Where Are They Now: 3D-Printed Sex Toys, Part 2 — Etsy

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In a previous post on the subject, we revisited 3D-printed sex toys. The topic was such a titillating one a few years ago that it was covered on a broad range of mainstream media outlets and the SEO-friendly term “3D-printed sex toy” brought to the fore the concept of customized devices for sexual pleasure that one could print at home.

Though it seemed, for a time, that everyone would soon be fabricating sex toys on their personal 3D printers, the idea didn’t quite pan out. This was probably due to a variety of reasons, including the fact that consumer 3D printing didn’t take off the way media reported it would, as well as the fact that 3D-printed sex toys that come in contact with human orifices require some very specific safety measures.

What we also learned, however, is that, though everyone isn’t printing their own sex toys at home, they may be buying 3D-printed sex toys from Etsy or learning to make some at a local kink-focused makerspace. Didn’t know there were kink-focused makerspaces? We didn’t either until we spoke to some of these Etsy shops where makers are combining their love of kink and love of tech to devise new forms of printed pleasure.

3D-printed dildos from LeLuv. Image courtesy of LeLuv on Etsy.

Speaking to kinky 3D printer users, we learned a few important things about the state of 3D printed sex toys. For instance, even for the few out there who are public about their use of 3D printing for printing sex toys, only a couple have had any financial success from it. A particularly illustrative example is LeLuv, an established distributor of penis pumps, penis pump parts, accessories and sex toys based in Phoenix, AZ.

The company began experimenting with 3D printing and even manufactured filaments for a time but refocused on adult retail once more. Though LeLuv has a shop on Etsy, the sales from 3D-printed sex toys account for “little to nothing,” in revenue, according to a company representative. The company continues to offer 3D-printed dildos, so if the market picks up at some point, it’s possible that it could place more attention to that product line.

It’s possible that LeLuv wasn’t taking full advantage of the creative benefits of 3D printing technology. Other individuals realized that additive technology could allow them to experiment with truly unique forms of adult toys and serve niche audiences at the same time. While Greg from Terrible Toy Shop and the shop owner behind HappyBound discovered the potential for 3D printing toys through kink-dedicated maker communities, Gary learned about the technology when he bought an Arduino kit that led him deeper into DIY projects.

A 3D-printed PLA Vac-u-Lock to broom handle adapter. Image courtesy of HappyBound on Etsy.

While at a kink-based maker meetup, HappyBound brought along their 3D printer, where they had a request to adapt toys from Vac-u-lock strap-on toys to broom handles, which gave them an excuse to learn how to use Fusion360. “The sales have been ok for what is purely a hobby,” they said. For them, the Etsy shop is more about spreading the idea of 3D-printed sex toys and “encourage fun ways to play.”

“I’d call it an improbable series of accidents,” Greg, of Terrible Toy Shop, began. “It all started with me kicking off 2019 by taking a sewing/upholstery project to a fledgling kinky maker space. After a couple of months of hand stitching the neck/wrist padding for an elaborate set of stocks I had hand carved, I decided to test some new waters. I started with a dubiously safe introduction to welding and attending an automation workshop (Arduino/LEDs/MicroPython). [Then,] I had to give the 3D printer a try.”

Greg used to the makerspace’s low-cost 3D printer to begin experimenting and, due to the fact that it was a kinky makerspace, he said he “would have felt embarrassed to use communal print time on anything but freaky sex toys.” To learn how to use Fusion 360, he pushed himself with various challenging geometries, including “an oval-shaped labia clamp with jagged bear-trap-inspired teeth, which later evolved into the Pussy Trap.” The design went “mini-viral” on the kinky social media site FetLife, which encouraged him to start selling.

The Pussy Trap, a bear trap-inspired labia clamp from Terrible Toyshop. Image courtesy of Terrible Toyshop on Etsy.

Interestingly, Greg experienced what consumers more generally feel about mass manufactured products available on the market—that is, a general lack of creativity. As with any other hobby or niche, 3D printing has provided the BDSM market with innovation and novelty.

“I’ve quickly learned that I’m not alone in my disappointment with the lack of innovation and creativity in many categories of the BDSM toy market,” Greg said. “As an easy example, manufacturers have basically been selling the same half-dozen, tired designs of nipple clamps for decades.”

Greg and his fellow kinky makers have broadened the horizons of the adult toy market in imaginative ways. For instance, once Gary, who runs Deviant Designs, found himself involved with 3D printing, he learned that he could basically bring to life any silly concept he came up with.

“One day, I had a daft idea that it would be fun to attach a maze to someone and force them to play it,” Gary said. “If I didn’t have the printer I would never have thought to try and make it. But 3D printing makes it so easy to bring these daft ideas to life, so I figured why not. Like I already mentioned, I’m pretty passionate and motivated to make naughty things. So, I opened up CAD. I figured out how to make the maze, I designed some cuffs, printed it all out and it worked! I realized then that this would be a hobby I wouldn’t be able to stop.”

In turn, Gary has produced any number of wild ideas covered in detail in an Engadget series on his work. These include a voice-controlled dominatrix device based around an Amazon Echo Dot, featuring a Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and an animal shock collar that has been modified to attach to the vulva. There’s also an iPad ball-gag that forces its wearer to watch whatever videos a dom desires playing.

A collection of sex toys 3D printed by Gary of Deviant Designs. Image courtesy of Daniel Cooper / Engadget.

Gary and his partner Kirsty have used 3D printing to bring the most depraved ideas to life, but he does not yet feel low-cost additive manufacturing is ready for prime time, in terms of selling safe and durable products. The products he sells on Etsy are not made with additive manufacturing.

“I really want to sell my products, but the equipment I have isn’t really up for the task and I decided I would rather wait and make things that are high quality,” Gary said. “While 3D-printed products have their place in the world, I don’t think they are durable enough when you’re in the bedroom and emotions are running high. That being said I only have a very cheap printer that doesn’t always print reliably. There are probably more capable machines or technologies…that can produce robust and durable parts. They are unfortunately outside of my price range.”

Greg, on the other hand, has found that 3D printing has allowed him to establish a thriving business. By designing toys that he himself would use, he has found that others in the fetish community are becoming repeat customers. When asked how successful 3D-printed sex toys have been, Greg says, “Beyond my wildest dreams, to be honest.”

3D-printed lockable nipple clamps. Image courtesy of Terrible Toyshop.

With the help of some supportive friends, who have pitched in “to help me survive the entrepreneurial growing pains,” Greg was able to scale up from a single 3D printer to nine, with half his house “transformed into a fulfillment center.”

“I’m currently eating through enough plastic that I’m being taken seriously negotiating directly with well-known filament manufacturers,” Greg says. “I can’t believe how far this has come in less than a year.”

While Gary has been able to explore unique design opportunities for him and his partner, Greg has been able to deploy 3D printing to serve specific customers who might be overlooked by the one-size-fits-all mass manufacturing system.

“On [one] occasion, I had a long exchange of messages with a trans-man who wanted to know if the Clit Tenderizer would work on their anatomy after hormone treatments. So, I offered to redesign and ship a modified design free of charge if the stock model didn’t fit,” Greg said.

3D printing is a natural fit for a site like Etsy, where customer-tailored gifts are often the norm. Greg has been able to design client-specific products, such as nipple clamps featuring a symbol that had a special meaning to the couple who purchased them.

An iPad gag with 3D-printed fixture made by Gary of Deviant Designs. Image courtesy of Daniel Cooper/Engadget.

Gary, Greg and the shop owner of HappyBound all avoid using 3D printing for any objects that might be placed inside the body, out of safety concerns. Terrible Toyshop, for instance, sells a variety of clamps, whips and straps, but nothing insertable. Still, “each product page acknowledges that 3D printed objects are porous and should not be shared due to the risk of transmitting fluids” and the shop owner provides specific cleaning information, such as sanitizing 3D-printed PLA products isopropyl.

HappyBound says, “Sharing isn’t caring when it comes to 3D printed toys. I do have a prototype toy that is inserted, but it will be used exclusively with condoms.”

Reflecting on our previous article on the topic, as well as the earlier hype generated by the concept of “3D-printed sex toys,” it seems as though these kinky innovators are actually on to something. This author, in particular, may have been too prudish to consider the possibilities when the hype began. Blinded by the overwhelming number of 3D-printed dildos being presented, it didn’t occur to me that there are countless toys outside of that category that can safely and easily be 3D printed.

We also know from recent developments at CES that beyond 3D printing, technology is expanding the way we think of sex toys overall. CES may be limited to companies that can afford booths to present their wares, but makerspaces provide plenty of opportunities for small entrepreneurs and hobbyists to experiment with new ideas for adult fun.

As additive manufacturing evolves, we may even see mass customized sex toys hit the market several years later than initially predicted. For any AM companies interested in such a product line, there are plenty of inventors discussed in this article that would surely be up for a partnership. Gary at Deviant Designs, in particular, joked “Hoping that one day in the future I can get to play [with resin/sintering/metal injection molding that can produce robust and durable parts] though…if you know a guy feel free to hook me up.”

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