Over the past decade, the pleasure industry has changed in more ways than most of us could ever have imagined. The needle has shifted radically on what is “mainstream.” Part of that shift has been the industry coming together to help transgender and gender nonconforming people feel seen and heard. What started as a few items in small stores has now grown into its own category: gender affirmation products. That includes anything that helps a person’s appearance or sexual expression align with their gender identity.
Small boutiques, often referred to as “feminist sex shops,” were the first to cater to the growing interest in gender affirmation products. These shops intentionally sought out innovative products for gender play and expression. They diversified their inventory and supported smaller manufacturers. These shops were the only place where transmasculine customers could see and feel packers, stand-to-pee (STP) devices, strokers and binders — or discover that such products existed at all. For years, independent shops were the only place to find gender affirmation products.
Before trans culture began growing and becoming more visible, including in art, music and nightlife, it was difficult for trans people to access hormones and surgery — as it still is in many places. A medical protocol called “standard of care” required people to prove their identity with a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria, months of therapy and referral letters from mental health professionals. This process could take years. Then, in 2013, there was a shift, Florida adopted “informed consent,” which allows individuals the autonomy to decide for themselves, no diagnosis required.
For the first time, there were no gatekeepers deciding who was “really” transgender and who could medically transition. For approximately $10,000, adults could go to Florida and access gender-confirming surgery. Other states followed, updating their policies and making gender confirmation surgery more accessible and affordable. Millennials are the first generation who can medically transition without gatekeepers. This has made transitioning easier, increased trans visibility, changed culture — and made an indelible impact on the industry by sparking curiosity and boosting product demand.
Adult stores have always been a destination for sexual exploration, and now they also help customers with gender expression. Retailers are seeing demand for packers, STPs, strokers, binders and other accessories. There is every indication that the demand for gender affirmation products is increasing. Millennials and Gen Z expect their identities to be acknowledged, respected and reflected.
As the movement continues to build, institutions are being challenged. The U.S. now offers the option for an “X” gender marker on passports. The International Olympic Committee has new policies defining who can participate in women’s sports, leading many to question the future of Title IX. The mainstream acceptance, acclaim and success of artists and performers like Lil Nas X, Laverne Cox and Elliot Page was simply unfathomable 20 years ago. Trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming celebrities, influencers and business leaders have been able to come out to the world and maintain their success, telling their own stories and controlling their own narratives.
Each year, more retailers step up and offer gender affirmation products. Change is inevitable. The Harvard Business Review reports that the majority of millennials believe that gender is a spectrum evolving over a lifetime. Actively sharing pronouns is now mainstream, simply one example of how millennials and Gen Z view gender expression. Over 12% of millennials identify as transgender or nonbinary. The Gen Z population includes our youngest adult customers. Gen Z is projected to be the most fluid group: 25% are expected to change their gender identity at least once during their lifetime. Gender fluidity means that gender expression is not fixed, but in flux. If this projection is accurate, gender fluidity may drive more customers to brick-and-mortar stores. Affirmation products are highly personal, and often seen as an extension of self, so people want to see and touch the products.
Retailers can signal that they have options for nonbinary customers by integrating the progress Pride flag or transgender flag into window displays. With Pride coming up, now is a great time to feature gender affirmation products. Suggestions for transmasculine inventory include packers, STP devices, strokers, pack-and-plays and pumps. Complementary products include: STP/packer straps, specialty underwear and lube. Transfeminine inventory includes gaff underwear, dilator sets and breast forms, and can be purchased through distributors or boutique manufacturers. Products that explore gender play can also be included, like dildos and harnesses.
Sex and authenticity are essential components of well-being. As members of the pleasure products industry, we are in a unique position to support gender fluidity. I feel proud to be part of a dynamic and continuously evolving industry that can improve people’s lives. The world has changed and will only continue to do so. Perhaps Heraclitus said it best: “The only constant in life is change.”