From app-controlled vibrators to bionic strap-ons: The crowd-funded sex toy revolution

The vibrators of the future can't rely on traditional investors, so they're turning to you

Published June 17, 2014 11:00PM (EDT)

The Limon     (Indiegogo/Minna)
The Limon (Indiegogo/Minna)

For a snapshot of the current state of sex toy innovation, look no further than the Ambrosia Vibe. It's the world's first bionic strap-on, meaning it vibrates in response to touch. It's an exciting, revolutionary development -- but it isn't thanks to angel investors or venture capitalists. It's customers who are making it happen through a crowd-funding campaign.

Despite the more than $15 billion sex toy industry, investors are scared to touch sex toys. "Developing hardware requires a lot of capital -- but traditional sources of funding ... aren't always enthusiastic about investing in products related to sex," says Lux Alptraum, a sex writer who consulted on the Ambrosia Vibe. "Crowdfunding allows sex toy developers to get the money they need to go into production by connecting with the very audience who benefits from their work."

Thing is, Kickstarter is scared of sex toys, too. That's why companies have had to look to sex-friendly crowd-funding sites. The Ambrosia Vibe has raised $18,814 so far on Indiegogo and has 31 days left to reach its $32,000 goal. If its predecessors are any indication, its chances are good.

In 2012, Vibease's campaign to make an app-controlled vibrator was denied by Kickstarter, so the makers turned to Indiegogo, where they raised $100,000 beyond their initial goal. The year before, Crave Innovations' plan for a sleek vibrator that doubled as a flash drive was rejected by Kickstarter -- or, as the company's designers put it in an interview with, "They kicked us off, saying they don’t support vibrators!" So they launched a crowd-funding campaign on CKIE with an aim of netting $15,000 in six weeks. In the end, they raised more than $100,000.

Just recently, the Autoblow 2 (see the video below) set out on Indiegogo with a goal of $45,000 to make "the world's most realistic robotic oral sex simulator." They raised a whopping $280,247. Two hundred and eighty thousand dollars. 

Then there's the OhMiBod, a remote-controlled vibrator that allows you to "pleasure your partner from anywhere, any time"; the Minna Limon, a vibe created by "Stanford-trained mechatronics engineers"; and the Revel Body, the "first sonic vibrator," which is quieter and more powerful than what you're used to. All crowd-funded, all within the last two years.

It's a weird time that we live in. As I wrote in 2011, "Cheap varieties [of vibrators] are available everywhere from 7-11 to CVS; sleek gadgets are sold in well-lit shops like Babeland; and those looking to drop a couple G’s on a diamond-encrusted, gold-plated number can head to luxury suppliers like Coco de Mer." Since then the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon introduced scores of Americans to whips, handcuffs and kegel balls. Sex toys are more mainstream than ever -- so much so that their makers can ask for funds directly from customers and manage to raise more than three times their goal -- but traditional investors are still timid. That said, after Crave raised more than $100K through crowd-funding, the company was able to raise $2.4 million from Angel investors.

For the most part, though, crowd-funding sites are where you'll find sex toy makers who are brave enough to listen to what customers really want. As Doctor X. Treme, the physicist behind the Ambrosia Vibe, tells me, "I kept hearing that people want this, and responded to demand," he said. "People already use strap-on dildos as a body extension, not just as a sex toy. 'Giving head' to a strap on is a popular activity already, even without feedback. Why? Because people enjoy extending their bodies beyond what they were born with, just as we build airplanes to give ourselves wings or SCUBA tanks to give ourselves gills."

All of which is to say, the future of sex is here -- and it's being crowd-funded.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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Ambrosia Vibe Crowdfunding Editor's Picks Indiegogo Kickstarter Male Sex Toys Sex Sex Toys Video