Sex Toys for the Faithful
Lent, the solemn period of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus that is celebrated by many Christian denominations, kicked off yesterday. This six-week period invariably puts faith questions center-stage, and yet it always surprises me the number of people of faith who come to me for advice about their relationships. Despite the vaguest allusions to having been brought up Catholic, I also receive questions from Protestants, Jews, and Muslims on a regular basis. I suspect people know that even if I don't know the answer to their questions, I'll have no qualms about going in to find it for them.
Photo by Jason Brackins (Flickr)
People like to imagine that wanting to have great sex is a secular characteristic, when in fact, it's a human one. One of the most fascinating things I have learned over the course of the years I've spent writing about sex is the demand for sexual aids in the bedrooms of the faithful, all over the world. In the past three years, some of the most popular sites selling sex toys have been those catering exclusively to the needs of their respective flocks.
Thirty-eight year old Haluk Murat Demirel is one such visionary. He didn't envision becoming a sex toy mogul. Like many entrepreneurs before him, he moved into the market when he identified a consumer need that needed to be met. This need happened to be sex toys -- presented in a manner that wasn't too explicit and thus counter to Muslim teachings.
Since launching in October, the Turkey-based Halal Sex Shop has become incredibly popular, offering shoppers both sex toys as well as advice. The name of the shop clearly states its mission -- "halal" means adherence to Muslim law.
Turkish Muslim sex toy shop (screengrab)
"We don't sell vibrators for example, because they are not approved by Islam," Demirel told Reuters. Among his top sellers are pleasure-magnifying creams for women, cock rings and libido enhancers.
The notion of creating sex shops to meet the needs of people of faith is not a new one. Three years ago, Kosher Sex Toys made a splash across the web shortly after its launch. The site, which also hoped to bring pleasure to couples without going against Jewish teachings, stripped toys and sex aids of their explicit packaging. Unlike the halal sex shop, the kosher shop offered vibrators, dildos and bondage kits -- its main goal being providing tools to married couples to increase their pleasure without objectification.
"Women are constantly objectified in advertising," the New Jersey-based site read. "In the U.S. over 10 million women suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other image-related sickness. 97% of women admit to having at least one 'I hate my body' moment each day. Even products being marketed specifically for women use marketing that objectifies them. Four out of five women are unhappy with their appearance. Objectification is NEVER necessary. Objectification is NEVER acceptable. Objectification is NEVER kosher. Respecting people as people. Not objects."
Though the site became inactive sometime after April of last year, it was wildly popular while it was up. In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz last year, founder Gavriel C. said that he hadn't expected the site to be so successful.
American Orthodox Jewish sex toy shop (screengrab)
"I thought there would be a need for it, and apparently I was right," he said. The then-25-year-old and father of two launched the site after he and his wife realized it was impossible to learn about sexual aids without exposing themselves to explicit imagery, which runs counter to the concept of "tznius," or modesty.
To get the shop off the ground, its strict Orthodox founder spent a nontrivial amount of time rewording product descriptions and negotiating with sex toy manufacturers and distributors to get different packaging. Rabbi David Ribner, co-author of the Orthodox-focused The Newlywed's Guide to Physical Intimacy eventually became an advice columnist for the site.
Gavriel estimated some 60 to 70 percent of buyers were Orthodox. He even noted that he'd received a few orders from people who lived in Orthodox communities where going online is taboo. Two of his most popular items were a bondage kit and furry handcuffs.
When the Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Kosher Sex, was approached by the New York Post for comment about the popularity of these items, the rabbi set them straight: "The greatest misconception in pop culture is that religious people are pious in bed. In fact, Orthodox Jewish couples are taught, once they get engaged, to have phenomenal, shout-out-loud, swinging-from-the-chandelier sex."