Shampoo, Toothpaste and Vibrators: Perfect Valentine’s Day Supplies

by Cara on February 14, 2008

in fun, marketing, products, sex and sexuality

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s this article from Newsweek about how drugstores are now starting to sell “sexual aids” right out there in the open with the non-sinful products:

The migration of what used to be called “marital aides” from specialty sex shops to the mainstream stores began about four years ago for Trigg Laboratories Inc., the company that makes Wet. “Since then, even the more conservative retailers have come over,” says John Winning, vice president of sales for the Valencia, Calif., firm.

“Every retailer has a different line on what will be acceptable—and that line can move,” says Winning. “For us it was also about getting them past the name. But once they see our sales, that doesn’t last long.”

You might think that Wet and other personal lubricants with blush-worthy labels would be hidden away on a special shelf in the back of the store behind a curtain. Nope. They are usually right out in the open—near the female contraceptives and pregnancy tests.

Nor are they the most risqué items to appear on pharmacy shelves in the last six months. Indeed, certain aisles are starting to look like supply sites for Cosmopolitan magazine’s sex tips section.

In addition to dozens of massage liquids, “warming gels,” and lubricants in many flavors, you’ll also find vibrators. Durex, an international condom maker with a U.S. base in Atlanta, began putting the Little Gem personal massager (a.k.a. vibrator) on drugstore shelves around the country in August of last year. Demurely packaged in a lavender frosted-plastic oval container, the purpose of the Little Gem is fairly ambiguous unless you read the fine print, or just guess that it’s related to sex because it’s right near all the lubricants. Out of context it could be some kind of exfoliating device—or maybe a fancy skin cream.

The discreet packaging was, of course, deliberate. “Now a soccer mom in her minivan can be comfortable buying these types of products right along with her toothpaste and shampoo,” says Tim Cleary, Durex’s vice president of marketing. He says that Durex’s “Play” line of lubricants, condoms, vibrating condom rings, and massagers geared to women was introduced online in 2004 but is now in 30,000 stores nationwide—though the massagers and condom rings are not available everywhere. (Wal-Mart, for example, says it does not offer any personal massagers, though it does sell a variety of lubricants.)

Drugstores have been selling many of these products online for a decade or more. And it’s a healthy market. Over-the-counter sales of lubricants (excluding Wal-Mart) hit $113 million in 2007, a 30.3 percent hike from the previous four-year period, according to Nielsen Strategic Planner. The prices per container range from $5 to $15, depending on the brand and size. And while there isn’t much market data yet on mainstream retail vibrator sales, Durex says its personal massagers are doing very well at about $36 per Little Gem.”

Sweet. And I’m sure that now Texans can legally buy sex toys they’ll be absolutely thrilled.

I have to say that I have no complaints — even if the fundamentalist groups do — about sex being seen as a normal part of life and sexual pleasure as one of many human needs. Even if the people who write these kinds of stories are still behind the pop cultural times enough to attribute the shift to Sex and The City, and even if they’re ignorant enough to paint lubrication as only a straight middle-aged woman’s need. If women are feeling more comfortable claiming their sexual pleasure, I couldn’t be happier.

But do we have to rip these women off in the process? Thirty-six dollars for this thing? Really, those sex toys you buy online actually do come in very discreet packages. And you can now buy them at sites not covered in hardcore porn. Try the sites in the back of your Bitch and Bust magazines, ladies.

Also, while we’re on the subject, Jill has a hilarious video about what happens when you outlaw sex toys. Other than very cranky women.

Happy Commercialized Love Day, everyone.

[Thanks to KaeLyn for the link.]

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{ 5 comments }

1 brandann February 15, 2008 at 6:02 pm

so sexual aides are OK w/ wal-mart, but not BC or EC. interesting.

sorry, just had to say it!

2 zombie z February 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm

My vibrator was like $20 and the BEST THING EVER. Of couse I had to go into one of those dirty, sinful “adult novelty” stores to get it, but….totally worth it. $36 Walmart shit doesn’t even compare, I’m sure. :P

3 zombie z February 16, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Oh, funny thing about this: at my local grocery stores (Price Chopper), the lubes are out in the open, generally in the tampon/pad aisle. However, the condoms and pregnancy tests are locked up along with the stop-smoking aides. You have to ask a manager with a key to get a hold of them. ???

4 Fingerling September 26, 2008 at 10:20 pm

They also sell cock rings with condoms at CVS Pharmacy.

And I hate the fact that so many stores usually put condoms and feminine products right next to the pharmacy instead of down an isle.

5 Jody Prince June 24, 2009 at 10:59 pm

I saw vibrators right here in our Idaho Walmart today! Yes in Idaho!! They do look like condom boxes but it says personal vibrator for her!!

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