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Amazon Sells 60,000 Sex Toys and Related Products? Welcome to Sex 4.0

Major retailers are jumping into the growing "sexual wellness" business.

When was the last time you used a sex toy? When was the last time you bought what has been rebranded as a “sexual wellness” or “sex novelty” product? And when you bought the pleasure device, did you get it through Amazon?

According to industry insiders, research studies and news reports, sex paraphernalia is becoming a mainstream business. For decades, shoppers – mostly men, often dubbed the “raincoat crowd” – had to slink into XXX-rated shops in a down-market part of town to purchase sex-related products, whether vibrators or porn movies. Those days are over.

Over the last couple of decades, a handful of sex-affirming retailers like San Francisco’s Good Vibrations, Babeland in Seattle and the Pleasure Chest in New York have offered discriminating shoppers the opportunity to check out and buy something special.

Today, major retailers are jumping into the growing sex wellness business. They range from high-end specialty chains like Nordstrom and Brookstone, mass-market outlets like Walgreens and Target, and even crusty down-market Walmart. But the big-dog outlet is, offering an estimated 60,000 products for those with a certain yen.

The old days when sex was another three-letter word for sin and steeped in shame and guilt are long over. Adult Americans, especially women and couples, are actively incorporating a variety of once-shunned products into their sexual lives. This shift in popular culture can best be described as Sex 4.0, America’s fourth sexual revolution. But does Sex 4.0 really signify a real revolution? Is it only a softer, gentler form of traditional, male-centric sexuality?  

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The keynote speaker at this year’s Xbiz adult-entertainment industry convention in Los Angeles in January was Ethan Imboden. He is not a porn star, but the founder and CEO of Jimmyjane, a specialty producer of high-end sex products.  

Imboden brings a unique skillset to the sex paraphernalia business. He holds a BS in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins and a masters in industrial design from Pratt Institute. He worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory collaborating on the development of a DNA sequencer and other instrumentation for the Human Genome Project. He founded Jimmyjane in 2003, seeking to bring a new ergonomic design sensibility to a very old trade.    

Scott Fraser is a different kind of “sex-preneur.” A former Marine, he found himself commanding a squad of leathernecks in the Saudi desert during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. He discovered that a firearm lubricant could help alleviate the stress of military life. The mythic light bulb went on, and when he returned to the States, Fraser founded a company offering improved lubricants. Empowered Products first offered GunOil, a silicon lubricant for men, and followed it with Pink for women. Now, 10 years later, Fraser runs a publicly traded company.

Paris Intimates is an online adult sex toy and lingerie site. Its founder, Stefan Dallakin, is an artist and former industrial designer who is based in Detroit, and like thousands of others, lost his corporate job to outsourcing. He saw an opportunity for a new type of online retailer that could potentially compete with Amazon by offering a more value-added experience to traditional anonymous online shopping. Dallakin measures his company’s success by the fact that 50 percent of its customers are repeat shoppers.

Robin Elenga is a former member of Alliance of Angels, Seattle’s largest investment group. Elenga started four companies and invested in more than 10 successful startups before turning to the sex products market. He admits, “I didn’t set out to build a vibrator.” But that’s what happened. His startup, Revel Body, is about to launch its first product, TrueSonic, which uses technology inspired by the sonic toothbrush for a new type of women’s vibrator. He’s even using a crowd-funding campaign at indigogo to raise money.

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