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Sex toys canned: Woolies bites the bullet and dumps vibrators

EXCLUSIVE

"Diabolical": Facing a boycott, Woolworths quickly removed the battery-powered product.

"Diabolical": Facing a boycott, Woolworths quickly removed the battery-powered product. Photo: Eamonn Duff

Woolworths became the first Australian supermarket chain to sell battery-powered sex toys. But the gamble is over after less than a fortnight.

Shoppers were able to purchase their weekly groceries and sex aids under one roof after the retailer unveiled a new Vibrating Bullet ''clitoral stimulator'' across 900 stores.

While manufacturer Durex hailed the controversial move as a ''game changer for the industry'', the ''fresh food people'' have now performed an extraordinary U-turn, clearing thousands of the products off shelves on Friday after learning, via The Sun-Herald, that a leading Christian group had called for a nationwide boycott of its stores.

<i>Illustration: Matt Golding</i>

Illustration: Matt Golding

Roslyn Phillips, research officer with Christian advocacy group FamilyVoice Australia, said sex toys belong in sex shops.

''Society is already suffering massive problems with young children being over-sexualised … this move by Woolies just makes the problem worse,'' Ms Phillips said.

''I, personally, would not patronise Woolies while this situation exists and I encourage everyone else to boycott them too. I hope parents will let Woolies know how they feel and I hope they tell them they'll continue to shop elsewhere until these products are removed.''

While rival Coles stocks a small vibrating ring that slips over a condom, Woolworths decided to boldly go where no supermarket has gone before, by selling battery-powered vibrators. Designed to give ''5 hours of quivering pleasure'', the ''discreet and powerful'' device costs $24.95 and was positioned within the existing sexual health section that includes condoms and lubricants. However, the same aisle features many family-oriented products such as toothpastes, shampoos and shower gels.

In many stores the vibrators themselves sat within arm's reach of popular children's products.

The Australian Family Association's national spokeswoman, Terri Kelleher, said for that reason, and others, the sale of vibrators was ''diabolically wrong''.

''Do we really need to be explaining to our children what a vibrator is whilst walking down the supermarket aisle?'' Ms Kelleher said.

''It completely undermines that parental prerogative as to when and how you raise these sorts of things with children.''

Fiona Patten, president of the Australian Sex Party, agrees. She said: ''While I have no problem with anyone selling vibrators, I think they should be sold from an age-restricted area.''

But sexologist Nikki Goldstein argued that grocery stores already promote safe sex through the sale of condoms, ''so why shouldn't they also promote pleasurable sex through sex toys?

''Why is it so offensive?'' she asked. ''We are taught to view such products as dirty, naughty, shameful and outside the boundaries of normality, and that's wrong. A vibrator is no different to a vitamin in that it does something positive for your body.''

Dr Goldstein believes the introduction of small vibrators should be accepted in supermarkets.

''This is a discreet product that is discreetly packaged. I don't think it will open the floodgates.''

A spokesman for Woolworths confirmed an email was sent to all store managers on Friday afternoon advising them to withdraw the products immediately. By 6pm the vibrators had vanished from many stores, including Park Street, Sydney.

''Woolworths has taken the decision to not offer the new Durex vibrator,'' the spokesman said.

''This is a product that is more appropriate for pharmacies than supermarkets.''

In 2007 Britain's high street retailer Boots scrapped its Durex sex toy range after public criticism. Last year, Boots launched a second attempt at introducing the same toys but copped a further backlash after an incident involving a mother who found her two sons playing with a vibrator at the checkout.

Durex said in a statement on Saturday: ''Products that assist Australians to have great sex should be made easily available to consumers through a variety of channels.''

Twitter: @eamonnduff

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