This article is part of a series highlighting findings from The State of Sex — an O.school original 2021 study in partnership with Pilotly. The State of Sex study consisted of a 103-question online survey administered to 1,074 US participants, ages 18-75 with an average age of 44.
The study was representative of the US population and oversampled Black, Asian, and Latinx respondents to obtain holistic, readable data on ethnicities and sexual orientation. Our findings enable us to better understand sexual habits, behaviors, attitudes, and consumption.
According to O.school’s State of Sex survey, 41% of American adults own sex toys (like dildos, butt plugs, vibrators, and cock rings) or equipment (like sex swings and furniture). Using toys and equipment may demonstrate someone’s sexual engagement and willingness to prioritize pleasure and erotic expression. Even though the use of sex toys has often been stigmatized or seen as taboo (hence online sex-toy retailers’ promises to ship their products in “discreet” packages!) many people are choosing to incorporate accessories into their sex lives.
45-64-year-olds are most likely to own sex toys
Sexual adventurousness is often associated with youth, but our State of Sex survey found that perhaps we should change our thinking around that. Among young people between the ages of 18 and 25, and older adults over 65, the proportion of those who own sex toys and equipment was almost the same: 34% for younger adults and 35% for older adults.
In contrast, the people most likely to own sex toys and equipment were those between the ages of 45 and 64. Of those in this age group, about half (48%) owned at least one sex toy or piece of equipment.
The State of Sex survey found that people over 65 grew up with less information about sex, and were more likely to have been taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin. This group generally held more conservative or “traditional” ideas about sex, which could help explain why fewer older adults own sex toys than middle-aged adults. But why do fewer 18-25-year-olds own sex toys than their older counterparts?
Spending power and body image may help explain why
Social psychologist and sexuality researcher Dr. Pei Hwa Goh speculates that several factors could be at play. “Emerging adults may be less willing to spend on toys, or may perceive it as less necessary,” Dr. Goh tells O.school. In addition to having less money than older adults, younger people might be in a phase where sex is still novel and doesn’t require any enhancement. On the other hand, using sex toys can indicate a stronger sex life: Despite media depictions of older women as less desirable, women’s self-confidence — and their sex lives — tend to improve with age.
“[Positive] body image, which is associated with sexual functioning, increases with age among women,” Dr. Goh explains. In other words, having more body confidence can translate to more exploration, greater adventurousness, and better sex. Finally, Dr. Goh thinks that some of the sexual effects of aging may be at play. “People may look for tools/toys to help increase stimulation” if they’re experiencing less vaginal lubrication or greater difficulty maintaining an erection, Dr. Goh speculates.
The bottom line
You might expect sex toys and equipment to be more popular with younger people. But our survey showed that, when it comes to who owns toys, the reality is far less predictable. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of age, experience, or adventurousness, you deserve to experience sexual exploration and pleasure — with or without toys.
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