Could the Fall of the Phallus Mean the Rise of a Sex Industry for Women?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 24 2012 11:07 AM

Could the Fall of the Phallus Mean the Rise of a Sex Industry for Women?

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James Deen, whose very famous penis is being made into its very own sex toy.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The phallus market has gone limp. That’s the conclusion Los Angeles magazine’s Dave Gardetta reached this month after touring the North Hollywood headquarters of Doc Johnson, a kind of Willy Wonka factory for, uh, willies. (And to your left we have a spigot that empties into a violet pond of liquid rubber wang!) Doc Johnson is the world’s largest sex toy manufacturer, but its latest designs are awfully devoid of penis.

Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

In recent years, Gardetta reports, the vibrator has evolved away from Doc Johnson’s “bread and butter”—faithful recreations of the male anatomy—“toward amorphous shapes, with complicated inner workings and premium price tags.” Most women are no longer satisfied by a solo session with a veiny tube of molded plastic. Not when Doc Johnson competitor Jimmyjane (which earned its own profile in the Atlantic) can offer “a vibrator that looks like a pulled pink molar,” or one that recalls “a tongue caught in the fourth dimension.” Or when Swedish company LELO makes some that “resemble the exoskeletons of strange sea creatures.”

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To any woman who has endured a Sex and the City marathon or attended a Passion Party, this is not news. (At one such gathering I attended in suburban Maryland, a roving pitchwoman opened a suitcase of sparkly stimulators that looked not unlike the scene on a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper. Her selection of animal-themed vibrators could stock a small petting zoo).

The real trend here isn’t that the sex toy industry has exiled the phallus, but rather that it’s ushered in a wider understanding of the sexual needs of all women, no matter how out-there. And the game has advanced far beyond bunny rabbits. Jimmyjane founder Ethan Imboden says he was drawn to the sex toy market when he surveyed the field of “severed anatomy” and “goofy animals” and realized that he had located “the only category of consumer product that had yet to be touched by design.” Dildo manufacturers used to be able to get by churning out a few unimaginative takes on the phallus because the industry “had been isolated by the taboo that surrounded it,” Imboden says. But now, innovative sex toy companies are going to great lengths to open the wallets of every stripe of female consumer. Which makes sense: One consulting company estimates that women are responsible for 80 percent of consumer spending in America. LELO is now attempting to sell them on a $13,500 vibrator plated in 24-karat gold.

Now let’s hope the rest of the sex industry takes note. If even dildo manufacturers can successfully transcend the severed organ, surely the porn industry can offer women a little bit more than the old standby—a disembodied penis thrusting through scene after scene until it satisfies every male fantasy. What if porn were designed with an eye toward the female aesthetic in the way that Jimmyjane’s toys are? What if Girls did for porn what Sex in the City did for the vibrator, breaking the taboo? And what if women demanded more from the porn they’re already viewing?

Women already make up at least a third of the porn industry’s audience. But more often than not, we’re still resigned to watching stuff that’s not actually made for us. Imagine what would be if the sex industry started producing products to strike our fancy?

Adjusting to the times, Doc Johnson is currently developing one high-profile phallic toy: A realistic casting of porn star James Deen’s 9-inch member. Deen has managed to court an audience of women through his advanced moves and absurdly funny Tweets, even as many porn directors prefer to keep his body just outside the frame. Now, Deen’s fangirls are blogging excitedly about the chance to claim a copy of his anatomy. They may be lining up to buy his penis, but make no mistake—it’s because they’ve come to see him as much more than a dick.

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