While the adult retail industry has evolved to empower female sexuality in the quest to close the “orgasm gap” between cisgender men and women, today’s most progressive brands are setting their sights on creating a landscape that’s focused on pleasure for everyone — gender aside.
Through products that are designed for any body to enjoy, and marketing that doesn’t exclude individuals based on outdated ideas about how gender is defined, the pleasure products industry is shifting the conversation around sensuality on a fundamental level.
The more we learn scientifically about pleasure, the more creatively we can design products that don’t just mimic human anatomy but complement it to create new pleasure experiences.
“ At Satisfyer we believe that gender is experienced on a spectrum,” said Megwyn White, Satisfyer’s director of education. “Each gender is infinite and non-binary. Harnessing sensuality has the potential to be an incredible creative act, which helps us to honor that spectrum of infinite expression.”
According to White, inclusivity is best expressed by leaving a lot to the imagination, and allowing people to use their innate creativity to discover how an intimate accessory can be used for their unique sensual pleasure. For far too long, gendering pleasure products has limited their reach to either male or female consumers.
“The adult industry has been surprisingly old-fashioned in the marketing efforts being aimed at one or two types of bodies and the truth is that’s an isolating approach to any industry,” COTR, Inc. Sales Director Kimberly Scott Faubel said. “While the sexual wellness industry has been privy to this information in ways that mainstream industries are only now enlightened to, it was largely ignored in the visual representation of products. For us at COTR, it’s as simple as being aware of the world we live in and knowing that every single body is worthy of pleasure and the bodies using these products deserve to be visually represented.”
Last year, Hot Octopuss took the initiative to make its website welcoming to all who visit with a feature that is a first of its kind — a “non-binary button” that gives site users the option to remove all gendered terminology.
“Gender inclusivity really hits home with us as we understand that stereotypes hurt everyone,” said Julia Margo, co-founder and COO of Hot Octopuss. “Narrow ideas of gender roles make it feel unsafe for men to express their feelings, women to express their desires, and for anyone to choose their pronouns. We were all assigned our gender before we had a say in the matter. Hot Octopuss strives to normalize gender diversity and to empower our audience with sovereignty around their sex lives and their sense of self.”
Alexandra Fine, the CEO and co-founder of Dame Products, views inclusivity as integral when discussing sex because just about everybody has it — as evidenced by the diversity among the brand’s customer base.
“We source from a diverse group of people to provide feedback during product development and testing in order to create products for as many people as possible,” Fine said. “As an e-commerce platform, we’re able to track demographics seamlessly, which in turn reinforces our desire for branding and messaging that speaks broadly and resonates. Our goal has always been to provide a wide array of tools so people of all sexualities, experiences and familiarity with sex toys overall can have pleasurable sex.”
Soumyadip Rakshit, MysteryVibe co-founder and CEO, says that true inclusivity recognizes that no two bodies are like — whether in terms of genitalia, identity or preferences.
“Looking back at the history of sex toys, the biggest trend we see is one of personalization, where products, services and experiences are tailored towards the user, giving them more control over their and their partner’s pleasure,” Rakshit said. “Starting simple with more variety in shapes and sizes allows customers more choice, and caters towards a wider spectrum of genders and orientations. Building upon that with customizations that can be done prior to or during play, gives users the ability to create their own pleasure experience to match their tastes, moods and times, allowing them to experience new types and heights of pleasure unlike any before.”
The proliferation of gender-driven products and marketing in adult retail has inspired many entrepreneurs to establish brands that are distinctly focused on defying gender stereotypes.
Wild Flower’s co-founders Amy and Nick Boyajian established their retail website with inclusivity in mind; and further expressed their dedication to the non-binary community by developing Enby — a toy that’s billed as “a vibrator for every body” and is named in homage to the short form of non-binary (N.B. or “enby”), which “highlights the product’s prioritization of all bodies and identities.”
“One of the main reasons why we originally created Wild Flower was because we felt that the current sex toy retail offerings were really excluding to our experiences and the experiences of our friends and others,” Amy Boyajian said. “As two individuals who do not identify with binary gender labels, it was so obvious to us what was lacking in how sex toys were being presented to consumers. Many products were heavily gendered in their names, colors and packaging and this felt excluding to us.”
Cute Little Fuckers is a brand that was established with the goal of creating a world where all people have access to healthy sexual expression and education, the company said, as it recently announced the worldwide availability of its line. Each “cute monster” toy is innocuous enough to leave out on a nightstand, and has its own pronouns and personalities that are lived out in a webcomic series that covers sexual health and modern issues.
In September 2019, CLF gained attention when it became the first sex toy allowed on Kickstarter since 2015, largely in part for its unique educational elements. Supporters responded by helping them raise nearly three times their financial goal. Cute Little Fuckers is rooted in queer visibility and the sex-positive activist work by founder and creator Step Tranovich.
“ As gender equality becomes more realized, gender division and gender roles have become increasingly obsolete, especially to the youngest generation currently entering the buying market,” Tranovich said. “To them and many others, the differences between genders have become incredibly blurry, making gendered marketing not only ineffective, but even offensive! Ethics aside, do you really want to be offending the fastest growing adult toy consumer base?”
New York Toy Collective, which won the 2020 XBIZ Award for LGBT Pleasure Product of the Year, was founded with the goal of helping people feel comfortable in their bodies and feel sexy — and part of that mission has been to offer gender affirmation products.
“We’ve always believed that gender is an ever-changing and ever-fluid thing,” NYTC co-founder Chelsea Downs said. “As a pleasure products manufacturer which hand-pours and truly creates handmade products, we absolutely love the ability to quickly adapt to the needs of the community, and even make small batches of new products in new shapes, sizes and colors, to test market. This allows us to continuously focus on the particular needs of the consumers in that space, and provide options quickly, which has definitely helped us stay up to speed in terms of meeting the evolving demands and desires of those who seek gender affirmation products.”
Although it’s common for pleasure product marketing to highlight an item’s effectiveness in stimulating specific body parts, it may limit a toy’s appeal if said body parts are gendered in the process. Instead of discussing whom a toy is intended for Zoë Ligon, CEO and founder of Spectrum Boutique, advises companies to offer potential uses that don’t make a mention of gender.
“There’s nothing wrong with suggesting that a toy can be used on a clit, but if it can be used on a clit then it can also be used on a penis,” Ligon said. “Instead of calling it a clit vibe, it can just be an ‘external vibe.’ Some people assume, ‘Oh, no one uses toys this way! Penises use strokers!’ — but I speak to people every day who defy this assumption. I think we shouldn’t erase anatomical terms from products, because the consumer does need some specific ideas to get their brain curious, but don’t limit it to one type of body part in the branding or description.”
As one of the industry’s most progressive retailers, the Pleasure Chest never assumes its customers’ genders and highlights products based on how they deliver pleasure rather than the user it was designed for.
“We don’t know how a person identifies when they come to the store or website,” Pleasure Chest Purchasing Director Phoebe Grott said. “But we do know they are here to shop and to learn about themselves and what options are out there to help them along on their sexual journey. The more inclusive a product’s marketing and packaging is, the broader the customer base. Not pigeon-holing a product to a single target demographic dependent on gender is at its core good business sense. Sexuality and gender are not the same, and when we drop those labels the potential reach grows for a brand.”
In addition to highlighting the application of a product rather than a target consumer, Grott says that removing images of bodies from packaging also eliminates the possibility of alienating certain shoppers.
Beyond using verbiage and imagery intended for “men” and “women,” certain colors have unfortunately been gendered as well — especially pink and blue which have been used as gender signifiers since the 19th century.
“If your entire product line is aggressively pink, people will feel like you’re trying to tell them something,” Cute Little Fuckers’ Step Tranovich said. “If you have pictures of people on your marketing material, that signals to people what either they should look like or who they should be attracted to, alienating anyone who doesn’t fit the bill. Many people avoid these pitfalls by using neutral language and imagery, which totally works. But colorful and creative language etc., that touches on a variety of gender experiences can work excellently as well!”
Referring to gender as a “buffet” from which “you can take what you want, and leave the rest,” NYTC’s Chelsea Downs deliberately avoids using stereotypical color schemes, fonts, symbols and illustrations. She suggests that companies ask themselves, when creating visual marketing materials for a product, if certain language or an image is absolutely needed before going to print.
“Staying away from gender-specific imagery in photography as well as graphics is very helpful; obviously, hiring LGBTQIA+ people to assist in the creation of those visuals can be the best way to learn, understand and meet those goals,” Downs said. “To be blunt, everyone has pleasure-feeling holes, and everyone likes to put things in those holes, and our only obligation as manufacturers is to create and present products which assist in the creativity of people’s sexual and gender expressions. It’s not our obligation to lead consumers to use our products in a specific way we have predetermined they should be used because of some archaic stereotype about gender and sex.”
COTR, Inc.’s Kimberly Scott Faubel also believes that promoting inclusivity comes easier to brands that are being run by a diverse team.
“The team choosing models, sets, themes, etc., should be diverse and informed,” she said. “More than ever, we should be getting creative, enabling diversity, and helping create equity internally for marginalized folks. Marketing is a tremendous platform, perhaps the most important, for all types of people to be showcased and listened to. If the team is not diverse, the chances of marketing directives being diverse are too limited. Pay people for their input and work, and ask people who are different from you for their ideas and feedback.”
While one school of thought suggests that due to consumers’ lack of sex education, sex toy marketing should explicitly explain how and where on whose body to use a product, another proposes thinking outside of the box when designing items for accessing pleasure.
“There’s always going to be a market for very specifically anatomically-directed products, but the more we learn scientifically about pleasure, the more creatively we can design products that don’t just mimic human anatomy but complement it to create new pleasure experiences,” MysteryVibe’s Soumyadip Rakshit said. “Consequently, the marketing around them will naturally move away from gender into more inclusive territory.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Dame Products’ Alexandra Fine says that the overall biases associated with pleasure products and sexual wellness have historically made it impossible to overcome gender inequality by favoring cisgender men — particularly in mainstream advertising.
Last year, Dame Products filed a lawsuit against New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on grounds of sexism after the company’s proposed advertising campaign was rejected based on the MTA’s guidelines, which were updated to explicitly prohibit pleasure products while Dame’s proposal was pending.
The brand has also called out the unfair advertising guidelines on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram; and overcame discrimination from crowdfunding platforms by becoming the first sex toy company on Kickstarter in 2016.
“We need to continue to urge advertisers to treat sexual wellness solutions for all sexes and genders equally in how they approve or deny advertisements, whether they are ED medications, vibrators, lubricants, condoms, dildos, dilators, or books,” Dame Products’ Alexandra Fine said. “This leveling of the playing field is crucial to ensure all people have access to the products and solutions they need, as well as continue to break the stigma surrounding sexuality and sex toys specifically.”
A More Inclusive Industry
Although still a divisive topic in today’s society, the acceptance of gender as non-binary appears to be growing. In the pleasure products industry, brands are heeding the call from retailers and customers to develop products that are designed to serve the LGBTQ+ community; nevertheless, the Pleasure Chest’s Phoebe Grott says that there is more work to be done.
“ As a whole, product marketing remains entrenched in ‘for her’ and ‘for him’ toys,” she said. “The adult product marketplace has long been on the forefront of creating inclusive spaces for demographics marginalized due to sexuality and sexual practices, and we should be when it comes to disrupting gender assumptions about product users. I’m not proposing that manufacturers no longer design products that replicate genitals, but that the assumptions about the gender and sexuality of the consumer are dropped to grow demand and adapt to the consumer’s evolving understanding that gender and sexuality are not the same, nor do they remain the same throughout a person’s sexual journey.”
Cute Little Fuckers’ Step Tranovich says that the pleasure products industry is experiencing a great divide between those who are becoming more inclusive and those who are doubling down on the “tried and true” methods of marketing.
“Half the industry talks about sexual wellness, while the other half is selling a vice,” Tranovich said. “I think these old-school ways of doing things are dying out with the older generations they are serving, while any companies listening, adapting and including everyone are going to grow with the sex-positive youth only beginning to flood the market.”
By placing a greater focus on pleasure as an important part of one’s health — regardless of gender — through sex education, the pleasure products industry is steering consumers away from making assumptions about their sexuality and how it relates to their identity.
“ A big part of MysteryVibe’s mission is to open up these conversations — using smart technology and deeply researched content to create pleasurable experiences, support education, and enhance exploration,” MysteryVibe’s Soumyadip Rakshit said. “In particular we want to see sexual health delivered to the wider population factoring in age, disabilities, wealth, etc. We believe that the future trends in sex toys and sexual health in general would be around accepting it as an integral part of our health, and normalizing it much like meditation or yoga is today.”
Satisfyer’s Megwyn White says that while she’s seen a shift towards gender-neutral product categories that are welcoming to more consumers, the next step is for product descriptions to more accurately explain just how versatile most sex toys can be.
“These facts need to be illustrated with copy, but also with supplemental imagery, and contextual frameworks often found in blogs, social media, classes, etc.,” White said. “It’s important that companies seize these opportunities and broaden the landscape for their products to be seen by more potential buyers through creating these educational opportunities.”
Dame Products’ Alexandra Fine recommends manufacturers create more opportunities to obtain user feedback — which can lead to greater empathy for the consumers they intend to serve.
“In addition to developing toys that add value to solo or partnered sex, Dame is building a community to humanize a product space that isn’t always speaking to the audience it serves,” Fine said. “We’re aiming to contribute to a world with increased sexual understanding so our customers can value and honor their well-being — sexually and beyond, because it’s all connected!
“Through our research arm, Dame Labs, our customers inform so much of our product development process,” she said. “From the type of stimulation a product provides to where each button is placed, we test every detail with real people to ensure we’re providing real solutions for the bedroom — not just prescribing what we think people want/need.”
Many indie brands that are fighting the good fight for gender inclusivity in the adult retail industry are limited in their endeavors due to financial constraints. NYTC’s Chelsea Down believes that these smaller brands would greatly benefit from the support from colleagues — which would in turn lead to a more promising future for the industry as a whole.
“It’s a great idea for the industry to follow steps which have been taken in other realms: there could be mentorship panels, for instance, offering better ways to mentor and fund startups trying to enter the space with their innovations and creative ideas,” Downs said. “These could be as simple as providing informal advice over the phone, all the way to providing white-label services. Even something as simple as offering to share booth space at industry conferences and conventions can make a difference, in terms of visibility and eventual inclusion of new innovations in the retail space.”
Downs points out that industry events often come with paywalls that prohibit the participation from up-and-coming brands.
“It would be great if those conferences would allow the practice of sharing booth space more openly, or to offer a sliding scale section of the show floor to introduce smaller manufacturers to buyers,” Downs added. “People new to the space come with an enormous glut of questions, and often, those questions are similar if not exactly the same; to that end, educational panels or workshops for newcomers which address those 101-style questions would also be invaluable, to help them take those steps to become successful.”
Acknowledging that capitalism and nepotism is inherent to how some conduct business, Downs says it’s also important to create safe spaces for indie producers and manufacturers to showcase their unique solutions and innovative products.
“This also needs to happen without the fear of having the valuable contributions of newcomers stolen by bigger/richer companies — protections need to be in place so we’re not destructively competitive,” she said. “By saying ‘anyone is welcome here’ — because our customers definitely want to feel the same way when they come to our retail spaces — we will be able to grow and evolve as a collective industry.”
In order to be more inclusive of all gender identities, manufacturers and retailers need to walk the talk — meaning that their teams should also embrace diversity amongst themselves.
“Let’s admit it, no matter who you are, you can benefit from the input of someone different from you,” COTR, Inc.’s Kimberly Scott Faubel said. “So, if you aren’t aware of the need for intersectionality as a part of your regular practices, you have plenty of room for improvement.”
Wild Flower’s Amy Boyajian says that industry has a long way to go in diversifying the representation of gender expression, as well as including different narratives such as those of people of color, disabled people, and more queer representation.
“Companies should be looking at who is on their team and staff and ask themselves if they are including people of diverse experience in the creation of their products,” Boyajian added.
In addition to gender inclusivity, Hot Octopuss’ Julia Margo is calling on manufacturers to seek more feedback from fat and disabled folks when designing toys.
“ As much as research specific to women and men can be helpful, it oftentimes results in sweeping generalizations about sex and gender,” Margo said. “A more nuanced approach to the complexities of pleasure and sexuality should be taken when doing market research.”
Good Vibrations Education Director Andy Duran says that the famously sex-positive retailer was founded on the principle of being inclusive of all customers.
“For companies like ours, branding beyond the binary isn’t difficult,” he said. “Our staff and customers alike are all across the gender spectrum. But many stores that haven’t had as much exposure may not be aware of how little they don’t know or don’t question about gender. Inclusivity is a must if you are truly about helping your customers — any customer — find what¹s best for them.”
Spectrum Boutique’s Zoë Ligon recommends companies take the initiative to offer their teams LGBTQ+ diversity training (as well as racial justice training) “because it will only strengthen a brand’s ability to connect to its consumer.”
Ligon adds, “I think people wait for mistakes or call-outs to happen before taking action on educating themselves, but if we all make an effort collectively as an industry, we will show other industries that there is value in taking the time to be more aware.”
Pleasure for All
In order to be the most welcoming to today’s consumers, it’s crucial for pleasure products companies to move away from gendering products — because ultimately gender is irrelevant when it comes to experiencing pleasure.
“Sex toys don’t have sexes,” Good Vibrations’ Andy Duran said. “All toys can be unisex if you unwrap the way you see gender. For example, a penis toy could be used by folks who have a penis but don’t identify as male.”
Creating an opportunity for a consumer to explore their own individual sexual desires could be an incredibly welcoming experience for first-timers that may feel nervous about trying pleasure products.
“How much more freeing is it to be able to look at a toy and instead of asking ‘is this made for me?, you can instead ask “how can I use this?’” said Amy Boyajian of Wild Flower. “Sex toys that are made for a variety of bodies can be more exciting to explore. The process of buying sex toys can be intimidating to some so by offering an environment where any toy can be used by anybody, it makes the experience a lot more comfortable and enjoyable.”
Pleasure Chest’s Phoebe Grott also believes that all sex toys can be for everybody — although she adds that some bodies are uniquely designed to receive more sensation with specific toys.
“ Arousal is as diverse as snowflakes,” she said. “For example, the Tenga Egg, originally designed to be used on penises, has been sold almost as frequently as a wand topper as well as a masturbation sleeve.
“It’s also true that that everybody has a butt, making butt toys marketable to everybody. Products such as lube and kink toys are not user-specific, and even lingerie is unisex, because who doesn’t like soft fabric against skin?”
“Every Body Has a Butt” isn’t only a factual statement, it was also an XBIZ-awarding slogan that earned COTR, Inc.’s b-Vibe brand this year’s trophy for Marketing Campaign of the Year. The promotion’s correlating photo series showcase an array of diverse bodies showcasing the brand’s premium anal toys.
“Obviously, b-Vibe has conceptualized the truth that ‘Every Body Has a Butt,’ and our founder and CEO Alicia Sinclair has said, ‘the ass is the great equalizer,’ which is both funny and true,” COTR, Inc.’s Kimberly Scott Faubel said. “Those folks who work directly with consumers know that people will find new ways to use products, even if those products depict a different body or language on the package than the consumer can relate to.
“If we can change the idea that certain bodies are limited to certain sensations (i.e. only cis-women can enjoy penetration / vibration, etc.), the imagination becomes less limited and the possibilities are limitless. All bodies have the potential to enjoy penetration, vibration, massage and more — so it’s not just about specific features that can be enjoyed by all bodies, it’s about teaching people that exploration is the foundation of pleasure.” <>p>A toy with multiple functions and a versatile design can give users the room to find stimulation that’s right for them.
“Our Endless Fun product for instance can be used as a stroker, a penetrative vibe, or as a teasing tool for sensitive testicles,” Satisfyer’s Megwyn White said. “This product was also designed for helping couples entangled in various positions adapt their reach to use it. With a simple rotation of its 360-degree rotating head, couples can experiment in ways they never thought possible [regardless of their anatomy.]”
A multi-purpose toy that’s fully adaptable eases the stress over whether it’s the “correct” item for a specific region and allows the user to get creative.
“This is certainly what we found from the user feedback of Crescendo,” MysteryVibe’s Soumyadip Rakshit said. “Not having to worry about whether a toy will ‘fit’ is refreshingly freeing and helpful for people who’ve previously found the use of toys during sex distracting. In particular, users with limited mobility found the ability to control Crescendo via the app very helpful. They also found the ability to bend Crescendo into different shapes regardless of the position they were in, very useful in taking the burden of movement and contortion off them.”
Hot Octopuss also wants to maximize pleasure for users with versatile designs that take “the blatantly phallic element out of the design, and breaking it down to the basic elements that bring people pleasure,” Hot Octopuss’ Julia Margo said. “Our focus is on quality of oscillation, texture of material, and ergonomic curves that cozy up nicely with the nooks and crannies of most bodies.”
The sensation of licking or sucking is also one that has universal appeal and can be used on erogenous zones anywhere on the body.
“Products which focus on extending the pleasure of hands — which are incredibly dexterous on their own, but can be easily heightened in their command with pleasure devices added to the mix,” White said. “Many unisex toys are shaped in ways that allow a broader stimulation — perfect for breasts, butts, bellies, inner thighs, or anywhere that needs a little attention and tender loving.”
While vibrators are most often marketed to women, vibration can stimulate various other parts of the body — regardless of gender.
“One of our industry’s most popular toys of all-time (the Magic Wand) is unisex, for example,” Spectrum Boutique’s Zoë Ligon said. “People are quick to assume that because they use toys a certain way, other people must use them the same way. I cannot stress this enough; penises can enjoy vibration and clits can enjoy stroker-style toys! If we reconsider the fact that our genitals have the same tissues, it’s easy to see how we all have a lot more in common than gender stereotypes teach us. For instance, we consistently sell out of the Shotpocket, an FTM stroker sleeve that is designed to be a masturbation sleeve sized for clits. Why no one else has made toys like this until recently is beyond me.”
Dame Products’ Alexandra Fine agrees that there is a need for the industry to expand its collective understanding of genital variance in order to make products that both tailor to unique needs and products that are versatile with a range of anatomy.
“Finger vibrators, like Fin, are a great way for everyone to be more hands-on with pleasure,’ she said. “Fin was engineered to augment natural touch; it’s worn between the fingers to deliver vibration while taking advantage of manual dexterity, and fits an incredibly wide range of hand sizes. It can be used externally anywhere on the body, which makes it super versatile and encourages curiosity for all bodies.”
Cute Little Fuckers’ Step Tranovich rejects the label of “unisex” when it comes to sex toys because, “No one toy will feel incredible on every human body. We vary too much in size, shape and stimulation levels. But any toy can make people feel included.
“We all have erogenous areas that can enjoy the sensations of vibration. We all have holes that can be filled with pleasure,” Tranovich said. “Not all of us desire to enjoy our bodies in each of these ways, but we should be welcome to. The thing is, people don’t want to feel limited. Guided, yes, but limited, no. Just because a toy was designed with clitoral stimulation in mind doesn’t mean it couldn’t also be enjoyed on nipples or the tip of a penis. Just tell me that it vibrates and let me decide where to put it.”
Overcoming Gender Biases
What today’s progressive brands are urging the industry at large to do away with is referring to gender when discussing anatomy. By changing the way we refer to genitalia, the adult retail industry has the power to educate consumers as well.
“We feel all toys can be used by all genders for all different kinds of anatomy, and our only obligation as pleasure products manufacturers is to present pleasure-creating products regardless of a person’s anatomy and the preconceived notions and stereotypes of how we think those products should be used,” NYTC’s Chelsea Downs said. “As long as our products are being used safely and create pleasure for our customers, shouldn’t that be our only goal as manufacturers?”
Deep-rooted biases regarding gender are often the reason why it’s been so hard for people to avoid assigning certain attributes and desires to identities that are exclusively feminine or masculine.
“ Just look at some of the uproar when Target wanted to change their binary-gendered toy sections to an all-inclusive toy section,” COTR, Inc.’s Kimberly Scott Faubel said. “People who may have been taught that the cis-female body is supposed to receive penetration think the Le Wand is an internal product and many people still don’t think of vibrators for anyone but women.”
There could be some upsides to having these misconceptions exist — Faubel says it gives the opportunity for those in the sexual wellness field to educate and “expand the minds of their guests and help guide them to a whole new world of options.”
Satisfyer’s Megwyn White says that the misconceptions will ultimately be a blessing in the context of ongoing innovation.
“It will also force us all to evolve our imaginations and meet the consumer in a more dynamic and dyadic way,” she said. “Education will need to be an ongoing fundamental value as categories shift towards inclusivity coupled with the principle of play. This will naturally help in fostering the creative brain and erotic desires to emerge all while helping de-stigmatize pleasure in the process.”
Similarly to the lack of proper sex-ed that is available, most people have never been taught to question gender roles or norms. Good Vibrations’ Andy Duran points out these misconceptions also play out in sports, and in life events like who can be a parent or have certain occupations.
“These are often the folks asking for a ‘normal woman’s vibrator’ or an ‘average man’s sex toy,’ not fully knowing, or interested in learning what’s out there, they just want it to be as ‘normal’ as possible, when there is just no such thing,” he said.
Also citing a lack of access to “credible and celebratory sex education,” Pleasure Chest’s Phoebe Grott notes that the advertising of consumer goods has routinely promoted gender stereotypes, which are picked up by people at a young age.
“‘His’ and ‘hers’ are markers that society uses to direct consumers, this is just as true for an industry that sells products intended to be used sexually,” Grott said. “Even progressive companies like the Pleasure Chest find that upwards of half of the organic search traffic to the website are from ‘men’s toy’ keyword searches. How do we disrupt gendered marketing while still capturing the qualified traffic? Pleasure Chest uses our store education platform to connect users to product, while identifying that it’s OK to hold onto the comfort of labels as long as all identities are being respected and included.”
In comparison to the innovation found in products for people with vulvas, the range of product selection is still rather limited for penises. MysteryVibe’s Soumyadip Rakshit says that this void presents a opportunity for manufacturers to offer “an alternative to the little blue pill” that could be “centered around elevating their experience.”
“The reasons to buy a toy for someone with a penis are not so different to buying for someone with a vulva,” Rakshit said. “A new product means an opportunity to explore, discover and play. It’s a fun and exciting reason to make time for yourself, your partner and each other’s pleasure. Having a new product often helps us communicate what we like and don’t like, try new positions, and most of all talk about our ever-changing pleasure and desires. After all, pleasure is healthy living.”
Cute Little Fuckers’ Step Tranovich argues that “the correlation between gender and body parts was never as strong as people liked to pretend, and it’s further decaying with the gender revolution we are experiencing.
“Some women have penises,” they add. “Most, but not all, of these women are trans-gender, and they are women. So, can you really say penis pumps belong to men? And I would pay to see someone try to pin specific toys to the 1,000 flavors of non-binary.”
Creating a Welcoming Shopping Environment
From adopting the use of inclusive terms like “penis owners” and “vulva owners” to taking the initiative of showcasing toys sans packaging on store shelves to leave more to the imagination of the shopper, retailers are also doing their part to ensure that nobody is excluded from exploring their sexual pleasure.
“Sex toys are just like any other tool, anyone can use them,” Spectrum Boutique’s Zoë Ligon said. “Of course, with the exception of using non-anal safe toys anally, you can use anything however you please. Not only does gendering products limit the customer in their shopping experience, it also discourages exploration and makes many people uncomfortable when toys are labeled ‘for her’ or ‘male butt plug.’”
While any retailer can claim to be a safe space for “all” — it’s important to know whom “all” represents, and ensure that everyone is being served with their own individual needs in mind — which Andy Duran cites as being among Good Vibes’ ethos.
“Good Vibrations has always been about creating that safe space, and reflecting it back by our diverse staff, the brands we stock, images we use for marketing, and workshop topics we hold,” he said.
Another pillar in the progressive adult retail community, the Pleasure Chest, also was founded on creating an “experiential retail environment through a judgment-free approach to sex education and sexual exploration,” says Phoebe Grott.
The Pleasure Chest stores’ sales associates are equipped with information on sex, sexuality and anatomy to provide customers with the support they need.
“The sales experience centers around letting the customer lead, asking open-ended questions, and presenting several options with information on how the design delivers sensations,” Grott added. “This ensures that sales associates are suggesting and selling a broader range of products to each individual and, when appropriate, educating on new options for a pleasurable experience.”
Sex Toys Across the Spectrum
With more brands vocalizing the need for gender inclusivity in the pleasure products industry, there are an increasing number of manufacturers that are thinking beyond binary identities.
“Other brands that we see diversifying their selection to include more expressions of gender are also We-Vibe, b-Vibe and Fun Factory,” Wild Flower’s Amy Boyajian said.
The Pleasure Chest’s Phoebe Grott also has witnessed a shift towards more inclusivity in marketing and product development; noting that “the most successful at doing this were piloted by LGBTQ+ businesses such as Spareparts, POP Dildo and New York Toy Collective.”
Grott credits b-Vibe with breaking the mold in marketing and designing anal toys that are inclusive by not making assumptions about their users in its marketing or on its packaging — which historically has limited the popularity of the category.
“By targeting couples and using non-gendered advertising, b-Vibe has actually grown the market for anal play toys and elevated the category,” she said.
Inclusivity isn’t just about creating products and marketing with universal appeal. Gender-affirming products are essential to empower some individuals on their journey of expression of sexual exploration.
“To us, being gender inclusive — whether it be a brick-and-mortar retail space, a website, or the products those contain — means you present your products with absolutely no assumption on the gender or sexuality of the people purchasing and using those products,” NYTC’s Chelsea Downs said. “It means we never assume a consumer would be a certain kind of person, who only likes a certain type of product, and/or enjoys sex in only one particular way, with a particular type of partner — or even any partner at all.
“ A lot of people seem to make the mistake of assuming gender is this stagnant, static thing, when the reality for many is that it does indeed change as they grow,” she added. “We try to meet folx where they’re at, by offering products and tools which assist them as they’re exploring or affirming how they’re feeling, as they travel down their individual gender expression journeys. We’ve always believed that seeing is believing; so, for us, it’s been really important to put products on retail shelves which present possibilities to those who are exploring and wanting to affirm their feelings.”
Products such as binders, gaffs, breast forms and packers are among the commonly sought-after products for gender expression; as well as “toys that are multi-use and allow people to explore in non-traditional ways,” according to Wild Flower’s Amy Boyajian.
Gender affirmation products can help to address body dysphoria for individuals that may be at different points in their transition or are uniquely designed for delivering pleasure to folx who have taken hormones, The Pleasure Chest’s Phoebe Grott says.
“However, brands that create traditional pleasure products, but market to a non-binary or transgender customers also fall into this category, such as recent newcomer Cute Little Fuckers,” she said. “By stocking these products in Pleasure Chest stores, we are addressing a need, sending a message that we are a retailer that supports transgender and non-binary communities, and creating a shopping environment that is inclusive to all bodies.”
Offering gender-affirming products in adult retail stores not only enables retailers to meet consumer demands, but also by “simply offering these products in your shop educates shoppers about gender inclusivity even if they aren’t in the market for them themselves,” Spectrum Boutique’s Zoë Ligon said.
“There have been countless occasions I’ve seen someone’s eyes light up with understanding when I explain what packers are used for, and I think that goes a long way for a cis-person who has never considered these things,” she added. “Furthermore, putting clit strokers in the penis sleeve section and penis vibrators in the vibe sections (not just the ‘penis’ or ‘for men’ section) shows by example that categories of toys aren’t limited to one gender.”
According to Ligon, there is some cross-over between gender-affirming products and pleasure products — such as NYTC’s Shilo pack and play dildo, however not all gender products are pleasure products.
“Even though they may not all be used the exact same way, they’re all products that fall within the realm of sexuality products, and therefore more retailers should consider carrying them,” she said.
The need for more inclusivity and diversity is apparent now more than ever; and today’s consumers aren’t afraid to voice their demands for it. While some companies may stick to their tried-and-true traditional gender-binary marketing messages — and risk alienating certain groups of potential customers — today’s modern brands are paving the way to a more inclusive future for the marketplace.