If you walk into CVS and head toward the back, past the assorted Band-Aids and the Icy Hot, across from the Gold Bond and the lice treatment, you'll get to the pregnancy tests and condoms. Next to that, nowadays, you'll find a titillating piece of the reproductive marketplace, a tool of satisfaction at your, uh, fingertips.
They were once scored by ducking into a neon store with your hat low and your collar high. But vibrators have buzzed (hah) into the ho-hum world, appearing on drugstore shelves and in plucky TV commercials, peddled as stocking stuffers for that special someone.
One of condom-maker Trojan's latest vibrator models, the Tri-Phoria, comes with three interchangeable tips and sells for $40. It's more derivative than literal, like a smooth lavender rocket. The commercials air late, but also in prime time. They never use the term "vibrator," but rather "vibrating personal massager."
One takes place at a bridal shower.
"Who got me the Tri-Phoria?" says the bride. "That would be from me," says her friend, whose hair shoots straight back. "No, wait," chimes another. "That would be from me." She has the hair, too. "Well," says a final lightning-coiffured gal-pal. "It looks like she's going to have three!" They all cackle.
The tagline, of course, is "So good, it'll blow your hair back."
Sex toys are almost as old as sex. Academics have traced 8-inch, rod-shaped stone pleasure objects back 30,000 years. Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C. claimed a woman's uterus could dry out from lack of sex — a.k.a. "hysteria." The purported solution? Prodding from a stick thing.
Hamilton Beach patented the first take-home vibrator in 1902, before the electric iron or vacuum cleaner. It looked like a drill locked inside a black briefcase. Vibrators were accepted as health devices until they started appearing in pornography. Then, people got disturbed.
The women on Sex and the City chatted about the Rabbit brand vibrator over breakfast on a 1998 episode. "You don't even need them to have sex with anymore," said Miranda of men. "As I've just very pleasantly discovered."
They came into fashion, at least on TV. But were real people actually using them?
"Women in general are becoming more comfortable with their sexuality," said Hannah Webster, 19, a sex and love columnist at the University of Tampa's Minaret. "It's not something that needs to be hidden . . . I definitely talk about it with my group of girlfriends."
Trojan worked with Indiana University to conduct the largest vibrator study ever, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Researchers surveyed women and men age 18 to 60. They found that 53 percent of women and 45 percent of men had used a vibrator. More than 90 percent of women liked them, and most used them with a partner.
"That really brought it home to us," said Bruce Tetreault, group product manager at Trojan. "The people who are using these are part of a sexually healthy relationship. There was a great opportunity."
Trojan in 2007 introduced a tiny vibrating ring that goes you-know-where. They made the fingertip Vibrating Touch in 2008, followed by the bullet-sized Vibrating Mini in 2009. In 2010, Trojan ventured into larger vibrators, including the Tri-Phoria, initially available only online. Other condom brands, including LifeStyles and Durex, released their own vibrator models.
Trojan's parent company hired Tampa agency Sullivan Productions, owned by celebrity pitchman Anthony Sullivan, to make the first Tri-Phoria commercial. In it, an elated woman rides down a beach on a white steed.
"If you find yourself in a prolonged state of bliss, be sure to consult your partner to share the experience," a voice says. Her dude jumps on.
Larger models appeared on store shelves in 2011, packaged in elegant purple boxes, some marketed as Christmas gifts. Trojan now sells gift bundles with vibrators, vibrating rings, massage lotion, a lavender soy candle, a pouch of bath salts and a satin bag, all for $84.99.
But it's still not for everyone.
"I would feel a little awkward if I went to Walgreens and picked up my prescription and a vibrator and a Vitamin Water," said Webster.
The Todd Couples Superstore, an adult mecca in Tampa since 1969, has walls of vibrators — purple, pink and yellow, small, big and scary, glow in the dark, glass and vinyl, shaped like lipsticks and back scratchers. They also carry some Trojan products, and the staff happily offers advice to people who may be sheepish.
"People see the commercials for Trojan and they come in our store looking for it," said Todd employee Sabrina Garcia. "We're a different atmosphere. It's kind of more awkward in a drugstore. In here, everyone already knows what you're coming in for."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.