Essays

Cost of Sex: Out of the Red and Into the Pink

“Sex sells” is a concept prominent in marketing and its success is evidenced by that of the porn industry. Yet, while selling nudity is generally successful, selling sex education is met with nearly insurmountable obstacles.

When I recommend certain sex toys to my customers, they tend to be in what I call the sweet-spot: $80-$120. This is where I feel that (most of) the-best-of-the-best sex toys live. More expensive toys typically include new, hard-to-find technology (example: Fun Factory’s pulsating Stronic line) and features that work better in cheaper toys.

The toys that end up on most must-have lists include the We-Vibe Tango ($80), the L’amourose Prism V ($90), njoy Pure Wand ($110), and the Magic Wand Rechargeable ($120). Not only are these great products, these are great companies; companies with ethics; companies that do business the way business should be done. Lelo used to be an all-time favorite company of many consumers, but with their rising prices and declining ethics, both stores and customers are breaking ties.

When it comes to cheaper toys, there are so many options that it can be difficult to find any that stand out for their excellence in ethics and operation. As for the companies that make them (such as the very problematic Pipedream), ethics seem to be a greater problem than with those that are high-end. Not only do many of these companies use unsafe materials, cheap mechanics, and have rampant social issues (such as racist and sexist statements on social media), they don’t treat their employees well.

Although I work commission (5%), I don’t direct customers to more expensive toys for the money; I suggest these toys because they are better for the customers and promote a more positive, ethical industry. I have also read reviews on them from reputable bloggers and tried many myself.

On the occasion that a cheaper toy (~$30)  makes it into the hearts (and bodies) of critics, customers still make faces at the price. It’s never cheap enough for their satisfaction. So I decided to ask: “what goes into sex toys? What are customers paying for?”

The basic break down of a sex toy (and, really, any product) is manufacturer, distributor, and seller. This can change from company to company, some both manufacturing and distributing, some doing all three from one location. This must also account for the various material, building, and employee payments for each section.

Kenton Johnson of Funkit Toys breaks manufacturing down into three points: material cost, ease of making, and skills involved. An avid member of the sex positive community, Kenton is a well-loved craftsman and fucksmith with 8 years of study and practice in various fields.

While his designs are popular in the sex-positive community, his recent attempt to fund a ring that could be used in a large range of sexual activities failed; not out of an underwhelming design, but due to a deflated sex toy market, especially in the religious and patriarchal atmosphere of today’s society.

With regards to cost of manufacturing (and in this case, distributing), Anja Koschemann of German company SelfDelve informed me of a fixed base amount, which includes rent, electricity, advertising, research, development, silicone, salary, packaging, shipping, and other factors, such as damaged goods and profit.

Kenton broke it down further, stating the material cost (for his products, specifically) to come out to 8-15% of the total price. In addition, molds need replacement, and not all toys turn out the first time. “After that,” he said, “most of the additional cost is to cover the labor of putting [colors] into the toy, mixing custom hues, and materials required to add them. More colors also mean more things that can go wrong, and that requires more security in the pricing.” The rest of the pricing is based on “skill factor.” His years of study went largely uncompensated, and “for others to benefit, I need to be benefitted fairly as well.”

Rizzo Johnson of Tantus discussed silicone safety in more depth. Tantus’s silicone undergoes a “rigorous toxicology testing panel,” uses non-toxic, FDA approved pigments that “do not compromise the quality or durability,” and the silicone is boilable, bleachable, non-staining, and safe to store with other toys. Rizzo stated “customers make an educated purchase to buy Tantus.”

Herein lies the problem: people are uneducated. They (usually) don’t automatically search out the safe, well-researched, well-designed toy. They go for the toy that’s porous, unethical, and unsafe, because it’s in their price range.

This is not to say that we should disregard price range; it’s an important factor in buying. However, you (generally) get what you pay for. Better quality items from good companies will usually cost more. A battery-operated toy that’s under $30 is fine for now, but it will eventually break, and you will pay to replace it; rechargeables are expensive up front, but they will last you (and if they don’t, a good company has a warranty). If you get lost among all the options, don’t hesitate to talk to someone who works (reputable) sex retail. Employees are there for your education, and can help you sift through the ethics and the prices to find a product that works for you.

Another common question I encounter is “what can a toy bring to the table that a partner can’t?” I looked to fellow bloggers to answer this, as well as my own experiences.

Sarah the Formidable Femme and Miss Ruby use toys to heal from sexual abuse and triggers. For me, touching myself in front of my partner is less triggering with toys than with my hands. They can be used to explore sexuality in new ways, and contribute to the hormonal boost from sexual activity. Many sex toys (look to Fun Factory for great examples) explore options outside the phallic likeness, and stimulate genital nerves in ways that body parts cannot.

Sex toys encourage exploration, and go beyond bodily limits. Furniture and swings are great for exploring positions and for those with disabilities, and strap-ons allow exploration for those without penises, or without penises that function the way the person would like. People with clitorises can use strokers made just for such a use; those experiencing vulva or vaginal pain have options with special lubricants and dilators.

Above all, people need to realize that sex toys aren’t people, they’re materials. It is unfair to compare the two. A sex toy can’t give you the intimacy that people can, and people’s physical abilities only go so far. Using sex toys doesn’t mean someone is inadequate; it means that they are open to exploration, new experiences, and helping their partner(s) get off.

Have a suggestion to make this article better? Shoot me an email!

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