Better believe it. Shoppers Drug Mart, the country's largest drugstore chain, Wal-Mart Canada and a slew of other stores have entered into agreements to stock their shelves, coast to coast, with a new line of sex toys, discreetly called "sexual well-being products."
The move is especially surprising for Wal-Mart, which doesn't sell video games rated "adult-only" and recently removed a magazine from one of its stores after a customer complained that it was too sexual.
But Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Kevin Groh said the product line is a good fit, as the company caters to the Canadian mainstream and, as such, carries products that reflect mainstream tastes.
He added, however, that some of Wal-Mart's customers will undoubtedly disapprove. "It would be naive of us to think every product we stock would meet the approval of every single customer in the store."
Sex toys and Wal-Mart?
According to some sex educators, it underscores a growing acceptance for open discourse about sex in Canada.
"People have a disposition to explore sexuality," said Cory Silverburg, a sex educator and co-owner of Come As You Are, a Toronto sex toy, book and video store. "I'm thrilled to be living in a country where we can do that."
The products being carried by the stores are a line developed by Trojan called Elexa. It includes "freshening cloths," "intimacy gel" and a vibrating ring.
Sex columnist Josey Vogels, who appeared at Trojan's Elexa release party last week, described the ring as a "beginner's intro to sex toys," recommended for women who are interested in perking things up in the bedroom but are intimidated at the thought of going into a "scary sex shop."
At Shoppers, the Elexa line will be found in the feminine-care aisle.
Elexa's makers are keen to portray the lineup as a concept rather than a number of distinct products.
Veronique Hamel, director of marketing at Trojan parent company Church and Dwight, shunned the term "sex toy," preferring "sexual well-being product."
She said the entire Elexa line was designed with sexual protection as the focus — every vibrating ring is prepackaged with a condom. Elexa products are also displayed together at stores, and the packaging design is similar across the product line.
Ms. Hamel said Trojan came up with the idea to market the ring after interviewing women about their sexual habits. Trojan found that women were largely embarrassed to shop for condoms and sex toys, she said. More alarmingly, the company also found that half of women 20 to 24 who have sex do so without protection.
Ms. Hamel said the company tried to solve both problems by selling the ring, along with a condom, in mainstream stores.
"[The packaging] is very feminine," she said. "It's made for women, by women."
In July, Durex launched a line of "personal massagers" under the name Play. (They're currently being sold at London Drugs stores across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.) Clearly designed to appeal to women, Play's massagers are the soft-core version of a sexual aid. All organic swoops and lines, rather than veins and studs, they come in purple, clear and pearlescent white, instead of realistic flesh tones, and are sweetly named Ellipse, Luna and Little Gem, rather than the Hot Dogger.
Mr. Silverburg said traditionally conservative retailers are going to have be careful how they market sex toys, especially in rural areas.
"If they market this too aggressively, they may alienate some customers," he said. "They probably are, and probably should, play it safe."
Ms. Hamel said the retailers who agreed to stock the Elexa products had no reservations.
"We were very happy that they didn't see any negative connection to the ring," she said.
Besides Wal-Mart and Shoppers, Elexa will also be sold at Loblaws, Jean Coutu, Zellers and the Katz Group, which owns Pharma Plus, Pharmx Rexall, IDA, Guardian and Herbies.
According to Durex's 2004 Global Sex Survey, 39 per cent of Canadians own a vibrator. The older we get, the more likely we are to have one (ownership increases with age and jumps to 61 per cent among respondents aged 44 to 55).
Mr. Silverburg said the introduction of sex toys into mainstream stores will likely help clean up an industry with a somewhat shady reputation.
Companies such as Trojan — which are conscious of the legal and public-relations consequences of making an unsafe sex product — will likely put the pressure on major sex-toy manufacturers that sometimes shrug off responsibility for their products by labelling them "for novelty use only."
Ms. Hamel said Elexa sales so far — the product has been on store shelves for only one week — have exceeded expectations. However, she wouldn't say whether the company plans to build on that success by introducing more sex toys to the mainstream market.
Joanne Harvie, the president of Passion Parties Canada, a direct-sales company that throws the sex-toy equivalent of Tupperware parties for groups of women in their own homes, said the No..1 selling item is their bullet, or vibrating egg.
"It's really a first vibrator, because it's so non-threatening," Ms. Harvie said.
Mr. Silverburg, who said the new vibrating ring should prove very popular, doesn't think the public would react well to the introduction of more overt sex toys in their drugstores.
"Canadians are progressive, but we have our limits," Mr. Silverburg said.
"I don't know if people will want to see dildos on the shelves beside the shampoo."