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What the $15 Billion Sex Toy Industry Tells Us About Sexuality Today

America is in the midst of another sexual revolution.
 
 
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Xbiz, the adult entertainment industry trade association, held its 11th annual awards gala at the Los Angeles Century Plaza Hotel o n January 11, 2013. Dubbed by industry insiders as the "Academy Awards of the sex industry,” the event was hosted by the porn star Tera Patrick. In attendance were such industry “celebrities” as James Deen (co-starring with Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons), Bollywood star Sunny Leone, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, and Ron Jeremy, an industry stalwart.  

At the ceremony, LELO, a Swedish adult sex paraphernalia company), received the Pleasure Products Company of the Year award. Its products range from high-end vibrators to an assortment of intimate toys including cuffs, ties and blindfolds as well as pleasure enhancements like massage oils, candles and other products. In additional to selling in Europe, it operates in the U.S., Australia and Asia and Europe and had reported revenues of $6 million in 2008.

Adult sex is alive and well in America. The phenomenal success of E. L. James'  50 Shades of Grey and its sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, having sold 20 million books in the U.S., suggest just how receptive ordinary Americans are to the once illicit or immoral.  

The Kinky Scene

On Valentine’s Day, February 14, the comedian Kathy Griffin appeared on “The Tonight Show” where, chortling with Jan Leno, she revealed that she had tricked her mother into visiting the Pleasure Chest, a sex accoutrements shop in New York’s Greenwich Village. Videotaping the episode for her Bravo cable show, “My Life on the D-List,” she had her mom play with whips, wear leather animal masks and brandish paddles. Griffin and her mom seemed to have a grand time, and so did Leno … and, most likely, so did late-night viewers.

The Pleasure Chest and other adult toy providers are receiving increased media exposure, thus helping to further mainstream the sex paraphernalia market. Earlier in February, ABC’s “Nightline” ran an episode, “ The Porn Star Next Door,” featuring James Deen, a 26-year-old actor who reportedly appeared in some 4,000 X-rated films – and also a big winner at the Xbix show.

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a Discovery cable service, recently ran a 1-hour episode on its “Our America with Lisa Ling” show highlighting the Pleasure Chest. It offered viewers an insider’s look at the kinky scene, profiling a bondage and domination workshop. Another Discovery channel, TLC, ran an episode of its “Starter Wives” reality show featuring a segment at the Pleasure Chest. Sex toys are hot.

The sex paraphernalia marketplace is huge and getting bigger every year. It includes the fetish objects, sex toys, lubricants and costumes that enhance sexual fantasy. Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator in 1902, about a decade before it introduced the electric iron and vacuum cleaner. Trojan, having sold condoms in drug stores for more than eight decades, introduced vibrators in 2010. In 2012, Trojan salespeople were busted in New York for giving away free dildos on street corners using a converted hot dog cart.  

Major health-products retailers are jumping into the adult toy business under the guise of offering healthcare products. Walmart and CVS are representative of this trend, both featuring products from Durex and Trojan. However, Amazon remains the largest purveyor of adult toys, offering an estimated 60,000 items.

Stefan Dallakian, owner of Paris Intimates, an online sex toy distributor, estimates the sex-toy business grosses $15 billion in annual sales. Even in a severe economic downturn, Dallakian claims that his U.S. sales have skyrocketed. Perhaps, with less money to go out, couples are investing in their sexual pleasures. A generation ago, men who were part of the "raincoat crowd" sneaked into shabby shops run in down-market sections of towns across the country to buy and look at porn. Catalog shopping and now the web have changed all that, offering near-instantaneous access to tens, if not hundreds of thousand of sex-related sites.  

“People no longer have to drive to the porn store and make a face-to-face purchase,” Dallakian said. “Online ordering with discreet shipping saves you the embarrassment of exposing your kinks to strangers, and there’s absolutely zero risk of running into somebody you know while shopping."

 
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