If, like me, you find masturbation to be one of the easiest forms of stress relief, then 2017 is already shaping up to be one hell of a fap-filled year. But before you lock yourself in a bunker with a load of lube and your porn of choice, you might want to read this piece. The Trump administration could have an effect on your future sex toy purchases (and not just with an uptick in Trump-themed erotic products).
For starters, let's talk privacy–specifically, digital privacy. The media has already raised alarms about what a Trump presidency might mean for people looking to keep their data away from prying eyes. Given that wifi-enabled sex toys are a known security risk, security-minded masturbators might want to steer clear from that category. The likelihood of your teledildonics toy being used to hack into your smartphone might be slim, but in a world where elections are influenced by data dumps from Russian hackers, there's still a risk.
But as headline grabbing as secret leaking vibrators might be, there are other, less sensationalistic things to be aware of when jerking it in Trump's America. For instance: one of the cornerstones of Trump's platforms has been attacking companies who manufacture products outside the US, with threats of tariffs seemingly intended to intimidate corporations into bringing manufacturing stateside. You know who manufactures products outside the US? Virtually all sex toy companies. (The exceptions being a handful of bigger manufacturers, like Doc Johnson and Pipedream Products.)
It would be hard to bring sex toy manufacturing back to the US because American factories aren't particularly friendly to sex. Janet Lieberman, CTO of sex toy company Dame Products, told Motherboard she initially looked into the possibility of producing her company's wares within the US. "None of the factories we talked to in the US had any experience in [the manufacturing processes] we wanted," she said.
It would be hard to bring sex toy manufacturing back to the US because American factories aren't particularly friendly to sex.
To complicate things further, a significant number of US companies "had a company policy against quoting adult products." Why the ban on making sex toys? Lieberman thinks it might be because American silicone manufacturers tend to cater to the aerospace and health industries, who might be less than thrilled to learn their products were sharing a production line with a batch of dildos.
Short of going the Doc Johnson route and setting up a proprietary factory (which isn't really feasible for smaller companies), it'd be hard to get around tariffs, which means there's a decent chance of increased prices,or lower product quality, if companies are intent on maintaining a certain price point.
There's also the little matter that China, specifically, is just about the best place for vibrator manufacturing. That distinction isn't due to price considerations or a desire to skirt labor laws. As Lieberman explained to me, it's because Chinese factories have the knowledge, expertise, and skill required to produce the high-quality, body-safe silicone exteriors that many sex toys rely on.
But—as Trump has made abundantly clear—China's not a country our president-elect's particularly keen on. If, say, President Trump antagonizes China to the point where doing business there is no longer feasible, vibrator companies can't just up and relocate their business to Mexico or Vietnam or some other manufacturing stronghold–not without taking a hit to product quality in the short (and maybe long) term.
"Your average [well-made sex toy] has a certain amount of artistry going into it," Lieberman said.
There are complicated techniques used to sand away parting lines and create a smooth, beautiful exterior—which, in addition to just being prettier to look at, is also important for safety. If a parting line left over from the mold isn't properly removed, that creates a ridge in the toy's surface, making the product harder to clean, and giving bacteria a spot to collect and grow.
But even in modern day America, there are places where the sale of sex toys remains illegal—like Alabama.
Another thing to consider: it might get a bit more difficult to purchase sex toys in the first place. That may seem like a ludicrous notion in an era where vibrators and cock rings are readily available at drug stores around the nation, and online retailers like Amazon are all too happy to ship pleasure products to their horny customers. But even in modern day America, there are places where the sale of sex toys remains illegal—like Alabama, the home state of future Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions himself wasn't directly involved in the sex toy ban (his tenure as Alabama Attorney General ended in 1997, the ban became law in 1998), but having a conservative Alabaman at the helm of the Department of Justice doesn't bode well for sexual freedom. Fortunately, it would be hard to enforce Alabama-like restrictions on the national level. Federal obscenity laws are specifically about pornography; expanding them to include sex toys would take an act of Congress—which, while possible, doesn't seem incredibly likely. (And while it's always possible that other states might take an Alabamaesque stance, there's recent legal precedent for striking down sex toy bans at the state level.)
But there are other ways the Department of Justice could make things challenging for sex toy manufacturers and distributors and, by extension, sex toy purchasers. Like, for instance, an Operation Choke Point type campaign that discourages banks and payment processors from doing business with sex toy manufacturers and retailers.
There's already a history of banks and online payment processors refusing to do business with sex toy companies (hey there, PayPal!); when you factor in corporate censorship of the erotic product industry, which has been alive and well even in the Obama era, the mainstream status of pleasure product manufacturers and retailers starts to seem pretty tenuous.
There are other ways the Department of Justice could make things challenging for sex toy manufacturers and distributors and, by extension, sex toy purchasers.
And that points to what may be the biggest threat to both sex toy manufacturers and consumers: Even if pleasure products are unlikely to be criminalized outright, a chilling effect that pushes people out of business and underground could do serious damage to the industry. If it's harder to make money slinging sex toys, the business will get a lot less attractive to the innovative entrepreneurs who've helped transform sex toys from seedy to chic.
And if increased advertising restrictions force sex toy retailers to get increasingly coy about what their products are for—or, as in Alabama, pull the "for novelty use only" card—it'll get a lot harder for consumers to suss out the body-safe, quality products from the poorly made, potentially toxic items out there.
It's all too possible we could end up in a situation not unlike that of the early 90s, when phthalate-filled jelly vibrators were omnipresent, and consumers couldn't always know for sure that something that looked like it was made for fucking was actually safe for that purpose.
If the Trump Administration upends the sex toy industry, whether by disrupting manufacturing or pushing the industry back underground or both, consumers would do well to resurrect the practices of turn of the century sex toy consumers. Make sure to get your products from trusted sources with educated, reliable staffers (so, a sex-positive boutique over a Walgreens or Amazon), educate yourself about how to tell safe materials like silicone from sketchy ones like jelly rubber.
And, if you're ever in doubt about a toy's materials, use a rubber.
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