Carry On Up The Khyber: The explosion of the licensed sex toy market

When Fifty Shades of Grey erupted into cinemas in February this year, the movie, documenting the desires of a sexually uninhibited millionaire, whipped both the nation and the industry into frenzy.

The first of a planned trilogy inspired by the bestselling book series from E.L. James not only stoked the fire of the UK’s collective libido, but it also ignited a new lust for the sex toy market.

As a result, the market for licensed pleasure toys has ‘exploded’, helping Lovehoney, the firm behind the best-selling collection of officially licensed Fifty Shades of Grey pleasure balls, remote controlled vibrators, nipple clamps and more, to a 40 per cent growth year on year.

Of course, it’s no new revelation that sex sells. However, and as Lovehoney co-founder, Neal Slateford recounts, the last five years have certainly seen the industry’s attitudes and interests towards licensed sex toys shift gears. Now, and on the precipice of a new year, that interest is only expected to grow.

“I started going to licensing shows over five years ago and back then hardly anyone would entertain licensing their brands for pleasure products,” Slateford tells “But now, due to Fifty Shades of Grey and because of a generational change in attitude towards sex toys, brands like Cosmopolitan are now starting to do deals in this area, too.

“The market is really opening up, we are seeing exceptional interest in our licensed brands and it is becoming a very important part of what we do.”

For Lovehoney, the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey presented a “watershed moment” both in terms of its own business growth and the pleasure toy industry as a whole, bringing the discussion of bedroom antics to the mainstream. While talking about sex toys and using them with partners is no longer considered taboo among the under 30s demographic, what interested Slateford was the entirely new audience Fifty Shades of Grey managed to reach.

“The film and the licence really supercharged the conversation and brought a lot of older customers into the market, too,” he says.

“Of course, for us as a business this is a great calling card for potential licence holders. We can now point to the millions of units we have sold and the mainstream accounts who are stocking the lines and demonstrate that it is a fantastic market to be in, and we’re the people to make it happen.”

British metal band, Motorhead is the latest to join the pleasure market, with an officially licensed line of classic, bullet and power vibrators. It’s a match seemingly made in heaven, given the group’s repertoire of sexually charged hits, including an album titled Orgasmatron and a song called Vibrator.

“They’re synonymous with loudness, power and sex,” explains Slateford. “Plus, they have the coolest logo in the world that looks fantastic on virtually anything, so why not?”

The successful line is the product of a partnership between Lovehoney and Global Merchandise and – as a range that has undergone careful scrutiny by the band itself, particularly guitarist Phil Campbell – goes to prove the cross market appeal that sex tends to carry.

“This line has opened a whole new market to us with music merchandise retail,” continues Slateford. “The popularity of the band’s brand combined with the fact that they have final approval on everything has helped make this a very successful line for us.”

It’s the global recognition that a brand such as Motorhead or Fifty Shades of Grey enjoys that helps broaden the market for Lovehoney’s risqué product line-up, in each case opening the discussion of sex toys to older markets and music fans.

And while the current booming demand for licensed lines is only expected to grow further when Lovehoney unveils its latest two globally revered signings, Slateford highlights that the biggest challenge it faces now is maintaining the right tone for the Lovehoney brand.

“Years ago we were talking to the people who owned the Carry On brand and there was talk of a Carry On Up The Khyber anal lubricant,” Slateford smiles. “More recently, we were approached about Keith Lemon, who is a great character. But we are serious about marrying great brands with fantastic product that enhances people’s sex lives, rather than seeing it as a pure novelty thing, so neither were right for us.”

So what is the next big licence in the sex toy industry? Well, Slateford is keeping his lips firmly sealed over the latest brands to join the pleasure movement, but he can’t help offer a glimpse into Lovehoney’s desires for the future of the market.

“A Beyonce or a Kardashian collection would be nice, and it’s really only a matter of time before someone like that gets into the category. And I hope it will be with Lovehoney.”

With that, and a final tease that Lovehoney is currently in discussions with several potential major licensing partners, Slateford is confident in the health of the sex toy industry; a market in the throes of surging passion.

If you’re interested in the Lovehoney offering or exploring the licensing potential, visit or find Neal Slateford on Twitter @doogster.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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