For almost 10 years I have been reviewing sex toys and over the years I have tested almost 200 of them. I am the first male sextoy tester in the Netherlands (luckily there are a few more by now). Therefore I dare to say that I am a seasoned sex toy user and that I have developed a more holistic view in this area. By that I mean that I can look at the whole adult toy market with some distance and see the developments and trends over the years. And what I’ve noticed is that I’m getting increasingly annoyed by certain things that I encounter with some regularity while reviewing. I’m listing them for you (in the hope that the industry reads this too and maybe gets stirred up):
1. Packaging material
My greatest annoyance is something that I have only recently become aware of. All the discussions about the environment and global warming have made me take a critical look at my own consumption behavior. Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t become a crazy tree-hugger who only accepts macrobiotic packaging materials and who carefully separates all his waste. No, I haven’t. In that respect I am also an average citizen. But still.
An average sex toy has as many as two to three layers of packaging. And if you order it online, there is often at least one more layer of packaging. Usually a toy is first put in a bag, then in some kind of plastic form and then there is some cardboard around it. Remember that sex toys are sold worldwide to the tune of over 27 billion euros a year. That ranges from condoms to fucking machines. At an estimated average price of €25, we are talking about 1 billion articles, each with several layers of packaging. That comes down to hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic and cardboard that end up in the environment every year.
Packaging material has several functions: It must protect the product during transport, it must protect hygiene all the way to the consumer and it must contain information for the consumer. I get that. But few sex toy manufacturers are making a real effort to do something about reducing waste, for example by using recycled materials, or by using less plastics.
2. Sustainability and circularity of the toys themselves
But it is not just the packaging material that is not sustainable. The toys themselves also usually fail the test of sustainability. Most sex toys are not made of biodegradable materials. Usually plastics, rubbers, silicones and mixtures of these are used. And in the case of vibrators, there are often electric motors in there too that are made of all sorts of metals. Not to mention batteries.
In the design of cars, lamps and printers, more and more manufacturers are taking into account the possibility of being able to recycle parts or materials. Not so with sex toys. After a few years, they simply disappear into landfill. I also do not believe that there are many consumers who hand in their used and worn vibrators at a recycle point.
Together with the packaging material, we throw away huge mountains of sex toys around the world every year, which are neither biodegradable nor recycled. Not to mention circularity*.
3. And then there’s something else about packaging: the marketing
I already mentioned that packaging has multiple functions. That’s why packaging is always necessary, for example, to keep the product hygienic and to protect it from damage. One of those functions is to convey information.
The latter can be seen very broadly. It is not only technical information (e.g. ingredients, composition, size, etc.), but also user information (what it is for, how to use it, who it is intended for). Sometimes the packaging is also made so that it can be hung on a rack in physical stores. In that case, there is a kind of ‘eye’ attached to the box.
Yes, well, call me a whiner, but in a lot of cases this is where things go wrong. Because manufacturers don’t seem to think about the needs of the consumer at all. What does the consumer want to know, how does the consumer buy the product and in which phase of the ‘customer journey’ does he need which information? The physical sex shop is disappearing from the street scene. More and more consumers are buying their sex toys online. This also means that the information about the product must be available online, more than on the packaging itself. The packaging then starts to serve more and more as ‘gift packaging’. It has to feel like an experience. That requires a very different approach from the industry, which I still hardly see in practice. It’s as if the industry is still stuck in the 1980s in that respect. Manufacturer: it is not about what you want to say, but about what I as a consumer want to know!
4. No storage bag
From the big social issues and marketing mistakes, I then quickly come to ease of use. And the biggest annoyance on that front is simply observable when you open my nightstand. It’s a jumble of toys, ropes, cuffs and charging cords. Maybe that’s because I have a proportionately higher than average number of toys in the house, but come on guys! How hard is it to provide a storage bag? On average 9 out of 10 toys do not come with a storage bag. And if there is one, then often the manual and charging cord do not fit in it!
Not only does a storage pouch (or box) prevent the clutter in my nightstand, but you also ensure that the life of the product is extended because materials don’t come into contact with each other and because the toys are less easily damaged.
5. Bad instructions
Speaking of manuals … If you’re like me and have already operated a few hundred toys, then you know roughly how an average toy works. At least, you would think so. But nothing could be further from the truth. And that’s why a manual is always handy. The manuals that come with sex toys are often very unclear. They are often not in Dutch, usually in much too small print and sometimes just not applicable.
A few experiences I’ve had recently:
- A general manual for a whole range of toys, making it unclear how the toy I have in my hands works
- A QR code on the packaging, which comes out to a general page of the manufacturer and not a product-specific page. The product I had in my hands could not be found on the site (let alone its manual).
- A QR code on the package and not sending a physical manual. Nice for the first time, but if after a few months you have forgotten how something works, you no longer have the packaging and therefore no QR code.
- A manual with ambiguous language like “make sure the batteries are placed correctly”. Yes but I want to know what the correct placement is!
- And so on …
How hard is it to make a manual with clear icons, a large font and and size that fits INTO THE STORAGE POUCH!!!!
Form follows function. That’s about lesson one if you’re studying industrial design. In other words, study carefully how someone uses your product and make sure the form matches that. This lesson was skipped by the average sex toy designer. You notice this when you actually use the toys. Buttons are systematically on the wrong side or indistinguishable by touch. As a result, for example, it will accidentally vibrate harder instead of softer.
Not only is this irritating or annoying, but poor ergonomics can sometimes be downright dangerous. For example, I recently didn’t test a toy because I felt there was a risk that the toy would be left in my partner’s body and we would have to go to the emergency room to have it removed. But also masturbators that are way too heavy, or toys that make way too much noise, functions that are totally unnecessary (think of the sound of a woman moaning with a masturbator), … You experience all kinds of things as a tester.
Often – very often – I feel that toys are sprouted in the horny brain of a designer with a lack of market research and test audience. For example, most vibrators often have multiple vibration patterns in addition to 2 or 3 modes of constant vibration (hard to soft). Our own research (Dutch) has shown that 55% never use these patterns, or even like them a little.
7. Not waterproof
Toys should just be waterproof! Period! Not only does this allow you to take the toy into the shower or bath, but it also makes cleaning much easier. Yet there are still many toys that are not waterproof – not even splashproof – or of which it is simply unclear whether this is the case.
Of course, you can debate whether your toy should be rechargeable or run on batteries. Both have their pros and cons. But then, if you provide a toy with a rechargeable battery, pay attention to how it should be charged.
It seems to be normal by now to include a USB cable with rechargeable toys. For most people, not such an issue, as you probably have a USB plug or charging point somewhere in the house. It is probably a cost issue. After all, as a manufacturer you do not have to take into account different plugs in different countries. So, here I can still go along with this.
But … Al. Those. Different ones. Cords. Guys! I have at least as many cords as toys. In fact, it’s not unusual for one manufacturer to have different charging methods for different toys. Why?
So – note manufacturer – try the following:
- Attach a label to the cord with the name (brand/type) of the toy
- Try to standardize on cords
- Consider magnetic charging points
- AND INCLUDE A STORAGE POUCH WHERE THE CORD FITS.
9. Not gender neutral
Although I identify as cis male and am straight, I can relate to the LGBTQ+ community. The group of people who don’t agree with the heteronormative identity is growing. Yet the industry in general remains adamant about marketing products for women versus men. I know, it’s tough too, but at least make an effort, manufacturer!
10. Unsafe ingredients in toys, lubricant and toy cleaner
Last, but certainly not least: I still very often come across ingredients in toys, lubricants and toy cleaners that are not body safe. Fortunately, legislation is slowly changing in this regard and standards have even been made to improve safety.
Sex toys come into contact with the most intimate parts of the body. Some products are meant to go inside your body. Yet there are hardly any laws and regulations in this area. That’s why manufacturers use “the next best thing”: laws and regulations for cosmetics and (if you’re lucky) medical devices. But sometimes they don’t. Then you just have to hope that the information manufacturers provide is accurate. Especially when it comes to the description of materials and ingredients.
Plasticizers still occur in toys. Other materials are porous. It doesn’t help when manufacturers use fantasy names like “cyber skin” or “fanta flesh” to mask the fact that they are using a poor quality TPE.
Especially if you have an allergy to certain materials (such as rubber or latex), or ingredients, it is imperative that manufacturers are not only honest about this on the packaging, but also do their utmost to prevent you, the consumer, from coming into contact with potentially dangerous substances.
*Circularity occurs when the raw materials needed for production come entirely from recycling existing waste.
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