Woman-Friendly Sex Shops: By The Numbers

Babeland, New York's Lower East Side location (Yelp)

Babeland, New York’s Lower East Side location (Yelp)

Dell Williams, who died last week at age 92, is credited with founding the first woman-friendly sex shop in the nation. Her store Eve’s Garden, founded in 1974, was born out of a need for a safe space for women to embrace and grow their sexuality and respective needs and desires (as well as selling high-end toys and products).

Williams was very much ahead of her time in that respect. Over forty years later, we now have many woman-friendly sex stores. They tend to be founded in same spirit of celebration and discovery of sexuality that Eve’s Garden was. Education and empowerment go hand-in-hand.

Here’s a timeline of how woman-friendly sex shops have evolved:

1970s: After gaining popularity in the gay community, The Pleasure Chest becomes more couple- (and woman-) friendly.

1974: Dell Williams opened Eve’s Garden, the nation’s first woman-friendly sex shop.

1977: Joani Blank opened the first Good Vibrations store in San Francisco.

1993: Noticing a niche needing to be filled, Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning founded Toys in Babeland in Seattle.

1998: Toys in Babeland opened a store in New York.

2003: The Smitten Kitten opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

2005: Toys in Babeland changes its name to simply Babeland, to better reflect a sexually satisfying lifestyle.

2006: Good Vibrations opened a store in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was the fourth store total, and the first to open outside of California.

2009: Evy Cowan and Jeneen Doumitt opened She Bop in Portland, Oregon.

 

This is just a handful of woman-friendly sex shops.

It’s interesting to note that not only are these stores woman-friendly, but they were also founded by women. Clearly, it takes one to know one, in the case of knowing what women want in their sex toy shopping experience. There also appears to be a link between owning your sexuality and entrepreneurship. Very interesting!

 

How Has “Fifty Shades of Grey” Impacted the Sex Toy Industry?

'Fifty Shades of Grey'-themed sex toys (Crushable)

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’-themed sex toys (Crushable)

With the recent “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie coming out last month (along with the requisite storm of thinkpieces), the sex toy industry is seeing an impact on the bottom line.

Different sex toy retailers are feeling an impact. “Variety” reports that Manhattan-based The Pleasure Chest was offering “Fifty Shades”-themed classes every night leading up to the movie’s premiere (though it doesn’t say for many weeks this went on).

Online retailer Adam & Eve, which holds the largest market share at 4%, has also gained a boost in sales. They’re also selling their own toy line “Scarlet Couture” pegged to the movie, in addition to the official “Fifty Shades”-inspired line.

“The Hollywood Reporter” has a piece which came out before the movie opened giving us some hard numbers. The U.K. sex toy brand Lovehoney made the line of “Fifty Shades”-inspired toys, which includes blindfolds, riding crops and feather ticklers. Demand for the “Inner Goddess” Ben Wa balls (or vaginal balls) sold out Europe in pre-orders. (Full disclosure: I was actually given a box of these when I attended a sexual health conference in January.)

THR reports that Lovehoney’s profits “tripled from $1.1 million the year before to $3.39 million by January 2014.” The “Fifty Shades” line has already sold 1.2M units worldwide, and is estimated to boost sales by 40% once the movie debuts.

If you’re looking for lingerie, Bluebella has you covered. The lingerie line has three “Fifty Shades”-inspired collections, and they anticipate a spike in sales not only from the movie, but also from Valentine’s Day.

“Inc.” also had a comprehensive article on this cultural phenomenon, and puts it in the larger context of a sea change. Market research firm IBISWorld found the following:

Between 2008 and 2013, sex toy sales in the U.S. increased by approximately 12.5 percent annually, raking in $610 million in 2013 overall.

The article notes that it’s more the smaller companies seeing a boon to their bottom line. But there’s also been a shift in who the sex toy industry’s customers are:

In 2013, women made up approximately 67 percent of U.S. industry patronage, which was a 12 percent increase from 2008.

It’ll be interesting to see if this is just a one-time sales spike, specifically in BDSM gear, or if this trend will continue, eventually making the practice almost, dare I say, vanilla.

 

 

 

 

 

#ThrowbackThursday: The Comstock Act, 1873

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice seal (Loyno)

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice seal (Loyno)

Praise be for mail-order sex toys. We wouldn’t have that option if the Comstock Act was enforced.

Enacted on Mar. 3, 1873, the Comstock Act (named after the bill’s cheerleader/goody-two-shoes Anthony Comstock) made it illegal to send sex toys, erotica, and items used in abortions, as well as information pertaining to said items, through the U.S. Postal Service. All of these things were classified as “obscene, lewd or lascivious.” The full title of the act was “The Act for the “Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use”. (What a mouthful, no wonder it was cut down to the Comstock Act.)

But what exactly was banned was a bit confusing. In some cases, medical textbooks showing basic human anatomy weren’t allowed to be sent through the mail. Because of this, the Act was understandably difficult to enforce. Though it remains on the books today, aspects of it have been torn down.

Thank god, because I can’t imagine a world where Adam & Eve, The Pleasure Chest and countless other retailers aren’t allowed to exist and flourish, and send us hours of pleasure packed in a brown-paper-wrapped box labeled with discreet shipping.