NEW YORK (AFP) — New Yorker Andrew Bradley is doing his bit for anti-recession stimulation -- and not just the economic kind.
"I bought lingerie for my girlfriend," Bradley, 31, proudly announced as he exited fancy intimates store The Little Flirt in Manhattan clutching a tiny pink bag.
"And he didn't spare on the cost, I can tell you," added Bradley's shopping companion and fellow writer Terry Cirlin.
Experts say growing numbers of Americans, like Bradley, are defying consumer gloom to spice up their love lives, making the so-called pleasure industry one of the few retail sectors to end the year with a smile.
Places like Little Flirt -- home to the 3,250-dollar Little Platinum Eternity Diamond Vibrator -- seem immune to the terror gripping other retailers.
Lingerie empire Victoria's Secret stuck its tongue out at the recession by parading a five million dollar jewel-encrusted bra in November, then opening a big flagship store in New York this December.
At Babeland, an upscale sex shop with three New York outlets, vibrators are practically buzzing off the shelves.
"Sales are up seven percent in the last months in stores and on the website compared to the last three months of last year," said Babeland co-founder Claire Cavanah.
One vibrator, the pink and white, 109-dollar Gigi, "did so well we ran out," she said.
Condom kings Durex reported 19 million dollars in US sales for November, up on 18 million dollars last year, a performance that must make other retailers, many of them deeply in the red, sick with envy.
The economic logic behind this bedroom boom is simple.
"At a time of a recession people tend to stay in. They do date-night in. Maybe they don't go out to dinner so much. And when you're at home, around the home fire, one thing leads to the other," Jennifer Grizzle, a spokeswoman for Durex, said.
"The condom business is recession proof: you can't stop mother nature."
But there is another, more romantic cause for recession sex.
"It's a scary time," Babeland's Cavanah said. "People want to connect."
She recalls the biggest spike in business coming at the start of the economic crisis, right after the collapse of insurance mammoth AIG in September.
"I think that was a fear thing, a nesting impulse. It was the same thing after 9/11. People were afraid and we did really, really well."
For some that urge to reach out takes on a whole extra dimension.
A report in the Financial Times this month detailed how laid-off, or frustrated bankers are flocking to Illicit Encounters, a specialized site for arranging extramarital affairs.
"Since September the number of London-based males in the financial sector registering had risen by nearly 300 percent," the FT reported.
That's why entrepreneur Bruce Diller Verstandig is optimistic about a series of websites he started last year selling sex products and sexual health advice.
"As a whole, the health industry is seeing an up-tick in online searches. Sexual disease and malfunctions are riding those coattails," he said.
"The pleasure industry... (is) going to pull some good stuff out of this recession."
Of course, with economic problems deepening, not all sex-related retailers feel so hot.
Kim Ibricevic of Eve's Garden, a sex shop in New York, said sales were down and that she is "lucky" to be in business when so many other retailers are failing.
But she also hopes sex will prove recession-resistant. "In the sense that this is about an activity you can do at home, yes."
Bradley and Cerin certainly enjoyed their foray among the satin thongs and pricey negligees at The Little Flirt.
"The recession means there are some things, like electronics or whatever, that you won't buy," Cerin, 40, said.
"What you want now is something close to your skin -- something comforting."
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