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Good vibrations: Hollywood sex toys creating a buzz

29 May 2016, 06:57

Los Angeles - Chad Braverman is an early riser you have to be to keep ahead as America's top sex toy magnate, overseeing production of tens of thousands of "pleasure products" a week.

Every day the 34-year-old gets up around dawn, jogs for 30 minutes and heads to work, where he runs the largest maker of vibrators, massagers, strokers and other R-rated gadgets in the United States.

Set in a sprawling industrial campus 15 minutes' drive from Hollywood's Walk of Fame, "Doc Johnson" is unrecognizable from its origins as a fishing tackle shop bought by Chad's father and mentor, Ron, 40 years ago.

"I always say he still hasn't told me what he does for a living, which is true. He's never sat me down and told me what he does," jokes Chad, who has taken over as the de-facto head of the company.

Ron Braverman, 69, opened for business in Los Angeles in 1976, having spent time in the Netherlands, where his eyes were opened by the liberal attitude to what were then coyly known as "marital aids."

Today, his 500-plus workforce pours six tons (4,450 kilograms) of molten materials every day into molds of penises, vaginas and other orifices, supplying retailers and individuals across the world.

The company makes a staggering 75,000 sex toys a week -- many lovingly finished off by hand, to employ a phrase largely redundant in the high-tech world of "intimate pleasure."

The rise of Doc Johnson coincides with a period of unparalleled growth in the market, with sex toys moving from the edge of acceptable into big business.

'Caligula reincarnate'

Once the domain of seedy adult shops, vibrators can now be picked up at the health and wellbeing counter of major retailers like Wal-Mart and Rite-Aid.

A marked shift to online sales has also helped the sector mushroom into a $15 billion-a-year market in the US alone with growth projected to take revenue to $52 billion by 2020.

"We expanded with a lot of different products. We had many of the first items that were ever made," says Ron, sitting in a conference room which would be unremarkable except for the wall-to-wall butt plugs, vibes and intimidatingly large dildos on display.

Doc Johnson's many innovations span from the "Palm Pal" in 1976 to the modern day "Tryst," a silicone device for couples or solo fun, just awarded Cosmopolitan's June sex toy of the month.

Also read: Throwing sex toys 'wrong image' for New Zealand

In the early days, almost every customer was male, whereas now at least half are women who, Ron says, are far more discerning consumers.

"People do a lot more research today about what they want and how they want to use it," says Ron, who introduced Chad into the trade in his teens and started him full-time after he graduated in business from the University of Miami.

The Bravermans were initially discreet about the family trade, says Chad, aware that parents of classmates at his private school might think Ron "was Caligula reincarnate... and that we were porn people."

A tour of the Doc Johnson factory a nine-building, 215,000 square foot (20,000 square meter) campus which rose from the ashes of a devastating fire in 1995 can be an overwhelming experience.

Dozens of anatomically realistic copper-finished molds of penises, vaginas and anuses often cast from the body parts of porn stars sit on row upon row of shelving.

Pocket Rocket

Molds are poured and cooled in water, some dipped in colored, food-grade dyes for a more fantastical look, while others come in more realistic skin tones.

The workers, a majority of them women and Hispanic, iron creases out of veiny penises, sew pubic hair into genitalia and add the flesh-toned finishing touches with precision paintbrushes.

There is a chemistry lab, a shipping department and a separate section for devices made from high-grade silicone, where butt plugs, powdered for softness, are stacked up alongside other anal devices, strokers and dildos.

Doc Johnson's bestsellers include masturbators modeled on porn legend Sasha Grey, the "Pocket Rocket" and the "Rabbit" vibrator, made popular by the hit television series "Sex and the City."

A sculptor who has been working with the company for 20 years spends two days to a week on each mold, taking inspiration from photographs, everyday objects and her own fervent imagination.

In an industry where 70 percent of global production is based in China, Doc Johnson is unique in that the vast majority of its 2,500 product lines are manufactured in North Hollywood.

The company has largely been left alone by legislators over the years, although its retail customers once faced a constant battle from local, state and federal authorities trying to shut them down.

"Today I think we've moved ahead in America as they have in many other countries and they've gotten to the point where they understand that this is a natural part of life," says Ron.



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