Women, welcome to a new dimension of sexual empowerment, created by the strength of your desire, and backed by the might of your pocketbook.
Marketers of products for sexual pleasure—once targeted almost entirely to men—have realized that women are consumers with appetites worth satisfying.
In fact, a 2009 Indiana University study claims 53 percent of women ages 18-60 have used a vibrator. And the result of growing mainstream use? New products, services and shopping experiences designed with a feminine point of view. Many of the innovators in this category are women themselves, including some business owners here in Chicago.
Like Andee Harris, a Michigan business school grad with an impressive consulting pedigree who co-founded the new company, Bedroom Chemist. Harris started the online company to help women avoid bedroom boredom and keep their relationships fresh and exciting.
“I know from my own marriage that when my husband and I are having good, regular sex, everything else works better,” says the mother of two.
Bedroom Chemist’s erotically themed “Chemist Kits” are shipped in discreet packaging to the home. The kits are intended for couples, but the focus is definitely on female pleasure. Each kit has a girly look and comes with practical advice, fun instructions and pretty packaging.
The products are as much about creating romance and desire (think massage candles and tingly balms) as getting to the fireworks. A sleek little vibrator may be a part of the kit, but Harris insists, “We are not a sex toy company.” She considers her company to be a woman’s “BFF for the bedroom” with the end goal of having a hot relationship, not just a hot night.
Mass-Market Retail to Luxe Designer
Shows like Sex & the City portrayed vibrators as a single girl’s salvation, but these days women are taking the initiative to expand their experiences with their partner. Capitalizing on this trend, mass retailers like Walmart and Walgreens offer a surprisingly extensive selection of “sexual wellness” items targeted to women, and the products have gone designer. Companies like Lelo and Jimmyjane sell colorful, compact, quiet models that look as chic as fashion accessories.
Early to Bed Boutique
But for women, the hottest commodity in this category may be information. Searah Deysach, owner of the Early to Bed boutique on Chicago’s north side, opened her store 11 years ago to meet this need. She designed her shop to appeal to what women value when shopping—a pretty space, relatable female staff, ability to examine products and most of all, a place to get some guidance.
“I wanted to be the place where women could come,” Deysach says. “Women want to feel they can ask a question that will be treated with respect. People ask us things they can’t ask doctors. They don’t have any place to go for information. Who are we supposed to talk to about pleasure?”
Deysach says books like Fifty Shades of Grey have opened up new possibilities for women, tapping into desires they may not have realized existed. Those newfound desires are translating into sales. Deysach has seen a surge in interest in alternative products and there’s practically a worldwide shortage of the silver balls featured in the book. Corporations are benefitting too. Semprae Laboratories, makers of Zestra, an arousal oil for women, estimates their sales will triple in the next fiscal year.
Deysach sees this as a good thing. “We’re so worried about being freaky or outside of normal,” she says. “ As we break down these barriers, many women are finding happiness.”
And if making women happy turns out to be good business, this woman says, it’s a win-win.