ONE OF THE MORE obscure examples of life imitating Sex and the City dates back to an early episode in which Charlotte, the “good girl,” became hooked on a candy-coloured vibrator called the Rabbit. The very next day, sex shops across North America sold out of the model. To this day, in fact, the Rabbit family of products (yes, they’ve multiplied) remains among the best-sellers. Once the stuff of seedy back-alley porn shops, sex toys-vibrators, dildos and other adult novelty products-have gone mainstream to the point where soon, buying a “personal massager” may be about as outré as owning a crimping iron.
On television, zany vibrator storylines are integrated into shows like Ally McBealand Will&Grace. In New York, a trendy company called Safina is offering “shtupperware” parties for women (athome gatherings where vibrators, instead of plastic containers, are the merchandise on offer). Even drugstore.com, a leading on-line retailer, is selling a vast selection of vibrators, dildos and bondage gear alongside its allergy medications and paper plates. “Sex toys are definitely coming out of the murky sexual closet and being seen as legitimate products to buy,” says Cory Silverberg, a sex educator and the co-owner of Come As You Are in Toronto, Canada’s first co-operatively run sex shop.
In North America, sex toys are a $500million-a-year industry, supported largely by middle-class heterosexual couples in their 30s and 40s. And it’s growing fast thanks to a new generation of savvy, confident consumers who unapologetically watch shows like Sue Johanson’s Sunday Night Sex Show. “Our sales are in the $5to SlO-million range,” says Larry Gayne, president of Lady Calston, a Toronto-based sex toy manufacturer that sells its products on-line and distributes them to retail stores. “Let’s just say that 20to 25-per-cent sales increases per year are not uncommon.”
To feed the growing demand among women in particular, marketers are creating packages and retail spaces that are non-threatening and more aesthetically appealing. “Gone are the days when every vibrator came in a box with a naked woman with huge breasts on it,” says $ilverberg. Instead, the latest designs are subtle, playful and, in some cases, even stylish. “We have people who come in and buy sex toys to match the colours of their sheets,” he says.
Perhaps most remarkable is the explosion of choices to have emerged in the past decade. In stores like Montreal’s Boutique 5éduction-the Home Depot of sex shops-customers can choose from hundreds of shapes, sizes and colours (hot pink and lavender being among the most popular). They sell vibrators that light up or have 10 speeds, are triplepronged or hypoallergenic, and shaped like everything from a rubber duck to a tube of lipstick. $ome will do everything but light your post-coital cigarette.
For the would-be gynecologist, there’s the Video Voyeur ($189.99), equipped with a tiny camera that plugs into your TV for “internal viewing action.” For the big spender, there’s the $12,000 Real Doll—the most expensive, realistic “love doll” on the market-made with “Hollywood special effects technology.” (You can customize everything from breast size to French manicure.)
$ex toys may not be on department-store shelves yet, but the idea seems less outlandish now than it did a decade ago. Get ready for a different kind of Toyland.
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