The Newest Sex Toys Make Pleasure Serious Business

Please don't call them "adult novelties" anymore. They're "pleasure products" or "sex accessories," and as last week's XBiz Awards and accompanying conference (link NSFW) in Los Angeles made clear, those products continue to grow more sophisticated, more diverse, and more accessible. The Swedish company Lelo was named Pleasure Product Company of the Year, but a number of other brands collected awards in some thirty categories.

At the XBiz Pleasure Products Conference, it became clear that several general trends are emerging in the sex toy market. On the one hand, demand continues to grow for porn-star branded devices. The new James Deen Signature Collection from Doc Johnson, featuring an 8.9 inch silicone vibrating cock — molded to the exact dimensions of America's most celebrated male porn actor — brought home the Star Branded Pleasure Product of the Year. (Deen swept the XBiz Awards, bringing home trophies for Crossover and Male Star of the Year.) On the other hand, the section of the market growing fastest is dominated by Lelo and Jimmyjane, two companies producing luxurious, assiduously tested, aesthetically-innovative designs designed to please the eye almost as much as the body.

As expected, the focus at XBiz was as much on the future of the pleasure product industry as on its recent past. One new design, set to hit the market on January 15, was already creating quite a buzz (sorry) when it was shared with insiders and journalists.

When I first saw Hello Touch, Jimmyjane's dramatic new iteration of the finger vibrator, my first thought was that it's almost completely embarrassment proof. The box, the carrying case, and even the name scream "Apple," not "adult novelty" product. Resembling a next generation iPod more than anything else, it's safe in your luggage or in your bedside table. No inquisitive TSA agent or snooping preteen will easily recognize Hello Touch as a sex toy.

The newest offering from the San Francisco-based company as famous for its dauntingly high prices as for its innovative designs, Hello Touch features a pair of ultra-compact vibrating pods that sit almost flush against the fingers. The control panel, which resembles the iPod Nano, rest in a waterproof wrist pouch. While the slim, snug fit means that it can be worn more easily during partnered sex than earlier generation of finger vibrators, the relatively low cost — Hello Touch retails at $65 — makes it more accessible to a demographic put off by the reality that Jimmyjane's other products start at more than twice that price.

"Research shows that while women like vibrators, 87% of women who masturbate also use their hands to do so." So Ethan Imboden, Jimmyjane's founder and chief creative officer told me in an interview where he demonstrated the Hello Touch. "78% of women who use vibrators have also used them with partners," he notes, citing research from Indiana University. "Hello Touch is about creating a product that more perfectly enhances what most people already use anyway with themselves or with another person: their hands and fingers." The twin pods can be worn on any two fingers (including the thumb, to create a more intense "opposable vibration.") Imboden says the feedback from product testers was tremendous, especially those who used two sets of the devices for couples' play.

It's not entirely coincidental that the retail prices for the James Deen Silicone Vibrating Cock ($60 on Amazon) and the Hello Touch are essentially the same. Traditional sex toy makers like Doc Johnson are making ever more sophisticated products, branded with porn-star cachet, while luxury design-intensive companies like Jimmyjane are anxious to reach a market unable or unwilling to spend upwards of $150 for a single "sex accessory." If nothing else, it's a happy convergence for consumers.


Jezebel columnist Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College and is a nationally-known speaker on sex, masculinity, body image and beauty culture. He also blogs at his eponymous site. Follow him on Twitter: @hugoschwyzer.

Image via liubomir/Shutterstock.