Maitland Ward was overjoyed when she got the call from Fleshlight back in 2019. It’s not hard to see why. For more than two decades, Fleshlights –– the stretchy, fleshy masturbation sleeves that gave the company its moniker –– have dominated the sex toy industry.
The Dawn of The Pocket Pussy
These handy sleeves have spawned entire legions of “pocket-pussy” replicas, but their beginnings can be traced back to the late ‘90s in Los Angeles. Steve Shubin, a self-described “mean-faced ex-cop,” had just received the doctor’s order that he wasn’t allowed to have sex with his wife while she was pregnant.
Dismayed by the prospect of endless masturbation, Shubin sought her permission to create a pussy-shaped replica to “replace her” in the meantime. His wife agreed, but only on the condition that this makeshift vagina be “beautiful, artistic” and banished from the bedroom after the birth.
Encouraged, Shubin set to work in his garage, mixing mineral oils and medical-grade plastic –– known as TPE, thermoplastic elastomer –– to create various prototypes. After months of trial and error, the humble Fleshlight was born.
Needless to say, the sex toys weren’t banished after Shubin’s wife gave birth; within years, they were a global masturbation phenomenon.
Success In Sex
By the time company representatives got in touch with Ward in 2019, Fleshlight was one of the most successful businesses in the world.
Ward’s own star was on the rise, too. Ward first found fame as a teen actress in the mid-1990s, but she hit the big-time in the late ‘90s with a role in the U.S. sitcom Boy Meets World. She continued to rack up movie credits afterward, but it wasn’t until the mid-2010s that she dipped her toe into the porn industry. By 2019, her horny filmography already included XXX credits for renowned studios including Brazzers, Lesbian X, and Deeper.
Fleshlight reps spotted an opportunity to maximize this success, offering a deal that would allow Ward to “provide a truly intimate connection with my audience,” she tells Cashmere. This connection would come in the form of two sex toys, based on plaster-cast molds of her pussy and her butthole.
“I jumped at the chance,” she recalls. “I was ecstatic! I’ve always understood that having your own Fleshlight is considered a top honor in the industry, and the toys themselves are iconic, of the best quality.”
It was the collaboration of her fans’ wet dreams, and there were stats to prove it. When Ward’s toys, wittily named Toy Meets World and Tight Chicks in reference to two of her best-known movie roles, were released in May 2020, they smashed the company’s first-day sales records.
Evidently, consumer demand for sex toys molded from the junk of pornstars has never been higher. Yet the toys themselves are nothing new, dating back decades.
Porn Star Sex Toys Aren’t A New Concept
It all started with John Holmes, a porn actor whose dick is literally the stuff of legend. There’s endless, ongoing debate surrounding the exact size of his junk, but actress Seka once said that giving him a blow job was like “fellating a telephone pole.” His career began in the late 1960s when he made appearances in the occasional stag film (a term for short porn movies shot on the down-low), but it blossomed in the 1970s, a decade that saw a sharp rise in porn’s popularity.
This newfound interest was due largely to the commercial success of a movie named Deep Throat, released in 1972 to huge conservative backlash. The scandal only accelerated the industry’s notoriety and profitability, creating more opportunities for porn actors like Holmes and his girthy, 10-inch-plus penis.
Sex toy company Doc Johnson capitalized on this demand at some point in the late 1970s, creating a dildo from a plaster-cast mold of his penis. “That’s the first porn star dildo replica I can recall,” says Mayla Green, co-founder of theadulttoyshop.com. “It made an impact in the industry because it was huge. It sort of became the original ‘big dildo challenge’ for women, because back then, huge dildos weren’t as common as they are now.” At the time, she recalls, “a basic rubber dildo was the only option” –– and they weren’t exactly “realistic.”
Despite being pretty rudimentary at the time, horny consumers were clearly interested in sex toys –– and not just dildos. Shortly after molding Holmes’ legendary schlong, Doc Johnson repeated the process with actress Barbara Dare. Again, they had a hit on their hands. New sex toy materials started trickling into the market throughout the 1980s, but Green says TPE and TPR (thermoplastic rubber, a highly similar material) became popular because they could “easily be crafted to look and feel real,” she explains. “That’s when the porn star revolution began.”
Porn, Public Health, and Politics
The years 1969 to 1984 are described as the Golden Age of Porn, but this heyday was curtailed by the AIDS crisis.
Bigoted early coverage described the killer virus as a sort of “gay plague,” and in its earliest years, it was referred to as GRID –– Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the world started to realize that anyone could be impacted by AIDS, but by that point, it was too late –– there were already high-profile cases of porn actors dying of AIDS-related complications, such as Holmes himself. (Although, some dispute Holmes’ cause of death).
Increased safety measures and vigilance meant porn didn’t have a major HIV outbreak during the ’80s, but public discourse around AIDS framed all sex as inherently dangerous. Puritans seized on the opportunity to create anti-sex propaganda amid mainstream fear, heightening the existing stigma that sex workers of all descriptions faced (and still face).
AIDS activists staged “die-ins” and draped politicians’ houses in giant condoms, all in the name of advancing AIDS-related healthcare and research. Celebrity advocates hopped on board, and by the early ’90s, the porn star revolution was back in full swing.
The “Porn Star Revolution,” Revived
Few studios were as synonymous with this revolution as Vivid Entertainment. Founded in California back in 1984, the studio developed a reputation for making stars of its so-called Vivid Girls.
Horny fans were clamoring to get closer to these bombshells, and a growing number of sex toy companies were emerging to take on the challenge. Some of the world’s most iconic toys were molded throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, including Jenna Jameson’s Legend Fleshlight and Nina Hartley’s Fleshlight Cougar, designed to satisfy the fantasies of MILF-lovers worldwide.
So, who’s buying them? “Overwhelmingly, I would say the audience for sex toys cast from porn actors is men,” says Wednesday Lee Friday, a sex toy reviewer and former phone sex worker. “Whether we’re talking about an Academy-nominated erection or a vulva worthy of the Venus D’Milo, the primary demographic of people buying porn star sex toys are dudes.” Of course, it’s hard to say for sure whether cisgender men are actually more into sex toys than cisgender women, as women jerking off has long been seen as taboo.
Sex Toys In The City
Four fictional horny Manhattanites challenged this stigma on-screen back in the late ‘90s. The original Sex & The City might not have aged all that well –– it somehow managed to shit on bisexuality, trans people and erase pretty much anyone that wasn’t white or middle-class –– but it was groundbreaking in some ways.
It was great for the sex industry, too; when sex toy-hating Charlotte fell in love with her cutesy pink Rampant Rabbit vibrator, sales skyrocketed. In the show’s third season, the porn star dildo also got its moment in the spotlight, courtesy of a fictional porn star named Garth.
In the episode, he invites the four women to his dildo launch party. Each leaves with a signed replica of his humongous dick, but Garth ends up having sex with self-proclaimed nympho Samantha and then writes her a schmaltzy poem that abruptly halts their fuck-buddy arrangement. It’s never been confirmed, but it’s likely Garth’s mammoth dildo was based on Holmes’ monster-sized collaboration with Doc Johnson.
Increased Access to Porn, Increased Interest in Porn Star Toys
A lot may have changed since the 1980s, but our love of porn has not. Studios were quick to capitalize on the rise of the internet in the early 2000s, and they continue to dominate our search histories. According to Green, “porn star-named sex toys are common search terms that drive traffic to theadulttoyshop.com, and she says demand has only grown as “advancements in technology have created more realistic-looking and -feeling toys.”
Ward knows more than most about the behind-the-scenes work involved in bringing these horny visions to life. In January 2020, she met with the Fleshlight team to start the design process for her toys. “I did my molding for both of my toys right before the pandemic hit,” she recalls. “It happened in a hotel suite in Las Vegas. They give you a vibrator to use right before they do warm plaster, so you’re in the state you would be in when you’re aroused before sex.” Ward says Fleshlight also uses a “scanning process” to make sure the toys are “completely true to life.”
This process can vary between manufacturers. Kiiroo is a sex toy company best known for its teledildonics –– interactive, tech-savvy sex toys –– but in March 2021, it launched its FeelStars range. “We wanted to offer customers buying the Keon, our state-of-the-art interactive masturbator, to be able to enjoy the experience with their favorite performer whilst also watching her content,” explains Helen Zeal, Managing Director. Again, the process begins with “a detailed plaster casting,” but Kiiroo also uses “dozens of high-quality photographs. These are carefully replicated, first as a 3D model, and then as a tooled ‘mold.’” The company then uses its “super-soft stroker material –– that’s a carefully-guarded secret!” to bring the mold to life.
Fans go wild for the toys; according to the Zeal, they’ve sold “tens of thousands” of the FeelStar range worldwide, and there’s the added option to “sync the toys to the movement of the performer on-screen by using our patented AI browser, FeelMe.” The possibilities are more tantalizing than ever, and it’s likely that more companies will use porn star sex toys as elements of a more complete interactive package, allowing fans to get closer to their favorite actors.
Realistic Toys Are Popular, But Not For Everyone
Naturally, not everyone is a fan of realistic sex toys. In January 2019, sex toy designer Lora DiCarlo debuted a vibrator that promised to deliver a “blended orgasm,” achieved by a combination of both clitoral and internal stimulation. DiCarlo took her product to the Consumer Electronics Showcase. Initially, she was met with acclaim; the toy was even slated to win an innovation award.
Upon hearing this news, the conference CEO released a scathing press statement, blasting the decision as “profane” and “immoral.” Controversy ensued, and the 2020 conference came with a whole set of new rules –– namely, that sex tech designers couldn’t show “anatomically-correct” products. Debates echoed decades-old claims that sex dolls and “realistic” toys are degrading, that designs should be “tasteful” rather than “realistic.” These arguments usually come from anti-porn conservatives, and, unsurprisingly, they’ve done little to slow the sales of these products. To this day, Green says that “realistic-looking toys for both women and men still dominate in popularity.”
Other companies aren’t looking to get rid of these toys entirely, but to offer an alternative. “We don’t have many demands for lifelike toys from our customers,” says Peter Ovsenka, CEO of ZALO USA.
A defining feature of ZALO products is that they’re often customizable; different attachments can be used to stimulate different genitals or erogenous zones, meaning there’s plenty of scope to experiment. Ovsenka says that women are often looking for different options: “They don’t always want a penis shape,” he explains. “They want an internal toy that targets their G-spot. They don’t want a toy with balls, instead, they want something that can stimulate the clitoris, both internally and externally.” Sure, some people want realism, but others want variety.
Green concurs that the last few years have seen “a rise in non-gender specific sex toys and non-phallic-looking dildos. These are rather simple-looking toys, often consisting of a smooth probe with a curved or bulbous tip.” She also predicts a “niche for non-binary sex toys,” but doubts they could ever “drive away the popularity of realistic toys. Most people buy toys to replicate the sensations of penetrative sex. A smooth probe may feel erotically stimulating, but it simply doesn’t feel realistic.”
If anything, the backlash and controversy have made “realistic” toys more popular. “I think their popularity is surging,” says Friday. “A decade ago, even sex toy enthusiasts might not have known that sex toys cast from their favorite actors were possible. Now, I’m sure people are wishing the selection was wider and more diverse. If there were sex toys cast from popular singers or TV stars, the target demographic might drastically change, leading to enormous sales.”
There’s also the issue of trans-inclusivity. Trans stars like Gia Darling have been immortalized through dildos and sex dolls, but on the whole, it’s slim pickings for fans looking to buy “realistic” replicas of their favorite performers. There are potential complications –– dildo-molding requires an erection, and hormone therapy can make that difficult for trans women –– but an industry that gave us AI porn could surely be doing more to cater to trans stars.
After all, sex toy trends are constantly in flux, and manufacturers need to respond to shifting demand. This is increasingly the case when it comes to materials. Old favorites such as TPR and TPE are falling out of favor, as they’re porous, meaning they can still harbor bacteria, no matter how thoroughly they’re sanitized. Sex toy reviewers are growing critical of labels like “body-safe” and doing their own research, pressuring the industry to be more transparent.
Trends Come and Go, But Sex Toys Are Forever
No matter how much the industry changes, the popularity of porn star sex toys has weathered endless shifts. “Fans are always so excited when my movies come out,” says Ward. “They get to experience me and be there in the moment. It makes watching adult films a full sensory and intimate experience.” Friday describes them as a perfect horny gift –– “what better way to say ‘I love you’ than with a replica of a porn star’s penis?” –– and Zeal touts them as the ultimate way to bring porn fantasies to life.
These toys have come a long way since the original replica of Holmes’ infamous penis was released, but their basic appeal is still the same. Ward recently won an AVN award for Best Leading Actress, for her work in Drift. “It’s a metaphorical dark, twisted play on my real-life journey from America’s girl next door on TV to me finding my own deviant path,” she explains. “Fans enjoyed the sitcom element. They enjoyed being able to pretend it was my Boy Meets World character, Rachel, being double-penetrated on a sitcom set. And they had both of my Fleshlights to experience both for themselves.”