Adult Toys Hit the Mainstream and Are Here to Stay

05/08/2012 14:38 BST | Updated 05/08/2012 14:38 BST

A 2009 study undertaken by the Kinsey Institute showed that 52.5% of women between the ages of 18 and 60 in the United States have used a vibrator. If we're to judge by the recent spike in vibrator sales, the percentage has gone up since then. Talk of sex toys has become rampant in the media over the past few months. Naughty chat inspired by the ubiquitous 50 Shades of Grey has led to grandmothers discussing the pros and cons of ben wa balls over tea. In the meantime, a film about the history of the vibrator and its original medicinal use in the 1800's to cure female hysteria (aptly titled Hysteria), was released in May to wide acclaim.

As a result, sales figures for sex toys are currently through the roof, despite the economic downturn. A leading purveyor of the aforementioned ben-wah balls called Fun Factory recently reported a 300% increase in their sales, while the New York adult megastore Babeland has reported an uptick of 40% in bondage toys. According to the Daily Mail, the UK sex toy market is currently worth £250 million per year, with global sales of vibrators reaching £5.5 billion. A similar phenomenon occurred in the 90's when an entire episode of Sex and the City was dedicated to the Rabbit vibrator, making it a household name as common as Carrie Bradshaw. This time however, it seems like the mainstream interest in sex toys is more than a fad.

There are many indicators of this, such as the fact that vibrators are now being sold not only through vendors like Babeland and Vibrations Direct, but also in the aisles of American big-box retailers like Walmart and Target. Walmart only sells their vibrators online, perhaps to appease their conservative clientele, but Target now offers "intimate massagers" along with their other lifestyle items right on the shelves. In the UK, you can find these items at family favourites Boots and Tesco. Step by step, the adult toy has become a run-of-the-mill household accessory.

Celebrities from Halle Berry to Katie Price are eager to talk about their little friends, as evidenced by this gallery of famous women who proudly use sex toys. Vibrator use by famous women is nothing new. Even Cleopatra is said to have fashioned her own vibrator out of an empty gourd and some angry bees, although proof of this remains to be seen.

Another factor that may lie behind the sudden increase in demand for vibrators could be their improved designs. No longer clunky pieces of fluorescent pink plastic; today's vibrating models are ergonomically designed for comfort, are waterproof, and can even be used as alarm clocks.

So who's buying these toys? Everyone. Although there used to be a preconceived notion that vibrators were the naughty secret of the lonely bachelorette or unfulfilled housewife, in truth the majority of sex toys are sold to couples. The same Kinsey Institute survey mentioned above also found that many couples had a positive attitude towards using a vibrator during foreplay and intercourse, and found that it improved their sex life. A good 40% of women had used their vibrators with a partner, but just as many enjoyed solo play. Perhaps the beauty of the sex toy market lies in the fact that there is something for everyone whether you're single or partnered, with tastes running from vanilla to kinky and everything in between.