Sex Toy Testing: Can You Actually Turn It Into A Career?
Around once a week, AOL Jobs receives the same email in its inbox. Someone stumbled on an AOL Jobs story about a woman who claims to earn $39,000-a-year as a sex toy tester, and she (or he, but usually she) would like to know how to go about scoring such a gig. AOL Jobs didn't know exactly how people became sex toy testers, how many sex toy testers were even out there, or how its article became the No. 1 search result when you Google "sex toy tester."
But an editor thought we should try to solve at least two of these mysteries.
First the bad news: It's not a full-time job.
Being a professional sex toy tester who sits at home all day with soft music, scented candles and 50 varieties of vibrating egg is not really a job that exists. Most sex toy companies simply rely on staff to sample new devices -- for fun, in their spare time.
Michael Kain, the executive vice president of sex toy brand Liberator, says they use a handful of female workers in the customer service department. XR Brands and California Exotic Novelties, the largest global sex toy manufacturer, also use in-house employees.
Those who work on the retail side of the sex toy trade also frequently test out toys, to sift out the crappy from the transcendent. "Requiring your employees to test sex toys isn't probably legal," says Pamela Doan, the spokeswoman of sex toy boutique Babeland. "But it's considered one of the perks of the job."
But you can earn some dinner money as a 'sex toy blogger.'
The internet has given rise to a whole army of sex toy bloggers, who manufacturers give new products to try. Your salary will likely come in the form of silicone, however, batteries not included.
California Exotic Novelties of Chino, Calif., sends out its toys once a month to a community of 60 "sexperts," who have pre-applied for such a distinction. The company chooses people who already have an online following, and then ensures that each sexpert gets the appropriate gadget.
SexyBlogTime. Every month, Vonne and her boyfriend now each receive a box of four new toys, which they review for XBIZ at $25 per toy. They get so many Fleshlights in the mail, Vonne says, that they're constantly giving the artificial vaginas out to friends as gifts.
Testing sex toys can pose health risks. Seriously.
Although vibrators have been on sale for over a century, making them the fifth electric appliance to ever to find its way into the American home, they still aren't governed by any federal standards.
Potentially toxic plastic-softeners called phthalates are banned in children's toys in amounts greater than 0.1 percent, but make up over 50 percent of many popular sex toys. There are also mechanical issues: 18 percent of women who have used a vibrator have experienced pain, numbness or other side effects, according to a 2009 University of Indiana study. And thousands of Americans have ended up in the hospital with "penile strangulation," "vibratory strain injury" or a roaming anal bead. One Northern California woman sued a sex toy company last year, after fainting from blood loss caused by a too-violent vibrator.
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"There's still a lot of product out there that isn't really well made," says Anne Semans, who in her 10-year career at Babeland, a boutique sex toy seller, has tested around 100 products.
But job satisfaction is high among testers.
After all, they have pioneered a revolution in the sex toy industry over the last 10 years, with manufacturers shedding rubber for silicone, bulky batteries for microchips, boxes with porn stars on them to velvet-lined cases and Apple-inspired sculpted designs.
And as sex toys become sleeker and less stigmatized, more Americans are using them -- over half according to one Indiana University study. "It's helping people to have a happy sex life," says Kim Airs, another sex toy blogger. "And a happy sex life is the most amazing, biggest, hugest, thing on the planet."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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