by Eileen Weber
I have a confession to make. I went to a sex shop. Now, I know what you’re thinking. No, it wasn’t one of those seedy little holes-in-the-wall with darkened windows displaying triple neon X's. It was more of a boudoir novelty store that was actually quite tasteful and fun.
The host was Margaret Wagner, CEO and Creative Director of Bedroom Matters in Westport. I went with a dozen other women like me, married with kids looking for a little “sexploration” to spice things up.
“People come into the store looking for permission to feel good and comfortable about themselves,” said Wagner. “They’re looking for something like that in a safe environment.”
The store’s biggest sellers are lingerie, candles, books, and toys. While only some of the products she sells can be considered eco-friendly, she said she is aware there’s a growing market for it. Of the adult toys she sells, she prefers those with rechargeable batteries. “I’m always looking for high quality toys that last a long time.”
With this recent visit to Wagner’s store, it got me thinking: has the sex industry gone green, too? Why yes, indeed. A quick Google search turned up tons of sites completely devoted to the green experience between the sheets.
While those who consider themselves environmentalists might be green in every way, that isn’t necessarily true when it comes to the bedroom. This is mainly due to the fact that most vibrators, dildos, and other sex toys are made from PVC plastics that use phthalates, an oil-based chemical meant to soften the hard plastics of these toys.
Phthalates can be harmful to your body. Many of the web sites that sell sex toys promote rolling a condom over the top for personal safety. The suggestion is made not only for use with multiple partners but for protecting the consumer from absorbing these chemicals in sensitive areas.
Earth Erotics, a company based in Portland, OR that sells eco-friendly sex toys, saw the need for change in the industry. After a few glasses of wine and more than a little curiosity, the company’s owners decided to do a little investigating of their own.
What they found, according to their web site, was a slew of toys with warning labels that were unregulated or approved by the FDA. These toys were also tagged as novelties—not meant for actual use. OK, let me get this straight: You can buy the dildo, you just can’t use it. That's like saying you get Playboy just for the articles.
Instead, Earth Erotics chooses products made from silicone, glass, or elastomers (elastic polymers, or rubber). These are materials that are toxin-free and don’t have the cancer-causing stigma of phthalates that cover the toys’ outer layer. Other companies in the industry such as Babeland, Jimmy Jane, and Coco de Mer also sell toxin-free sex toys to reach the same audience.
Good Vibrations, a San Francisco-based company with stores in California and a newly opened one in Brookline, MA, sells high-quality sex toys that are also toxin-free. According to their web site, owner Joani Blank “set out to make Good Vibrations a friendly, ‘clean, well-lighted’ alternative to conventional ‘adult’ bookstores.”
In a floundering economy, however, are sex toys really flying off the shelves? "What we find is that in times of economic stress,” noted Dr. Carol Queen, Good Vibrations spokesperson and staff sexologist, in a recent press release, “consumers turn to comfort items that they can enjoy in the privacy of their own homes—as a result, we often see an increase in sales when the world situation is challenging.”
Wagner agrees. She said she has seen a noticeable “uptick” in her business since the beginning of January, which is typically a post-holiday down time. “Physical connection is a really important part of intimacy,” she said. “So when people are staying home more to save a little money, they’re looking at each other from across the table and talking about their relationship.”
But these companies aren’t just looking at the toys. They see the business as a whole. While manufacturers are heeding the call of the green bedroom, is there still room for improvement in a growing market? If you ask Jasmine Portofino of the public relations department at Earth Erotics, the answer is yes.
“Adult toy manufacturers should have stronger sustainability action plans and follow through on them,” she said in a recent e-mail. “One area in the industry that seems to be lacking is general education about sex toys and health. Education about sex toy materials, toxicity, proper cleaning, proper use, etc. allows adult toy users make smart shopping decisions to truly feel good about.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr.