This story originally ran in the spring 2014 issue of AVN's Intimate magazine.
Beyonce and Jay-Z spent $6,000 on sex toys on a shopping trip at Babeland. A maid displayed actress Jennifer Lawrence’s butt plugs on a hotel nightstand. Barbara Walters created a media frenzy when she joked on The View that she had a vibrator she nicknamed “Selfie.” Celebrity gossip websites have posted story after story of some actor, singer or pop culture icon walking into or out of an adult boutique. And the public eats it up.
As long as there have been sex toy stores and boutiques, people have been shopping for pleasure products, and celebrities are no different. It’s just that their forays into adult boutiques tend to be plastered all over gossip papers and the internet.
“In my view, this is the result of an interesting cultural synergy,” said sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals, Ph.D. “In spite of recent developments in social justice and education, we as a culture are still very uncomfortable with sex. Discomfort, however, does not mean lack of interest. Now, couple this tentative sex-interest relationship with celebrity fascination—from products to politics, we all seem to be charmed, at least to some degree, by their proclivities.”
"The media loves stories about celebrities and sex toys because it's salacious and fun,” said Susan Colvin, president and CEO of CalExotics. “Jennifer Lawrence's anecdote about the butt plugs under her bed is an example of how people in the spotlight become more like everyday folks when they share stories like these. They can relate to her better. We all know people use sex toys, and when the public hears about celebrities who do, too, it gives them validation, and even permission, to do the same. It strips away the taboo aspect.”
For some manufacturers, that interest in the sex toys celebrities are buying can translate into sales and more recognition for their brands.
"Everyone always wants to know what celebrities are wearing, who they are dating etc.,” said Lucy Vonne D’Olimpio Kendrick, sales executive for Evolved Novelties. “Finding out what sex toys they are using is almost like what did they wear to that last event. People aspire to be like certain celebrities and if you found out what your most favorite actress was using in the bedroom you might just go out and get the same thing. Similar if you saw her wearing the latest greatest bag, you just have to have it.
“For an industry that has still been so taboo, by having a celebrity back your product it makes it much more mainstream and acceptable,” she continued. “It also can bring a whole new customer base you haven't reached in the past. A fan base of people who might not of even thought about sex toys but seeing their idol back a brand or toy makes it ok now to go get one."
But it’s not just celebrities buying sex toys that’s brought more of a sense of legitimacy to the pleasure products industry; celebrities designing their own lines has helped do away with some of the taboo. Evolved Novelties worked with Kendra Wilkinson, reality TV star and former girlfriend to Playboy’s Hugh Hefner, to create her own line of products: Love Candy By Kendra. Though Wilkinson was not the first mainstream celebrity to create her own collection of pleasure products, she was one of the most visible celebrities to do so.
California Exotic Novelties has also worked with several mainstream celebrities in recent years—Nick Hawk, star of Showtime’s Gigolos; Phil Varone, former drummer from Skid Row; and most recently Coco, wife of rapper-turned-actor Ice T and star of reality TV show Ice Loves Coco—to create collections to match their celebrity images.
“TMZ leaked the story of Coco’s new collection because they know the public loves these kinds of stories,” Colvin said. “It's beneficial to the industry from a public relations perspective, because celebrities can use their influence to inspire people to take control of their sexuality. That is the whole message behind Coco's new Coco Licious Collection of toys. The Coco Licious Collection is all about Coco helping her girlfriends explore the amazing world of pleasure toys. She is a positive role model for women and couples, and it’s going to be exciting to see what her celebrity influence will have, not only on her collection, but on the perception of toys to the mainstream public."
Tibbals echoed those sentiments, noting that celebrities are almost like lightning rods dictating what’s acceptable in society.
“Thus, it’s almost as if celebrity interest in and/or openness about sex toys gives us tacit permission to like them,” she said. “In other words: if Beyonce can shop for vibrators, then so can the rest of us.”