When I started working in a ‘sex toy shop’ 9 years ago I really didn’t expect I’d be sitting here writing another entry for this blog. In all honesty, I don’t think I expected much but a regular paycheck (at minimum wage), a small commission, and the opportunity to do something I was very passionate about; talk about sex and sexuality in a carefree environment that frowned on censorship and allowed its staff to be who they were, no matter what that meant.
That position far surpassed my expectations, becoming the first that made me feel I was making a real contribution to the happiness and well being of others. When my time at the shop came to an end (due to my personal unwillingness to sell people crap – something the company almost forced us to do) I began creating videos on the topics I was continually asked by customers. After a couple months, I started doing sex toy reviews. Fortunately, what I had (and have) to offer has been well received and allowed me to continue doing something I love.
Of course this road hasn’t been easy. I’ve fought through censorship, horrible stereo-typing, criticism, false flagging, labeling, trolling, and bullying. I’ve worked with power hungry companies that wanted to ‘buy’ my opinion and take complete control of my work (I didn’t give in). I’ve had manipulative people say they ‘just wanted to help’, only to turn around and try and take ownership of the rights to my material as a form of payment. I’ve had online accounts suspended, shut down and/or been penalized for the type of topics I cover. I’ve even lost some friends and the support of those that I love. But no matter the struggles I faced or the hell I’ve had to raise, all of the experiences taught me one thing; at the end of the day someone some where will be benefit from what I do, and that’s what matters.
Luckily my experiences haven’t been all bad. I’ve witnessed positive changes within the industry that came in leaps and bounds. What was once a market predominantly filled with harmful jelly dildos, chemical filled lubes, and dangerous toys has quickly become one where customer input, reviewer feedback, company accountability, safety, and environmental friendliness are major players in the ‘sex toy’ game.
Having said that, there are still many things I see wrong within the industry and rather than staying quiet, I’m writing an open letter to sex toy manufacturers, retailers, and consumers, with the hopes it will force a change. Although I know much of this article will go unheard or acknowledged by the very people it’s meant to reach and impact, it’s something I feel I have to do.
With that in mind, I genuinely hope that this brings a new level of awareness to you – the consumer and/or reviewer – and in the process, makes the manufacturers of some of the worst made, horribly packaged, cheapest, and faulty products step up their game and take responsibility for what they create and contribute, whether it be a product, stereo type, negative image or otherwise.
Sex Toy Packaging: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, but the image of near naked men (pic is NSFW) and women followed by cheesy slogans, sexist and sexually explicit wording, dangerous suggestions, and cheaply made cardboard boxes never fails to make me wonder just what the hell a company was thinking when they designed it. Not only is this tacky and unprofessional, it’s also ignorant and rude. Maybe it’s just me but I’d like to think that you wouldn’t need to dumb down your audience to sell them something.
Actually, it should be the opposite; by packaging your product in a way that makes the item look visually appealing, informational and classy, consumers would be more willing to shell out their hard earned cash. I’m not just talking luxury items here, I’m talking everything from little bullets to traditional vibes and beyond.
Don’t think it’s a big deal? That’s fine, I’ll elaborate…
If there was one thing that was a constant within the store where I worked it was the look of embarrassment, guilt, and shame found on the customers faces when they came to the register ready to make a purchase. For as shy as they may have already been, the vast majority of the time it was those that had picked the poorly packaged products that couldn’t look us in the eye. On many occasions I was asked to either remove the packaging and/or provide a double bag to hide it. For an industry filled with such crass and verbally suggestive writing you’d think someone somewhere would have caught on to the fact that it was embarrassing and cut that shit out.
Maybe it’s just me, but wording like “tear that ass a new one”, “pump her p*ssy with your thick meat“, “plunge deep into her tight cherry hole“ and “breed him like a good pig“ aren’t the most arousing sentences I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Truthfully, they sound like something I’d hear from a 12 year old that’s recently found his Dad’s stash of porn and thinks doing what he sees and using wording found within the pages will make him sound cool to his friends. Of course that’s before he matures and realizes that it’s mostly sexist, rude, potentially damaging, and ignorant (stereotype intended – bashing of most pornography not intended).
Whether manufactures or consumers realize, it’s this irresponsible and thoughtless packaging that’s part of the reason intimate accessories are treated like ‘toys’ to giggle at rather than the sexual wellness products they are.
Let me be clearer: every time sexist, immature, or tacky slogans are used they work toward maintaining the stereotype that intimate accessories aren’t meant to be treated legitimately, and instead support the idea that they are ‘gag’ gifts only meant for bachelorette parties, stags, and birthdays – instead of tools to help a person learn about their body, develop a healthy level of confidence, and become comfortable in their own skin.
I realize that because of international shipping laws, along with differing governmental standards, products must be called ‘novelties’ in order for production and distribution to exist. However, that doesn’t mean that words and sayings like “ram his tight little a**hole“ also need to be used. In fact, many of the high end products being created by companies like Lelo, Tantus, Fun Factory and JimmyJane (to name a few) contain the word ‘novelty’, yet also refrain from being tacky and cheesy. If you ask me, more companies need to follow their lead.
*Yes, I do know that there is a market for these items. Yes, I also know that those who are into that sort of thing should be allowed to buy the products without repercussion or judgement. Let me make myself clear, so long as it’s consenting adults I don’t give a rats ass what anyone does. My issue is with the packaging, not the consumers or their use of said items.
Misinformation & Potential Harm
Whether it’s harmful jelly materials, chemical filled lube, Nonoxynel-9, or unsafely made and mislabeled products, when it comes to the marketing and manufacturing of intimate accessories there are many problems that exist with the industry. Unfortunately this is still a ‘taboo’ subject for many people and as such, very little information is offered regarding the safety issues of these items, leaving consumers to make their purchases completely unaware of the damage they may be doing to their body and the horrible cycle they’re allowing to continue.
In an attempt to help raise your level of awareness I’m going to offer a little info on a few of the above issues, maybe after reading them you’ll think twice before you make your next purchase.
Jelly Toys – Just Say No
Although they are one of the top selling items, “jelly” products are also some of the worst, and since manufacturers won’t provide the exact ingredients of their various mixes, it’s hard to know what they’re really made of. One thing is for sure, they do contain phthalates, a harmful chemical that has been identified as a potential health concern. Aside from that they’re porous, very porous, absorbing bodily fluids, lube, and bacteria rather easily. Unfortunately they also can’t be disinfected, so whatever you use with them, stays with them. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, they’re the least durable of the soft rubber products on the market and often have an uneven surface that will fall apart (flaking and tearing are common). The noxious fumes they emit will also potentially cause headaches and/or respiratory problems.
Does this really sound like something you want to not only spend your money on, but also put in your body? Think about it. Seriously
Spermicide – When Safe Sex Isn’t Good For You
Nonoxynel-9, commonly known as spermicide or N9, is in my opinion one of the more misunderstood chemicals out there. Originally it was thought that the chemical could kill sperm and thus reduce the possibility of transmitting an STD or an unplanned pregnancy. However, about 10 years ago it was discovered that it actually INCREASES the chances of contracting infections like HIV by creating lesions on the layers of skin cells in the vagina or rectum walls, potentially facilitating infection.
There are other downfalls or potential dangers to using N9: it offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, if used regularly N9 can increase a womans chances of contracting Bacterial Vaginosis as well as yeast infections, there have been reports of vaginal bleeding after intercourse, as well as increased chances of vaginal dryness or itching due to misuse.
Again I ask, do you really want to put that in your body?
A Few Extras
Harmful chemicals aside, there’s a few other things you should look out for; if it doesn’t have a flared base don’t put it in your butt (that includes random objects, fruit and vegetables), if it looks like it’s unsafe trust your gut (it probably is), if it looks like it’s cheap and might hurt/fall apart it probably will, if it has a bunch of chemicals in it that you can’t pronounce and sound bad don’t use it (unless you’re willing to look them up and learn what you’re getting into).
Simply put, think about what you’re really buying and don’t just fall into the trap the label wants to you believe. You’re smarter than that.
You Have The Power: Effecting a Change
As I said in the beginning of this post I left my job due to the inability and unwillingness to sell people crap. No matter how hard I tried to justify it, or the commission I stood to make, I couldn’t bring myself to suggest something that may do someone harm. Fortunately I’m still of that mindset and work hard to avoid lower quality products when possible, instead opting to offer an item that gives you more bang for your buck. It’s not about money to me, it’s about your sexual exploration, enjoyment and safety.
Of course this choice has another benefit that many don’t realize; in offering the best of the best I’m doing my part to raise the level of standards within the industry and teaching people what to look for, the companies to support, and things they need to avoid.
If you’d like to continue to see changes within the industry, ones that will hopefully impact both retailers and manufacturers, forcing them to be accountable for their packaging, products, and the message they send, I have a few suggestions to help you make your voice heard:
- Vote with your dollar. Sure it sounds cheesy, but being that they all want your money you have a bigger say in what they continue to create than you probably think. If you see something that has offensive, tacky or unappealing packaging, don’t buy it. If you see a jelly toy, don’t buy it. If you see a misleading label, don’t buy it. If you have money to spend and are looking for somewhere to shop, pick the retailers that are in line with what you believe in like Babeland, Early To Bed, Good For Her, and my fave – SheVibe – to name a few.
- Learn all you can about the sex toy industry. Whether it’s what products are made of or the different options available, being educated gives you the power to make well informed decisions. If you read the ingredients in something before you eat it/buy it, take the same time to be aware of what your sticking in your other orifices too.
- Be a voice of change. While it may sound overwhelming, you can to write big name manufacturers and ask what they’re doing to improve their products, make the company sustainable, what their overseas factory standards are like for workers, and if they’re treating the environment the way it deserves. Ask your local sex toy shops the same questions. Raise some eye brows and force the issues. Voice your opinion and don’t be afraid to offer your input. Changes have happened because people made them happen. Not from staying silent.
- Teach others and spread your message. Whether it’s starting a blog, doing reviews, making videos, talking to friends about what you know, speaking up in social media (be it twitter, facebook or otherwise), there are a lot of options available for you to reach a larger audience. Sure it’s sex related which may be awkward and weird (depending on your lifestyle, level of involvement) but if you’ve read this you likely have something many don’t – knowledge about intimate accessories that could make things better.
- If you are a retailer/reseller, be it an online shop or brick and mortar store, pay attention to what you’re buying and only stock those you know are safe (both in regard to design and materials). Provide an area in the store that offers educational material for your customers or better yet, offer seminars for those that want to learn more. Teach your staff about materials and help them learn how to sell, it’s not only good for them and the customers, it’s just good business. Sponsor events that are in line with what you do and get your name out there. Write to your local papers and let them know your mission, for all you know this might be news to them and provide you with a interview opportunity. Offer affiliate or review programs so that people like me can get their hands on products from companies they want to support and make a small living at it.
As for the issue of not wanting to help big business; if there was another way to offer these goods (like them being made by other sources) I’d gladly do so, but unfortunately that’s just not the case in the industry right now. I’d much rather help consumers recognize what’s good and bad, have them spend their money on those items, and force the manufacturers to discontinue the shit products simply because they realize they’re not making the money they used to. I’m pretty sure many of you (within the industry) will know which companies I’m talking about. If you’re still not sure, check out this Open Letter To The Sex Toy Industry written by the fantastic Dangerous Lilly.
I hope my open letter helped some of you to see the industry for what it is, and allowed the information needed to make responsible and informed decisions. At the end of the day this isn’t just about me or you; this is about change as a whole. It’s about telling the big name corporations that we just won’t take it anymore. That we know better and expect better from them. Because that’s what we deserve.
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