As sex toys have moved out of hidden corners and into prominent shelf space at major retailers, right-wing pundits and lawmakers are clutching their pearls.
On Monday, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue poked fun at recent comments by Republican House rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, who told attendees at a young Republican gala on Saturday night, “You can pick up a butt plug or a dildo at Target and CVS nowadays.” This fact came from Tucker Carlson, who had used time on his show the night before to highlight the fact that sex toys are being sold at CVS. As a result, the topic “CVS and Target” was trending on Twitter this week, as users weighed in to mock their attitudes for being puritanical.
While it was not unheard of for sex toys to be found at major retailers over the past decade, a wave of intimacy startups have made strides in breaking taboos around the products over the past year.
2022 “was a big year” for sex toys to gain prominence at retailers, said Rebecca Alvarez Story, CEO and co-founder of intimacy brand Bloomi. The brand launched its full collection including vibrators, lubricants and body oil in 1,000 nationwide Targets in March.
“It’s very common for toys to be in retail now,” she said. “This was not the case even a couple of years ago.”
Sexual wellness brand Cake, whose products at CVS were those highlighted in the Tucker Carlson segment, also launched at Target this year, following its introduction to 4,000 Walmart stores in 2021.
Beauty retailers have also joined in the rush to stock sex toys this year, with Ulta Beauty and Sephora both unveiling vibrators for the first time in 2022. Ulta Beauty’s Intimate Wellness section was launched exclusively online in September, while Sephora added chic vibrator brand Dame to its lineup in February. These retailers are following in the footsteps of Goop, which introduced its $95 vibrator in 2021.
Big-box retailers’ assortments of vibrators over the past decade were generally limited and discreet, if they existed at all, said Story. But, she said, “You never saw a full collection of toys until this year.” Bloomi’s collection features stylish branding and enjoys prominent shelf space at the retailer in its sexual health section.
The expansion of sexual wellness offerings at retailers this year came after massive category growth online in 2020 as sales spiked during lockdown. Retailers and investors viewing the space as a significant growth category is helping to drive “the evolution of normalizing these products as everyday products,” said Story. “You can now go to Target and you can buy food, beauty products and a pleasure product.”
While CVS, Target and Cake declined to comment, Story said Bloomi plans to make a statement on its social channels and in email in response to the right-wing critiques of sexual wellness products’ availability at retailers.
Twitter commenters have pointed out that conservative critics of these items’ presence at retailers have shown more support for the sale of products causing physical harm like guns and cigarettes. In Carlson’s segment about the sex toys at CVS, he stated, “But it’s immoral to sell Marlboros.” He has previously aired a segment critical of Walmart on his show for its 2019 decision to stop handgun and ammunition sales (which it later reversed). Greene, meanwhile, has made statements against gun control. About sex toys at retailers, however, she said in her speech, “I don’t even know how we got here.”
“I’ve encountered very conservative, almost dangerous thoughts throughout my career from people who are very anti-toy, people who are holding us back, and people who have dangerous rhetoric or messages,” said Story. “They’re doing health and our mental health a disservice.”
The right-wing stigma against these products is not limited to rhetoric, as sex toy sales are currently banned in Alabama and Mississippi, while a ban in Texas was overturned in 2008. In 2004, a 43-year-old suburban mom was arrested in Texas for selling sex toys.
“When you hear comments from people in politics who are not sex-positive, it shows not just politically that we’re not aligned or that our common morals are not aligned. But it also shows that they’re not in touch with what’s happening currently,” said Story.
To fight existing stigma, the brand is focused on “moving the needle on sex positivity.” Story said she has seen progress culturally.
“You no longer have to hide it, and you no longer have to feel uncomfortable shopping. Of course, some people are still uncomfortable about it, but we try to make it a fun experience,” she said.