Femme Revolution: How Women Are Shaping the Future of Pleasure

Femme Revolution: How Women Are Shaping the Future of Pleasure

As the curtain rises on another year of sex toys, the audience roars with a fervor unseen in any prior decade of dildos. Something has clearly changed within the lineup of famous faces on stage, and it’s a glaringly obvious detail that’s led to a revolution in an industry that was once home to paramount staples of illusion, delusion and unsatisfied consumers.

Without further ado, it’s officially the Year of the Woman in pleasure innovation.

It’s easy to create fancy rhetoric around this year’s biggest advancement in sex toys, but the facts are quite simple: more women came into leadership roles within the last handful of years than ever before, and things have forever changed in a way that’s better for everyone.

Female CEOs, sales reps, designers, marketers, and all-around misbehaving babes have stirred up the sex toy market with such headstrong action that the ripples have become waves crashing onto the shore of the mainstream consumer market.

We’ve been predicting this would happen for years, and we’ve even been writing about it in some form every month. But now, come 2019, the storm has grown too big to ignore. Now it’s finally time to pay full tribute to the incredible women who’ve gotten up every time they’ve fallen, who’ve kept screaming “yes” to hundreds of “nos,” and who not only won’t give up, but can’t give up because their brave hearts simply won’t let them.

We invite you to take a look at what the past, present and promising future have to unveil as women — with an unprecedented aura of finality — truly take the helm of the pleasure products industry.

From the Ground Up

Which came first: the feminist sex toy, or the feminist sex-toy shop? Women’s influence in modern vibrator sales first appeared in a big way at the retail level in good ol’ brick-and-mortar shops.

When hardcover sex books, so-called back massagers, and strangely misogynistic dildos were all the market could offer to the average female consumer, a small group of adult shops emerged that laid the groundwork for today’s classy vibrator boutiques.

“Pleasure Chest opened its first doors in 1971,” says Sarah Tomchesson, director of business development at Pleasure Chest stores. “At the time, there were maybe a dozen sex toy manufacturers and the product selection was slim and dominated predominantly by penis-shaped slimline vibrators that often did not even come in packaging. There have been waves of changes that we’ve experienced as a company, and ... it’s a perfect storm for mission-driven companies like ours that have been spreading the message of sexual wellness as a crucial pillar in overall wellness — the message resonates and is relevant like never before!”

As most of us already know, the Pleasure Chest was a pioneer, but they were — thankfully! — far from alone. Good Vibrations popped up right alongside with a similar vision that helped shape sexuality and free love in the wake of the swingin’ 1970s. As human rights intersected with sexual freedom, Good Vibes was first in line to fight for under-represented identities that would go on to play a major role in feminist sexuality.

“One of the more fundamental ways Good Vibrations has impacted the female sex toy consumer market has been by being one of the early pioneers who helped established it,” says the director of purchasing at Good Vibrations, Coyote Amrich. “In the 1970s, our founder dared to dream of an authentic retail experience for women and marginalized communities. While often imitated, we helped establish an authenticity that can only be seen by those who seek it out. Decades later, our educated, compassionate and non-judgmental staff continue to assist a diverse array of customers find the products they need to be their authentic sexual selves. Females, feminine folks and the LGBTQI community have always been our core focus, even when those communities weren’t seen as a viable market.”

It would still take several generations of adult boutique owners before women and the LGBTQ+ community would take shape as serious markets, but New Jersey’s Fantasy Gifts and now-CEO Dee Bertino were ahead of their time, thanks to Bertino inheriting the progressive sex shop from her parents-in-law.

“Fantasy Gifts has been in business since 1980,” says Bertino. “When we first opened our doors, there were no ‘female-friendly’ boutiques. The majority of stores were adult bookstores that catered to male clientele. My father- and mother-in-law were the first in the Minneapolis area to move their stores out of cities and zoned industrial areas and into suburban strip malls, hire more female clerks, and start catering to women customers.”

Crafting Her Pleasure

With a place to finally call home, the market soon grew with female designers and company owners who were eager to keep the retail ball rolling.

“CalExotics was the first novelty company to be founded by a woman — Susan Colvin,” recalls Nichole Grossman, director of marketing at CalExotics. “She changed everything from product packaging to color scheme, even who the target market is. Susan Colvin and CalExotics revolutionized this industry and helped shape what we see today.”

It’s impossible to re-tell the history of the pleasure products industry — with or without a focus on females — and fail to mention Colvin. When the list of sex toy manufacturers was mostly composed of the original “Big 5” brands — Pipedream Products, Topco Sales, Doc Johnson Enterprises, Nasstoys of New York, and California Exotic Novelties — Colvin was the sole female in a club of good ol’ boys that would last for decades.

“CalExotics opened its doors 25 years ago, and it was a different time then. Sex toys were still very much geared towards men, and women were really an afterthought. But CalExotics set out to change that,” explains Grossman. “We began making toys with women in mind. We created bright colors that were fun and attractive and made the packaging more inviting. We put the focus on quality, creating products that were powerful, reliable and backed by a warranty. Consumers loved these changes. We began to see a shift in the market with more women buying our products. Over the years, this has continued to grow and flourish, and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon.”

Colvin achieved exactly what she set out to do: set in motion a slow, albeit growing, charge of women who saw the same accidental missteps and sadly purposeful marketing messages as she did. The porn-founded ideals upon which the pleasure industry was based would no longer do. It was time for women to have a voice in what they would ultimately end up consuming.

“The market is finally designing products for women with wellness and female pleasure as key insights,” says Elsa Viegas, co-founder and designer at Bijoux Indiscrets. “In 2016, we brought the erotic chic design concept to a product segment where you either found cheap and ugly products or beautiful and very expensive ones. Twelve years after, we still put all our effort in bringing fresh concepts to the erotic industry.”

Silicon Sensations

Powerful feminine figures have since become a hot topic, especially in technology and design. It was long assumed that women weren’t capable of working in STEM capacities, but the pleasure industry boasts some of the most prominent female tech-based designers on the planet.

OhMiBod, the mainstream-famous sextech sensations, have paired smartphones and vibrators since the start, and co-founder Suki Dunham is only getting started.

“Since OhMiBod’s launch, we have been dedicated to technology-enabled pleasure products,” Dunham said. “We believe that pairing our products with ubiquitous consumer electronics such as the iPod and iPhone has helped to play a role in changing perceptions and stigmas associated with pleasure products in general. Consumers have embraced their digital lifestyles and our products allow them to think of sex toys as just an extension of that lifestyle — the intimate part of their digital lifestyle.”

More so than any other sex toy category, sex-tech has brought female pleasure to mainstream prominence. Tech-based toys have made clitoral orgasms relevant, a feat deserving recognition on its own.

“As one of the earliest female industrial designers in the adult product industry since 2008, I have always believed in bringing modern design ethos to a previously taboo category shunned by the mainstream,” says Ti Chang, co-founder and lead designer at Crave. “Pleasure is indisputably part of the human experience and as a designer, products people use to enhance their pleasure and connect with others are just as important and meaningful as any other consumer product. I pioneered a category of jewelry for pleasure to bring these experiences from the whispers of the bedroom to the public.”

Like OhMiBod, Chang’s company, Crave, began a new niche for vibrator consumers that quickly outgrew its definition. It’s hard to define a product as “niche” when it’s regularly endorsed by celebrities. Crave’s Vesper necklace eventually wound up around the neck of Janet Jackson and was featured by Gwyneth Paltrow on “The Ellen Show.”

“It’s not only the technology, but the aesthetically pleasing and tactile quality of Crave products that create an experience that feels emotionally respectful, unapologetic and women-centric,” says Chang. “The Vesper vibrator necklace is a powerful product because it allows the user to feel empowered by embracing pleasure as part of their identity, and it encourages open conversation wherever it goes.”

As much as men have been stereotyped into the numbers game, female designers are easily matching and exceeding their enthusiasm for data. The contributions to the industry from experienced techies like Chang and Dunham combine form, function and aesthetics, which is almost impossible to achieve without being your own female target market.

“I believe the biggest development as it relates to women’s contributions to the pleasure products industry is in the way of function and aesthetic design,” explains Dunham. “There are many new entrants to this space that are doing research, gathering data and input from many women as they develop new and exciting toys. The coming years are going to be very exciting as it relates to new toy development.”

Crossover Artists

When they aren’t wearing a designer vibrator elegantly draped down their necklines, women — both consumers and business types — are creating media buzz that kicks babely masturbation into a properly normal category.

“Pleasure Chest was featured on the infamous ‘Sex and the City’ rabbit episode where Charlotte buys her Rabbit Habit,” recalls Tomchesson. “We continue to host hundreds of ‘Sex and the City Tour’ buses every year in our original West Village location. That episode is arguably one of the most iconic representations of a major shift in our industry and in female sexuality where women became the primary consumers of sex toys.”

Men's self-pleasure can hardly be described as “iconic,” mostly because it’s been universally acknowledged. Solo sexuality has been historically hush-hush for women, though, at least until Carrie Bradshaw and the gang turned battery-powered pleasure into a trend. Now even tech-geek trade shows are clamoring for a taste of the pleasure market’s sweet share.

“We just returned from CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas,” says Dunham. “When we first started exhibiting at this show, attendees were unsure of why we were there and some were uncomfortable with our presence. Over time, both our fellow exhibitors and attendees have embraced our presence. Many attendees now seek us out year after year to see what we have that is new and exciting. Many attendees are now very open with asking us questions about our products and sex in general. I believe people are generally pleased to find that they have a place where they can come and talk about sexual pleasure openly and honestly and ask questions without judgment.”

The conclusion itself is actually simpler than all of its parts. Women’s presence in toy design has opened doors for the next generation to embrace themselves and their future sexual partners for all their loveliness and flaws. Who ever could have dreamed that sex toys would power a human-positive movement?

“Empowerment really delights me,” says Blush Novelties sales executive Denise Young. “To see how companies which are female-owned, like Blush, are creating products which are empowering women to be proud of their sexuality. Body positivity is one of my very favorite shifts in the past few years; to see increasing numbers of online influencers and companies promoting body positivity and to love your body and yourself. It is really refreshing to see companies are evolving, and targeting consumers of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.”

Now and Then

Though the future glows bright with potential for female entrepreneurs, a peek into the past reveals a darker tale. Products were designed and marketed by men without much consideration about how women’s bodies functioned sexually.

“The adult industry was once very male-dominated, especially in the way of manufacturing,” says Stephanie Berman, founder of The Semenette. “It was not common to see women at the helm. And now, we are seeing more and more companies that are not only founded by women but their products are being created and engineered by women. It’s so refreshing and I think it has shifted how products are being received by consumers. Women want to feel acknowledged and understood, especially when it comes to something like pleasure products.”

Ask any female pleasure product inventor — like Berman, a lesbian who hoped to conceive more intimately with her wife and the help of a sex toy, or Alicia Sinclair, who spent years in the industry watching poorly made products roll off assembly lines — and they’ll tell you: women aren’t creating just for cash. They’re crafting everything they wish had existed when they were budding 20-somethings and feeding a market that’s always existed, though formerly behind closed doors.

“This is my 17th year in the pleasure products industry. From my first job out of college as a receptionist in the pleasure products sphere to now, I have seen the narrative around sex and sexuality ebb and flow,” says Sinclair, the founder of COTR, Inc. “When I was going to school to become a sex educator, I saw a gap between the reality of sex and what was actually being discussed. Consumers had to navigate an almost black market of sex toys in order to get off. Sexual health has so many nuances, and pleasure products greatly contribute to that, but at the time, the lack of sex positivity was inhibiting the ways in which those having sex could experience their bodies, their partner’s body, and sex in general.”

It would seem that women have actually been the catalysts in giving sex toys — and sex itself — serious mainstream possibilities. Since women have streamed into the sex space, the category has grown immensely, now encompassing the full breadth of sexual health topics like sex and pregnancy, the reality of kink play, and recovering from physical trauma to regain pleasure.

“In the past four years I have felt a surge of energy around the conversation about sex, ” says Dame Products co-founder Alex Fine. “Before, I was the weirdo in the room wanting to talk about sexual repression and the harm it causes society, and now everyone is talking! It is amazing. I’m so impressed by everyone who’s come before me.”

According to Tomchesson, these trends have borne fruit: “Innovative product designs, compelling marketing and customer engagement campaigns, compelling retail concepts, and new and authentic ways of reaching customers, particularly on social media, have followed as a result.”

Babes Make Businesses Grow

When women are handed the reigns, pleasure enterprises grow in a big way. New product inventions, forward-thinking marketing campaigns, and trending educational material have all exploded over the last handful of years — all of which were mostly non-existent in the very early years of the sex toy industry. What’s more, the results are a reaction to a market that’s been largely ignored.

“The innovations in sex toy manufacturing are incredibly exciting. When it comes to making products for women, it’s important to think critically about how we’re using new technologies to help them achieve greater pleasure, rather than adding gadgets just because we can,” says Sinclair. “With more women leading the way in the sex toy industry, their insight and experiences are being taken into account from the start of product development. This makes all the difference in designing a product that women are excited to use, and fits in with their sexual experiences.”

Besides the creation of high-profile sextech toys, women are also simplifying product development by fixing what wasn’t really broken in the first place. New York manufacturer Blush Novelties is most famous for their line of colorful silicone dildos, which offer body-safe pleasure in a form many women crave most: without all the bells and whistles of a whirling and twirling vibrator — or the price tag.

“Blush has been established since 2006, and in the 13 years we have been in business, a lot has changed in the sexual health market,” Young says. “Consumers are more open about their sexuality than ever, and always asking great questions. They are more informed about materials, and continue to challenge companies to be cognizant of how sexual health is ever-evolving and to make better products. Blush understands how important this is, and continues to create new and exciting quality products which provide pleasure, but are also affordable and accessible.”

Women are evolving the industry through multiple channels, not just in design and manufacturing. Classic Erotica’s brand line of consumables and sensual body products has gotten a modern makeover that’s worthy of any modern feminist’s cosmetics shelf.

“When I first started at Classic Brands seven years ago, we were known as that cute, fun, lotions and potions company,” says Nicole McCree, sales executive and product trainer at Classic Brands. “As we’ve evolved, expanded, and grown up, so have our formulations, fragrances, flavors, and packaging. And our retailers and end-customers have definitely taken notice!”

Female industry leaders also have an unsurprising knack for seeing through every level of sales. When they’re not creating the next silicone prototype, these clever pros are dreaming up eye-catching marketing campaigns and providing follow-through to retailers to keep consumers coming back. McCree provided expert feedback that helped Classic Brands revamp their point-of-sale materials to the delight of walk-in stores.

“The merchandising at the brick-and-mortar level has been a complete 180 change,” says McCree. “We used to take up a small footprint in the average adult retail store, but now, across the country, the brands under the Classic Brands umbrella are front and center. Many stores have given themselves facelifts and are more boutique across the board. And this is where Classic Brands shines: the boutiques!”

Changing Focus

For centuries, women have been asked to be changeable and malleable in every aspect of life. They’re asked to spring to action when needed, and then told to crawl back into the kitchen on a moment’s notice. This course of history has bred female leaders that can flawlessly move with the market, responding to rapidly advancing consumer needs.

“When we started the company 13 years ago, our brand was very focused on couples and romantic heterosexual relationships. Now, 13 years later, love and relationships have changed and we now focus on women, their sexuality, and especially their right to enjoy their sexuality and pleasure,” says Elsa Viegas, co-founder of Bijoux Indiscrets. “We empower women to live their sexuality in a guilt- and shame-free way with whomever they decide to. The past decade was very important regarding the woman’s role in society and major behavioral changes took place in the way women live their sexuality.”

Though the industry remains far from perfect equality, the focus is no longer on creating products that teach women to satisfy a male partner. Today’s woman enjoys freedoms that were fought for and earned by those who came long before company founders like Viegas, and as she points out, many of these smartphone-based freedoms — like mindless, revolving-door-style dating apps — have actually left a void in our love lives. It’s now more important than ever for women to reclaim their own sexual power.

“Women have changed, relationships have changed, and most of all, the way we meet people with all the dating apps, it’s creating very unsatisfied individuals [who wonder] ‘What if there is something better out there?’ And so the swipe continues,” muses Viegas. “We are hyper-connected, we are already living a different sexuality, and we as manufacturers must adjust to it. Self love and self care are now more trendy than ever and our industry should embrace this new trend.”

Roughly a decade ago, sex toys were just sex toys, and there wasn’t much more to it than that. Now they’re a movement in and of themselves, one that has since spiraled out and pulled from multiple conversations on human sexuality like a vortex. As Alicia Sinclair points out, the popularity of sexual self-esteem has helped women consider how they can achieve equality outside the bedroom.

“I am already seeing how sexual health is catalyzing certain societal movements,” says Sinclair. “Discussions around sex toys’ inclusion in the tech industry can be connected to a larger conversation about gender bias in the workplace, or censoring of content for sexual wellness Instagram pages reflects how we talk about sex to/in the public. So to that point, I think mainstream society’s response to sex toys

prevalence in consumerism, whether positive or negative, means we’re making progress.”

The Birth of Real Sex Education

Sex education is a topic that deserves its own multi-million-word essay. It’s a theme that’s painful to unpack when you consider what Americans, especially women, have been denied in every generation — unbiased access to scientifically accurate and pleasure-acknowledging sexual health info. If we can’t get the facts in schools, and most parents are even more clueless than their kids, where can we learn about our bodies?

The pleasure industry’s female force has answered this question in spades.

“People are only now truly beginning to recognize and talk about the benefits of maintaining one’s sexual well-being,” says Dunham. “As this realization grows within the population of consumers through communication of ideas and data from media, the medical community, and person-to-person communication, the industry should see quite strong growth in the coming years.”

Only a few companies can boast of a sex education focus from the start, most of which are retailers like Pleasure Chest and Good Vibrations. As the first point of contact for consumers since the 1970s, such shops literally opened the doors for pleasure-based learning.

“Our company was built on local partnerships — with medical professionals, therapists, colleges, community groups and end users alike,” Amrich said. “For decades we have maintained our position as an informational resource for those who felt sexual education was unattainable through traditional avenues. We have watched as the community around has gained access to larger amounts of information that was once unavailable to them. Now that we have a wider reach, we continue to serve as a lighthouse for those seeking accurate and nonjudgmental information.”

Simply put, sex education supplements sex toy sales, but not in the way a typical corporate marketer might think. The sex-ed content being produced by women-led brands hits all the marks missed — often intentionally — by the American public school system and other types of government-provided health services. Plus, let’s face it: baby boomer moms probably need a lesson on safe anal sex just as much as their daughters.

“Education is part of our core mission, and that’s reflected in pretty much every part of our brand,” Sinclair said. “When you open a box for our products, there’s more than just a user manual: there’s a guide to anal play for our b-Vibe products, and a pleasure guide for our Le Wand products. Our blog also covers frequently asked questions about sexuality, from societal stigmas women face when they explore anal play, to how to have a blended orgasm. Overall, we’re giving women not only the tools, but the comprehensive sex education they need to feel empowered about their sexuality and take control of their pleasure.”

What’s more, pleasure product manufacturer websites and their corresponding social media accounts are often the only reliable place women can learn. In 2019, you’ll scarcely find a female-founded sex toy company that doesn’t post regular blogs, videos, or guides that show users how to make the most of their new sex toy.

“I think one of the most important things for the continued progression of sexual health is education,” says Denise Young. “Blush has an amazing training program, led by sex educator Ducky Doolittle, where we teach free classes online, once a month, on a range of topics. Our attendance for the classes continues to grow, and this is super exciting. The more informed you are, the more confidence you project to your customers, which in turn helps them make better purchasing decisions. Online influencers and mainstream companies, which are continuing to promote body positivity and sexual health education, will also teach our customers to be proud of their sexuality and not be shameful of it.”

Most companies that didn’t initially pivot on sex-ed are shifting gears quickly. It makes business sense to jump on the sexual health bandwagon, but it’s also a feel-good move with roots in compassion. Sportsheets, a female-co-founded brand, has always marketed with women in mind, but only recently branched out into every corner of pleasure education.

“We’re very excited to be evolving Sportsheets into a sexual wellness company, developing products people can use together and alone,” says Sportsheets President Julie Stewart. “We're bringing our Sportsheets quality and innovation to vibrators and other sexual health tools and it’s really resonating with consumers. I’ve been educating women about overcoming sexual shame and understanding our bodies with our Sincerely brand of vibrators on mainstream home shopping for over a year now. The response to our message and our products has been phenomenal. We’ve created the brand knowledge and demand on television by designing unique, patented products that elevate the users’ experience.”

Sportsheets has spent the last several years building their arsenal of consumer sex-ed outreach. From regular appearances by Stewart on popular TV shopping channel eVine After Dark to a professionally managed Instagram account that’s nearing 10k followers, the company has hit the ground running in the direction of fellow sex-ed social media darlings like Sinclair’s COTR brands.

“Social media has become a crucial tool for sexual health education. I use my Instagram and Twitter as platforms to show why and how sex toys can improve our health, our relationships, and our overall well-being,” says Sinclair. “Social media has made toys accessible, so that consumers are able to participate in an inviting conversation around sexual pleasure. Consumers are seeing the power behind their toys — be it a vibrator, a butt plug, or an entire machine — and how those toys give them agency in the bedroom. This helps to create a shift about how women feel about owning a vibrator in the first place, or the pleasure they derive from that vibrator — it’s not shameful, and it’s validating to see more people saying so in public.”

For Her, By Her

Products founded on a “for us, by us” attitude have been true game-changers in the sex toy field. Thanks to social media, being a vibrator designer is now one of the most coveted careers in the nation, and women deserve full credit for evolving this formerly laughable gig into one of the most important women’s roles in the industry.

“I love that women are more involved with product development,” says Fantasy Gifts’ Bertino. “It was great when women began getting involved in the sales and business end, but now that women are not just promoting products, but manufacturing products, we’re seeing more innovation and creativity in product lines.”

Male-run brands often scoffed at the idea of switching from toxic PVC to body-safe silicone, due to higher manufacturing costs. Female consumers initiated the demand for a better sensual product, and less than 10 years later, silicone is now so inexpensive that it’s not uncommon to find this formerly luxurious material for under $30.

It’s also unlikely that a male designer would have noticed a niche in the market for pleasure objects crafted from precious stones like quartz. This truly left-field product offering from spiritual artist Vanessa Cuccia is one of several creations by Chakrubs, one of the most popular brands today.

“Chakrubs introduced a new material to the adult toy industry, which has helped in shifting the public perception of self-pleasure to recognize its potential for helping people achieve healing and wholeness,” said Cuccia, the founder of Chakrubs. “With the introduction of crystals as a safe alternative to traditional toys, Chakrubs created a pleasure object that speaks to customers who have faced emotional or sexual trauma and are looking for something they can explore spiritual healing with.”

In a vacuum, a product like those by Chakrubs might sound confusing and even unnecessary. Why would a woman need a polished rock to induce orgasm long past the days of cave-dwelling? Because sex toys represent so much more to a gender whose pleasure and even anatomy has been marginalized at every point in history.

“Sex toys made by women for women have a huge impact on how women internalize and validate their own pleasure,” says Sinclair. “Consumers are seeing they hold power in the bedroom, and how that can be directly applied to their world outside of sex; because, let’s face it, sex and power are intrinsically linked and exist everywhere. With every new innovation that caters to women’s pleasure specifically, we are able to observe women taking their own pleasure more seriously for themselves. We have a long way to go, but I think the message that women deserve sexual pleasure is finally being heard.”

Within the lesbian consumer market, the impact is amplified. Pleasure has always been a priority for same-sex couples, though one look at the double-sided dongs of the past shows many manufacturers  had likely only viewed gay relationships from the other side of a porn film.

Berman had an even more basic need for pleasure — the desire to conceive a child with her wife.

“For years, same-sex couples had very limited options available to them for those wanting to try and conceive,” Berman said. “There are expensive and invasive methods that can be done at a doctor's office or couples could use a turkey baster or needleless syringe, but there were no options that offered privacy, intimacy and affordability. It was at this point in my partner's and my journey to conceive that I decided to try and create a better option for those at home.”

The Semenette, recently re-named the POP Dildo and revamped in collaboration with Fun Factory, goes the distance for lesbian couples and even transgender men. Ejaculation isn’t just necessary for procreation. It’s an essential part of male identity that’s now afforded to trans men who struggle with body image and a lack of sex toys that work with their anatomy.

“Our flagship product, The Semenette,” Berman explains, “was launched and was a game-changer for same-sex couples. Not only did my wife and I conceive our first child with the product, but the Semenette allowed many others to achieve their dream of having a family as well. They were able to use a product that gave the same function as a turkey baster or syringe but with better functionality and much more pleasure. The Semenette, now called the POP Dildo, was revolutionary to the LGBTQ+ community and continues to be the gold standard for those couples that wish to start a family at home. POP is also well known in the trans community as a great option for those that wish to have access to a product that they can wear in a harness that will mimic an ejaculation.”

Women See the Details That Make the Difference

There’s a reason women have long been associated with master multitasking. Where many numerically-minded men miss important subtleties — like the desire to ejaculate from a silicone penis, or why typical shaving cream just doesn’t cut it for bikini line care — women bring an artistic touch that gives branding an "oomph" of sisterly honesty.

“When we started the re-branding process for Classic Brands a few years ago, we set out to create brands that were unparalleled in creating amazing memories for women, be it with themselves or with a partner,” says Nicole McCree. “From our amazing pheromone fragrances to our infamous Coochy Shave Cream to our new CG Collection, we have three main objectives. One, to develop amazing products specifically designed to enhance a woman’s physical pleasure. Two, to create body-safe products using as many natural ingredients as possible and with as few additives, preservatives, and colors. Three, to design a visually beautiful package that is both playful and pretty. Something that can sit boldly next to facial cream and mouthwash. We ARE uniquely intimate cosmetics!”

Historically, women have sometimes been portrayed as horned “she-devils” in art and entertainment. But if the devil is, in fact, in the details, women know exactly which finer points to emphasize for maximum effect.

“In January 2018 Pipedream Products introduced the Fantasy For Her collection with a selection of products that were specifically developed to encourage sexual empowerment and create a complete personal pleasure experience,” says Sunny Rodgers, brand ambassador and sex educator for Diamond Products. “To really set the tone with these items, as well as set them apart, I wrote sexy erotic stories featuring each product. These stories replaced regular package copy. My reasoning for this was that these stories would set the tone and create an experience in a consumer’s mind, while also sharing how Fantasy For Her items can be used — and how they can be beneficial.”

In the grand scheme of business, it just makes sense to place women in decision-making paths in sex accessory design and marketing. Research data and focus groups can only bring so much to the table. Ideas like Rodgers’ erotic copy-writing or Julie Stewart’s inclusive office environment make a genuine impression on female consumers.

There’s just no fooling female shoppers when they’re on a mission, especially where comfort and sex are involved. If there’s one stereotype that endures, it’s that of the discerning woman at the store window. She’ll spot the sex toy equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing from a mile away.

“Sportsheets has had women in positions of leadership, product development, and branding since our founding,” says Stewart. “Our packaging has always embraced the male and female gaze as important and relevant, with a goal of developing imagery that is both sexy and classy. Since our company was built with the mission of keeping couples connected, the female experience has been critical in product development because if the product and packaging doesn’t appeal to the female half of a couple, it won’t make it out of the box.”

Pushing for Progress

Despite immense progress, the battle for women’s bodies — and wallets — isn’t over quite yet. Would-be female founders still experience setbacks in securing funding for sex toy brands and finding product placement in the mainstream.

In certain areas of the country, suburbanites aren’t experiencing the same sexual freedoms as the babes in the big cities.

“It has taken decades to change consumer response and I fear we still have a long way to go before we are truly accepted as a legitimate industry,” says Bertino. “When we first opened in 1980, it was very difficult for women to even have the courage to walk into our store. While more women are finding the confidence to embrace their sexuality, I still find in the suburban areas where we are located, that many women still don’t want people to know that they shop our stores. And we still continue to battle with cities when trying to open new stores!”

Unsurprisingly, the male-led tech industry has kicked back the hardest against CEOs like Crave’s Ti Chang and Unbound’s Polly Rodriguez. Chang and Rodriguez have both been denied multiple times during attempts to advertise on social media platforms and in other public spaces that haven’t been as tough on men’s wellness products.

“We have seen strong mainstream traction in both the design community and in retail with stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Goop and Urban Outfitters that now all carry Crave,” says Chang. “This is encouraging, as it will help to normalize conversations around pleasure and sexuality. Yet, we are also seeing surprisingly prudish attitudes from modern tech companies like Facebook and Instagram as they ban any promotion of products for pleasure, particularly female pleasure. Companies like ours can’t advertise or promote posts on Facebook, regardless of content. And we see a clear double standard here: products that support male sexual well-being are generally allowed, while products that support women’s pleasure are not. Viagra and other erectile dysfunction products? No problem. Vibrators? No way.”

But as with most underdog businesses, consumers’ voices are stronger than any sexist corporate responses. Designers like Chang and Cuccia have found success by promoting directly to consumers, who have embraced their unique, quality-driven pleasure products and honest brand values.

“For the most part, the people who understand Chakrubs’ mission were receptive to it when we first launched in 2012,” recalls Cuccia. “Back then we were faced with a lot of backlash from people calling us crazy for utilizing crystals and promoting self-love and awareness through masturbation. We’ve since built a loyal customer base who understand what our ethos is, but it does feel very accepted and understood now as opposed to a harebrained scheme. The discussion of sexual abuses coming to light with the #MeToo movement has also allowed people to understand the value of inviting an emotionally supportive pleasure object into one’s healing journey."

Hopeful Harbingers

We’d be hard-pressed to find a single woman in history who’s given up before a battle was won. These proud pleasure pioneers are no exception, and there’s an air of positivity laced in every setback.

“I think we’ll see sexual wellness and intimate self-care becoming more of a focus for consumers, which will make it more of a focus for manufacturers,” says Rodgers. “Sexuality is an integral part of being human. Love, affection and sexual intimacy contribute to healthy relationships and individual well-being. I think that more people will be discovering the benefits that a healthy sex life can bring, and along with that, how intimate pleasure products can play an important part.”

Many women in the industry are gratified by with having played a role in such a pivotal time for sexual freedom. With every product that makes it to an e-tailer or a local adult shop comes a new discussion, and a novel reason to feel excitement for the future.

“It’s an interesting time in adult. We have more people coming to market — with both truly unique inventions as well as branded variations of known shapes,” says Amrich. “We are seeing more female founders and folks creating items that are personal to them — from a void in their own lives. In the past this type of product development has led to user-friendly and groundbreaking innovations. My hope is that we continue to see more of this and less redundancy.”

As Bertino suggests, there’s just no stopping this pleasure freight train that women have tirelessly fueled with passion and intelligence. Eventually, the proverbial old boys’ club will be forced to give way to the future, and that future doesn’t make space for judgments.

“I think as society continues to evolve and become more progressive about sex toys and sexual health, our industry will become more mainstream,” says Bertino. “Products are already evolving and will continue to evolve to be less gender-specific and more gender-neutral. Sleek lines, innovative technology and modern colors will help the sex toy industry assimilate into modern society. As industry leaders, we must continue to appeal to mainstream buyers without losing the sexy edge which makes our industry so unique.”

The Femme Future of Sex Toys

The femme take-over is dawning on the sex-tech world like a looming tsunami, and within the pleasure products sector, the majority of floor space is already female-dominated.

“I think we will continue to see more and more companies being run by women and products being created by women for women,” says Berman. “Technology only continues to become more advanced and women are leading the charge in the way of innovation. Consumers are becoming savvier and more assertive with what they expect from companies and manufacturers will continue to raise the bar to exceed those expectations and create loyalty to their brand.”

And for those that still see the value in putting down the smart phone during sex, there’s certainly something for the low-tech crowd, too.

“I believe that the sex toy industry will increasingly become more technologically advanced, but what I see happening is the pendulum swinging in the other direction to support real intimacy and connection,” says Cuccia. “I see sexual education including education on consent and creating boundaries, as well as emotional intelligence and the art of love. Chakrubs is not technologically advanced by any means but the power comes from giving people the space to feel intimate with themselves on levels beyond the physical. I believe that is what people will begin to desire more and more as technology develops.”

For future female presidents and CEOs, green won’t always be so tough to come by. Tech investment opportunities are similarly going the way of the dinosaur, meaning we’ll see less stuffy men in suits handing over checks and more wealthy women powering the industry with life-changing investments.

“The other factor that will drive strong industry growth will be the continued influx of investment in this space,” says Dunham. “As demand grows through the normalization of our products and investment dollars in the space, I see lots of room for advancement in toy design utilizing new technologies, materials and innovative ideas. Many times break-through technology can be expensive and can require longer development cycles. This is where I believe investment will have a large impact on new products. As it relates to the female consumer, she is going to be more empowered than ever before to take control of her own pleasure. Pleasure will no longer be a privilege for her, but a right.”

Money and sex are undeniably powerful cultural influencers, and when women are in control of the finances and the end goals, consumers will finally be served on every level of their specific sexual needs.

“I think it’s less about what sex toy manufacturing looks like per se, and more that we need to reexamine our relationship with our bodies to give ourselves permission to touch, love and play with ourselves,” says Chang. “I think the future of sex is a world where we better understand our bodies. Sure, it would be interesting if you could have sex with a mermaid robot (and maybe you will be able to), but the most transformative future would be in removing the stigma that gets in the way of our pleasure. Because all the sex robots or widgets are not going to change much if we believe pleasure is shameful and taboo.”

In conclusion, women aren’t going anywhere except upward with break-neck speed. Female influence in tech, design, and marketing grows stronger with each passing year, and with every product sale comes a new beginning for a consumer who’s finally discovered her most intimate, awesome self. When women succeed, the world actually becomes a better place, and when businesses focus on helping consumers thrive, there’s no telling what we can accomplish as a whole.

“I know that we are going to continue to fight, to educate the world that sexual pleasure is moral and just part of living,” says Alex Fine. “Sex is about thriving in life and it is also about the survival of our race. I hope we see more nuance in how wee look at the industry. What we do in this industry can have a profound impact on society and I hope we are all taking that responsibility seriously.”

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