I worked for a really long time on this feature. I put a lot of time and effort into finding people with interesting and new things to say about the sex toy industry. I even got to talk to Melody Murison, who along with her husband, invented one of the most popular sex toys on the market right now. Anyway, here is my little sex toy baby, for this story I went into numerous sex stores, asked far too many inappropriate questions and learned far more about edible lubricant than I ever wanted to know.
Wanda Cotie helped a 50-year-old woman buy a sex toy for the first time.
Cotie is the owner of an Ottawa sex toy store, Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium, and can recall changing a woman’s whole perspective towards sex toys.
“I was at an event and I was giving away gift certificates and this women won a gift certificate for my store and … she was like: ‘Oh no, I’d never do that,’” says Cotie.
After talking with Cotie, however, she quickly changed her mind. “Before we finished our conversation, the woman had tears in her eyes and said that she and her husband have had such a [horrible] relationship, she had just given up on herself physically,” says Cotie.
“After we talked she came into my store, and we went through some stuff and she went out a happy lady,” she says.
Cotie’s experience is becoming increasingly more common. The taboo surrounding sex toys is being eroded away, and is being replaced with knowledge and acceptance of the immerging industry.
With huge international conventions and in-home parties, it is evident the sex toy industry is evolving. It is transitioning from the old, slightly pornographic industry that it used to be, into a thriving industry that boasts intelligent marketing and innovative designs, leading to a more socially accepted industry than ever before.
In 2003 Melody Murison and her husband Bruce were laid off from Nortel, the high-tech giant in Ottawa. By 2008 they had launched what would become a niche-making product in the sex toy industry, the We-Vibe.
While her husband Bruce was in charge of the inventing, Melody Murison headed the task of marketing
“When we first started developing the We-Vibe, sex toys really weren’t a part of our life. [I was] seeing the industry for the first time,” she explains.
The We-Vibe is marketed as a classy and sophisticated toy with a box so sleek and discreet no one would guess that inside the small packaging is a tiny, yet powerful sex toy.
“We wanted to go out there with a beautiful, elegant piece that was mainstream acceptable,” Murison explains.
“I looked at different things that were out there, and as a whole, I think I have seen packaging evolve from the old XXX dark-window presentation … [towards] a more acceptable format for the packaging,” she says.
Murison says she put six years of research into the marketing strategy of the We-Vibe, determining the target customer, how much it would cost and where the We-Vibe fit in the spectrum of sex toys.
The We-Vibe is a small, yet powerful U-shaped vibrating toy that can be used during sex.
“We knew that our target customer was between 35 to 55. We knew it was going to be a $150 product,” she says.
Murison says she is very pleased with how well the We-Vibe has done on an international level and that there are more things to come from the We-Vibe.
“Canada is known for hockey, Blackberries and the We-Vibe,” she jokes, adding “Stay tuned, Bruce is a true inventor.”
Not only has the marketing sector of the sex toy industry been evolving, but the design of them has also been changing. The design of newer sex toys has been moving away from the traditional phallic-looking devices towards more body-conscious and sustainable designs.
Lois Frankel, an associate professor with the School of Industrial Design at Carleton University remarks, “there is more of an awareness of how things relate to the human body, whether it is a sex toy or a power tool.”
“The whole trend, generally, is towards things that fit better with the human body,” says Frankel.
“More usable for people, for their behaviours, for their physical relationship with their product. It wouldn’t be any different if it was with a sex toy, a power tool or a water bottle,” she explains.
Cotie says she also understands that it is important to acknowledge the relationship between the toy and the body.
“A few years ago we used all latex toys, which are not the best product for your body,” says Cotie.
Part of making designs more usable is sustainability, says Frankel, calling sustainability “an imperative,” that is far more than a mere trend.
According to Frankel, there are many aspects to think about when designing a sustainable sex toy.
“Things like finding the proper materials, not just designing the product for its use, but also looking at how it’s taken apart, when you are finished using it. Making sure it can be properly recycled or reused or repurposed,” explains Frankel.
The main issue for sex toys and sustainability is, of course, batteries. Until recently, nearly all sex toys required regular alkaline batteries that had to be frequently changed.
Cotie’s store now has a wide range of toys that can be recharged and put away without ever having to replace the battery.
Murison also explains that sustainability played a key role in the design process of the We-Vibe. She says it was vital the We-Vibe have a rechargeable battery, not only to make it more sustainable, but also to keep the design of the toy simple and sleek.
Cotie says that with all the advancements in marketing and design there has been a dramatic shift in the way the public sees the sex toys, making them far more acceptable than before.
Sue McGarvie, an Ottawa-based sex therapist, says she cannot believe the rapid evolution of the sex toy industry.
“When I started as a sex therapist 15 years ago, [the industry] was really taboo,” recalls McGarvie.
“I can’t get over how fast opinion changes. … I think it is clear that it is becoming much more acceptable and much more open than it used to be,” she says.
Cotie says she believes this shift in public opinion can, at least in part, be attributed to increased knowledge on the subject. Cotie says her store is geared towards helping people understand what is out there and getting them comfortable with the industry.
“[My store] is more about educating our customers and [offering] workshops … that bring people to a point where they are much more comfortable discussing their sexuality,” explains Cotie.
Many sex toy stores now offer workshops, where customers can come in and be informed in a fun way.
Cotie says she thinks it is her “positive and open approach with people” that really helps her customers to have a more open mind about the whole industry.
Noting that the industry has become much more woman-friendly over the past decade, Cotie says, “I think that most women own a vibrator, and even if they blush when they say it, they kind of giggle and go ‘Yeah, I got one.’”
As Cotie puts it, “most people have a bigger tickle-trunk than others think they would.”