Sex toys are going mainstream. This is the most recent trend that the adult industry is witnessing, and we must be able to adapt. Sexual wellness has rapidly increased in popularity over the past several years in all areas of the market. Our stores created a “Health and Wellness” section during 2020 so it’s no surprise that department stores are also jumping into the mix. For decades, sex, pleasure and masturbation have been seen as taboo and still often are. It was rarely talked about in our schools and seen as shameful. We as sex educators, sexperts and those working in this industry, including the clerks on the front lines have taken great strides to change the stigmas that surround sexual health and pleasure. Before we get into this new trend and what this means for us, let’s dig a bit deeper into what exactly is sexual wellness.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. They go on further to state that sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Sexuality should not be stigmatized; the fact is most people are having sex or masturbating and not many were talking about it before. Well, that has changed, people are talking about sex.
What comes to mind when you think of your own sexual wellness? For me, it’s about being sex-positive and open to discussions surrounding sex. It’s about knowing your body and learning what you like and don’t like. We should be having these conversations with our partners and be honest with our wants and needs without judgment. With sex toys going mainstream, it will certainly make these once-taboo topics become more socially accepted. I know many of us in the pleasure products industry have mixed feelings about all this and I can completely understand why. We are the ones who have been pushing year after year, decade after decade for equal rights for our businesses to exist and be accepted. Our reality is even today we can’t obtain an adult license to open new locations in certain towns or areas, and not all banks will work with us. Our advertising online and in other forms is very limited and subjected to ridicule and judgment. In all honesty, if these department stores want to blow me away, show me a display and some point-of-sale educational material front and center. I mean l can wish right? One day that can happen, and we must be prepared for it. Although, it does look like for now most of these retailers are focusing on their ecommerce sites and those sales.
The latest retailer to jump on the sexual wellness trend is Sephora, which announced on Feb. 1 of this year that it will now carry sex toys online. Pleasure products will be marketed under the category of Intimate Care on its website. Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom both began carrying sex toys last year. The idea that you can shop for clothing or shoes as well as sex toys is enticing, to say the least, to many consumers. We are aware that for some time now Walmart, Target and pharmacies have carried a small line of sexual wellness products such as vibrators, massagers and lubricants online and in stores. We haven’t really had to compete with those retailers as I don’t see them much as our competition. The average customer going into those establishments are not necessarily going in there to shop for sex toys or ask personal questions. Furthermore, I highly doubt the staff in these stores have the education that is needed to sell these types of products. It’s more of a one-stop shop, which can be super convenient for some consumers, but doesn’t provide the complete experience that an adult retailer does.
Additionally, in adult retail, we have the advantage to market and promote sexual products in our stores however we want to without having to adhere to specific branding. We know what sells well for our clientele and demographics. We shouldn’t have to rebrand ourselves to meet anyone’s criteria of what they think an adult store should be. Not to mention our stores have evolved over the past from the once dark video stores of the ‘90s to the well-lit and colorful stores we see today.
Lastly and most importantly, we know education is essential when working within the adult retail industry. Most sex education taught in schools is not pleasure- based or inclusive. Therefore, your basic non-adult retail clerk may not have the knowledge that’s possessed by our industry, including the customer-facing retail staff in our adult stores. This is what is going to set us apart from the other retailers. It is first and foremost our education and training followed by the experience.
When you come into our stores, we welcome everyone and offer a safe and inclusive shopping experience. We encourage questions and give recommendations based on education and experience.
My hopes are that those consumers purchasing sex toys at these department stores or the Walmarts of the world will see that it has become more mainstream and finally take the leap to stop in one of the many adult stores if they haven’t yet. We will be waiting for them!