Wednesday 21 March 2018

Forty Shades of Blue . . . Why Ireland's going sex-mad

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Library image

Publishing sensation Fifty Shades of Grey has managed to out-magic Harry Potter and crack The Da Vinci Code to become the fastest selling book of all time.

But while the rampaging success of the graphically sexual novel has already seen a million copies swiftly snapped up, it has also single-handedly sparked a surge in the sale of sex toys and erotic aids.

Ann Summers is just one of many stores that has witnessed a spike in the sales of whips, handcuffs and blindfolds, reflecting many of the kinky items used in the sensual love lives of the book's protagonists.

"We are definitely seeing an impact from the book," says Joan Hilton, a manager with Ann Summers Ireland. "Call the phenomenon what you want. But the fact is more people are looking to spice up their sex lives in the bedroom."

With Eason reporting the book, dubbed "mammy porn", is out of stock in many shops, it appears a revolution in bedrooms the length and breadth of the country is in full swing.

The publishers, who have been stunned by its dramatic and almost instant success, have said word-of-mouth among middle-aged women is the driving force behind the sales.

So while mums used to be under the spell of JK Rowling's boy wizard, they apparently are now leafing through the pages of 50 Shades of Grey to bring a very different kind of magic into their lives.

"We have seen sales rise up 30pc over the past few weeks," says Brendan Almack general manager of "We have also noticed that people are no longer shy about getting in touch directly by telephone to find out if various products are in stock."

However, the appetite for sizzling sex sessions is not a surprise to those working in the trade.

"I think there has definitely been a shift in perception of sex in Ireland," says Almack. "Durex did a sex survey and found that Irish people use more lube than the Germans and buy more sex toys than the French.

"It also found that 74pc of Irish people know how to reach fulfilment in their sex lives. Another thing that might surprise people is that our busiest time is 3pm. So whether that's housewives at home or people at work taking a quick break, the fact is there has been a seismic shift in attitudes."

The author behind 50 Shades of Grey is EL James, a married mother of two and former television executive from west London.

And while the prose is unlikely to win any literary prizes, the cash bonanza from the racy blockbuster will no doubt leave James caring little about the critics.

Readers can't get enough of the tale of the innocent college student Anastasia and her erotic awakening at the hands of gorgeous billionaire Christian Grey, and the sex scenes that make Jilly Cooper's fictional romps "look like a vicar's tea party" according to one reviewer.

But regardless of your take on the tome, there is little doubt it has re-ignited a publishing sector in decline.

Just 100 copies of erotic fiction were sold in Eason last year but already 60,000 copies of Fifty Shades have been purchased in the Irish bookstore since April.

But it is not just the books industry it has given a welcome lease of life to. Mike Ryan, manager of Miss Fantasia in Dublin's Temple Bar, says the book's impact on consumers has been similar to that of Sex and the City.

"When that was on television vibrator sales definitely went up after one of the characters went out and bought one," says Ryan. "People would come in and ask for the specific brand. I suppose the same way when shoes were mentioned on the show people went into stores look to buy that brand."

And while a few seedy ones remain, the 'dirty old man' image of the sex store is a thing of the past.

"We are getting couples coming in and holding hands while looking at items together," says Ryan. "I think this is because it is 2012 and people have come of age and are blowing the cobwebs off their sex lives. Maybe it's also that people don't have the money to go out and end up staying at home more and want to enjoy themselves."

"Over the recent years there has been a large increase in fetish gear being sold," says Ryan. "Toys have also increased in sales, such as the We-Vibe, which is our most popular," says Ryan.

Joan Hilton has worked since the mid-1990s arranging Ann Summers parties around Ireland. She has seen the attitudes of people towards spicing up their sex lives with toys and kinky uniforms change over the years.

"When I started 17 years ago there were four people doing Ann Summers parties in Ireland," she says. "Now there are over 400. It was a slow start. I remember shortly after we started one woman was frogmarched out of her home by a local priest when a neighbour complained after she had bought one of our products."

But while many middle-aged women are opening up their minds in the bedroom, some of us are still struggling to take part in Ireland's sexual revolution.

"I deal with many people who have been sexually repressed, a lot of them by the influence of the Catholic Church. So while the younger generation is more open there are still problems with older generations," says sex psychologist Dr Lisa Brinkman.

"This is something that can be worked on with therapy to help people open up. People's Catholic upbringing has had a huge impact on their attitude to sex, nakedness and masturbation. People have to understand that self-pleasure is allowed."

And although some are still stuck in the past, it seems for many others all has changed and changed utterly.

"A vibrator, for example, is no longer a 'dirty' item hidden in the bottom drawer," says Almack of "They are now just another high-end electronic device.

"There is one designer in the US that wants to become the Steve Jobs of sex toys. Look, if people talked about how great their sex toys were as much as they talk about how great their iPods or iPhones are there would be one in every bedroom."

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