How Crowdfunding Is Opening Up Sex Tech for People with Disabilities
Crowdfunding has given the disabled more options—along with everyone else.
When China-based inventor Brian Sloan crowdfunded the Autoblow 2 [NSFW], he just wanted to make the most realistic sex toy a man could have. The Autoblow 2 is a hands-free “stroker,” a device that massages the penis.
It’s an orifice made of artificial skin that moves mechanically by itself. Two rings of soft beads outside the false skin move up and down to simulate oral sex. The first Autoblow had a similar design, but was battery-powered and lower quality. Sloan decided the Autoblow 2 would plug into a wall socket and last for years.
But he needed another $45,000 to launch his product, so last April he went to crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
In two months, $280,000 flooded the page. Sloan began to get grateful emails from Internet users with mobility issues: Iraq War veterans, people with multiple sclerosis, and folks with other disabilities that rule out masturbating with the hands.
Sloan still corresponds with mobility-impaired Autoblow users. He’s an opinionated character; an entrepreneur who takes pleasure seriously. Though he didn’t plan to be an advocate for the mobility-impaired, or to open new sexual pathways for them, that was the role fortune gave him.
Sloan told Future of Sex how he envisions sex tech will look in the future, particularly for crowdfunders and the disabled. He said it's about using what we already have in new ways.
Consumers want sex products that cost $10 to $200 maximum. That fact, not technology, will be the single limiting factor for the future of sex toys. Nothing particularly high tech can be made and sold within that price range.
Maybe consumers will change their minds, but my money is betting that they are only concerned with three things: price, ease of use, and realism. Plenty of great products can be designed within the $200 price range that meet consumers needs. And nearly none of those will be “high tech.”
Sloan also explained why Autoblow2.com doesn’t send out freebies anymore:
[Freebie recipients] often claimed that they will post reviews or information on some websites for disabled people and then literally not a single one has done so, so we are kind of done with giving away free products. We did send out several free products to these guys, never to hear from them again.
How Hands-Free Sex Tech Became Crowdfunded
Hands-free sex products have evolved steadily over the last half-century. Activist Joani Blank invented the butterfly vibrator in the ‘70s. It straps around the waist and covers the clitoris, giving women the first truly hands-free solo experience. The Robo Suck II, a self -moving stroker, appeared in the ‘80s, but plugged into a car’s cigarette lighter. Not ideal for those who couldn’t drive.
More recently, The Humpus [NSFW] is two toys, a vibrator and stroker. Each one attaches to a machine that moves them. The Humpus contains no latex, making it safe for people with spina bifida. The Humpus website, which has existed since 2012, brags that it can benefit the mobility impaired.
“One user had a problem with numbness in the hands and fingers,” the website claims, “which made masturbation difficult, so they decided to give the Humpus a try…and what did they think?—'The Humpus is amazing and I doubt I will ever use my hands to masturbate again!'”
Though not crowdfunded, it was the closest that other strokers came to the Autoblow 2's convenience.
2014 was the year of hands-free crowdfunded sex. Indiegogo also hosted Eva by Dame Products, a wearable vibrator that stimulates both the woman's clitoris and her male partner by vibrating. Eva received 1,150% of its funding last month and was created with the help of 3D printers. The Ambrosia Vibe also came from Indiegogo, reaching its goal in June 2014.
Crowdfunding for Niche Groups
Backers have used the Internet to help deliver a full spectrum of sex products.
Tech company Crave has been overwhelmed by funding for its Vesper vibrator necklace on the crowdfunding platform Tilt. Crave specializes in adult products disguised as women’s jewelry. The dual-purpose jewelry was thought up by industrial designer Ti Chang under the company name Incognito. She joined forces with Crave after its founder, Michael Topolovac, crowdfunded $2.4 million on AngelList in 2013. The Vesper became available in September 2014.
Kickstarter is the largest crowdfunding site online and only hosts creative projects. However, it stays away from sexual content and rejected Crave as well as LovePalz, which Future of Sex has covered before. Sex technology and its creators need to find raise funds on other sites.
Luckily, adult crowdfunding sites have existed for years and they've served far more niche groups than just those for disabled people.
Offbeatr collects funds for adult entertainment, objects, and books. Its most successful campaigns have been for small niches of the adult audience, such as fans of roleplaying video games (RPGs). Even a tabletop RPG, Fapp: Erotic Adventures, received 729% of its funding goal in September 2014. According to the campaign page, Fapp is still being developed.
Offbeatr has hosted successful tech campaigns like 3D adult entertainment, where a user can walk around the models. Plus, it's helped a chemist calling himself Kharnak, who wants to make toys and lubricant more realistic than ever using his chemistry and engineering knowledge.
With the connectivity of the Internet, any idea can become reality and no one’s desires are being left behind. Sexual minorities like people with disabilities and furries are finding acceptance. Crowdfunding has made the sex tech market more democratic. If you have dollars to spare, you can choose what will be on sale next.
What would you like to see funded? Leave a comment.
Featured image source: Micael Nussbaumer