PROVINCETOWN — Buying flowers this Valentine’s Day? They’ll wilt. Chocolates melt; jewelry dulls; teddy bears de-plush. Here’s another idea. Each February, salespeople at certain specialty stores see a run on gifts a tad more surprising, more “personal”: sex toys.
Those toys are nothing new. Archeologists in 2015 unearthed a 28,000-year-old dildo. Nonetheless, said Maxine Kroll, who founded Commercial Street’s Toys of Eros in 1995, in spite of society’s recent evolution, sex toys have long remained a taboo subject.
Kroll said her store was an offshoot of the women-centric shop Wild Hearts. “Keep in mind that I come from a very old-school dyke separatist mindset,” she said. Though, as one passerby noted, an unusually outfitted manly mannequin in the window would suggest that focus has shifted.
Kroll contends that the real shift is not about the gender of her customers but about their diversity beyond the gay community. “Until 10 years ago, straight people did not walk into the shop,” she said. Now, they do.
Today’s younger generation grew up after the episode of Sex and the City devoted to Charlotte’s rabbit. The elder one watched Fifty Shades of Grey climb the bestseller list. More people now — old, young, gay, straight — feel comfortable talking about intimacy in all its nuances, said Kroll. Which means, said Ronny Hazel, owner of Shop Therapy, the second floor of which is adult-only, “Now, sex toys are for everyone.”
Same-sex couples, according to these shop owners, are more likely to shop together than opposite-sex ones. There is no need to review the product list. What people are looking for is predictable. But if attitudes continue to evolve, do innovations follow, even in this corner of the economy? Straight men, Kroll said, are starting to explore the oft-ignored crannies of their sexuality. Any employee who sells a straight man a prostate toy gets a one-buck reward.
Leading up to Valentine’s Day, there has been the usual rush of men seeking gifts for their wives. “They come in at the very last minute, like for last-second flowers,” said Kroll. They head straight for the high-end vibrators: sleek pink and purple multi-speed capsules that bear little resemblance to the clunky Magic Wands of days gone by. “Futuristic is a good word for them,” said Shop Therapy’s Hazel.
Luxury sales are at the heart of the Valentine’s Day bump at both stores, where inventories and clientele do differ (sexual compatibility workbooks at Toys of Eros, edible underwear at Shop Therapy). But everyday business hasn’t suffered in the pandemic. On the contrary, business has boomed here and, Forbes reported, around the world.
Single women led the rush, apparently. But that didn’t surprise Kroll. What did was the number of older couples who got in on the action.
“Our Covid lockdown sales showed us that, with time on their hands, long-term couples started having sex again,” she said. Time is the silver lining she sees behind this year’s clouds. “They weren’t not having sex before because they were tired of each other — they just didn’t have time.”
Her thesis is simple: intimacy between long-term partners can become routine, or nonexistent. Introducing a toy is one new thing tried — which, in turn, makes it easier to try more new things. “And that’s how you grow your sexuality together,” said Kroll. What’s more, there’s the very fact of talking that such novelties provoke: “Talking is never a bad thing,” she added.