Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=156235
Story Retrieval Date: 10/31/2014 8:04:00 PM CST
While eating out and entertainment are being cut out of budgets as people try to save money during hard economic times, good sex continues to be a main priority.
G Boutique, a sophisticated adult stop in Chicago geared towards women, can attest that women are exploring their intimacy and using adult toys to do so.
“A store like this, you need to go with your friends. It’s fun to look at all the toys and talk about them because they have everything,” said Joanna Calzadilla, who held a 25-person bridal shower at G Boutique. “It’s not like a cheesy sex store; it’s a nice, sophisticated store with great European lines.”
G Boutique's Internet sales alone are up over 100 percent over the past two years, according to Cheryl Sloan, co-owner of the boutique, who in November went on the Oprah show to talk about her store and sex awareness.
According to Carol Queen, sexologist and chief cultural operator for Good Vibrations, a San Francisco-based adult toy retailer, “People find that sex is more meaningful to them when time is tough, and we’ve certainly noticed that people are willing to make sex toys a part of their life when circumstances are depressing. It’s almost free.”
G Boutique, located on Damen Avenue, has been open seven years and sells a variety of books, videos, adult toys and luxury lingerie.The whimsical shop is painted pink from wall to wall, with plush seats for women to sit down and relax.
“We designed the store to make women feel comfortable being here, and buying everything they desire for sex and romance,” said Sloane, who helps customers on a daily basis with issues ranging from relationships to cervical cancer.
“We deal a lot with women who have had medical issues and frequently have had trouble being comfortable while having sex, and they come in here and can talk to us,” said Sloane. “We help them out and recommend products that will help them enjoy sex more.”
Stylish and welcoming adult shops like G Boutique haven’t always been around.
“It used to be that women were timid or self-conscious, but now there are many, many avenues that let them put that aside,” said Stephanie Kienzle, sales manager at Vibratex Inc., a California-based sex toy wholesaler that claims to have imported the first dual action vibrators into the U.S.
Stores geared towards women’s needs began sprouting up as media started portraying feminism and sexual independence in a positive way. In 1996, the popular HBO television series Sex and the City featured Vibratex’s rabbit shaped vibrator in an episode, and it forever changed women’s openness towards sex.
“Sex and the City was big for the sex toy industry. It created an open discussion that took some of the shame away from people who felt like they had to be private about their sex lives,” said Queen. “Suddenly women wanted to talk to their girlfriends about it.”
G Boutique allows women to chat with their girlfriends and explore the store together by hosting private events such as bachelorette parties and How to Give a Great Blowjob classes.
Those with questions about products can talk to one of the store’s eight specialists, who have undergone months of training in sex and product education.
The boutique features cutting edge toys like the We-Vibe and Magic Banana. According to Kienzle, the adult toy industry’s highly developed products are what have allowed it to grow despite the poor economy.
“Lack of innovation is why other industries are sinking, unlike them, the adult industry tries to be innovative and move forward,” said Kienzle.
Within the past month, the adult toy industry has proven just how technologically creative it is by releasing a 3-D porn viewing system and a sex robot that features silicone skin, artificial sex organs and speech-synthesis software.
With the sex industry as a whole gaining in popularity, and increased toy and sex education awareness making it easier for people to incorporate toys into their sex lives, many adult toy companies have been able to turn profits during a time when other industries are suffering.
“Consumers are becoming more and more aware that their sexual wellness is of equal or greater importance than other areas of their lives,” said Randall Hughes, CEO of Lover’s Choice, an adult toy wholesaler.
Lover’s Choice has grown 20 percent annually over the recession and its Ophoria Fine Bedroom Toys range has seen revenues triple over the last 18 months, according to Hughes.
Despite growth in the industry, Sloane has noticed people’s shopping habits have changed in the past year. “People are more cautious about what they’re buying. They are looking for quality now because they don’t want to waste their money.”
Queen, too, has noticed these trends. “People now have to offer higher quality, more interesting and more beautiful designs. Companies have been doing a better job in the past few years to make products better, and that includes the switch from saline products to safer silicones.”
Vibratex, which made the switch to silicone a few years ago, is reaping the benefits of offering what it terms a healthier and better quality product. “In this economy, flat is the new up, and to be up by single digits is good. We’ve continued to grow at slower but steady rate, we open new accounts every day, every month,” said Kienzle.
Despite the success of the adult toys industry, Sloane insists the products she carries are not what make her store different. “What makes us different is the we present the products in way that is very easy for women to shop,” she said. “Everything is open, you can pick it up and touch it and see what it looks like.”