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Thursday, May 2, 2013

How I Built My Own Vibrator in a Las Vegas Hotel Suite

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Last month, I was in Las Vegas for the annual International Lingerie Show (ILS), which features both sexy underthings and sex toys. Previously, I wrote about the re-launch of the Magic Wand and Homme Mystere, an Australian line of lingerie “for men.” My final column about the 2013 ILS will tell the story of How I Built My Own Vibrator.

Last month, I was in Las Vegas for the annual International Lingerie Show (ILS), which features both sexy underthings and sex toys. Previously, I wrote about the re-launch of the Magic Wand (no longer associated with Hitachi) and Homme Mystere, an Australian line of lingerie “for men.” My last column about the 2013 ILS will tell the story of How I Built My Own Vibrator.

A couple of years ago, the team behind the Crave Duet vibrator generated buzz when they raised more than $47,000 through crowd-funding to develop a vibrator that was “discreet,” powerful, beautiful and packing up to 16 gigabytes of data storage. In February 2013, Crave left behind its crowd-funding roots and launched as an official company. In April, they offered a “Build-Your-Own-Vibe” workshop at ILS to show sex toy buyers like me exactly how their products are made.

I wasn’t sold on the Crave Duet when I first heard about it. I personally don’t give a shit if my vibe can store data—that has nothing to do with sexual pleasure for me or, I’d guess, 99.9% of the people in the world who buy vibrators (for the rest of you who have a sexual fetish for data storage: I respect that). Guess what—I have at least seven free flash drives sitting in my desk drawer right now; I don’t need to pay $349 for one that vibrates. I also hate the word “discreet” with a passion. To quote George Michael, “Sex is natural, sex is good;” not everyone feels comfortable talking about it, but everybody should. As a sex toy store owner, I’m interested in making you feel comfortable, and I’m interested in providing a safe space for you to get accurate, non-judgmental information about sex, but I’m not interested in perpetuating the idea that sex is something that should be hidden away. Plus, one of the sex toy reviewers whose opinion I trust most, Epiphora, gave it a scathing review.

So why did I find myself in a hotel suite at the Rio Las Vegas putting together my own Crave Duet last month? The Crave team, Ti Chang and Michael Topolovac, took criticism to heart and worked to improve the Duet. This is a rare quality for any human being as well as any product manufacturer—listening to critics and making changes to address legitimate concerns. Both the motor and the shape of the toy were changed to make it more powerful and less pinchy. I was really intrigued that they invited people at the show to make their own Duet—I’ve been in the sex toy store business for five years now, but have never witnessed a sex toy being made.

When we shuffled into the suite, Michael had a vibrator DIY assembly line all set up, with separate stations for selecting the color of the silicone sleeve; attaching the motor, circuit board and buttons; pressure-testing to ensure that the Duet was waterproof down to 100 feet; lubing up the motor to ensure that it runs smoothly; and testing the final product to make sure that it functions properly. Despite the fact that Michael was also giving us cocktails, I managed to assemble mine correctly.

All of the assembly steps that we did approximate those that are done in Crave’s San Francisco headquarters where their vibrators are made. Michael emphasized that it’s important to him that they assemble the Duet in the United States, at their own facilities, to ensure quality. I had an interesting conversation with him about what “Made in the U.S.A.” means for the sex toy industry right now. It’s basically impossible to get small motors, like the ones used in all vibrators, made in the U.S.. They’re pretty much all made in China. If you’re making a solid silicone toy, like a dildo or butt plug, or if you’re making leather goods like cuffs or floggers, it’s possible to create your item start to finish in North America. But anything that involves a motor includes parts from all over the world.

I think (and hope) that Americans are increasingly aware that if they’re buying inexpensive goods in the U.S., the price break they’re getting is a result of extremely low wages and dangerous working conditions in other countries. I respect that the Crave team is honest about what they are able to manufacture in the U.S. and what they have to import, and that the higher price tag attached to their products comes from paying people a living wage to assemble them in San Francisco.

Making my own vibrator was a fun, educational experience in more than one way, and I was happy with the result.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than 15 years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.