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.


Vibrators and the Art of Gift Giving, part two.

You remember yesterday, when we started talking about this, yes? And then I totally acted the cock tease? Well, let’s have some…happy ending.

Where were we? Ah, yes. The vibrator. This was given to me for my 31st birthday by my best friend. I have no idea what she was thinking, except that she knew I would always be too cheap to buy one for myself. Besides, as I’d said for years, “I don’t think I really NEED one of those. I’ve pretty much got it covered.”

But there it was, in a tall, skinny Hustler store bag. I pulled it out of the surrounding tissue paper as she stood there wearing a wide, devilish grin.

“Uh…I don’t…know…if…”
“Amy, trust me. You need this.”
“Trust me.”

If I could have returned it for store credit, I’d have traded it in for some nice whore shoes. However, she’d spent a lot of money on the thing. She’d gotten me the Mercedes of vibrators. I couldn’t just return it. It would be rude and her feelings would be hurt when she eventually found out.

It sat unopened in my house for months. The slightly incriminating box hiding in a dresser somewhere, just waiting for mom to stumble upon it during a visit. Wouldn’t that be the way? I finally own one of those things, and it embarrasses me before I even take it out of the box? Stupid, unsettling, daunting piece of machinery.

I eventually got curious. I always eventually get curious. One day, it’s going to be the death of me.

I took the batteries out of my DVD player remote and put them into the little gray controller for The Machine. I flicked the controller on and The Machine became something out of a Kubrick film, all vibration and circular motion and rotating beads. It was like a lollipop from Hell. I couldn’t believe people take these things seriously.

“She’s kidding me. She does not seriously expect me to use this. I am being punked.”

“SO! Have you used it yet?!” she asked excitedly.

“Uh…it’s…this is a lot of hardware…”

“You’ll get to it.”

Honestly. She’s 10 years younger than I am and frequently knows what I need better than I do. If I didn’t love her so much, I’d be tempted to stab her in the face.

Readers, I did eventually get to it, just like she knew I would. Eventually, the curiosity won. She was right. It was whole new world. The neighbors probably thought someone was being murdered.

And that, my friends, is the spirit of giving. Someone knowing you well enough to know what you need, even when you keep not realizing it. My best friend looked at me, thought something needed to be set free, and knew how to do it. Christmas isn’t just for good sense and gift cards.

Vibrators and the Art of Gift Giving

Ah, the holidays. It’s a time to have your grandma fill you with mysterious beige food and spend time watching your coworkers get horrifyingly tipsy. To sit through hours of your niece playing with whatever loud, annoying toy she’s been given. Not to be a Scrooge, but I think we could all be making a bit more of this.

I propose a new tradition.
Sex toys.

When I think back and try to think of the best gifts I’ve ever received, there are several: the Yamaha PSR-11 I got when I was 8, the roses some guy gave me at age 20, and the vibrator I got for my 31st birthday.

I have been given more expensive things, things that I had specifically asked for, but the gifts mentioned above stick out in my mind because they represented someone thinking of me and saying, “this could be the future…I want to help you get there.”

I was initially really, really frustrated with the keyboard because I couldn’t play it. I was convinced that it had been given to me because dad secretly wanted one. I just wasn’t seeing the future that mom and dad saw. What I didn’t understand was that they had noticed me taking to my sister’s 80s equivalent of Pianosaurus and thought “she’s picked her instrument.” Eight years after buying me that keyboard, I stood in front of them saying, “I have gone as far as I can go with this. I need more keys.” Eight years after the keyboard, those forward-thinking parents moved a cherry-stained spinet into their house.

The first guy to ever give me flowers was basically just doing it because I think he thought he was supposed to. It wasn’t my birthday or Valentine’s or anything; he just showed up to hang out with twelve red roses bound together with a ribbon and an antique key. He said it was the key to his heart. Granted, that’s a little cheesy, but I didn’t care. I dried the flowers and kept them until they fell apart. I still have the key in a box somewhere, along with every poem ever written to me and a hand-made black valentine.

“But Amy,” you say, “stop being a cock tease. Get to the part about the vibrator.”

Oh, come now (no pun intended). What kind of blogger would I be if I kept this as just one post? It would be so long as to tax your attention, after all. I promise not to leave you hanging, so long as you promise to check back tomorrow. Deal?