Is Sex Toy Stigma on the Decline?
Sex toy stigma might be too broad of a term. Are more people using sex toys than in the past? Do more people accept sex toys as a common tool for sexual pleasure? Are people more likely to shrug when someone says they use a sex toy because it’s officially no big deal?
The answers to those questions depend on who’s asking and how they feel about sex toys in general. Regardless of how much (or little) people think about toys, the data shows that sex toy use is more widely accepted than many people think — even if we’re not all ready to admit we use them.
People Have Used Sex Toys Since the Beginning of Time
Since the dawn of time — at least 30,000 years ago according to science — people have fashioned sex toys for themselves. Before the advent of electricity and battery-operated tools, most of these items were dildos. From early man to ancient civilizations in Greece, China, Japan, and beyond, people have used whatever they could grab to get themselves off. In some societies, phallic toys were a useful tool for women — during times of war when men went off to battle or during times when a woman wanted to stay single but needed release.
Modern Sex Toys aren’t That Modern
Beyond carved stone and precious metals from ancient times, you’d be forgiven for thinking people only discovered vibrations in the past few decades. In fact, early vibrators were being made and tested as far back as the 1800s. By the early 1900s, they were marketed alongside household appliances in popular mail-order catalogs. You could buy a new toaster and a new “personal massager” at the same time. That ended when vibrators made their way to porn. By the 1930s and 1940s, personal massagers were removed from catalog pages. Sex toys were relegated to dark storefronts with sticky floors.
But there’s a real possibility that your grandmother or great-grandmother bought a vibrator without any stigma at all while shopping for other goods. (Think of mail-order catalogs as Amazon of their day.)
Sex Toy References in Pop Culture
Sex toy use in the 1990s hit Sex and the City seemed to set the world on fire. For the first time, audiences saw women they wanted to be friends with (or be like) talking openly about masturbation and sex toy use. (The show hasn’t aged well, but this moment was still important and ground-breaking.)
From there, we’ve had a ton of other pop culture references. Eva Longoria told the world she gives vibrators to friends. Oprah referred to the rabbit vibrator as the Rolls Royce of sex toys. And in 2020, we have an entire Netflix series devoted to sex in Sex Education which includes mentions of sex toys. None of these moments — and others from the last two decades — erase all sex toy stigmas. But they go a long way in normalizing sex toy use.
Sex Toy Statistics
Sex toy use numbers vary from year to year and study to study. Most of the available data below is from 2017. Though, we already know sex toy sales have been on the rise since March 2020 thanks to the pandemic. But here are some numbers to wrap your head around.
- In one survey, 50 percent of people said they owned a sex toy.
- Another survey showed that 65 percent of women in the US own a sex toy with 80 percent of those women preferring a vibrator.
- $15 billion was spent on sex toys in 2017 and approximately $26 billion spent in 2019
- 63 percent of people surveyed said they’d used a sex toy at least once in their life
While not definitive, these numbers show that sex toys are popular and more commonly used than we realize. The stigma, however, comes from not openly talking about sex toy use, even in our relationships. Only 38 percent of people surveyed said they’d seen a parent, roommate, or other person’s sex toy. But 60 percent of respondents in relationships said their partner knows they use sex toys.
So is sex toy stigma on the decline? In terms of the number of people buying and using sex toys, the answer is likely yes. But in terms of openly discussing our use of sex toys, it’s hard to know. The more we see the conversation about sexual self-pleasure normalized in media, the easier it may be to talk about the topic more openly. And people who focus on their own pleasure with a sex toy tend to have better sex. If that’s not an incentive to decrease the stigma around sex toys, what is?