The Fifty Shades of Grey movie debuting later today in Canadian theatres may ignite even more interest.
It was the bestsellingFifty Shades volumes that really got Maria Goncalo excited about sex toys. She cautions she's not into anything "too dark." But she admits that the trilogy "helped open the mind."
The erotic novels are packed with explicit sex scenes featuring bondage and references to titillating toys. Fifty-one-year-old Goncalo's inspired purchases include a whip and a blindfold.
She admits her husband of 31 years was reluctant at first to participate. But when she read him passages from the series, he was hooked. "He would say, 'Yeah, this is hot!'"
Market research company IBISWorld estimates the adult store industry in America is now worth $633.8 million US, more than doubling sales since 2007.
It notes that the growing influence of sex toys in popular culture have helped them "shift from taboo toward more of a social norm."
Lubricants are openly advertised on TV and vibrators have become topics of conversation in recent movies and televisions shows including the comedy hit How I Met Your Mother.- WATCH: Doz Zone's The Truth About Female Desire, which airs at 9 p.m. local time on Thursday
The latest boon for the business has been the phenomenal success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, which hit bookstores in 2012 and has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide.
Sex toys at Walmart
With growing mainstream acceptance, sex toy shopping is no longer relegated to dim and tawdry stores selling porn and outrageous gag gifts in more questionable parts of town.
Goncalo visited one of the more seedy shops in downtown Toronto about a decade ago. "That one scared me," she said. "They had these big dildos in the window and stuff like that." Feeling intimidated and embarrassed, she fled.
But, these days, even drug stores, Walmart, and Amazon carry vibrators plus a wide assortment of lubricants.
Just in time for the movie, Target in the U.S. is offering Fifty Shades spinoff merchandise including a No Peeking Soft Twin Blindfold Set.
And for those who want a more intimate shopping experience, adult toy stores are now moving into residential neighbourhoods.
Neighbourhood sex shop
Goncalo eventually found her comfort zone at Dick and Jane Romance Boutique, a more subdued, friendly sex accessory shop tucked away in suburban Toronto. Here, elegant lingerie is featured in the window and sex toys are called sexual wellness products.
"It's not something where you walk in and think, 'oh, so creepy, oh my god.' It's very nice," she says.
Dick and Jane's owner, Mercedes Jones, estimates business has grown by at least 10 to 15 per cent a year since she opened in 2008.
But sales spiked 50 per cent for a couple of years following the success of Fifty Shades.
"None of us could keep Ben Wa balls in stock. Our industry sold out," she says, referring to so-called pleasure balls featured in the book.
Jones made reading the trilogy a requirement for her staff because customers wanted to discuss the books.
"Women asked, 'Oh, you know that part in the book when he does this? I want that product,'" she said.
Hot online sales
The Fifty Shades novels also helped spike sales for Canadian online sex novelty retailer PinkCherry. "It opened up peoples' eyes," says CEO Daniel Freedman. "It sort of gave them the green light to be a little more experimental."
Since the novels debuted, he says sales have doubled every year. The company also recently expanded into the U.S.
Freedman believes his company has mass appeal because it's "sort of like the Disney store of sex toys." The site doesn't sell porn, offers discreet shipping and billing, and product listings include detailed descriptions and customer reviews.
He expects to get another big sales boost following the Fifty Shades film debut.
"I've got my fingers and my toes crossed that the movie is just going to be completely insane," he says.
In anticipation, Freedman has nearly doubled his inventory and not just for Fifty Shades related products. He predicts the movie, like the books, will inspire all sorts of sex toy shopping.
"It just helps out, literally, every single brand that we sell. You get the trickle down effect."
Sex store competition
IBISWorld notes that as the adult store industry grows, so does the competition.
Jones says small-time sex novelty shops like hers face increasing competition from the big online-only outlets, which can charge cheaper prices due to lower overhead costs.
She aims to keep attracting customers by offering what online competitors can't: in-person customer service, sex-ed workshops, and tangible product displays. She says it's key for shoppers to inspect the merchandise because "it's an all-sales are final industry. You don't get to bring it back."
She's also looking forward to the Fifty Shades movie debut.
"We're hoping that it will bring back that crowd again or at least the husbands because they didn't read the book," she says.
Goncalo plans to see the movie with her husband, but not in theatres. She’ll wait for the DVD version. "I don’t really want to go see it with everybody else. I want it to be romantic."