Fashion

Celebrity-backed sex toys are all the buzz

From vagina candles to vibrators.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop announced the launch of its first self-branded vibrator on Sunday, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Priced at $95, the “luxuriously designed and distinctively shaped” double-sided wand is cast in millennial pink and cream with gold accents — and, according to Goop’s press release, is intended as “something you’d leave on your nightstand as a functional objet d’art, if that’s your thing.”

It’s a natural next step for a brand that’s endorsed jade eggs and vaginal steaming, devoted an entire episode of its “Goop Lab” Netflix series to the female orgasm and spotlighted a $15,000, 24-karat gold vibrator in its roundup of “not so basic sex toys” in 2016.

And of course, it sold out in a single day.

Hallie Lieberman, the author of “Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy,” points to Paltrow as a “pioneer” in de-stigmatizing dildos, albeit notoriously pricey ones.

“She was the first [celebrity] to come out and be like, ‘These are sex toys you should buy.’ She was made fun of because her stuff was inaccessible, but there was a really powerful message there as well: These things are normal,” Lieberman told Page Six Style, noting that Paltrow also “had the clout and the power to promote sex toys without worrying it could destroy her career.”

But these days, Paltrow’s far from the only star putting her stamp on a pleasure product.

In November, supermodel and “sex bench” enthusiast Cara Delevingne became the co-owner and creative advisor of sex tech company Lora DiCarlo. That same month, “Fifty Shades of Grey” actress Dakota Johnson announced a similar new gig as the co-creative director of “modern intimacy” brand Maude.

Even pop stars are feeling the buzz: In October, Lily Allen partnered with German brand Womanizer on her very own vibrator, dubbed the “Liberty” ($99) — “the perfect duet partner to help you hit the high notes at home and away,” according to the product description.

In November 2020, Cara Delevingne (seen here with Lora DiCarlo’s eponymous founder) became the sex tech company’s new co-owner and creative advisor.Courtesy of Lora DiCarlo

For decades, a deal with a beauty brand or luxury fashion house has stood as the universal marker that a celebrity’s made it. But endorsing sex toys — ads for which are still banned on Facebook and Instagram — isn’t quite the same as plugging perfume.

“Female masturbation is still really taboo, and these woman aren’t doing this behind the scenes; they’re making their involvement public,” Lieberman noted. “And I think part of that shows how far we’ve come. Sex toys have become mainstream enough that a celebrity entering this field is considered edgy instead of being blacklisted.”

Lynn Comella, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, agrees. “What we’re seeing is just evidence of increasing cultural normalization of sex toys and pleasure products, and in particular of female sexuality,” the “Vibrator Nation” author told Page Six Style.

For further evidence, consider January’s season premiere of “The Bachelor,” in which fan-favorite contestant Katie Thurston, a bank marketing manager, made her national-television debut by presenting Matt James with a purple dildo. Or the music video for Cardi B’s “WAP” follow-up “Up,” which includes a prominent cameo by Vush’s “Majesty 2” vibrator ($120).

Cardi B cradles a Vush vibrator in her “Up” music video.YouTube

And the toys stars are hawking aren’t the sort you’d see sold in sleazy sex shops and given as gag gifts at bachelorette parties. The Osé Robotic Massager ($290), from Delevingne-endorsed Lora DiCarlo, for instance, took home a robotics award at the prestigious CES tech conference in 2019.

“They’ve rebranded the pleasure product space, moving away from sex toys and into this tech world. You slap ‘tech’ on anything in the 21st century and it just has this legitimacy,” Comella explained.

Meanwhile, newly Johnson-backed Maude sells beautifully packaged bath salts, candles and body oils in addition to minimalist vibrators, sharing more in common with Paltrow’s Goop than The Pleasure Chest.

“If you look at a lot of the marketing around these brands, it’s around sexual health and wellness. They’re walking into the wellness and beauty space, and I have to think that that makes it more appealing for some celebrities,” Comella said.

Dakota Johnson, seen here with Maude founder and CEO Éva Goicochea, is the sexual wellness brand’s new investor and co-creative director.Sharon Radisch/Courtesy of Maude

“They’re associating themselves with companies that have done a really good job — quite consciously and strategically — of branding themselves in ways that are legitimate and respectable.”

This extends to the design of the toys themselves, which are sleek and chic rather than obviously phallic, and could just as easily be put on display rather than stashed away after a session.

“This idea of sex toys as art is definitely a more recent thing,” Lieberman observed. “When you have women-fronted companies that make beautiful art pieces, there’s less stigma for celebrities. It’s not like Lily Allen is putting her name on a penis — it’s a beautiful thing you can put on your dresser and show off. It’s gorgeous, but it can also get you off.”

A window display at the Harmony Sex Shop in London’s Oxford Street for Lily Allen’s sex toy collaboration with Womanizer.SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

From a financial standpoint, it makes sense that stars would want a slice of the lucrative global sexual wellness market; valued at $75 million in 2019, it’s projected to top $108 billion by 2027, according to a report by Allied Market Research.

And the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated that growth. Much like Peloton bikes and office chairs, vibrators have become a particularly hot commodity in the quarantine era; last March, the New York City Department of Health even shared a memo stressing that in these uncertain times, “you are your safest sex partner,” as “masturbation will not spread COVID-19.”

Goop confirmed to Page Six Style that in 2020, sales of sexual wellness products doubled, becoming one of the site’s fastest-growing categories; Womanizer observed a 193% increase in year-over-year US sales, according to a rep, with Allen’s “Liberty” vibrator among its top three bestselling products.

Bottom line? Sex sells, even when it’s solo.

“Obviously, they’re going into it to make money,” Lieberman said of the celebrities hopping aboard the buzzy bandwagon. “But they don’t have to make money off of sex toys — they can make money off of lots of things. They’re taking some risks, because there will definitely be fans who disapprove. But they’re willing to take that risk because it’s something they believe in.”

Quipped the author, “You might promote M&Ms even if you feel ambivalent about M&Ms. You don’t go into the sex toy industry if you feel ambivalent about it.”

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