Sex toys

Since when did dildos become fashion accessories? asks Simone Baird. Could it be something to do with a certain 'Sex and the City' episode?

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    Victorian handbags must have been very big. How else would a lady planning a spot of discreet stimulation of her lower parts have contrived to carry the world’s first vibrator around? I talk of the The Manipulator, the table-sized, steam-powered vibrator launched in 1869. Luckily technology has moved on apace and vibrator size has gradually decreased, though as recently as the 1990s most Soho sex shops featured racks of arm-length dildos that appeared better suited to knocking out an intruder than doing any intruding of their own.

    Then one television show changed everything. ‘Sex and the City’ did wonders for the popularity of Manolo Blahnik shoes, Cosmopolitan cocktails and, after Miranda gave Charlotte a girl-friendly sex toy, a vibrator called the Rabbit. ‘You can’t play down that particular episode’s importance . It really gave women permission to try sex toys,’ says Katherine Hoyle, founder of Sh!, the Hoxton-based sex shop run by women for women.’

    However, Hoyle says, ‘the vast majority who loved the Rabbit tended to use the vibrator purely clitorally and not for penetration. It was all about the ears which are split and pulse or vibrate either side of the clitoris.’ Dotted with pictures of silicone-breasted
    glamour models pouting in raunchy lingerie, some high street sex shops still look as if they're aimed at men. But Sh!’s set-up, on the other hand, is part kitsch Japanese toy harem and part Hoxton Tupperware party.

    ‘Sex toys used to be quite basic and cheap,’ says Julia Schneider, Ann Summers’s assistant buyer for sex toys. ‘Now toys have got to be feminine and pretty: our higher-end productshave added diamanté. Colours are important, too. Our top colour is always pink, and purple is number two.’ This explains the popularity of the Lipstick Vibrator, which looks just like a tube of red
    lipstick; Sh!’s I’m Divine vibrator, meanwhile, is so long and sleek it could be a Philippe Starck toothbrush. There are plenty of pink, orange and green vibrating finger rings (which look more 1988 than 2008). Dutch electronics giant Philips entered the sex toy market in September, and there wasn’t a dildo in sight: Sh!’s vibrating massagers look like pebbles, are aimed squarely at the 35-55-year-old-bracket, and are priced (from £140) accordingly.

    Worried about safe sex with your sex toys? Hoylen admits phthalates [chemicals added to plastics], are a bit of a concern [there are fears they are carcinogenic] and recommends people use a condom on their dildos. ‘Some dildos are being made entirely from silicone now, rather than rubber.’ Ann Summers is developing a range made from a new material called Neo-
    Skin, which will be out in January. ‘Old rubbers and plastics could get quite tacky or sticky, and easily changed colour and stained,’ explains Schneider. ‘We use different rubbers which are phthalate-free, and we never use latex, as a lot people are allergic to it.’

    While the Rabbit continues to rank among Sh!’s bestsellers, the brightly coloured bits of plastic on display are so far removed from the profoundly unsexy flesh-coloured dildos of old – these days it’s all about kitsch, and bye bye baby to 14 inches of eye-watering, bum-tearing plastic.

    See our guide to London's best sex shops

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