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RIP Jacqueline Gold, the Ann Summers founder who revolutionised sex

It was announced that Jacqueline Gold passed away this week (Picture: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Jacqueline Gold, the businesswoman behind Ann Summers, passed away this week aged 62, following a seven-year breast cancer battle.

As the CEO of the sex toy company, she was known for her savvy entrepreneurship, and awarded a CBE in 2016 for services to women in business and social enterprise.

But her influence reached far further than that, and Jacqueline is credited with revolutionising the way we view sexual pleasure as a nation.

When Jacqueline’s father, David Gold, bought Ann Summers with his brother Ralph in 1972, it had four stores and was marketed as an ‘upmarket clean’ sex shop. Upon starting work experience at the family firm at just 19, the budding mogul decided to switch things up.

‘It wasn’t a very nice atmosphere to work in,’ Jacqueline recalled. ‘It was all men, it was the sex industry as we all perceive it to be.’

After attending a Tupperware party with friends, she saw a gap in the market for lingerie and sex toy parties where women could try and buy products from the comfort of their own home. And so, Ann Summers as we know it was born.

She began working for her family’s firm at 19 (Picture: Getty Images)

It’s hard to overstate how groundbreaking this was back in 1981. Ann Summers parties had a strict ‘no men allowed policy,’ giving women the freedom to talk openly about sex toys in ways they never had before.

Although Jacqueline’s idea was initially met with resistance in the boardroom, the model she created has become a cultural touchstone of British life, with over 13,000 party organisers working for the retail giant.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, and at one point she received a bullet in the post as a result of her efforts to bring sex to the masses. But Jacqueline never faltered in her vision.

Quickly, she revolutionised the sex toy industry (Picture: Getty Images)

In fact, she went even further, taking Ann Summers across the country with an X-rated roadshow and creating the iconic Rampant Rabbit vibrator.

The launch swept the nation, with one selling every two minutes, making it the world’s most popular sex toy for women.

A rabbit (and its addictive qualities) even inspired an episode of Sex and the City, such was the buzz around the bunny-eared product.

A woman-centric approach was at the heart of the Ann Summers business model (Picture: Getty Images)

Ann Summers brought the world of sexuality out in the open during the ’90s: Katie Price (then known as Jordan) was the catalogue’s cover star; the brand talked about squirting and released ‘alien dildos’; stores were rebranded as non-seedy spaces where women could shop without stigma.

Reflecting on the impact, Sangeeta Pillai, founder of feminist platform Soul Sutras, tells ‘I remember coming to the UK for the first time and my delight and pleasant shock at how sex toys were available on every British High Street.

‘I remember telling my Indian friends back home how couples could pop into their local Ann Summers after their weekly grocery shop.

‘Jacqueline Gold made sex toys “respectable” and easily accessible. And the world of pleasure will be forever grateful to her.’

Jacqueline’s innovations swept the world (Picture: Getty Images)

Jacqueline prioritised a female-friendly approach and stood for what she believed in, taking the government to court after they banned advertising of Ann Summers roles at Job Centres and winning the case.

Among her many innovations, she was also an early adopter of plus-size ranges, partnered with Relate for a large-scale sex census that looked at Brits’ bedroom habits, and starred in the Sex Toy Stories TV series, where customers were tasked with creating the next star product.

She accepted a CBE for services to entrepreneurship in 2016 (Picture: Getty Images)

Metro’s Lifestyle Editor, Rachel Moss, interviewed Jacqueline back in 2015 and says the CEO cared passionately about gender equality in the boardroom, just as much as the bedroom.

Rachel recalls: ‘She told me plainly: “Women really are empowered in the bedroom now – I’ve ticked that box. But there are still so many issues facing women outside the bedroom, whether that be equal pay or women wanting to climb the ladder and finding it difficult to break that glass ceiling.”

‘We talked a lot about her daughter, Scarlett, and her desire to create a world where she’d grow up without limitations or self-doubt. We also laughed about how the Ann Summers PRs all had the names of their ‘Rampant Rabbits’ in their email signatures at the time.

‘Jacqueline was astute business woman and a fierce feminist, but also a mum with a truly wicked sense of humour.’ 

There are countless reasons to commemorate Jacqueline Gold’s incredible career and life, but one of her greatest achievements is undoubtedly how she took this stuffy, prudish country and helped us loosen up.

She busted taboos, blazed a trail for sex positivity, and did it all with women and their pleasure in mind.

So the next time you reach for your bedside table toy stash, remember who’s to thank for helping take the stigma out of sex.

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