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Offshore counterfeiters in China are selling cheap (and often unsafe) knockoffs of popular sex toys on sites like Amazon and eBay.
This article contains sexually explicit content and may be NSFW.
As we’ve frequently reported, piracy is a huge issue in the world of adult entertainment, to the point where porn performers and producers have taken a huge financial hit thanks to the widespread prevalence of tube sites. But porn is not the only adult product you can pirate online: You can also pirate sex toys like dildos, vibrators, and butt plugs.
According to the adult industry trade publication Xbiz (NSFW), popular adult toys like dildos, vibrators, butt plugs, BDSM toys, and even lubricants are being knocked off by offshore counterfeiters and sold under the original brand names online. So you know that $25 Lelo G-spot vibrator you got on Amazon a few years back? Yeah, that likely wasn’t an actual Lelo product, which retails for $119 on their website.
The issue of sex toy counterfeit is apparently so rampant in the adult industry that Peter Phinney, the founder of anti-porn piracy organization Porn Guardian (NSFW), is co-launching a Product Piracy Pilot Program with the industry advocacy organization the Free Speech Coalition, to make it “uncomfortable and [financially] unproductive]” for sex toy pirates to peddle their wares.
The problem, he says, isn’t just that sex toy manufacturers are copying each other’s best-selling products: “That’s just business,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Dot. “But what we are seeing online are counterfeit goods being sold under highly respected brand names that are NOT the merchandise they claim to be. And that’s not competition, that’s just theft and it needs to be called out.”
The sex toy counterfeiting predominantly takes place offshore, mostly in China, where manufacturers are not held to the same production standards as sex toy makers in the U.S. This leads sex toy counterfeiters to substitute materials in their products with potentially unsafe chemicals like melamine, a chemical that is approved by the FDA for manufacturing purposes, but not for human consumption.
The counterfeit toys are often marketed under their original brand names and sold on large online retail sites like eBay and Amazon. While some of these sites are receptive to removing counterfeit items when a buyer points out they’re fake—Phinney points out eBay as an example—other retailers, like Amazon, are not as quick on the draw. (Which is not so surprising, given Amazon’s reputation as a thriving marketplace for counterfeit goods).
“Amazon takes the position that they are a platform, and issues of trademark infringement or illegal distribution are between the manufacturer and the seller,” he says. “We are working to convince Amazon that they are sometimes facilitating questionable transactions—especially when they warehouse counterfeit merchandise to make shipments easier for consumers.”
From the perspective of the sex toy manufacturers whose products are being knocked off en masse, the rise of counterfeiting is obviously pretty alarming. Phinney says that the rise of sex toy counterfeiting has led to some brands having a decrease in sales, with some experiencing a six-figure loss in revenue last year.“Carefully built brands are being degraded by inferior products masquerading as a genuine products,” he says.
But the rise of sex toy counterfeiting is perhaps even more alarming from a consumer perspective. Given the skyrocketing prices of luxury sex toys, those who might not be able to afford an $100 vibrator might be tempted to purchase a subpar product that isn’t up to U.S. production standards, to the detriment of their health and safety. Phinney says this particularly applies to the BDSM counterfeit sex toy market, which is rapidly growing.
“Forgive me for being blunt, but would you be interested in sticking electroshock cables up your ass or onto your privates if you knew they were made in China from sub-standard components and not UL listed for safety?” he says. “You could save 70% buying a knock off electrostim set up, but I’m not recommending you do.”
Of course, counterfeiting is an issue that’s not specific to the adult market: According to one 2011 study on Internet counterfeiting and piracy, the combined traffic to the top websites selling counterfeit goods like bags, footwear, and pharmaceuticals is almost 87 million hits per year. But due to the stigmatized nature of the sex industry, there are many who say that the adult market is particularly vulnerable to piracy. While up to this point, the sex toy market hasn’t suffered quite as many financial setbacks as the online porn industry, this new offshore counterfeiting trend indicates that that might be changing.
EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.