One quick look inside my bedside drawers will tell you a lot about me. There’s a spot for my computer, phone, and tablet chargers (translation: I’m a millennial), there’s a box full of yarn for crochet projects I’m currently working on (translation: there’s an old woman trapped inside my young body), and there’s a drawer dedicated to about 17 different dildos and vibrators (translation: I like sex toys... a lot).
Usually, when sex toys show up in UPS packages at my door I don’t think too hard about the process that got them there. I just turn them on and start playing. But every sex toy starts as an idea in someone’s brain, then it gets drawn, designed, and a prototype is built. And then another prototype, and then another. There’s a whole, long process involved in getting these buzzy (and sometimes not buzzy) friends into our hands. Typically, we’re not allowed to be part of that process. Sex toy companies test their products, sure, but they test them in-house.
Dame Products changed that less than a year ago, when they opened their research and testing process, Dame Labs, to the public. As of August 2018, anyone can sign up to test sex toy prototypes for Dame.
It’s a process I’ve done twice and it goes like this: First, you sign up to be part of Dame Labs, and then Dame Products will start sending you surveys. They want to get a sense of who you are, to ensure they have the most diverse group of sex toy testers possible. They’ll ask you about your race, your height, your body type, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, and other aspects of who you are that can affect how you use and experience sex toys.
When Dame is sure you’re a good fit to test a prototype, they’ll send you a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to sign (their sex toy ideas are still trade secrets, after all). Then, they’ll send you the sex toy prototype. You (and sometimes a partner) have a couple of weeks to test it out, and then you’re given a survey to fill out. Dame Products asks about your experience using the toy, whether anything felt off, whether the instruction pamphlet made sense, whether or not you liked the color options, and what you think the toy should be named. They want opinions on everything.
When I joined Dame Labs, I was first asked to review their upcoming sex pillow, aptly named Pillo, and now available for $95. Later, they also asked me to try out Kip, a lipstick-type vibrator that was released on March 19 (for $85).
Sex pillows are helpful for adjusting sexual positions, to make things like oral sex or doggy-style sex more comfortable. They’re not really intended for solo sex, so to review this product I had to get my girlfriend involved. Before they would send us the pillow, Dame Products was careful to make sure that my partner also consented to testing it and giving her opinions.
The not-yet-named Pillo showed up in a gigantic box, even though it’s not a gigantic pillow. It’s smaller than a regular bed pillow, and thicker at one end to make a triangular shape. My girlfriend, Meredith, and I scheduled a day when she could come to my apartment and try it out, which maybe seems like the least sexy thing in the world, but the promise of trying something new had us excited.
Meredith is one of those people who needs to read the directions five times before trying something new (she even does this when she makes frozen food), so our first step was to read the informative pamphlet that came with the pillow. Usually, I don’t even glance at these booklets, but I was glad we did.
The pamphlet gave us a few different ideas for using Pillo, through refreshingly diverse illustrations. There was a picture of a gender-ambiguous person going down on a woman, whose butt was elevated by the pillow. A picture of a woman bent over the thick side of the pillow while a man penetrated her from behind, and a picture of two men using the pillow for anal sex (again having the person on the bottom use the pillow to elevate their butt). Online, Dame Products also shows a woman laying on her side on the pillow, with one leg thrown over her partner, while she masturbates in front of him.
It’s a far cry from the days when the only people designing, building, and testing sex toys were straight men.
Meredith and I tried a few of these positions. She donned our trusty strap-on and penetrated me from behind, doggy style, as I leaned over the pillow. We tried elevating my hips while she thrust the dildo into me (this one hurt, but I’m not totally sure that was the pillow’s fault). By far the most successful use, for us, was propping either my or her hips up while the other performed oral sex.
Typically, going down on someone is totally fine without a the boost. But when Meredith had the pillow underneath her hips, I was surprised at how much easier it was. My neck felt more comfortable, and so did my jaw. Meredith had a similar experience. For her, it was great because I tend to take awhile to come, and when I do climax my body tends to convulse so much that Meredith has compared it to being on a rollercoaster.
The pillow gave her some leverage when my body started moving and shaking. But we completely missed the feature that could have made it even better: The pillow had handles, but we didn't see them.
That was the most substantial feedback we gave when we filled out the survey — the handles needed to be more obvious. Other than that, the fabric was the only thing I had concerns about. After a few days hanging out on my bed and on my bedroom floor, the prototype pillow started picking up a lot of lint and hair. It wasn't attractive, especially against the pale, sky blue.
When the finished product showed up at my door a few months later, I could see the changes Meredith and I had suggested. The handles, once looking like nothing more than a decorative flap of fabric, now looked obviously like handles (but still stylish). And the fabric was different — less clingy and darker, now a navy blue.
Testing Kip was similar, though that was a solo experience. The prototype was sent to me with a little envelope to send it back when I was done (sometimes you can keep the tester, but sometimes they want it returned). It looked clearly like a prototype, with the rough exterior of something fresh out of a 3-D printer. But other than that, the Kip I tested is identical to the final version sent to me in the mail a few months later.
And that’s perfectly fine, because I had no criticism about the toy I tested. The buttons were easy to use, the motor was powerful (but not too powerful), it was comfortable and fun to use, and it was pretty. Even the color, a dull lavender for the toy I tested, remained roughly the same in its final version. You can get the finished Kip in either a vibrant lavender or a bright yellow.
Overall, testing sex toys was fun, but it was also interesting thinking about everything that goes into making a vibrator or sex pillow a great experience for as many bodies as possible. Dame Products carefully chooses a panel of testers who look different and have different sexual wants and needs. It’s a far cry from the days when the only people designing, building, and testing sex toys were straight men.