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Could Fifty Shades of Grey's Popularity Put Sex Toys on Mainstream Retailers' Shelves?

Adult industry says film could be a tipping point

In 2012, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey opened up a whole new market for the sex toy industry. With Universal Pictures' adaptation hitting theaters Valentine's Day weekend, retailers are readying for another rush, with some expecting sales may even double.

But could the marketers of products largely relegated to adult bookstores and sex-oriented websites be expanding to include mainstream retailers? It's not a stretch—after all, even Amazon carries a wide variety of sex gear.

"Everyone in the industry is looking at Fifty Shades of Grey as being a tipping point that will push the mainstream to cross over into this category," said Robert Rheaume, president of Jimmyjane, which markets vibrators, massage oils and assorted S&M accoutrement. "There's just an appetite for kink, and it seems like the public has given us and others permission to bring these products to market."

Jimmyjane, whose products are sold in U.K.-based department stores like Selfridges, expects to expand to big-name U.S. outlets in the next couple of years. Lelo, another intimate-lifestyle brand, already counts U.S. chains like CVS and Brookstone among its retail partners.

Pipedream, the world's largest manufacturer of fetish products, doubled its sales after the release of the Fifty Shades books, but CEO Nick Orlandino isn't sure what to expect upon the film's release. "I've heard the movie isn't portraying the merchandise in the same way," he said.

"I do think we will see an increased acceptance of these types of toys," added Anne Semans, director of marketing at Babeland, an adult novelty retailer. But, as she pointed out, that broad embrace may have its limits. After all, for the corner drugstore to carry a discrete stimulation device is one thing—some of the kinkier wares out there are another, tawdrier story. 

Illustration: Serge Bloch
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