Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers, is a woman on a mission – one fuelled by a belief that there’s a place for sex toys in every relationship.
A one-off documentary to be aired on Channel 4 on 13 June will follow the businesswoman as she joins forces with eight members of the public (including a 69-year-old grandma, a twenty-something virgin and a middle-aged divorcee who has never achieved an orgasm) to create a new sex toy.
For Jacqueline the documentary, which was filmed over the course of a year, provided the perfect excuse to show the general public that sex toys aren’t something to be scared of.
“There are still women who are intimidated by these products,” says Jacqueline. “Often women have an outdated view on sex toys, which in turn leads them to shy away from them. I think the documentary and the ladies from the panel will help to show viewers that sex toys are not something to be intimidated by, but products which can help to enhance their sex lives.”
Jacqueline believes sex toys can be especially useful for couples whose nocturnal activities have become somewhat lacklustre. “They can bring an element of newness and excitement to a relationship,” she points out. “I’ve heard so many stories from our customers about how introducing toys into the bedroom has helped save their relationship. But at the same time, our store staff are also feeding back that more young couples are coming in who want to spice things up and experiment.”
Despite the fact that we Brits have a reputation as prudes - Jacqueline admits she often wishes we could follow the lead of other nations in our attitude to sex toys, adding that “the Dutch instantly spring to mind!” – she also believes the situation’s improving.
“In the past I would say Brits were quite prudish, but over the past 30 years I’ve noticed a definite shift in attitudes – they’re constantly changing and evolving and people today are much more open and keen to discuss what they want from their sex lives. In my experience, from having experimented with franchises abroad, it’s often the countries that you would expect to be uptight, such as Saudi Arabia or Dubai, which are actually very welcoming of the brand.
“Wherever we take our business, women are always passionate about Ann Summers but it’s often been the landlords and local councils who were less open minded.”
However even Jacqueline was shocked by an event which occurred prior to the opening of the first Dublin store in 2000. “A week before the store was due to open, I received a bullet through the post,” recalls Jacqueline.
“I considered not opening but we decided to go ahead. Over 10,000 people came through the doors on our first day. We had also faced quite a bit of opposition from landlords and councillors who tried to stop us opening, but things have come a long way since then and Dublin is now one of our top-performing stores.”
So what exactly has been the reason for this change in attitude? “There’s simply been some big changes to people’s attitudes surrounding erotic accessories and toys, particularly with the launch of Cosmopolitan magazine and the introduction of the rampant rabbit on Sex and the City,” says Jacqueline.”
Cosmopolitan magazine isn’t the only literature she believes has changed things. ““The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon has really opened people’s eyes to the sex toy industry. It’s allowed them to be more open about these types of products. Since the launch of the book, the sale of erotic accessories and toys in our stores and online has increased massively.”
Jacqueline believes the way in which people can purchase products has also played a huge part. “There are so many different ways to shop for sex toys now. It no longer needs to be an intimidating experience. All of our store staff are trained experts on each of our products and can help and advise, whatever the customer’s needs. Ann Summers Parties are also a fun way to introduce toys and erotic accessories in a group environment amongst friends, and those who prefer not to go into a store can obviously also shop online.”
Working on the documentary allowed Jacqueline to see just how far we’ve come in our attitude to sex toys. “To meet and work so closely with the eight ladies on the panel, and to hear their ideas on how we can expand our offerings was fantastic.
"After 30 years in the industry, it was refreshing to see that women are now much more open to talk about their personal experiences and share them with others. Since we filmed the show I’ve seen each of the women develop in different ways through the experience.”
So what’s next for Jacqueline Gold and Ann Summers? “World domination! Our Autumn/Winter ranges will be in store soon and I really do believe it’s our strongest collection yet. The quality and design of the products is fantastic and I’m really looking forward to seeing the reaction to them.” Although somehow, we don’t think she means that literally….
Sex Toy Stories airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on Thursday 13 June and can also be watched on 4 On Demand.