The Sticky Art of Marketing Masturbation

Imagine a door-to-door sales man pulling up in front of your house with a suitcase full of dildos and vibrating panties. Picture a kiosk in the mall next to that woman selling jewelry that displays lubricants and cock rings. Difficult? Silly? Why? Social stigma, fear, and moral judgment surrounding self-stimulation make it tough – if not impossible – to market anything to do with masturbation.

The laws in some places make adult toys hard if not illegal to sell. For example, in India, adult toys are illegal. (Read More) This is without a doubt strange legislation coming from the country that brought us Tantra and the Kama Sutra. Most people would be surprised to learn that sex toys are illegal in parts of the United States, too. (Read More)

Despite restrictive legislation there is money to be made in selling adult toys. The adult toy industry continues to show profit even in a bad economy. People may not be buying books at Borders anymore but they are buying cock rings and panty vibrators.  While the porn industry suffers as a result of the number of free downloads available via the Internet, the adult toy industry has shown a 30% increase annually. This past Valentines day, flower sales dipped while sex toy sales rose. (Read More) It would seem the road to economic recovery is in the palm of our hands. Picture Obama waving his Hitachi Magic Wand in the air shouting, “yes, we can.”

Do high profits and a thriving industry mean adult toy owners can avoid marketing? I think not. A carefully chosen marketing and advertising campaign can certainly “stimulate” sales. Consider the spike in sales of the Rabbit vibrator after it first appeared in “Sex in The City.” So what can you do to maximize the marketing of such self-pleasuring items? Here are some tips that I’ve gleaned from interviewing and speaking with countless adult toy industry sales representatives on to how to market masturbation related products.


1) USE HUMOR Those SERIOUS about marketing products used for masturbation must be FUNNY. When the Rabbit vibrator appeared in “Sex in The City” people laughed at the idea of Charlotte becoming addicted to her vibrator. This helped audiences get past their fear and embarrassment and make a purchase. Excuse me, miss, asks the check out clerk, is that a rabbit in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

2) USE DISCRETION While sex toys and personal lubricants have become increasingly available in major commercial outlets in the United States, on-shelf displays are often discreetly placed in the “sexual health” section of stores. Consider the number one masturbation toy for men, Fleshlight. The product is basically an artificial vagina in a plastic casing made to look like a flashlight. You may not see the light, but you’ll see the light, if you know what I mean. Given the fact that until recently it was illegal to sell adult toys in Texas, it is no wonder that the company that makes this luscious and licentious light is headquartered in the lone star state. I could insert a funny and forced comment about Bush here, but I’ll refrain.

3) USE CLASS Marketing must make people feel normal and natural about masturbation if it is going to get someone to risk ridicule and social pressure to buy a dildo or personal lubricant. Companies like Tenga and System Joe have worked hard to make masturbation toys and personal lubricants trendy and even stylish. So keep your marketing classy, too. It’s far better to show a man or woman’s hand or face than to plaster pictures of genitals on your product. Avoid cheesy style seventies fonts, too. Instead pick modern fonts less associated with the pornography industry. Making people feel less perverted can prove handy when it comes to increasing sales.

When following these three simple rules, it’s still difficult to market masturbation.
The proof is in the personal lubricant. This is why vibrators for years were marketed as back massagers. As taboos associated with sex vanish, we see more commercials for Viagra. When was the last time you saw a commercial for a personal lubricant marketed candidly as a cream used for masturbation? The attached clip from Sticky: a documentary on masturbation, uses a 70’s-style spokesperson commercial spoof to mock the difficulty of marketing masturbation to a mainstream audience.

I’d like to know your thoughts. Send in comments about this article or suggestions on how to market masturbation to

Written by Nicholas Tana.