How retailers are ditching the stigma and taking sex toys mainstream

The Drum has assembled an enviable panel of magnificent minds from the industry and beyond to identify the latest trends and brilliant ideas shaping our space. Here’s what’s been exciting them lately…

From our sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll issue, Ti Chang, co-founder and vice-president of design at Crave (manufacturer of luxury toys for women), looks at how modern design has taken sex toys out of the back alleys and into the mainstream.

We have a complicated relationship with sex, sexual pleasure and sex culture. The ‘adult industry’ is a multi-billion dollar sector, but until recently, transacted mostly behind closed doors.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you may have noticed that you can now purchased sex toys in the brightly lit aisles of your local drugstore. Major brands such as Trojan and formidable sex toy companies are finding mainstream shelf space. No more visits to seedy DVD shops. We have gone from stigmatised to mainstream, and both customers and manufacturers are experimenting to see what that will mean going forward.

In college, my friends and I were thrilled by what we saw as the frank sexual openness on Sex and the City. Compare that to 50 Shades of Grey, the best-selling book trilogy and film phenomenon, which is far more explicit. While the literary and artistic merits are questionable, this ‘mummy porn’ was indisputably a significant cultural phenomenon. It has reinvigorated the adult toy industry and introduced erotic practices to mainstream audiences while sparking global conversations around pleasure.

As a designer of adult toys for the past six years, I have witnessed a massive shift on the walls of our retailers. The ‘bookstores’ and porn shops are either closing down or upgrading. Shelves of poorly made novelties are now being replaced with not just a few chic modern designs, but countless products that embrace (or try to embrace) contemporary design and technology. Ugly packaging with porn stars and scantily clad women has given way to clean and simple product-centric packaging you’d find on smartphones or high-end cosmetics. Categorically these modern products are no longer just for women but for men (although fewer) and couples.

This previously stigmatised space is now filled with new entrepreneurs, designers and engineers who didn’t come from the adult industry, but rather Fortune 500 consumer product backgrounds. And guess what? The market is very interested. With this influx of new companies and products, there are a fair share of sensational claims of ‘the first product…’, ‘the only vibrator with…’. Many products will be quick to implement newer internet of things technologies and under deliver on the experience. Imagine having your partner pointing a remote control directly at your crotch to make sure the signal is received… makes you feel real sexy, right?

What I am most excited about is seeing how losing the stigma around sex toys can help people own their desire and pleasure, how people can be part of conversations with their partners, friends. Culturally we are more than ready for modern products for pleasure. Design will lead the way, but only thoughtful designs will win the day.

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