Racy lingerie, bedroom dress-up and the famous Rampant Rabbit. When we were invited to a private Ann Summers party with Southampton University’s Health and Beauty society in November, these were the items we expected to be presented with.
Ann Summers is renowned forbeinging sex to the high street and has received many complaints over the years for their ‘overtly sexual’ advertising and risqué products. Some of the offended parties include even the Queen as well as the Muslim community. In 2002 the company was condemned by Buckingham Palace for posters depicting the Queen reading ‘Ann Summers’ Wild Guide to Sex’ with the tagline ‘Phwoar! One must get one.’ Further controversy arose in 2006 with the inflatable male escort named ‘Mustafa Shag’. According to Sky News, Muslims were ‘hurt’ and disgusted with the abuse of one of Prophet Mohammed’s names.
Ann Summers’ chief executive, Jacqueline Gold, responded to these objections expressing that this was ‘political correctness gone mad’. The company is adamant that they do not ‘want to offend’ anyone with their products, simply create a ‘light-hearted’ view of sex. Gold picks up on the general prudish nature of the British public and shows surprise that those who are affronted have ‘not seen the joke’; she believes Ann Summers promotes the fun and liberating side of sex.
The party itself definitely imitated this relaxed attitude towards sexuality. The Ann Summers’ representatives were entertaining hosts, presenting the erotic products to us in a witty and informal way. Party members were able to chat whilst flicking through the appropriately named ‘Christmas is Coming’ catalogue and sipping cocktails in true Sex and the City style.
The hosts encouraged sampling of certain products such as deliciously edible lubricants and gave everyone a closer look at the vast variety of vibrators. Some girls even had the courage to model the bedroom attire, feeling at ease in the solely female environment. Games were used to get everyone involved, with prizes and discounts awarded to the lucky winners, contributing to the ‘party’ atmosphere.
The private party concept is particularly appropriate for this brand due to its adult nature. People felt less conscious asking personal questions about the products, which led to general open discussions of sex. It was interesting to discover how many girls already owned Ann Summers’ products. The company has made sex toys not just acceptable but respectable, positively stimulating female interest in sex. Gold told Woman’s Own magazine that it is ‘important for women to put their own needs first’. Her philosophy is ‘to encourage women to feel good about themselves and their sexuality’ Sex and body confidence are interlinked and the products reflect this, stocking apparel to flatter all shapes and sizes.
Having transformed her father’s business from a few ‘seedy’ sex shops to a multi-million pound empire, Jacqueline Gold has been listed as one of Britain’s 100 Most Influential Women by the Daily Mail. Thriving on ‘its unique selling point’, Ann Summers is unfazed by the controversy it sparks, believing that it has positive consequences in opening up the sometimes sensitive topic of sex.
We received more than just an intimate shopping experience at this social; we loosened our self-consciousness and took pleasure in discussing sex in an uninhibited way. Our preconceptions of a product-pushing event were overturned by the fun and flirty ethos of the company, combining the thrills of purchasing and a girls’ night out.