Even a decade ago, using a vibrator or (worse!) a male mastubator was an admission of failure, a last resort for the losers in love who had given up on ever having an actual flesh-and-blood relationship. All the lonely people, the Beatles nearly sang, where do they go to come?
But now, according to research group Hewson, the sex toy market is worth an estimated £250m a year in the UK. 71% of readers of Fabulous magazine admit to owning a sex toy. There simply has to be more to this sex toy business than singletons furiously masturbating - and there is.
What kick-started this wider acceptance of sex toys was that famous episode of Sex and The City. First broadcast in 1998, The Tortoise and The Hare saw Charlotte become a virtual recluse after buying a rabbit vibrator at New York's Pleasure Chest sex store. The rabbit instantly became the must-have sex toy for women and is now available in more varieties than Heinz has ever baked its beans, including Lovehoney's soon-to-be-launched Happy Rabbit.
Celebrities are it it too. Angelina Jolie treats herself to sex toys at Coco de Mer. Rihanna recently loaded up on a thousand quid's worth in France. Tulisa blushed when her rabbit vibrator set alarm bells ringing at US Customs. Maggie Gyllenhall, Eva Longoria and numerous other celebrities are now known for their public pronouncements on the benefits of sex toys.
Mainstream retailers like Boots, Tesco and Superdrug now sell sex toys. Take a walk down the pharmacy aisle and you'll see vibrating penis rings and bullet vibrators alongside the condoms. Even the humble personal lubricant has moved on from dependable try-if-you're-dry KY-Jelly to exciting lubes that offer enhanced pleasure through flavours and tingling sensations.
In the past 10 years Lovehoney, the company I founded with m'friend Neal Slateford, has sold nearly 8million insertable inches of rubber penises, enough to stretch orgasmically from our headquarters in Bath to Buckingham Palace. It's an honour, Your Maj. Our sales are up 40% year on year.
While we'd like to put our success down to our steely business acumen, l33t Internet skillz and winning smiles, there's something bigger going here. Over the years we've noticed a shift in attitudes towards sex and particularly the part that sex toys play in relationships. And now, what's been a drip-drip of gradual acceptance is really building up a head of steam.
It's not just that the public face of sex toys has received such positive coverage - the science of sex is playing an important part in shifting attitudes too. The NHS makes it plain - sex has benefits beyond the obvious happy ending. Sex is good for your heart, it can help you live longer, it can fend off illness, and it can even reduce your stress levels. Or, as the boffins put it: "Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity." And they say romance is dead.
You don't even have to go all the way to get the benefits. The Kinsey Institute found that men who reported frequently kissing or cuddling with their partners were on average three times as happy with their relationships as men who reported limited interaction. Surprisingly, the survey found that women didn't need the cuddling, they just needed the sex.
If you have a better sex life, you're healthier and you feel better about your relationships. You don't have to use sex toys to have a good sex life, but we found that it helps. An independent survey for us found that people who used sex toys were 70% more likely to say they were satisfied with their sex lives than people who don't use them.
Of course, we would say that wouldn't we? But it happens to be true and, along with the mainstream popularisation of sex toys from celebs and supermarkets, it turns the stereotype of the sex toy masturbator totally on its head. You don't resort to sex toys because you don't have a sex life. On the contrary, you have an amazing sex life because you use sex toys, and because you have an amazing sex life, you enjoy a better relationship, are healthier, less stressed and, in short, happier.
At Lovehoney we call this sexual happiness.