Manufacturers, Retailers Discuss Adult Entertainment’s Crossover in Sex Toys

Manufacturers, Retailers Discuss Adult Entertainment’s Crossover in Sex Toys

Reaching out and touching a porn star sounds like a recipe for a sucker punch — unless your babe of choice is molded from non-sentient, gelatinous TPR. After a lot of couples’ therapy and a heavy dose of sex education, porn and sex toys have amended their previously rocky relationship to create a new wave of interactive masturbation.

Although porn’s presence in the toy sector never completely disappeared, the last five years have shown most retailers saving more space for luxury vibe lines and classy couples’ playthings. If you wanted a life-like cutie with a booty or a meaty, plastic pussy, you were probably sent to a curtain-covered back area of your local shop.

With social media, and the different mediums available today, you have a lot of performers who have a lot of attention. So maybe there’s not just one or two so-called ‘bona fide superstars,’ but there are a lot of major stars in the industry.

Porn took a back seat in the pleasure products industry over the last decade, mostly due to backlash against old-school sex toy standards that used women as cheap marketing props for products designed by men. Oddly enough, said toys were mostly slim smoothie vibrators, dualstim rabbits, and other bedroom accessories made for women, though the product packaging was anything but attractive to your average female.

Big-haired and neon bikini-clad models were, unsurprisingly, not all that much of a draw, unless the customer was the sort of clueless dude that assumed his wife or girlfriend wants the biggest dildo in the back-alley sex shop.

As more women and couples took the helm of sex toy companies, crafting high-end sexual wellness brands, the porn industry fell further and further behind. Men’s interests had been healthily served for more than two decades in the adult sector, and girl-boss CEOs were on a mission to destroy the misogyny upon which most sex toy businesses were founded.

Yet, in an empowering turn of events, porn has crept back into the limelight, but this time, the scales are tipped a little differently.

The Girls Are Back in Town

Porn-themed sex toys are back with a bang, and they’re giving today’s adult stars a chance to build their brands in a way that hasn’t been seen since Jenna Jameson stepped off camera.

“I feel like everything is interconnected,” says Sunny Rodgers, brand manager at Diamond Products. “The size of the adult video industry is reducing and there aren’t as many productions filmed, and as a byproduct, there is less opportunity for adult actresses to find steady work and build a recognizable brand for themselves.”

The days of 80s-style celebrity status are nearly over for adult actors. Though camming and similarly self-made sex work opportunities have handed the reigns righteously back to the women and men on screen, the flood of DIY porn has made it almost impossible for any single star to become the next Ron Jeremy or Jenna. Porn might still promise more financial stability than the current job market, but the genre has given up the heyday dreams of giant mansions, infinity pools and fancy cars.

“Jenna was around at a time where only a very select few of performers got all the attention and fame,” says Chad Braverman, COO at Doc Johnson.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t multitudes of opportunities for porn stars to make a killer living while creating a memorable brand.

“With social media, and the different mediums available today, you have a lot of performers who have a lot of attention,” says Braverman. “So maybe there’s not just one or two so-called ‘bona fide superstars,’ but there are a lot of major stars in the industry.”

Adult performer Kleio Valentien clearly isn’t having any issues with brand recognition or star power. On top of a shelf full of performer awards, this tattooed bombshell has 243,000 Instagram followers and sells custom videos starting at $400 a pop.

Valentien partnered with Porn Star Stroker, a company dedicated to life-like porn star sex toys, to mold her own true-to-life masturbator. The company keeps fans engaged with a video membership website and 30 days of free access with the purchase of a toy package.

“Since social media is an integral part of most people’s day-to-day, porn fans have the ability to form bonds with us girls,” explains Valentien. “A branded toy seems like a logical match since porn fans enjoy buying products from their fave girls.”

Up Close and Personal

Fan experiences are often what make a porn star’s career today. Performers like Valentien draw in paying viewers with the chance to see inside their personal lives, talk to them on social media, and even sleep with them — via their molded masturbator, of course.

“Making a comparison between ‘80s/’90s porn performers to performers of today is tough. Leaps in technology have altered the landscape,” says Valentien. “You can get closer to people than ever, even mainstream celebs. In the ‘80s/’90s, Brad Pitt would have never replied to you if you reached out, now he might reply to your tweet!”

For die-hard fans, the thought of a single response from Brad — or Valentien — is enough to prompt a spending spree on their films or merchandise. No one knows the value of engagement more than the folks who spur hard-ons for a living. If you can grab your fans by the balls, at least in a metaphorically sensual way, you’ve got a paying customer for life. Once you get them talking on Instagram, there’s no telling how much cash-money love they’ll happily shower upon your PayPal.

“Fans are often looking for someone relatable, someone who engages with them,” says Daniel Harvell, director of Fleshlight’s Fleshjack brand. “If a porn star can connect with fans on a level that goes beyond the 10 minutes it takes to get off, they can make money from lending their brand to a toy.”

Power to the Performers

While technology previously offered the upper hand to greedy producers, who could easily roll out thousands of DVDs without paying royalties to performers, sex and tech have taken the power back. Visibility and sales are now captured via Twitter, where adult performers maintain full control over their image and popularity. Without stifling middle men, porn stars can reach directly to audiences and choose exactly how and when to cash in on their aesthetic goods.

“Performers have dramatically shifted their business models and have more control over their brand and image than ever before,” says Autumn O’Bryan, COO at Topco. “Rather than contracting exclusively with one studio, most performers work independently, and all successful porn performers utilize social media channels to control, develop and expand their brand in ways that we never could have imagined even a couple of years ago.”

While starring video roles were once reserved for the large of breast and big of dick, modern erotica showcases the real versions of porn’s old tropes. The girl-next-door is now actually your neighbor, and she hustles on the side as a cam girl while putting herself through college. Your hot plumber probably won’t show up at random for a porn-tastic hook-up, but there’s a good possibility that he’s got a huge gay following that pays for nudes on Snapchat.

With their fingers on the pulse of everything sex, manufacturers have taken notice of who’s raking in the Twitter followers, creating mutually beneficial business relationships that make serious cash while valuing sex workers’ contributions to the toy industry.

“Performers offer manufacturers a direct channel to some of the most motivated and active customers in the world,” says O’Bryan. “Having a sex toy deal with a porn performer contracts them not only to act as the face (or, in Topco’s case, the body) of the product, but also provide a direct sales conduit to a fan base that’s ready and eager to support their favorite stars in any way they can.”

Picking Your Porn Star Poison

Although anyone can cook up an enticing social media image, not every sex star will wind up with an injection mold with their name (and private parts) on it. Companies vet their investments in much the same way as with traditional pleasure toys. Sales and marketing campaigns are reserved for the guys and gals who are on top of their game.

“We decide on who gets a toy line next based on several points: the popularity of the star, social media followings, adult star rankings, and whether this star will actually promote this herself or himself,” explains James Bartholet of Galaxy Publicity and Inside the Industry Productions. Bartholet spearheaded the V3 Stroker and the Signature life-size sex doll line that boast of performer models like Misty Stone.

While toy companies will still roll out their latest porn star lines at trade shows, performers are expected to promote and sell their branded loot to their enormous, devoted fan base.

“It’s important that the stars understand that while we will publicize and promote this ourselves, they have to do some promoting themselves,” says Bartholet. “Plugging this on social media sites, or when they go to appearances, or when they go on feature dance tours is a great way to promote this themselves.”

Besides a heavy rotation of boner-inducing publicity, another way of attracting sex toy companies is through good, old-fashioned niche marketing. If you’ve got something special that keeps those cam show tips ringing in, there’s a manufacturer who can put it on your life-sized replica.

“Any products that make sense with the performer’s brand also do well,” explains Braverman. “An example would be a performer well-known for bush, like Dani Daniels. We made a life-sized masturbator molded from her body, and we added a bush that mimics the look of her own — it’s called the Dani Daniels Fur Pie and it does very well for us.”

The Sex Toy Porn-iverse

Companies like Doc Johnson, Pipedream, and Fleshlight are famous for crafting some of the most successful porn-themed toy lines in the pleasure universe. Such large manufacturers often separate their porn star lines from the rest of the flock, drawing adult video lovers without distracting consumers who aren’t as porn-positive.

Doc Johnson’s Chad Braverman is obviously no stranger to the delicate marketing dance of balancing multiple brands. Though the company’s involvement with porn stars has waxed and waned, the porn-stars-meet-sex-toys category has always been part of their core.

“For a company like ours, calling this a ‘resurgence’ is a bit of a stretch because performer-branded products have always been a really large part of our business, and we’ve been leading this category for the better part of the last 30 years,” says Braverman.

Similarly, Pipedream went back to their shock-jock roots with the 2014 release of the ultra-hardcore Bonnie Rotten collection, and later they capitalized on now-mainstream porn star Kendra Sunderland’s infamous college library cam show with a small series of toys bearing Sunderland in a schoolgirl skirt on the box.

By complete contrast, Fleshlight and the company’s gay brand, Fleshjack, have made their porn toys a much larger part of their image. If you’ve ever strolled past the Fleshlight trade show booth, it’s hard not to notice the giant posters of larger-than-life video vixens.

“Fleshlight and Fleshjack have been partnering with porn stars for over a decade now, and we’ve seen a great deal of success with those lines,” says Harvell. “Riley Reid’s toys debuted over two years ago, and they’re still one of our best-sellers. On the gay side, Brent Corrigan has been in the industry for nearly 15 years, and his products are also still at the top.”

Now well-known porn companies are getting involved as well, transitioning a portion of their business to selling toys and creating a more inclusive atmosphere for sexually empowered female consumers.

Director Michael Ninn, whose 1990s art-smut videos paved the way for gorgeously composed screen sex, has opened an e-boutique full of scented soaps, bath bombs, and toys. Ninn’s luxurious offerings of sensual scents, including his recent perfume collaboration with Stormy Daniels, are cleverly positioned to attract women who indulge in pleasure to the fullest.

Famed French director Marc Dorcel also runs an online shop and seven retail stores, the Dorcel Store, with branded private label vibrators and couples’ toys that complement the viewing experience. Dorcel Store visitors can pair DVDs with lingerie, vibes and sensual wellness products to create a solo or coupled experience with all the bells and whistles.

And just when you thought a porn star-endorsed toy had to play strictly to gay or straight audiences, enter the Satisfyer Men air-pressure masturbator. Headlined by Italian porn stallion Rocco Siffredi, this sex-tech penis toy doesn’t discriminate. In Satisfyer’s clean, classy marketing campaign, Siffredi dons a suit and simply states that this slender, black tube can give a man with 5,000 female sexual partners under his belt the best orgasm of his life. If your sexual conquests have instead been men, Siffredi’s come-hither stare and three-piece suit might catch your attention for different reasons. Whether you want to be Siffredi or screw Siffredi, the Satisfyer Men has all your penis bases covered.

The New Age of Porn

Manufacturing a satisfying sex toy for porn audiences is a lot easier than it looks. According to Bartholet, it’s all about user-friendliness and simplicity in design. However, porn viewership has completely changed via intersectional feminism and sex positivity, giving toy creators a new marketing challenge.

“The demographics of our viewing audience has changed a lot over the years,” says Bartholet. “In the old days it was the trenchcoat guys who would go into a video store. Now I see a lot more women and couples buying and watching movies. What do they want in sex toys? Something fun, something easy to use, something they would use again. Something that is easy to clean afterwards. Something that is innovative.”

Although women aren’t usually the target audience for porn sex toys, the prevalence of female directors and their modern take on porn ethics means that it’s important to remember that for a lot of the guys that buy these strokers, there’s a female partner at home who might be participating in the action.

“Personally, I love what [progressive porn director] Erika Lust has done with XConfessions in allowing consumers to be a part of the process of her film creations. I believe there are more women enjoying porn now and their pleasure product preferences are not dependent on what is being reflected in adult films,” says Rodgers.

So what’s in the future of sex toys with a porn-sonality? A touch of tech, a hint of sexual equality, and a pinch of novel creativity.

The majority of manufacturers agree that sex-tech will propel the porn star toy genre for years to come. The current market is mostly stuffed with sublimely textured masturbators, but as VR porn keeps making grabs at toy consumers, we’ll see more tech-geek gear and less do-it-yourself skin sleeves.

“When we launched the Fleshlight Launch last year, we were nearly overwhelmed by the number of men who had been waiting for an automated and interactive device to control their Fleshlight toys,” says Harvell. “It’s clear that the ability to sync the masturbation experience to a cam or encoded porn performance is important to guys. I think the next step is a virtual experience, so porn and toys are going to be tied together for the foreseeable future.”