The History of Adult Stores: Part I (1962-1977)

Although sex toys have been around for centuries, adult stores have not. Today we see adult bookstores and video stores that sell sex toys, and boutiques that focus mainly on sex toys and lingerie. Moreover, many stores sell products online. And let’s not forget at-home parties. Adult stores, like sex toys, have expanded and have become more accepted not just in the United States, but also in other countries.

I believe adult stores began to appear in the United States due to the sexual revolution and due to various laws being passed. I also believe democratization has caused more adult stores to appear in European countries. In the past few years, at-home parties have become popular, as well as religious adult stores.


What began as a mail order business for sex education for women in 1948, Beate Uhse opened the world’s first adult store in Flensburg, West Germany in 1962. It was called the Institute of Marital Hygiene. Products included lingerie and “stimulatory products”, among other items. By 1971, there were 25 stores in Germany. The purpose of the company was contraception, and when education and pornography laws let up, the sex industry in Germany took advantage. The website launched in 2006, allowing customers to purchase online. In 2009, the company expanded to at-home parties and home delivery. There are now over 200 stores.


Kim Caborn-Waterfield founded Ann Summers. The store is named after his female secretary, Annice Summers. The first store opened in Marble Arch, London quickly expanded. Shortly after, David Gold, chairman of Gold Group International Inc., purchased the company and there are now 153 stores. It was his daughter, Jacqueline Gold, who developed Ann Summers’s at-home parties.

Israel’s first adult store was closed down on November 22, 1970. A court order temporarily shut down the store after protests from Orthodox Jews. I’m guessing this is around the time the store opened. I cannot find any other information. Another store opened in 1971, but products had to be ordered through a catalogue.


The first adult store opens in Canada. The Garden, owned by Ivor Sargent opened a store for ordinary people, selling adult games, lotions, gels, and magazines.

The Pleasure Chest  opens in New York and was the first adult store to create a “boutique” environment in the United States, much like we see today. The store opened two other stores in Los Angeles (1975) and Chicago (1977).


Phil Harvey and Dr. Timothy Black founded Adam & Eve, which began is the nation’s first mail-order contraceptive business. In the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration began to crack down on the adult industry. Federal Agents raided the store in 1986, interrogating employees. In Harvey’s trial, he was found not-guilty within 5 minutes. After ongoing legal battles, Adam & Eve expanded to almost 50 retail locations.


Masi Angela and her husband Erocle Sabbatini open Italy’s first adult store called Sex Shop Citta’ di Milano. The couple and their store closed many times by police due to resistance from a conservative public.

France’s first adult store opens in Belfort.

Jerusalem’s first and only adult store closes. Shlomo Sandwek, the owner, believed it closed due to demonstrations and petitions from those who lived in the neighborhood.


Joani Blank opened the first Good Vibrations store in San Francisco due to the need for sex information and sex toys. She sold the business to employees, who then opened 5 other locations. The store thrives on sex education, sex-positive events, and an antique vibrator museum.


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The History of Sex Toys: Part III (2003 – The Future)


We begin to see an emergence of high end sex toys. Lelo, a Swedish company founded by Eric Kalen and Carl Magnusson, began making high end sex toys in 2003.  Some toys are even made with 24-karat gold. In 2011, the company launched a lingerie collection.


Elemental Pleasures, founded by Peg and Dennis McIlnay-Moe, engineered vibrators out of titanium, stainless steel, and anodized aluminum. They are the first to make these types of sex toys available in the U.S.


Wholly Love, Great Britain’s first Christian adult store opens. Products included sex toys but nothing “too offensive.”


The We-Vibe makes its debut as the first high-end sex toy for couples. It has continued to be one of the most popular sex toys.

Je Joue launches out of London. The company produces the first product to offer a realistic experience. To achieve an orgasm, the toys are plugged into a computer, known as teledildonics.

Book22 opens for business. It is the first online Christian sex toy website and does not sell sex toys that are considered unholy.


My Pleasure creates the first sex toy app for the iPhone, called My Vibe. It has a range of 100 vibrations and pulses.

LoveHoney releases the Sqweel. Trevor Murphy, who won LoveHoney’s sex toy design competition, invented it.


El Asria, the first Muslim online adult store opens for business. The store sells products that meet the rules of Sharia law.


Screaming O debuts its Studio Collection, which consists of sex toys disguised as mascara brushes, make up brushes, and lip stick. The collection has taken discreet toys to a new level.

More religious sex toy sites emerge. Kosher Sex Toys, an online adult store, opens. The company sells sex toys, but states there is not really anything that makes a sex toy kosher or non-kosher.

LoveHoney introduces the Sqweel 2. It is an upgrade from the original and was even nominated as the “Best Sex Toy for Women” at the 2011 AVN Awards.


3DEA, a 3D printing company, offered custom dildos out of laser scans during the month of December. Customers could purchase a customized dildo of their penis.


Hello Touch, created by JimmyJane, is the “smallest fingertip vibrator available, and the only one optimized for both internal and clitoral stimulation.”

Sex toy manufacturer, Doc Johnson, creates a line of sex toys called “Wonderland.” The collection consists of sex toys inspired by characters from Alice in Wonderland.

Vibease is introduced as “the world’s first smart vibrator.” It is a wearable vibrator for women that can be controlled from a smartphone anywhere.

The Future

In January 2012, Fleshlight announced that they are developing an iPad case that you can do it with. The case, which has a Fleshlight attached, connects to an iPad.

In May 2012, researchers Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars argued that Amsterdam’s red light district will replace human sex works with android sex works by 2050 in order to eliminate STDs.

In March 2013, Lelo jokingly unveiled GÄSM, the world’s first ever eco-friendly vibrator. Maybe one day they really will create it.

In August 2013, Balázs Sármai created fictional sex toys based on The Avengers. Although the sex toys are not real, it would be nice if they were. The Hulk is huge!



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The History of Sex Toys: Part II (1900 – 1999)


More than a dozen companies began producing electric vibrators by 1900. In 1904, the Chattanooga vibrator cost $200, not including shipping charges (Maines 1999, 15). If you adjust for inflation, it would cost approximately $4,800 today.

During this period, the vibrator was marketed  as a home appliance as a relaxation device. Such advertisements appeared in Needlecraft, Home Needlework Journal, Modern Women, Hearst’s, McClure’s (the earliest advertisement appeared in 1899), Women’s Home Companion, and Modern Pricilla. If the vibrators were marketed at men, they were recommended as gifts. In 1918, a line of vibrators appeared in the Sears, Roebuck, and Company catalog (Maines 1999, 19). The standard delivery method was mail order. (Maines 1999, 104).

By the mid-1920s, vibrators began to appear in erotic films. Advertisements in home magazines began to disappear until the 1960s (Maine 1999, 108).


Created in Germany through a project initiated by Heinrich Himmler to relieve soliders and to keep them from picking up women, the first sex doll was born – so to speak. Standard characteristics of the doll included synthetic skin, moveable body, and a realistic female organ. 


Hysteria becomes unrecognized (Maines 1999, 3). The American Medical Association no longer acknowledges it as an ailment. Therefore, the vibrator was no longer accepted as a medical device.


The first sex doll is marketed, which was 11.5 inches of plastic and was named Bild Lilli (Ferguson 2010, 27).


The modern vibrator reemerges as a sex toy (Maines 1999, 108).


Ted Marche, a ventriloquist, manufactured rubber dildos and other toys. In 1976, he had sold nearly 5 million sex toys.


Created by Hitachi, the Japanese manufacturing firm, the Hitachi Magic Wand appeared on the market in America. Although its purpose was to massage muscles, it became known as a sex toy.

Early 1990s

The Rabbit became extremely popular in 1998 on HBO’s Sex and the City in the episode “The Turtle and the Hare.” Vibratex invented the Rabbit Pearl in 1983, the product that was shown on the TV show. However, the “Original Jack Rabbit” was created decades before that by California Exotics.


I Rub My Duckie debuted in 1997 as one of the earliest discreet sex toys. It is a vibrating rubber duck that can sit in bathtub without anyone knowing it has a range of vibrations.


The Fleshlight is patented by former police officer Steve Shubin, who came up with the idea in 1995. The Fleshlight is men’s sex toy that is molded from a woman’s anatomy. To watch the story of how Fleshlight was created, click here.


Nigel R. launches Divine Interventions, which is a company that created sex toys to look like religious icons. For example, the Jackhammer Jesus is a silicone dildo that is shaped like Jesus on the cross.



Maines, Rachel P. 1999. The Technology of an Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

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