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The First Ever Adult Product on Kickstarter Isn't a Sex Toy At All
If the crowdfunding giant starts accepting sex tech, it could be an industry game changer.
by diana bruk
Every woman remembers, with an appropriate level of comic horror, the moment in Sex and the City when Miranda’s Ukranian housekeeper, Magda, stumbled upon her “goody drawer.” What followed next was a series of judgmental blessings and lectures about how “no man will want you as long as you have that,” culminating in Miranda’s dildo being unceremoniously replaced with a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was an episode that most women could relate to and a situation that every woman feared, as we stuffed our pleasure treasures into smelly socks, hid them under dusty mattresses, buried them under old shirts, all the while living in fear that our secrets would one day be revealed and, like Pandora’s box, unleash all of life’s evils into the world.
It was precisely this type of scenario that led Lidia Bonilla, a design innovator, to create a pleasure products organizer called MUA. While in the process of decorating her home, Bonilla’s interior decorator was opening drawers, and before Bonilla had a chance to yell “Fire!” or “Snake!” had already opened that drawer. Embarrassed, Bonilla asked where most of her clients kept their items of erotic interest, to which the decorating guru had no reply. After a particularly bad day at work, Bonilla went over to sex toy purveyor Babeland, and asked if they had some sort of storage box that was both discreet and sophisticated in which to keep her new purchases. “Nope,” the salesperson, responded, “but that’s one of our most commonly asked questions.”
And so Bonilla’s passion project (no pun intended), the MUA box, was born. It consists of a small pouch that is water and lubricant-resistant, that can be zipped up and carried around on a handle, for maximum ease and portability. It is designed to be kept in an sleek, lacquered wooden box, in which one can store and charge larger items, and comes with a combination lock for extra safety.
When crafting the design, Bonilla was determined to keep the desires of sex toy users in mind, so she made sure to do her research. “The design really emerged out of looking at people’s behavior,” Bonilla said, “So we did market research on what sex toys people use, what do they do with them afterwards, who they use them with. One of the most surprising things we found is that people use them just as much with their partners as they do by themselves. So because of that level of intimacy with another partner, we thought, well we don’t want to just make it a box, because we want people to be able to take it to their partner’s house, to a hotel, on vacation, wherever.”
Because this product is ultimately, as she herself puts it, “about honesty and empowerment,” it was also very important for Bonilla that the design would allow women to be proud of their sex toys as opposed to ashamed of them. And, indeed, the innocuous elegance of the box, which could easily double as the jewelry box on a fashionable nightstand, is partly what enabled MUA to become the first adult company to get by Kickstarter’s puritanical standards.
“I was very conscious of Kickstarter’s guidelines, and I have enormous respect for Kickstarter. From the beginning, it was very important for me to launch it on Kickstarter because there are so many designers on Kickstarter, and I felt it was important for the product to be respected by designers. So many sex toys are pink or vinyl or have a bad reputation, so it was important to me to make a product that design snobs would like.”
And yet crafting a sophisticated design is not enough to become one of the lucky one in four projects that’s accepted by the site. While known as the liberal mecca for indie start-ups, Kickstarter has a somewhat perplexing history of rejecting anything in the erotic industry. In 2012, they turned down Lovepalz, a device that would enable partners to pleasure one another remotely using teledildonic technology (the wet dream of long distance relationships everywhere). In August, Kickstarter also rejected Crave, an innovative sex toys startup, because, as they allegedly told the founders, they “don’t allow vibrators on the site” (although that isn’t explicitly stated in the guidelines, of course).
Even when designers go out of their way to create sex toys that are classy and meant to be displayed (like Jimmyjane), they struggle to gain investors and exposure because sex toys are inevitably lumped together with the porn industry, an association that threatens to cheapen or undermine the site on which the products are launched. For startup designers, Kickstarter can be a key platform in finding and gaining an audience, an essential and cutting edge way to bring a product to the public. If adult companies continue to be restricted from crowdfunding platforms, they'll continue to limit their reach and diminish the open conversation surrounding sex products.
Which is why Bonilla’s accomplishment may be one small step for man, but one giant leap for the sex toys industry. Because the MUA box isn’t actually a sex toy, it can slip past the seemingly restrictive guidelines of Kickstarter while simultaneously cracking the door open and paving the way for future erotic products. For many, including Bonilla herself, this accomplishment is a sure-fire sign that society is becoming more sex-positive and that the corporate world is beginning to accept sex toys as business as usual.
“I think the stigma of sex toys is definitely diminishing. It’s become more commonplace to talk about it. I don’t think the media has necessarily caught up to it, because the rules of what you can say on television is still a little antiquated in comparison to what women talk about. Because I’ve had conversations with women about sex toys everywhere: church, Thanksgiving dinner, brunch, everywhere.”
And, who knows, with this attitude maybe one day we’ll be having stone-faced conversations with the saleswoman at Bloomingdales about our girth and length preferences, or even joking about dildos with our Ukranian housekeeper over a steaming plate of pirogi.
The Kickstarter campaign, which launched on November 26th, will offer a discount on the retail, selling the soft case for $29, and the hard box with the soft case included will be $69. For now, the product will only sell online, although Bonilla foresees a future with retailers so long as they are sex-positive.