Sex Toys: The Last Great Recession-Proof Industry?

December 15, 2008

Quick- name three “recession proof” industries.

If you’re like me, you probably thought about those industries with inelastic demand and solid business models- big tobacco, health care, and other sectors that people just won’t cut out of their monthly budgets. But would you have guessed that sex toys might fall in this category as well?

Anthony Germain, the CBC’s China reporter, had an interesting piece on Radio One this morning about how sex toy manufacturing is one of the few businesses that is actually booming in China right now. Countless factories that manufacture children’s toys have slowed down or even closed their doors, but not a single factory that makes more… ahem… prurient toys has suffered the same fate. Yes, it appears that demand for sex toys rages on unabated.

Of course, factory slow-downs tend to lag behind consumer purchasing trends, so I decided to call up a former client of mine who knows this industry better than anyone. Her “erotic tool” business hasn’t just avoided the economic downturn, but she has actually enjoyed substantial year-over-year growth over the past two quarters, and sees no signs whatsoever of a softening in demand. While other retailers are trimming prices and offering promotions to boost sales, she sees little need to do so. As she put it, “It’s going to be a very merry Christmas for both my customers and my balance sheet”.

But why is this the case? It would appear to my na├»ve eyes that adult toy spending would be one of the first line items to get cut from the budget when times get tough, but apparently many other don’t share my sense of frugality and Puritanism. One theory on this trend is that male libido tends to rise and fall with the Dow. When your portfolio is crumbling and your job uncertain, it may be hard to feel particularly amorous with your partner, leaving many women to take matters into their own hands. As the New York Post (I know, I know…) recently reported in an article entitled “Limp Economy“:

A recent survey conducted by the stress-reducing drug Relora showed that of the 64 percent of responders were anxious about money – and, of these, 62 percent say that they are having less sex.

“Sex is in the brain, and not between the waist and the knees,” cautions the legendary sexpert Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who reports receiving more queries on low-libido spouses since the economy tanked.

“A man’s sexual apparatus is very delicate. If something is wrong, it is very difficult for men to get or maintain an erection.”

While this may be a factor, I’m not convinced that it is the root of the phenomenon, as it makes a couple of big assumptions. First, it assumes that only men are plagued by economic worries, and that only men suffer the side effects as a result. I know as many women as men who are worried about their savings and jobs, yet a rise in female-targeted sex toys would suggest that female libido remains strong. Second, it assumes that sex toys are being purchased as a replacement for an absent lover. Watch one episode of Sex and the City and you’ll quickly learn that this is not the case- to say that women turn to sex toys when they can’t find a man is akin to saying that someone seeks out steak when they can’t find hot dogs. The lonely, dejected women and her battery powered friend is an antiquated notion, and I suspect a little offensive to sex toy aficionados everywhere.

My sex shop friend also disagrees with this assessment. Her theory is that people are staying home more, and any “home entertainment” option is going to enjoy a bit of a rise in fortunes. Rather than going out to dinner and a movie, people are increasingly choosing to stay home with a bottle of wine and a rental. If you’ve saved a little cash on the wining and dining, I guess you can justify a little splurge on the goodnight kiss. For many, sex toys can also be seen as an inexpensive luxury and a fun little distraction from the doom and gloom outside.

If you’re looking for an industry where you can park your money during these turbulent times, forget the traditional stalwarts like big tobacco and alcohol and skip the health care and funeral parlor options. The hot sector in our chilled economy might just be hiding in your bedside table.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Bullit 12.15.08 at 4:53 pm

The number of innuendos and double entendres that can be found in this article is astounding. I’m trying not to giggle.

Nathan 12.15.08 at 5:19 pm

I wonder how other adult industries, like strip clubs, porn, etc. do during tough times. Those type things should be hard to justify spending money on, but I suspect it offers an escape to lots of guys who don’t want to deal with their real problems.

Fabulously Broke 12.15.08 at 6:51 pm

@ Nathan: Apparently those industries are doing well. I’ve heard of my BF’s friends going to more clubs with such depressing times and feeling better.

This an interesting article. Sex toys also last longer than a great meal out or a bottle of wine. More durable.

Melanie Samson 12.15.08 at 6:58 pm

I completely agree with your theory. No one stops spending completely during a recession. So all the cheaper entertainment options will enjoy steady sales throughout. People kept buying records during the Great Depression.

Allison Wonder 12.15.08 at 11:20 pm

Interesting! And I am, in fact, giggling at the words you’ve chosen for this post (though not the subject matter, surprisingly). Thanks for rising to the occasion.

Wait… no, so wrong…

Charles C. 12.16.08 at 10:22 am

I can understand how China’s sex toy industry is so hot, lead in the toys. No wonder they have an unbending economy.

Stumped 12.16.08 at 10:27 am

I’ve spent the morning trying to come up with a way to work the phrase “stimulus package” into a funny comment, but have failed.

Charles C. 12.16.08 at 11:44 am

haha it’s hard to resist that phrase. Perhaps the U.S. and Canadian governments should send out cheques to individuals to invest in toy store stimulus “packages”, and refer to that money as libidough. .. maybe I should have resisted.

Four Pillars 12.16.08 at 11:41 pm

Great post MGL – I laughed… :)

Val 02.03.09 at 4:59 pm

Looks like even former Nortel employees are getting in on the action!

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/01/19/ot-090119-vibrator.html?ref=rss&loomia_si=t0:a16:g4:r1:c0:b0

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Monisha 04.19.12 at 12:53 am

I’m interested in investing into the sex toy industry how do I go about it

Monisha 04.19.12 at 12:54 am

I’m interested in investing into the sex toy industries

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