloe-based versions that have been popular with consumers, Cotching said.

“We've seen an increase in people enquiring about specific ingredients, since consumers are becoming more educated about how ingredients impact the body, and how natural, water or aloe-based ingredients can be better in supporting your body's natural pH levels,” Cotching added.

High On Love representative Victoria Law agrees that shoppers are becoming more ingredient-conscious.

“They are looking for more natural ingredients and less chemicals,” she said. “One big attribute that consumers love is the fact that we are vegan!”

Other attributes of the High On Love line include its 100 percent natural, cruelty-free formulas that are made in Canada. Law describes the company’s target demographic as being women and couples.

“For our demographic, packaging is key,” Law said. “It’s all about the little details — glass bottles, soft-touch packaging, cellophane wrapped ... little things that our consumers appreciate.”

Among High On Love’s cosmetics-inspired packaging are sex-enhancing products packaged in rose-gold glass bottles topped by droppers, pumps.

“The fact that our products look like perfume bottles is great because it gives it a very discreet look,” Law said. “People are no longer hiding their sex products in their drawers but often want to show it off on their nightstand or bathroom shelves!”

Offering a wide assortment of lubricants for women and men, United Consortium aims to connect people with the specific products that will improve their love lives, McCrobie says, “… or their fertility, or their solo pleasure — or whatever part of sexual health is important to them — so we do what it takes to get that particular message out into the world.”

McCrobie said that the company recently discovered that there wasn’t a performance lube on the market for gay men, and United Consortium set out to create one.

“And then the marketing strategy became clear,” she said. “What do gay men prioritize? How can we be the best possible choice for their needs? And right now, the men’s category in general is exploding. Men’s body care has taken off, and why shouldn’t it? Men should have just as much access to feeling good about their personal products as women!”

While some lubricant bottles have been modernized to fit in with consumers’ other body care products, McCrobie says that traditional packaging also is a favorite among consumers.

“I think the old-school squeeze bottle never goes out of style because there are fewer moving parts — it’s a classic concept that you can rely on, and it’s perpetually convenient,” McCrobie said.

With three decades in the marketplace, Trigg Labs’ Wet brand of lubricants offers a diverse variety. Trigg Labs Marketing Manager Tiffany Sands can break down the marketplace into consumer segments and knows each one’s specific preferences.

“For example, there are older women (about 40-plus) who are looking for a product to increase comfort,” Sands said. “They may not have a lot of experience with using personal lubricant in the past so it’s important that we educate them on the ingredients and options available to them. Many of them may have a negative impression since their experience would be with a sticky lube/jelly that they came into contact within the past especially at doctor’s offices.”

Women and couples are interested in formulas that boost sensation. “These women are interested in warming, tingling and flavored lubricants,” Sands said. “Couples will also be interested in these factors. Men looking for a lube to use during masturbation are going to be interested in the warming lubricants to enhance the experience for them. Gay males prefer our Platinum lubricant. This personal lubricant has more silicone then others allowing for a longer and smoother experience.”

By connecting with customers on social media, Wet has taken it upon itself to dispel myths surrounding lube.

“We recently started talking about this on social media,” Sands said. “There is a large segment of consumers out there who believe that lube is only for anal or that if a woman wants to use lube it’s either because there’s something wrong with her or that the person she’s with is unable to arouse her.”

Product- and sex education also is serving as promotion for the company, Sands added. “We are making sure that the segments we want to reach are receiving the information they need to make the best choice for themselves,” she said. “It’s also important to throw in a mix of positive, upbeat and funny content on social media in order to keep our current audience engaging with us. We’ve seen an increase in followers and engagement since adding in more information and educational content on social media.”

As more consumers have come to acknowledge the importance of lube, it’s more common that you’ll see it flying off the shelf at your local drugstore.

“We’ve come a long way toward taking the stigma out of buying and using lubricants,” McCrobie said. “No one should have to feel ashamed or insecure about requesting a product that makes their sex life better. Sexual health is a natural part of a healthy lifestyle.”

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