It’s rare I have time to watch television, so rare, that I don’t even own one –this seems common now days. However, when I hear about a sex related program being shown, particularly one involving sex toys, I’ll be happy to stop everything for an evening and sit down to watch it. Last week Channel 4 aired a documentary on Ann Summers, about design sex toys. I was so excited about this, that I cancelled a Skype meeting, stopped all my writing, and even baked myself cookies to nom on while watching the show. I was expecting a relaxed, fun, and educational evening. Sadly, this didn’t happen, and I just ended up being annoyed, angry, and extremely stressed.
Sex Toy Stories is a show where Ann Summers selected a group of women to help design a selection of new sex toys. It was documented over the course of a year, where not only the women involved where filmed throughout this time, but also certain Ann Summers team members where too. The thing is, the women selected for the show, not only where classed as ‘real’ women, they were women who were selected out of a small group, and asked to participate within the project for free. These women seemed to consent to this, and were excited about being a major part of the development of new products, as well as getting a chance to appear on national television. I accept that this was their choice, and that they knowingly participated, knowing that they would be doing it for free. However, I do not accept Ann Summers asking eight women, to offer their time, money, status as ‘real’ women, ideas, and input for free.
While the company, and many others within this industry, may feel that sex toys should be tested for free, this wasn’t the case with the ‘O Team’. The O Team where asked for longer hours of input, more time, asked deeper and harder to answer questions, as well as having the pressure on their shoulders to actually think-up concepts and ideas, whilst being filmed. All the O Team received was publicity, which was used to favour Ann Summers and not the individual’s personal careers (I’m sure it may have helped them a little within their own sectors, but not much). The chance to appear on TV, where it wasn’t made clear whether or not the TV company had paid them anything. A trip to a luxury mansion. Two of the O Team members were given the opportunity to come to china for developmental reasons (yet this is standard practice for most sex toy retailers, the only difference is, these two women weren’t paid to go).
To sum it up, any form of prototype and development of sex toys, or any product, takes up a lot of time. Time, which almost any other industry, is willing to pay for. Time which may cost a bit at first, but generally will lead to a greater profit, once the product is on the shelves. Time which will take away someone’s personal life and shorten their work-life. The problem with the sex toy industry, there are many people who think that taking up this time isn’t going to be so bad for some people, because it’ll result in sexual pleasure and orgasm. Apparently, that is the payment you will receive from your efforts, if you are lucky, regardless of how many hours it has taken (and sometimes worse the higher chance of gaining an infection).
Daily I get told by a sex toy company that they can’t pay for writing, or other work, but I can assure you that Ann Summers are more than enough resources to contribute more to these women than they did.
If you watched the documentary you’ll also get a feel that the commentator was in disbelief about these women not getting paid for their services. Throughout the show we are constantly reminded about how these women are doing everything for free, and that Ann Summers will gain a large profit from the product sales.
Also within the show there were moments when it became clear that some of the women involved were potentially missing out on actual paid work. Particularly when they were asked to visit Ann Summers HQ, and where left waiting with finger-food for several hours, as the Ann Summers team were running behind. The scene we are shown did not depict a professional business at all.
Ok, enough of ranting about the time these women was putting in, and more onto the development of the products.
Each woman created a design concept based on their experience (or even lack of) and pitched their ideas to the Ann Summers Team. When watching the show, I tried to watch it with an open mind, realising that not everyone has seen all the products I have over the years, and did expect replicas (or replicas of replicas). But when it came down to the final stages of development that is all we got: replicas. The most interesting product concept was by the eldest in the group, who wanted an eclectic stimulating bra; this was dismissed due to health reasons. However, once Ann Summers were presented with the ideas, most of them were altered to fit the company’s desires, rather than their team’s designs. This sadly didn’t result in innovative and new products, and in fact, all the products I have seen before, only with minor alterations in shape, functions, and materials.
Yes these products may be new within the Ann Summers collection, but they are not new in the world of sex tech.
I believe I would’ve been more accepting of the replica products, if in fact, the women had designed them completely themselves. Unfortunately, Ann Summers took away the creativity, and didn’t take the time to really fully explore new possibilities.
There was one woman, whose design was completely dismissed, and to keep her on friendly terms they asked her to try out a ‘new’ product which hadn’t been tested before. The women in question had never experienced an orgasm before. When confronted with this device, which apparently was designed by a gynaecologist, she was also asked to fill-out a rather personal questionnaire on television. It was shortly revealed that she had experienced some form of abuse when younger, which may be the root cause of her inability to climax. I have to admit that she was very brave to share this with us, however, I feel Ann Summer held more of a responsibility to not only offer her support, but also help make it clear to other women in a similar situation, that yes there is help and support out there. Generally, when I’m chatting with anyone who has experienced any form of abuse, I will provide them with resources and connections to help them work through these. I guess it could be a way the documentary was made, but there should’ve been some form of support group recommended within the program.
I personally just feel the program could’ve been better, more supportive to the women, as well as more of an insight into how the products are made. While it’s a positive move that a show on sex toys was aired on television, it wasn’t a very positive look into the sex toy industry. An industry, which does have people, who are willing to pay for sex toy designers normally. Plus one which also is a place where many people focus on sexual happiness, and supportive and educational resources. Yes like any industry, there is a large focus on profit, but the show itself could’ve been more about the products rather than the profit and taking advantage of people willing to do free labour.