What Happened to the Crowdfunded Sex Toy Revolution?
Must we scrap our dreams of delighting our genitals with an array of new sensations developed by mad scientists with nothing more than a brilliant idea and access to the internet?
Image: Frank Egel / STOCK4B
At the start of 2015, sex toy startup Comingle was doing great. It had successfully crowdfunded over $60,000 for the Mod, a hypercustomizable vibrator that had already been recognized for its innovation by sex tech showcase Arse Elektronika. The company's quirky vision for "technosexual freedom" was being lauded by the press, and it seemed like Comingle was on its way to something big—the latest rising star in the much discussed trend of innovative crowdfunded sex toys.
But a year later, things are radically different. Last week, Comingle announced the cancellation of the Mod Project. Backers were left empty-handed, receiving discount codes for other products rather than their promised Mods. Though the exact future of Comingle is still unclear, it seems unlikely that the company's sex hacking dreams will come to fruition any time soon.
Comingle's Mod isn't the only crowdfunded sex toy to overpromise and underdeliver: the much hyped Revel Body is no longer available as a consumer product, the smart vibrator Hum only recently started shipping after extensive delays, and projects like the AutoBlow 2 have received lukewarm response even after a successful crowdfunding campaign (and that doesn't even count the ones that totally failed to launch).
Crowdfunding was supposed to usher in a new era of innovative, high-tech sex products, offering consumers access to exciting new toys completely unlike anything else on the market. Yet like so many experimental sexual experiences, it seems to have primarily resulted in crushed hopes and universal disappointment. What happened to the sex toy revolution we were promised?
Comingle's cancellation announcement suggests the Mod was tanked by an infamous patent lawsuit and general crowdfunding bias against sex-focused tech. But it's equally likely that the company, and many of its peers, were just as affected in by the difficulties of developing hardware, managing manufacturing, marketing, and order fulfillment—you know, all the details of developing a consumer product that can be easy to ignore when you're caught up in the excitement of a successful campaign. Frequently glossed over in discussions of crowdfunding are the many complicated steps it takes to successfully bring a product to market, steps you won't always master just because you happen to have had a really great product idea.
But what are we, the sex-toy-using public, supposed to take away from the tale of Comingle and its underperforming peers? Must we scrap our dreams of delighting our genitals with an array of new sensations developed by mad scientists with nothing more than a brilliant idea and access to the internet?
Crowdfunded sex toys may not have quite lived up to the hype, but the revolution they've incited—and the orgasms they'll unleash—has only just begun
Well, yes and no. Though a number of crowdfunded sex toys have ultimately proven impotent, there have been a few stunning successes. Dame Products and Crave both relied on crowdfunding platforms to bring products to market; unlike Comingle, they've managed to blossom into stable companies whose products are stocked at numerous adult boutiques around the country. Five and a half years after launching its first crowdfunding campaign, the Crave line has expanded to include six different product lines (with a seventh currently in pre-sale). A year after raising almost three-quarters of a million dollars for the Eva, Dame is beta testing its second product.
And even some of the "failures" have still managed to shape the future of sex toys: the Revel Body may have been a flop, but the company is now focused on fine tuning its sonic motor, with an eye towards licensing it to other manufacturers. Even the ill-fated Mod lives on on GitHub, where it'll hopefully inspire other sex nerds to carry on Comingle's vision.
Crowdfunding is often a crapshoot, all the more so when it involves hardware hackers with little to no retail experience trying to produce a consumer product and get it onto shelves. But the true promise of the crowdfunding-enabled sex toy revolution isn't just about whether individual projects succeed or fail: it's about pushing the boundaries of what's considered possible, or desirable, in a sex toy, and inspiring broad change within the industry.
When the super high tech SaSi vibrator launched in 2009, its overly-complicated interface caused it to flop with consumers. But a few years later, a variation on the SaSi's unique, pressure-based stimulation mechanism appeared in Lelo's Ora. Whether or not the creators of a crowdfunded bionic strapon or artificially intelligent vibrator find success themselves, their unique approaches to pleasure (and demonstrated market appeal) are bound to encourage others to follow in their footsteps, breaking away from the tired assumption that sex toys need do nothing more than just vibrate and penetrate (or, if we're lucky, do both at the same time).
Or to put it another way: crowdfunded sex toys may not have quite lived up to the hype, but the revolution they've incited—and the orgasms they'll unleash—has only just begun. The sexy mad scientists of IndieGoGo have started to shake the sex toy industry out of its complacency, and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude, no matter what happens once they've successfully raised their funds. (That said, if you're thinking of backing a crowdfunded vibrator, well, caveat emptor.)