trends

Fetish in Focus: A Look at the Latest Trends Driving the BDSM Market

Fetish in Focus: A Look at the Latest Trends Driving the BDSM Market

In the ever-evolving landscape of adult retail, few niches have experienced as profound a transformation as the world of fetish and bondage. Once relegated to dark dungeons, these kinks have now emerged into the mainstream with a bold presence. Today, fetish and bondage are not merely about kinky — and sometimes painful — play, but have been embraced in fashion and welcomed into homes in the form of accessories for sex rooms popularized in mass media.

XR Brands President Rebecca Weinberg has seen her company expand its offerings based on growing demand over the years for fetish and bondage products. Among those offerings, she notes a few that have gained immensely in popularity, such as inflatable anal toys.

In the ever-evolving landscape of adult retail, few niches have experienced as profound a transformation as the world of fetish and bondage.

“Giving users the ability to start small and inflate to their desired size that feels comfortable to them is key,” she says. “Sounding has also always been a staple product. Not always something a customer will feel comfortable enough to ask for, but definitely something they will check out if stores keep at least one or two options available. CBT (cock and ball torture) has seen steady demand over the years, especially due to all the advancements in colors, materials and function. The newer TPE rubber versions of chastity devices have allowed customers to try the idea of chastity without the typical heavy, locking, stainless-steel versions that have been around for so many years, making the idea of chastity much less invasive.”

Nathan Hammerle, marketing coordinator at Sportsheets, has also observed the evolving acceptance of fetishes.

“While fetishes themselves are not passing trends, they often appear that way as they are introduced in safe spaces and open discussions,” Hammerle says. “The increase in accessible and diverse pornography and erotic media has contributed to the increased acceptance of a broader range of fetishes. Examples include activities like chastity play and the use of fantasy dildos.

“As individuals witness others enjoying similar interests, they find solace and affirmation in embracing their own desires,” he adds. “This is particularly evident in the realm of oversized toys, where people have had greater access over time to this style of product. The internet provides unparalleled access to information, empowering individuals to learn about and engage in these forms of play with a heightened emphasis on safety, alleviating some of the apprehensions that may arise from more extreme practices like CBT and sounding. As manufacturers venture into producing products catering to these interests, the normalizing and validating effect is amplified.”

The release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and other movies and TV shows that highlight fetish and bondage themes, has opened doors for people to explore their fantasies without judgment.

Farah Shaikh of Rouge Garments highlights the rising popularity of medical role-playing, a fetish that encompasses a wide spectrum of activities.

“Why is this popular? Well, there are many reasons,” Shaikh says. “The first being a simple attraction to medical professionals. Dressing up in a sexy nurse’s outfit or pretending to be a naughty doctor is often part of the fantasy, but a medical fetish can dig much deeper and wider, spanning from dress-up and role-play to far more extreme scenarios involving medical-grade equipment and real procedures, including enemas, catheters and speculums.”

Chad Braverman of Doc Johnson notes that media like “Fifty Shades of Grey” and online discussions have served as gateways into the world of fetish and BDSM, helping to normalize and mainstream things like choking, rope play, cuffs and blindfolds.

“These simpler toys and fetishes have opened the door to interest in more extreme products, as people become interested in learning more about their own desires and what toys are right for them,” Braverman says.

Modern BDSM Trends

The world of bondage and BDSM, once nestled in the shadows, is now stepping into the limelight. In years past, subtle cues like the hanky code were used to signal specific kinks or preferences discreetly. Today, however, there’s a growing openness among consumers in expressing their desires, both publicly and intimately.

“Today, consumers seem to be more open with their sexual proclivity, purchasing and wearing items out in public that represent their specific kink much more clearly,” Weinberg says. “For example, our bondage bear keychains, whether gagged, hooded, roped or harnessed, can be found out in the open on purses, backpacks or keychains all over.”

This evolving trend in the bondage category doesn’t stop at mere visibility, however. Modern consumers are actively investing in their intimate lives, seeking premium materials like silicone and leather.

“This extends beyond the bedroom, as discreet yet fashionable items find their place in both public and intimate settings,” Hammerle says. “Above all, contemporary consumers crave products that match their personality and align with their play style while maintaining durability and functionality. Themed kits, offering a comprehensive thematic and experiential package, cater precisely to these desires, ensuring each use delivers an unforgettable experience.”

Traditional bondage items like cuffs, crops, paddles, floggers, gags, and collars continue to be popular, with black reigning as the timeless color of choice. According to Shaikh, however, recently there has been a surge in alternative colors like pink and burgundy, challenging the dominance of black. She has also seen increased demand among bondage fans for quality and durability.

“The bondage scene has evolved massively over the last ten years and with more experienced players out there now, they want good quality materials such as stainless steel and real leather,” Shaikh says. “If you are going to insert something into your body, you want the best quality material out there. Stainless steel is nonporous, hygienic and easy to clean. Real leather not only provides durability, but also comfort, especially if you plan a lengthy playtime.”

During the pandemic, kink play saw an upsurge, and in 2023 this trend has only grown stronger, says Cheri Curry, director of sales and marketing for Tantus. Bondage is now seen as a form of art, combining functionality with aesthetics.

“A design trend we’re seeing in the bondage and BDSM space is ‘elegance with an edge,’” Curry says. “This trend emphasizes the thoughtful design of products that are not only functional, but also evoke a visual response and help to create an immersive environment with their aesthetic. Tantus’ new Vow cane and Confess crop are perfect examples. We wanted to make them look elegant enough to elicit a response just from appearance alone, even before use.”

Federico of Leatherbrands points to women as the demographic buying the most BDSM products.

“Sales data from various adult stores and surveys have suggested that women are significant consumers of BDSM products, especially after phenomena such as the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series,” he says. “That being said, both men and women can be target audiences, but the type of product, design and brand will affect who is more interested. The age range for BDSM enthusiasts can be quite wide. However, the majority of our clients are likely to be between the ages of 18 and 50, as this demographic tends to be more open when it comes to exploring their sexuality.”

The Netflix Effect

The release of Netflix’s “How to Build a Sex Room” sparked a cultural shift as it mainstreamed the creation of personalized sex spaces, igniting a newfound curiosity about bondage and sex furniture, propelling these products into the limelight like never before.

XR Brands released its Kinky Couches around the same time the Netflix show premiered. Weinberg says the surge in interest was unmistakable.

“We literally couldn’t keep them in stock,” she recalls.

This shift is not just about the physical elements of bondage; it is also a reflection of a broader societal trend. Modern consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with their sexual interests and fetishes, leading to investments in sexual experiences and products that cater to their desires.

“Of course, the idea of a sex room isn’t particularly new, but shows like ‘How to Build a Sex Room’ certainly helped inspire people to consider one for themselves,” Weinberg says. “But even for individuals and couples that don’t see the need for a dedicated room, it has become less shameful to have sex toys around the house. That’s not to say every product is proudly displayed on the mantle, charging and within reach at any moment. But the idea of these items needing to be in a locked box tucked away in a closet is becoming much less common. Between bondage furniture and positioning support items, there is an active interest in curating a space that is not only pleasure-forward, but realistic and adaptable to both one’s sexual journey and day-to-day lifestyle.”

Shaikh underscores the impact of mainstream media on BDSM’s growing acceptance, portraying it as a healthy and intimate aspect of relationships.

“Until around 10 years ago, BDSM was enjoyed by a very small percentage of adults,” she says. “Today, at least one-third of couples introduce an element of BDSM into their lovemaking. TV shows like ‘How to Build a Sex Room’ have helped couples to explore and expand the boundaries of their sex life. Its changed people’s perceptions of BDSM by showing that it’s not dirty and in fact, it’s completely normal. If anything, it strengthens a relationship by providing people with an enhanced level of intimacy in the haven of their own home. The recent influx of films and TV shows has created a snowball effect that will only strengthen our industry.”

To make bondage and fetish products appealing to retail customers, however, an intentional approach is still essential.

“Think about how you can guide your kink and fetish community toward choices that match the scenes and experiences they desire,” Curry advises. “Tantus ropes come in a variety of stylish colors and come pre-knotted in a way that, when displayed, matches the size footprint of many silicone paddles. We often suggest displaying Tantus’ colorful ropes alongside these paddles. This contrast effectively breaks up the visual monotony of black and red while helping customers better grasp the full range of options on display.”

Bondage Basics

When it comes to adult retail, one timeless truth never loses its relevance: bondage basics are an absolute must.

Weinberg outlines her go-to products for anyone dipping their toes into the world of kink: under-the-bed restraints, furry handcuffs, feather ticklers, paddles, blindfolds, nipple clamps and drip candles. These essentials create the perfect starter kit for exploring the world of bondage.

Beyond the physical products, however, it is also essential to grasp the core aspects of BDSM.

“Bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism are the absolute basics of this style of play, with other elements coming into play as well as you dive deeper into kink,” Hammerle says. “Just stocking the items, versus actually understanding each of these types of play, are two different things. Anyone can have a paddle and a collar on the shelf, but what does that mean to the user? Of course, restraints, impact toys and items that promote power exchange in some way are an absolute must when selecting product, but the most important part of kink and BDSM that should be provided in every store is information.

“Understanding, at least in part, the reason behind the act and the differences in implementation makes all the difference,” he continues. “Some people may be interested in impact toys, but do they know the differences between ‘sting-y’ and ‘thuddy’? What is the mental component that goes into purchasing collars and how does it relate to the submissive mindset of the wearer? Sensory items are extremely hot right now, but what about those sensations is so enticing, and how can you amplify a sensation that otherwise wouldn’t feel arousing? Carrying items that can be paired together to enhance erotic scenarios is key to creating an environment that is dedicated to pleasure.”

Shaikh notes that certain items remain consistent staples in every BDSM toy box, such as cuffs, gags, collars, leads, floggers, paddles and riding crops. Offering a variety of options for beginners, intermediate players and advanced enthusiasts ensures that there’s something for everyone.

Ropes are a consistently sought-after item in the BDSM space, and Tantus’ selection stands out with its multiple options for colors and patterns.

“The ropes not only have an attractive pattern and a range of colorways that complement all skin tones, but they also bring a hot color to shibari and rigging practices,” Curry says. “The tasseled finish adds an extra bit of elegance. While it’s a necessity for any rope to meet the expectations of riggers in terms of flexibility and functionality, we equally prioritize the experience of the person who consents to being bound.”

Braverman also notes that low-level items like rope — with instructions for use — cuffs, ticklers and masks are essential for curious beginners. These products allow individuals to explore BDSM without a significant investment, making it accessible to a broader audience.

Federico from Leatherbrands emphasizes the increasing use of harnesses in everyday fashions, signaling a shift in consumer behavior. Product kits, such as immobilizers with masks, or handcuffs with gags and masks, are becoming popular choices, particularly for those new to BDSM.

Making such bondage and kink products “retail-friendly” involves making products approachable through conversational, educational, retail merchandising and visual branding strategies.

“Experiential retail is the future,” CB-X General and Sales Manager Alicia Davis says. “Look at stores like Apple. Every product has an interactive station that leaves no customer question unanswered. Apple creates a visual, tactile and informative environment. While product testers and TV screens might not be possible for every store or product, retailers can get creative by carving out an hour every day to host recurring ‘daily demo sessions at 6 p.m.,’ for example. Designate a different product category or topic for different days of the week, and stick to it. BDSM Mondays, Self-Care Saturdays, etc. Let customers know that they can stop in at the same time on these days for staff demos — a ‘questions you don’t know how to ask,’ ‘products you don’t know about’ or ‘products you didn’t realize you needed’ sort of thing. This creates awareness, and a conversation around products that are harder to move and tend to collect dust because they may be intimidating or because potential buyers lack education.”

The Art of Display

Effective display can make all the difference when it comes to selling bondage and fetish products.

“My favorite is when they are displayed on mannequins and if possible, utilizing a bed display,” Weinberg says. “If you are able, building a dungeon in your store shows off the potential of what the customers can build in their own home. Showing ‘average people’ having fun with something new and adventurous will set the customer at ease and encourage them to be open to trying something new. Depending on the item, to be retail-friendly, leather is best when the quality and texture can be felt, not just seen. Metal chastity to me always looks best when it’s shined up and displayed in a jewelry case fixture.”

Weinberg’s insights underscore the importance of making bondage items approachable. While these products may once have been considered taboo, creating an atmosphere of normalcy around them can help eliminate stigma. Bondage items can seamlessly blend with other adult toys, emphasizing their versatility and potential for enhancing a wide range of experiences.

Hammerle emphasizes the need for an open and inclusive space where associates can help customers explore the connections between various products while shopping.

“Just like any other item in adult stores, these products need to be displayed with the same level of sensitivity as with anything else,” he says. “Whether it be setting aside a ‘bondage room’ in your store where all of these items are housed, or having them mixed in with all the other toys. I think the biggest obstacle is making it approachable for people who may find it intriguing but still taboo. Create a normalcy to the items so people don’t feel alienated for enjoying it, while still not being overbearing to the people without an interest. Create a space that is open and inclusive for people to consider the positive these toys can bring to any experience. Keep bondage products next to traditional toys that could be paired well together, like wand vibrators and ball gags to muffle moans when in use together. Think of every product as an extension of another and how they can be used together to create memorable experiences, then create a space where associates can help customers explore those connections while shopping.”

Shaikh stresses that all bondage products can be retail-friendly with the right presentation.

“They should be presented in a tasteful and presentable way, making them aesthetically pleasing to the consumer’s eye, catching their attention,” she says. “I also believe in taking the opportunity to upsell at the same time. If you have a collar displayed, make sure they can see a matching lead to go with it. We’ve all gone into a supermarket with a list of items and grabbed random bits along the way; it’s the same for adult toys. You didn’t know you wanted it until you saw it!”

Braverman emphasizes the importance of clear instructions.

“If you’re selling a bundle of rope, it’s important that the consumer knows they will be given guidance, either on the box or inside, on how to use it safely,” he says.

Fetish in Fashion

The influence of the bondage and fetish subculture on the fashion industry has been a fascinating journey, dating back to the early 20th century. Over the years, iconic designers and fashion houses have incorporated elements of bondage and fetish into their designs, and this interplay has gradually become mainstream.

“French companies Yva Richard and Diana Slip created some of the most erotic photographs and clothing articles of their genre,” says Tara Acevedo, founder and owner of Tyes by Tara. “From whips to gloves, corsets to chokers, this interplay of fetish and fashion lit the way for future designers to find inspiration in the fetish/bondage subculture.”

These early influences laid the foundation for the evolution of fetish fashion. In the 1970s, punk fashion emerged with its rebellious and provocative aesthetic. This movement brought fetish-inspired accessories like harnesses and trousers into the mainstream. Designers such as Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier challenged traditional fashion norms by incorporating anatomical corsets, dominatrix-inspired bodysuits, and materials like PVC and latex into their collections.

“Bondage and fetish elements in fashion have been transformative and in the mainstream for a while now,” says Neel Saxena, founder of House of SXN. “A number of illustrious designers have been bringing the subculture out of the shadows and onto the global fashion stage for decades. Thierry Mugler, for instance, has been at the forefront. His designs and fashion shows in the ’80s and ’90s were legendary. Jean Paul Gaultier, with his iconic cone bras and corsetry, blurred the lines between underwear as outerwear and fetish gear. More recently, design houses like Alexander McQueen and Givenchy have integrated BDSM elements such as harnesses and chokers into their runway and ready-to-wear looks.”

By the 2000s, fetish fashion had crossed over into the mainstream. Major fashion publications started featuring fetish-inspired looks, and movies showcased characters wearing catsuits and bondage-style outfits. Notable examples include Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell photographed in bondage-style bodysuits with pasties underneath.

“This influence caught on worldwide and materialized not only in fashion but also in music, cosmetics and film,” Acevedo notes. “Today, the term ‘fetishcore’ has been coined and garners 1.1 million views on TikTok.”

This online trend showcases individuals embracing elements of fetish fashion in their everyday outfits. It signifies the growing acceptance of diverse forms of self-expression and the integration of fetish fashion into mainstream culture.

“There are a lot of celebrities and influencers incorporating bondage accessories into their styling,” Coquette International Marketing Director Jacqueline Macleod says. “At Coquette we see the beauty in being edgy, so we created a line of bondage accessories that double as statement jewelry. Our blingy, feminine rose gold hardware, combined with tough vegan leather materials, has been catching a lot of eyes, not only in the adult industry but also among more mainstream fashion lovers. This type of styling can be minimalistic or over-the-top, depending on the wearer’s preference.”

Subsensuals owner and designer Helaine Katz concurs with fetish experts on the mainstreaming of fetish in the fashion world.

“So many aspects of fashion, from corset designs to leather and rope, all mixed into pieces we wear in everyday life,” Katz says. “Corset dresses have become so mainstream and women are embracing these types of dresses and tops due to the way it enhances their breasts, gives them a curvier figure and makes them feel powerful. Some people wearing collars understand exactly what they represent; others just like the aesthetic of how they look with their clothes.”

Functional Fetish Styles

Bondage and fetish fashion designers and brands have created functional bondage styles that seamlessly transition from fashion to the bedroom.

Acevedo emphasizes the versatility of Tyes by Tara’s lingerie harnesses, bra chains and leg garters, which can be worn alone or layered with other intimate apparel.

“The La Sophisticate Bratye is an adjustable bra chain that is beautiful when worn alone or is great underneath clothing to add an element of sensual curiosity,” she says. “Another boudoir-friendly category we offer is our Legtyes Collection: adjustable leg garters that are a beautiful and unique way to contour the thighs and buttocks.”

House of SXN offers luxury leather gloves and crystal-adorned collars that embody fashion/bedroom duality.

“The ‘nice’ interior side of the glove has a sumptuous and ultrasoft sheepskin leather, which is perfect for sensory play. The ‘mean’ side has several rows of metal rivets that quite literally pack a punch. I’ve had several customers wear them out and about, from the New York subway to outdoor charity balls. Another very popular fetish fashion style is our range of crystal- and rhinestone-adorned leather collars and leather masks. Beyond their obvious allure in the bedroom, they’re being embraced by the dark and sexy noir private fetish clubs where black-tie events featuring erotic masks, collars and jewelry are becoming the norm.”

Coquette International provides clippable collars, cuff restraints and leashes that work interchangeably with their lingerie line, allowing for a variety of bedroom scenarios.

“We carry rope in two colors, which also comes with a rose gold clippable ring, opening the door for so many beautiful shibari ties, especially when used with our other accessories and/or lingerie,” Macleod says.

Harnesses and collar leashes have emerged as the most popular fetish-inspired styles. These designs have gained a significant following due to their versatility, edginess and ability to make a bold fashion statement.

“These days, it’s all about the leather harnesses,” Saxena says. “There’s been a huge surge in their popularity due to their versatility and luxe edginess. At House of SXN, we expertly stitch all of our harnesses — an extra bit of craftsmanship that really resonates with our customers. We’re witnessing a real shift, from fleeting trends and disposable fast fashion to more stalwart classic designs that are sure to hold up over time.”

Katz says that versatility distinguishes her line of nipple clamps.

“You can wear my clit clamp all day,” she explains. “That will help keep you on the edge. And you can wear the nipple clamps under your clothes for excitement throughout the day. My body pieces are worn under your clothes so that when the package is unwrapped, you blow your partner’s mind.”

According to Katz, currently the most popular fetish-inspired styles are stilettos and corsets, with latex and rope becoming more popular.

“Leather has always been considered a fetish style, but other styles are starting to gain more momentum,” she says. “People are loving my body pieces that they can wear out to clubs over their own clothes.”

Fashion can act as a complement to kinky bedroom play by introducing power dynamics and enhancing the overall experience.

“Whether you want to take the role of the dominatrix with thigh-high boots, or you want to be playful and put on a striptease, fashion lights up the imagination and uncovers new ways to explore in the bedroom,” Acevedo says.

Through clothing and accessories, individuals can embody different roles and explore their desires in a visually stimulating way.

“It empowers and intensifies the bedroom experience,” Saxena says. “Soft satins and silks and rich, buttery soft leathers heighten tactile sensory play, while sharp and poignant masks and clothing really set the emotional atmosphere and mental stage for play. I think one of my customers says it best: even though she loves to be blindfolded and can’t see anything, she still wants to feel beautiful and confident. And that’s really what it’s all about — fashion is an extension of your deepest desires and fantasies.”

Melanie of VoyeurX believes that fashion is not only a way to express oneself, but can also enrich intimate experiences.

“When we talk about a ‘kinky bedroom,’ fashion can play a big role in creating the right atmosphere and enhancing your sense of confidence and sensuality,” she says. “Fashion in this context can range from VoyeurX luxury leather lingerie to sexy BDSM accessories. Choosing the right styles and materials can help you feel comfortable and attractive, which in turn can contribute to a more satisfying and exciting experience. In addition, fashion can also serve as a form of role-playing, giving you the opportunity to explore different characters and scenarios.”

The VoyeurX collection is designed to be functional for the bedroom, with leather gear that makes the wearer feel confident while the feel of leather adds extra sensation to kinky play.

“Nothing beats the feeling of real leather on your skin,” Melanie says. “Leather gives your lingerie look a kinky edge and as a woman, you feel powerful when you wear leather lingerie. Using rings in my creations makes the lingerie items suitable for soft bondage play. The luxury and exclusive accessories from my collections take erotic play to a higher level. Our range is very extensive, with items such as sexy leather masks that transform you into a sexy bunny or playful cat, as well as collars, cuffs and restraints to take your bondage game to new heights of pleasure.”

Pushing Boundaries

In the world of pleasure products, exploring new frontiers and embracing unique fetishes is a constant source of innovation and excitement.

“Our newest fetish is found in our top-selling Creature Cock line,” Weinberg says. “An expansive line of colorfully accented and visually stimulating silicone dildos, anal plugs, strokers, cock rings and egg-laying ovipositors that let the user imagine they are having intercourse with an alien, sea creature or majestic unknown.”

Shaikh sheds light on another new development in the world of fetish products: female sounding. While male sounds have been available for some time, the demand for female-specific products led to the introduction of Rouge Garment’s unique range.

“In our travels, we have been asked many times for sounds catering to women, which we have recently introduced into our range as a result,” she says. “After all, it’s the brick-and-mortar stores that ultimately engage with the end consumer and know what products are in demand, so we are always happy to listen and ultimately deliver.”

Those are just brief examples of how manufacturers are continuously pushing the envelope to provide consumers with new and exciting experiences. Whether it’s indulging in fantasies of otherworldly encounters or exploring the intersection of bondage and pleasure, attentiveness to customers’ desires and creativity in accommodating them continues to expand the audience and draw new consumers to fetish and bondage products — a field where innovation knows no bounds.

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