Is The Male Sex Toy Industry Problematic?
At Sex Toys Lounge, our mission is to break taboos about male sex toys. We want to do so while promoting a non-judgemental and sex-positive environment. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our content supports a healthy attitude towards sex.
Before I started working on this site, I’ve stumbled on different posts on different blogs that were questioning the impact of the male sex toy industry on behaviors and perceptions. I don’t always agree with all of their arguments, but I think they raised good questions. That’s why today, I want to take the time to address the situation.
From my understanding, the criticisms about the male sex toy industry can fall into two categories. First, you can say that the way certain companies market their toys can contribute to the objectification of women. Second, some say that segmenting male sex toys by sexual orientation (“hetero-toys” vs. “gay-toys”) is problematic. This split can strengthen the rigidity of the typical gender/sexual orientation representation.
What Sex Bloggers Think of The Male Sex Toys Industry
The starting point of the reflexion is some posts by other sex blogs. So, we decided to start our inquiry by asking fellow sex bloggers their opinion about the subject.
Sex Bloggers Survey
We took the Kinkly list of sex blogs, and we try to contact the 300 most popular sex bloggers. We’ve sent cold emails to bloggers that had their email public, and 21 bloggers answered our question. You will find here a summary of their answers, followed by our comments on each subject.
Sexual Objectification of Women by the Male Sex Toys Industry
While the majority (61.9%) of the respondents do not think that the industry, as a whole, is objectifying women, there is still 38.1% that think it is. We are working with a tiny sample, but that’s still a significant number. So, let’s see what sex bloggers find problematic.
Sexualized Representation of Women in Marketing Material
The Fleshlight is the most popular male sex toy on the market. It also relies heavily on sexy imagery and videos to market their toys. Their website is full of pictures and videos of women in erotic poses. The same goes for the Fleshjack section. It’s full of photos of hot men. 38.1% of sex bloggers think that this practice contributes to the sexual objectification of women.
My personal opinion on the subject is close to what Miss M. from bdsm-couple.com says: “It’s only natural to use sex to sell sex toys. Nothing else would work….” For me, if you use a girl in a sexy pose to sell any product unrelated to sex, that contributes to the sexual objectification of women. But when we’re talking about sex toys, that’s the one kind of product where it makes sense. As Angela Watson from DoctorClimax.com pointed out: “Normally sexualization is cause for concern, but in the sex toy industry using arousing materials to sell toys meant specifically to deal with human beings in an aroused state isn’t a crime against humanity.”
Moreover, as Mx. Nillin Lore pointed out: “All marketing of sex toys is inherently sexualizing the subject shown in advertisements.” Indeed, when you’re selling a sex toy, as soon as you use a picture of someone, you’re sexualizing this person. No matters where the models place the toy or how they hold it, using a human being to sell a sex toy is sexualizing. Mx Lore continues by saying: “The important part is HOW that sexualization is depicted.” And when I look at the criticisms other bloggers pose on the subject, most of them are about “how the sexualization is depicted.” If I understand their stance correctly, it’s not whether if it’s okay or not, but how it’s done. So let’s have a look at the ways the sexualization can be problematic.
Body Type Representation
Body type is always skinny, lithe models which is harmful to women’s self-love.Morgan Destera from www.morgandestera.com
My only issue with objectification is when the “objects” are unrealistic. In my experience, people love amateur stuff more than highly produced stuff. I believe it is because it looks more authentic, and the people involved look like your neighbors, like you look, like typical people look. Not some airbrushed photoshopped version of a human.Jenny from ddjennifer.wordpress.com
That’s a symptom of a culture-wide problematic. Until recently, a lot of industries were utterly clueless about body positivity. Among the culprits, Fashion is the sector that was the most pointed at. But in its shadow, another one was blooming: Porn.
A couple of years ago, body diversity was quasi inexistent in porn. Adult performers were not representative of the population. They represented a stereotypical portrayal of a female body. And the ones who cast actresses that convey this “ideal body” was a close group of mostly male producers.
Since the male sex toy industry stayed close to the pornography imagery, it developed with the same iconography. When you use X actresses to promote your products, you will convey the same representation.
Thankfully, the porn industry is evolving. Lifted by the rise of ethical and feminist porn, pornography begins to display a broader (and more natural) representation of body types. Hopefully, this change in how we eroticize the female body will soon be echoed in the way companies market their sex toys.
A Symptom of a More Significant Problem of Objectification and Degradation
It’s a symptom of a much larger, culture-wide problem of objectification and degradation.Kate Sloan from girlyjuice.net
If the imagery is generally positive with no aspects of humiliation or degradation implied, then I don’t feel women are being sexualised.Emma from asharedwife.com
Speaking of porn, I think we should also blame this association (porn and the male sex toy industry) for this point. We can’t only blame porn for our tending of women’s objectification and degradation. Still, the porn industry has hammered a culture of humiliation and degradation into our sexual representations.
Now, do the sex toy manufacturers followed the porn industry on this? I think for most brands, the answer is no. Yet, some brands are participating in this phenomenon. For example, when a brand includes the word slut in its toy name, it’s problematic. I won’t name the brand, but Pipedream (oops!) is contributing to this culture of objectification and degradation with their product names and descriptions.
Racist or Reductionist Representation
There is a BIG difference between fetishizing women of color in very racist ways, or objectifying women in general as amounting to nothing of value outside of their sexual organs, men too, vs showing a broad range of sexy humans happily using a product and enjoying it.-Mx. Nillin Lore from www.mxnillin.com
Now, since I’ve dropped Pipedream in the last section, let’s address it directly here. For the “fetishizing women of color in very racist ways,” it’s the best example. I won’t expose in detail how their product name and description can be racist. If you’re curious, you can check Miss Ruby Review’s piece on the subject. The point is, some brands are guilty of this. As sex bloggers, it’s our responsibility to call those brands off on opinion articles. More importantly, I think we must not mention those brands on reviews or buying guide types of posts. Yet, I don’t think the industry, as a whole, is guilty of fetishizing women in racist ways.
Realistic Representation – Sex Doll and Sex Robots
Only a minority (19%) think that sex dolls or sex robots can contribute to the sexual objectification of women. Most bloggers do not have any issues with sex toys that represent a complete body. With sex dolls becoming more and more realistic, and the introduction of AI that enable the development of sex robots, some concerns may still arise.
They need to be designed to take individual preferences, consent, and women’s personhood into account, or they will further damage our culture’s sexual psyche.Kate Sloan from girlyjuice.net
One of the main concerns about sex robots is the notion of consent. They are non-sentient objects. Yet, the fact that not only they resemble a human being, but are made to mimic one let some people question if it can damage our sexual representation. If this technology becomes more popular, can it reduce our empathy towards our sexual partners? Worst, can people who use sex robots start treating real humans like objects?
That’s enough of a concern for some researcher to plead for ethical sex robots that require the robot to give consent before sex. Still, as most bloggers have noted, technology isn’t ready yet to be this much of a concern. For now, AI and robotics are too embryonic to create realistic sex toys that can damage our collective sexual psyche. The mainstream adoption of sex robots is still in the realm of science fiction for now.
While those are important questions, meanwhile, the bloggers surveyed seem to think that sex robots will have more benefits than detriments.
They might be a good substitute for extreme kinks or harmful practicesMorgan Destera from www.morgandestera.com
For some men, it will contribute towards sexual objectification of women, but I think for the people that can afford them, they can be very useful for sexual exploration, or meeting sexual needs for those incapable or unwilling to be in a relationship or engage with another human.Ruby Ryder from PeggingParadise.com
Sex dolls and robots can offer possibilities for men that are unable or unwilling to find a partner. It can also allow practices that, for several reasons, you can’t or don’t want to share with a partner. However, this might come with its own dark side.
I think sex dolls and robots can be a valuable tool for people for a variety of needs and desires. Of course, we know some sexual needs and desires are not socially acceptable, i.e., child sex dolls and robots. Some regulation will be needs.Jon Pressick from sexinwords.ca
Although some voices think that prescribed childlike sexbots are worth exploring as a therapeutic means to treat pedophilia, we all agree that it needs strong regulation. No one thinks it’s a good idea to sell this kind of toys in an open market. Those who believe it can have therapeutic benefits advocate for a highly restricted use with strong oversight.
However, where there’s money to make, some people are willing to turn blind to the ethical implications. We saw with the XXX industry some production that cast the youngest looking girls they can find. Since they are 18 years old, it’s legal. Still, they are aiming their production at people who are attracted to childlike bodies. Since the dolls or robots do not have age, how will we decide if it represents an adult or a child?
The same can be said from different kinds of fantasies. The line between harmless and harmful fantasies can be blurred. For example, take the submission/domination fantasy. When it implies two people, it’s easy to have clear rules. People can enjoy the experience in a consensual way. But what about robots?
For example, a company could try to profit from the misogyny of some clients by creating and marketing “rape robots.” Those robots can let the customer fuels his hatred and repressed violence against women.
Since robots aren’t sentient, can we say it’s rape? Can an insentient object give consent? There will be plenty of gray zones that unethical companies could try to exploit. In the end, what effect this hypothetical robot will have on some men’s psyche? Imagine the impact on someone who’s never been intimate with a woman and feels hostility toward the opposite sex.
Toys Molded From Porn Star
One of the common complaints about pornography it’s how it reduces women to sex objects or how women are reduced only their sexualized body parts. Of course, it’s not everyone that shares this view. It also depends significantly on the type of pornography we’re talking of. Yet, we were curious to know what bloggers think of toys modeled on famous porn stars.
Most bloggers (81%) don’t find the concept problematic at all. As long as the models gave their consent, and are profiting from the product sales, everybody is happy.
Personally, it’s a term that I’ve never liked. Sadly, it’s still the most googled generic term when we’re talking about male masturbators. Fleshlight is still a bit more researched, but it became a bit of a genericization. Some people that are googling it are looking for the brand, others for the object category.
If by “pocket pussy,” we mean a vagina you can put in your pocket, that’s a literal objectification of the women’s genital. As Emma from A Shared Wife tell us, “It does disassociate the vagina from the whole woman…”
However, does it has a real effect on our collective sexual psyche? Does it really contribute to the culture of objectification? For Emma, although the term is not healthy, it’s not objectifying women: “…this which, while not objectifying women, doesn’t promote a healthy idea of interacting with the whole woman.”
If we take a look at other bloggers’ answers, the term doesn’t seem like a big deal for most. Although a lot of them find the name immature, 85,7% don’t think it contributes to the sexual objectification of women.
It’s crass, childish, and outdatedKate Sloan from girlyjuice.net
I think it’s silly but not harmful.Alison from www.taboorva.com
It sounds fucking silly and I don’t like it. Who wants to fuck their pocket?Mx. Nillin Lore from www.mxnillin.com
Even if some think the term is immature, others are glad to break the taboo associated with it.
It’s fine. It probably gets a snicker, but over time it should desensitize people to the term pussy, which is a good thing as far as I am concerned.Jenny from ddjennifer.wordpress.com
What’s funny is that we never heard people talking about a “pocket dick” for a dildo. It has its own term. One of the possible etymology for this term is the Italian word “deletto,” which means delight. That’s more classy than “pocket dick.”
Maybe the name has no impact whatsoever on the culture of women objectification. Yet, the fact that our culture came out with this term may be symptomatic of the latent women objectification.
The Rigidity of Typical Gender/Sexual Orientation Representation
The other complaint we can address to the male sex toys industry it’s its treatment of the gender/sexual orientation representation.
38.1% of bloggers think that the industry reinforces our rigid representation of typical gender/sexual orientation representation. The accusation that I hear the most is about the way male sex toys are marketed. Some brands segment their toys based on gender/ orientation.
Sometimes, we can have the same toys with two different names. The only difference is the picture on the box. The “gay-toy” shows a sexy man; the “hetero-toy” shows a sexy woman. Fleshlight is a good example of this practice. A lot of Fleshjacks, Fleshlight’s gay product line, have the same sleeves as their “hetero” toys.
Sexual Orientated Toys
42.9% of bloggers said that sex toys marketing based on gender and orientation is a bad thing. However, some of them think it’s bad for a different reason than the rigidity of typical gender/sexual orientation representation.
It’s Not What Customers Want
Yes, but maybe not for the reasons you think. The demographic of people buying sex toys is changing drastically each and every year as the younger generations who are now of age to purchase these products are MUCH more open about their sexual and gender diversity existing outside of binary norms. The more rigid you market your sex toys for “men and women”, “gay and straight”, the more you shoot yourself in the foot by alienating queer, nonbinary, gender noncomforming, and intersex shoppers who are more likely to instead go to places like Etsy, or to feminist toy shops that aren’t plastered with words like “men and males”, where they can buy even more unique products that are not alienating to their identity.Nillin Lore from www.mxnillin.com
I think it can be bad. Companies can miss out on sales if they market items too narrowly. Very few items are dependent on orientation. However, customers also sometimes want suggestions.Adriana from ofsexandlove.com
Now, there’s no question that the demographics of sex toys consumer is evolving. Indeed, the younger generation is way more open and conscious about gender and orientation diversity. However, I do not think that companies are doing the wrong thing, profitwise, by using such marketing techniques.
I don’t’ have access to Fleshlight’s internal marketing data. Yet, I’m confident that the fact that they are the n.1 brand is somewhat related to the heavy sexualization in their marketing material. We all heard the famous: “sex sells.” When we’re talking about sex toys, I think that putting your customers in an aroused state during the buying process is probably a good thing for your bottom line.
Now, for people who are strictly heterosexual or homosexual, having people of both sexes in the marketing material might tune down this arousing state.
I would argue that’s even the case for people you are between the two extreme poles of sexual attraction. Marketing wise, even for people who are attracted to both sexes, I don’t think a toy’s packaging that presents pictures of both a man and a woman is the most effective technique. The same toy with only the man or only the women represented will probably have a more powerful impact.
The reason is that some consumers implicitly project the models to the toys. Using more than one model on the packaging would remind the consumer that what your buying is only a toy, not an experience with the person on the packaging. I think that’s why we seldom see two different women on a male sex toy packaging, even if it could be a huge turn-on for some men. Using two women instead of one will prevent this projection. The same thing goes for packaging with two men.
When Fleshlight makes toys that are modeled from adult performers, they use the fascination the customers have for the performer. I think that a lot of people who buy a realistic toy are fantasizing about the model used in the marketing material. In my opinion, implicitly or not, some consumers are buying the toy because they wish they could be with the model.
Now, we can debate if this is an unhealthy marketing practice. Some brands are clearly doing it in an unethical manner (see the Pipedream reference below.) For other brands, it might not be hurtful. However, I think it’s one of the reasons why male sex toys are still considered as gross by some. Although they are sex toys for women that use this kind of technique, it’s far from being the norm. In terms of male toys, it’s what the most popular brand is doing.
Some brands are distancing themselves from such methods. But in terms of effectiveness, I think it’s still the best approach if you want to maximize your profit.
Of course, for specific types of toys, it’s different. For example, prostate toys. It’s possible to stimulate the prostate with varying kinds of toys, some of them can be of a realistic shape (penis-shaped dildos.) However, the most popular prostate toy type, the Aneros-style massager, do not represent a real human part, so it would be weird for Aneros to go down this way.
An Object Can’t Have a Gender or a Sexual Orientation
Toy marketing should be gender-neutral, there is no reason for the term “male” or “gay” / “straight” to be used.Grace from princesspreviews.com
Indeed, objects don’t have gender. To quote a blogger who prefers to stay anonymous, “Nothing inherently makes the toy ‘gay’ or ‘straight.’ It’s the exact same toy operating on the exact same body parts in the exact same way.”
No, sex toys don’t need a sexual orientation. Yet, as we explained, in some cases, it’s a powerful marketing technique. Now the question is, why is it wrong to market a toy to a specific segment?
The different comments on why it’s a bad practice all mentioned that it’s an exclusionary practice.
Sex toys don’t have genders or sexualities! A toy can be designed for a particular body part, but marketing it exclusively at what you assume people will be into based on their gender or sexual orientation is exclusionary.Amy Norton from coffeeandkink.me
Reducing a toy to being a toy for straight vs. gay people is redundant as anyone can and will use it. It’s very easy to make neutral packaging (i.e., not using a picture of a man or a woman to sell it, but focusing on the product itself), and many very successful companies use this approach already. In reality, your toy is being used by straight people, gay people, cis people, trans people, and everyone in between, so marketing it to a specific group doesn’t make sense.Blogger prefer to remain anonymous
Types of toys aren’t exclusive to any gender. Taking away gender marketing makes them more inclusive, especially to trans and gender non-conforming people.Blogger prefer to remain anonymous
Now, I must admit that I don’t agree entirely with this criticism. For me, using a person from a specific gender in marketing materials does not necessarily exclude people of specific genders or orientations. If a company produces toys that use both men and women in their marketing material, people have the choice. For example, if a company created only toys aimed at heterosexual men, that is exclusionary. But if we take Fleshlight as an example, they have toys marketed with men, women, and some with no human on the packaging. People are free to choose what they prefer. I don’t see where the problem lies?
One problem that I might find is the terminology used by the brand. Indeed, naming the Fleshjack line “gay-toys,” that’s exclusionary for bisexuals and other orientations that are interested in men. That’s ignoring they exist. But to be fair, the term “gays toys” is not used by all the manufacturers. Sometimes, it’s more of a word used by the consumer or the reseller (sex shop).
Moreover, nothing prevents people from using a toy because of the marketing materials. I’ve mentioned that some people put importance on the pictures on the box. But others don’t care. I know straight men that have bought a Fleshjack because the inside texture looked fun. The fact that there’s a man on the box was irrelevant for them.
If we sum all things up, it’s hard to blame the entire industry. Some specific manufacturer does pull the industry down. We’ve talked about Pipedream, but they are other minor brands that can also be problematic.
I used Fleshlight a lot in my examples because it’s the market leader. Whether their marketing is problematic or not depends on your individual sensibilities.
The goal of the text is not to convince you that there’s something wrong with the male sex toy industry. It’s neither to defend the brands that we’re showcasing on this website. We only intend to start a reflexion on the subject.
We want to make sure, in our editorial policy, that we’re only promoting sex-positive products. Of course, the definition of sex-positivity is still debated. Yet, women objectification and typical rigidity of gender and sexual orientation are two things incompatible with a sex-positive discourse. That’s why we aim to produce investigations like this periodically.
If you want to add something on the subject, you can write to us via our contact page. The same goes if you have any objections or comments regarding the opinion contained in this text.