Feel like you're living closer to the year 3000 with every passing sex toy trade show? Try the 1980s on for size. Mainstream consumers are finally saddling up to sex machines, and they’re taking the entire pleasure industry on a wild ride of niche luxury, instant orgasms, and unbridled kink. Large-scale sex machines have been serving niche markets since the late ‘80s, but as modern consumers shell out millions of dollars each year on their growing sex toy collections, toy manufacturers are going back in time to an era of less-than-discreet devices. Is the history of sex toy design finally repeating itself, or are consumers more willing to wear their climaxes on their sleeves?
Though clouded with clever marketing copy, the vibrators of yesteryear were more closely related to a steam engine than a Rabbit Habit. Those wands and strange hand-held magic finger devices, all paraded as back massagers in the local paper were anything but small, quiet and unobtrusive. No wonder most women in the 1950s kept house during the day. When masturbation sounds like driving a tractor through your bedroom, it’s best done without the husband and kids nearby.
I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that as a society, we’re finally beginning to embrace the importance of sexual fulfillment and pleasure overall, which means that we’re a bit more willing to invest time, money and space in products that cater to us.
Although it feels like sex machines are making a comeback, they never really bowed out of the market in the first place. Bunny Lampert, daughter of Sybian creator David Lampert, has seen the consumer tides ebb and flow on high-end sex toys, but the world’s most well-known sex machine company has been going strong since they first started shipping in 1987.
“We don’t think the popularity of sex machines is particularly new,” says Lampert. “The demand has always been there, but the way we talk about sex has changed.”
It’s impossible to talk about sex machines without the Sybian popping up. Despite this giant, ride-on vibrator’s somewhat hush-hush reputation with consumers over the years, it’s still the go-to image for most people when they hear the words sex machine — a large half-cylinder, saddle-type shape, made to fit perfectly between the legs, bearing an attached dildo or bumpy, external stimulator pad. While Sybian has always been at the forefront of sexual discourse, their customers haven’t always been so loud and proud about pleasure.
“There has been a shift towards a more sex-positive mindset among mainstream culture, which has allowed for wider exposure,” explains Lampert. “We’ve been selling our luxury sex machine, Sybian, for more than 30 years, proving that people have been craving the adventurous pleasure Sybian provides for quite a long time.”
Lampert doesn’t see much of a trend in her clientele when it comes to sexual demographics. With the exception of having a few thousand dollars to spare on a sex toy the size of a hassock, Sybian buyers are anywhere from 25 to 80-plus years of age, and they’re all across the board when it comes to intimate preferences and lifestyles.
However, Alicia Sinclair, CEO of the newly founded Cowgirl brand of ride-on sex machines, can pinpoint a few connecting threads among her clients.
“Sex machines, albeit a vague term, tend to really cater to pleasure options that aren’t addressed by other types of sex toys,” says Sinclair, “meaning that they’re often something people turn to when they’re beginning to better understand their likes and dislikes and are looking to further explore. Riding machines, specifically, provide a type of stimulation that’s nearly impossible to get with any type of toy, making them an incredible option for those who might not be fulfilled by other existing options.”
The Cowgirl, Sinclair’s venture into the sex machine market, is also a saddle-shaped, ride-on vibe with a modern makeover. Some Millennials are still foggy on the old-school Sybian brand, and Gen Z might not even recognize the name. Sinclair aims to change all that by marketing The Cowgirl to the Instagram crowd.
“We’ve seen positive attention from pretty mainstream media, which is very encouraging,” recalls Sinclair. “In fact, The Cowgirl was just featured in a print spread for Glamour — a significant placement for a sex machine, which has traditionally been seen as a bit more fringe.”
Though born of completely different generations and societal mindsets, Sinclair’s Cowgirl and Lampert’s Sybian preach the same message: our pleasure is worthy of taking up space, and our sexual health products provide the perfect centerpieces for conversation.
“It’s been really interesting to watch the proliferation of sex machines and see them expand from a more niche category to something a bit more mainstream,” remarks Sinclair. “I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that as a society, we’re finally beginning to embrace the importance of sexual fulfillment and pleasure overall, which means that we’re a bit more willing to invest time, money and space in products that cater to us. This is something that wasn’t as widespread even as soon as five years ago.”
Although the most prominent product options are made for clitoris owners, the burgeoning sex-tech market is an ideal space for men. Stereotypes aside, there’s still no shortage of guys waiting to get their hands — and penises — on the latest technology, whether it’s a new smart phone gadget or an electronic bedside companion. XR Brands, known for turning up the tech amp to 11, has become synonymous with kink and robots, often all at the same time. XR’s Lovebotz brand takes old-fashioned pleasure methods and spins them — quite literally — into space-age sex devices.
“Sex machines began as simple penetration devices that usually included a rubber penis that thrusts back and forth with a flip of a switch,” XR Brands General Manager Rebecca Weinberg said. “The male masturbation sex machines were definitely an evolution of the [penetrative] machines and didn’t come for some years after.”
But when they did show up, oh boy — let’s just say the gents weren’t disappointed. With a price tag upwards of $1,000, the Lovebotz Milker, a deluxe stroking machine, ensures there won’t be a dry pair of testicles in the house. This curious combination of tubes and cylinders borrows its suction method from a farm implement used for milking cows, hence its name, and the Milker. This love machine has more sucking power than a Hoover, and it puts the ol’ five-fingered tango to shame.
For more budget-conscious bedrooms, the Lovebotz Beat It hand-held spinning masturbator is a close contender for automatic orgasms. Retailing at around $120, the Beat It is essentially a dick-sized washing machine with eight speeds of vibration and rotation to put your penis through the spin cycle. Rows of tiny TPR fingers glide around his member and start, stop and reverse, as if to an imaginary robotic beat.
For an entrepreneurial pair of sexual health experts, necessity and the finite abilities of the human form were the mothers of full-body orgasmic invention. When clinical sexologist Dr. Steve McGough’s wife, Wendy, was suffering immense abdominal pain after an emergency C-section, he went to work researching massage techniques that reached deep into the tissue adhesions that had built up in her belly. Wendy McGough, a Ph.D. and clinical sexologist herself, needed at least five to 10 continuous minutes of intense, vigorous massage, which was too taxing on Steve’s hands and arms to perform on a daily basis.
After a year of design and development, Steve created the hi, a multi-faceted, hand-held massage machine that solved Wendy’s pain problems with intense vibration and percussive movement. However, Steve’s invention came with a real whopper of a side effect: the best orgasms of his testing group’s lives. And the real kicker? All these women were fully clothed, and at this stage in the development process, the device didn’t touch any intimate areas.
Since then, the McGoughs have dedicated more than eight years working with a R&D facility, refining their brain child and promoting hi, a medical-turned-sex machine that now curves to stimulate the G-spot, entire vulvar area, and several nerves throughout the pelvis and abdomen. More than 3,000 women have tested the hi, which is still running an IndieGoGo fundraiser, and all report a “full-body orgasm” without removing a single article of clothing.
Although the stiff scientific community, rather unsurprisingly, still finds orgasm to be an unwanted side effect of an otherwise worthy medical device, Dr. McGough has found support through the sexual wellness sector. Where most sex machine companies are steering hard toward the kink direction, using lingerie models and racy imagery to capture horny audiences, the hi hinges itself upon the utter lack of nudity needed to experience total body bliss.
“For our hi handheld system, our markets span the fitness/wellness space and sexual wellness,” he said. “Since hi can be used clothed, it can be presented in mainstream venues such as yoga and fitness studios. Our systems have not been highly promoted up until now, and in niche, very high-end locations, but the fact that women can now easily achieve orgasm in public is attracting a great deal of attention.”
Want to get your hands (and pelvis) on a hi? Although IndieGoGo purchases aren’t set to ship until this summer, you can take this extra-magic wand for at spin at the 2018 Burning Man, where the McGoughs’ are creating a welcoming, public space for women to unleash their climactic potential. If you find yourself wandering the dust-strewn desert streets this year, keep your ears peeled for the moans undulating from the couples’ home base camp, Silicon Village.
“The goal at Silicon Village Camp is for at least 1,000 women per day to have life changing experiences in the process,” says McGough. “That should be interesting!”
As sex machines reach beyond their assumed fringes of hardcore BDSM and extreme kink, the category evolves into a mirror of the overall history of sex toys. Much like the stick-straight, shiny plastic, cylindrical vibes of the 1990s, attitudes towards pleasure products started out cold, stiff and inflexible. Now, such toys — and such close-minded thinking — are dwarfed by triple-stimulation vibrators, oral sex simulators, and dildos that warm up with the touch of a button. The sex machine market is on a similar trajectory, and users will soon find themselves awash in another sea of ecstatic personal products.
“Sex machines are as diverse as the people using them,” says Lampert. “We think sex machines will continue to be produced in a variety of shapes and sizes. No two people are alike, so why would we expect all sex machines to be the same? Different lifestyles and situations demand different toys.”
However, smaller scale toy creators won’t be put out of business anytime soon. One place where the likes of Lampert, Sinclair, McGough and Weinberg all agree is that while sex machines can work for beginners, they simply aren’t designed that way. If your grandmother is just getting her hands on her first smart phone, she isn’t likely to choose the iPhone X, and vibrator newbies probably aren’t going to drop an ultra-hefty chunk of change on a toy that requires extra closet space.
“Sometimes it’s about advancing in experience level and advancing the level of pleasure,” explains Weinberg of how most consumers move up the ladder of sex toys. “One may start off using a simple vibrator, then move to a more powerful remote vibrator with functions that their partner can control, and then maybe move up to a small sex machine that sits on a bed, and then perhaps to a fully adjustable sex machine that has a poseable base and comes with all the perks.”
In late 2015, Cloud 9 Novelties unleashed its sex machines the F-Machine Pro and the F-Machine Gigolo to adult retailers nationwide. The F-Machine Pro is Cloud 9 Novelties’ flagship machine. This sex machine is extremely powerful and versatile featuring an adjustable thrust rod length, adjustable thrust depth of 1-6 inches and adjustable front and rear legs to suit various positions. F-Machine Pro features a 60-watt industrial spec motor with a mind-blowing top speed of 240 rpm. Despite its enormous power and speed, it is virtually silent.
The Gigolo is designed to be simple yet versatile. It is a lighter duty and well suited for beginners and home use. Enhanced safety features include a fully enclosed head unit and an electrical safety cut-out to protect the user from potentially excessive thrust and moving parts. The Gigolo can be moved into six different positions by easily changing the crank and offers an adjustable thrust depth of 1-4 inches. The user is always in control with the 16-speed wireless remote. The Gigolo includes an eight-inch dong attachment but is also compatible with Doc Johnson Vac-U-Lock and SI Novelties Strap-On-Tools, both sold separately.
“F-Machines continue to do well for our adult retailers and are actually carving out their own hands-free category of products,” a Williams Trading marketing exec said at the time of its release. “The demand for F-Machines comes from a very diverse group of customers.”
“It could be a someone who wants to participate in anal training, an adventurous couple who is looking to open up a world of sexual possibilities or for people who are into dungeon play. It’s also perfect for people who are away from their spouses for a long time and for older adults or those with disabilities who want to enjoy the feeling of being penetrated.”
Motorbunny is aiming to expand the audience for penetrative sex machines with the addition of Keister Bunny attachment for its motorized ride-on-top vibrator.
“This is a very customer-driven initiative. The release of the Keister Bunny is our answer for the many male customers who have expressed a desire for more creative options,” said Craig Mewbourne, CMO of Motorbunny. “As the first such attachment of its kind for a ride-on-top vibrator, men will have the opportunity to safely experience prostate stimulation in a powerful way, while receiving the many benefits prostate massage can provide.”
Made of body-safe silicone, the Keister Bunny features a bunny-shaped appendage designed for scrotal and perineum stimulation. Mewbourne said that since the attachment does not rotate, it gives men the option to explore all levels of vibratory stimulation without risk of discomfort or injury.
Once consumers are ready to amp up their orgasms, how will they choose which sex machine is for them? Product education, empowering promotional messages, and sex machine makers that are willing to show the world that pleasure is always a priority.
“This willingness to embrace a product for its innovation and new pleasure options, rather than how subtle it can be, is continuing to open up really amazing doors for pleasure products,” concludes Sinclair. “I think that people are ready for the next thing in sex-tech, so to speak, and we’ve really helped to jump start what I’m hoping will be a new wave of technology.”
Motorbunny is spreading the sex-positive message of embracing pleasure through its new partnership with sex expert and sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals.
An author specializing in gender, sexualities, media, technology and popular culture, Dr. Tibbals now serves as a public voice of Motorbunny across a broad range of conversations and channels. She will also attend a variety of events and activities in support of Motorbunny’s mission statement: enhancing the creative sexual experiences of its customers.
Dr. Tibbals said, “[Motorbunny’s] principles are forward-thinking and dedicated to sex education as well helping move us toward unpacking wider ideas about often-limited sexual norms. I am looking forward to contributing to their brand and message, one that seeks to expand conversations about positive sexual practices for overall wellbeing.”