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Sex Toys: Made in America and proud

So, you have made it through the hundreds of sex toys in your chosen online store and finally chosen the item that you think is going to set your sex life on fire. Everywhere you look people are talking about the importance of lube so which one should you buy to compliment your new toy?

In a harmless looking 10-building complex in an area of north Hollywood, 10 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a very traditional manufacturing company is churning out 15,000 sex toys every eight hours totaling a very eye-watering 5 million per year.

Their range includes everything you can think of plus a few you can’t – cock rings, strap-ons, vibrators, dongs, dildos, dick pumps, pocket pussies, ropes, whips and huge quantities of lubricant. What is absent and something which is present on so many sex toys in the US is the label, Made in China. It is estimated that 70% of sex toys worldwide are made in China and a good 50% of these are imported to four American companies – Pipedream, Doc Johnson, California Exotics Novelties and Topco.

Whilst Doc Johnson does carry merchandise imported from China, it does most of its manufacturing in the US. The economic merits of producing goods in China with its cheap workforce are unassailable so why is one American company bucking the trend and turning its back on potentially much bigger profits?

25% of the rubber products and motors for Doc Johnson do come from China so why does the company not increase this slice? It’s good old-fashioned support for the US economy and loyalty to America but staying true to home does result in a price hike because of the American workforce although Doc Johnson likes to think that the higher prices actually reflect the quality of the products.

The sex toy industry is a $15 million gold mine. Forget a few seedy items hidden away in the back of a VHS porn shop, sex toys are everywhere fired by so many different triggers to create a multi-billion dollar industry. The emergence of women in the sex toy business is a force to be reckoned with, attitudes towards sex have considerably loosened up, women have never been more empowered both as entrepreneurs and as customers in this bit and films like ‘Fifty Shades’ have sure done their bit in the overall culture but this blockbuster is just one piece of the overall jigsaw.

Doc Johnson has been something of a revolutionary force in the sex toy trade. In the 1990s, the company began to create its own in-house team of artists drawn from art schools and cosmetic companies and also poached from baby product design although you can see the crossover to create a hard, safe plastic toy. Many of the designers are female and have been with the company for around a couple of decades. Conveniently located in the San Fernando Valley which is the epicenter of the porn industry, Doc Johnson just a ten-minute ride away has found it easy to persuade porn performers to contribute their not inconsiderable talents to the design and inspiration process. Much of the company’s early success came because of its close ties to the pornography business.

For workers in the factory, Doc Johnson has provided regular steady employment with good benefits and promotional opportunities. Doc Johnson is a privately owned company which starts its workers at minimum wage and not all acquire health benefits or medical leave. The company was originally set up by a guy called Sturman who was an early porn king running the cheap and prolific coin-operated peep film booths. Sturman not only produces hardcore films to go in them but also manufactured the booths. He then bought out a manufacturing operation owned by a guy called Ted Marche who had been declared bankrupt after he was forced to compensate a customer to the tune of $1.4 million after the guy’s colon was ripped by a wire-reinforced plastic phallus manufactured by Marche. Sturman bought out Marche’s operation, Doc Johnson was born and rest, as they say, is history.

The factory’s current CEO runs a slick business. He has thought about changing the company’s name but hasn’t quite taken that step. He thinks Doc Johnson thrives because it continues to produce a staple quality item whilst simultaneously innovating to respond to the needs of this ever-developing industry. Ever the American patriot, Doc Johnson has produced its own, ‘God Bless America’ range. There is even a product line echoing the success of the American contribution to World War II called The American Bombshell Line, a set of gunmetal gray toys with a World War II weapons theme.

So when did Doc Johnson think the real change came in the States for sex toys? For them, they noticed the advent of change in the 1990s and can pinpoint a specific moment, that Rabbit episode in the series, ‘Sex and the City’ – it was never the same after that, the phones just didn’t stop ringing.

The other big player in the change stakes was the breakthrough in materials and design which has come in the 21st-century with the ability to produce ultra-realistic products which look and feel just like the real thing. New age designers contribute to this burgeoning industry which is more than a world away from the sex toys of the 1970s and 80s. The involvement of tech is the next great revolution and now sex toys are posh, carried forward on another media tidal wave called, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. This film broadened the customer base like nothing else on earth to include the everyday housewife – sex toys were becoming completely commonplace and socially acceptable. Never one to rest on their laurels, Doc Johnson are releasing a female-friendly fetish line called Black and Blue.

One of the biggest changes Doc Johnson has seen is who is spending the money and that is women and ordinary everyday American women, not the upper-middle-class types seen in ‘Sex and the City’. It’s hard to imagine a comedown from this tidal wave of success and that sex toys will ever be relegated to their once hidden location in a dusty shelf in the back of a porn movie shop.

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