PlusOne is the first brand of personal massagers Walmart will sell.
In 1998, the cast of Sex and the City went vibrator shopping. The scene — shot at New York City’s Pleasure Chest — gave viewers a window into the experience of visiting one of New York’s women-friendly sex shops, a nice, brightly lit alternative to the scuzzy porn shops where many vibrators were sold.
Yet upscale as it was, the excursion clearly took place in a sex shop. In the background of the opening shot are stacks of boxes decorated with scantily clad porn actors’ bodies; another wall of the store is covered in floggers and bondage gear. For many real-life Charlottes, that kind of shopping trip still seemed a bit threatening; something destined to remain fantasy rather than become a part of real life.
Twenty years later, anxious women eager to acquire their first sex toy don’t have to venture to a porn shop, or even a brightly lit feminist sex toy boutique in a fashionable area of town. For the past decade, sex toys have been popping up in more and more venues. The endless shelf space and discretion provided by online shopping made big retail brands like Amazon and Walmart more comfortable stocking adult products on their sites, and over the past decade, cheap, battery-operated cock rings have started popping up in drugstore condom aisles.
And in a major development, we’ve reached a point where mainstream retailers feel completely comfortable stocking quality vibrators, not just in their digital warehouses but on the shelves of their brick-and-mortar stores. Just this month, PlusOne, a new line of premium sex toys,debuted at Walmart stores around the country, marking the first time that the retailer has carried high quality, rechargeable vibrators on the shelves of its brick-and-mortar stores. (Walmart did not respond to requests to comment for this article.)
How did sex toys get from the Pleasure Chest to the shelves of Walmart, a store so conservative it banned Cosmopolitan from its checkout aisles for being too risqué? That Sex and the City trip certainly helped push sex toys out of the shadows and into the mainstream, kicking off a run of media appearances for pleasure products, with not just 50 Shades of Grey but also shows like Girls, Transparent, and Sense8 all featuring sex toys within their storylines. Broad City, in some ways a quirky, millennial successor to Sex and the City, even has its very own line of sex toys.
Feminist activism, improved sex education, and the liberalizing effect that internet has had on discourse have also helped — it’s all a part of what Carol Queen, a staff sexologist at the sex toy boutique Good Vibrations, refers to as “an increasingly sex-comfortable environment that let sexual diversity, pleasure, and toys take their place in the discourse.”
PlusOne’s origin story is, in some ways, the natural endpoint of our increasing comfort with erotic products. The brand is a subsidiary of Clio, a Massachusetts-based personal care company known for devices like the beautytrim hair trimmer and Palmperfect electric shaver.
About eight months ago, the powers that be at Walmart reached out to the Clio staff to let them know they were interested in investing in a high-quality, low-cost sex toy line that could comfortably fit in on the shelves of Walmart, one that would give them a competitive edge over retailers like Amazon. Clio worked hand in hand with Walmart’s higher-ups to develop a line that would feel sexier and more female-friendly than some of Trojan toys, while still being entry-level products that wouldn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities — and from there, PlusOne was born.