Fleshlight makes the world’s best-selling male masturbation accessory, ever.
Externally, they resemble an emergency grade flashlight. Unscrew the top, and you’ll be greeted with a different form of illumination—various orifices perfect for injecting a little holiday cheer. And some of those orifices are exact replicas of your favorite porn stars’ parts – Fleshlight models include Jessica Drake’s vagina, Stoya’s butt, and Tori Black’s mouth, among many other options.
But what exactly is a Fleshlight? What's it made of? And what happens… after?
I know I'm not the only one with questions, so I put out a call for queries on Twitter, picked out the stickiest ones, and headed out to Fleshlight’s headquarters in Austin, Texas—a facility that's epically modern, absolutely gigantic, and thoroughly ordinary.
I was greeted by Brian Shubin, Chief Operating Officer of Interactive Life Forms (the name of the company’s umbrella LLC). Brian is 37, friendly without being creepy, and smart without being annoying.
Like Ford, Wal-Mart, and Comcast, Fleshlight is a family business. Back in the mid-90s, when they were still living in Los Angeles, Brian’s dad Steve Shubin and his stepmom Kathy found out they were pregnant with twins. Their gynecologist advised them to stop having sex because of Kathy's advanced maternal age (she was 46 at the time), which presented the elder Shubin with a fantastic jerking-off puzzle. After a long, mad-scientist chemistry tale of trial and error, Fleshlight’s original Pink Lady was born.
“My dad has always been creative like that,” Brian told me. “In life, whenever a problem or a need presents itself, he tries to figure out the answer.”
How does Fleshlight take the external molds of ladies’ mouths, vulva, and butts? “On this scary gynecologic table of course,” Brian joked as he pulled out a stirrup. Except he wasn’t completely joking. Originally, Fleshlight would literally make molds of whatever orifice they were looking to replicate... right here:
But for various reasons, the resulting detail wasn’t great. Plus, a lady’s sexed-up vulva looks quite a bit different than a cold, plaster-covered one. Consequently, starting with Stoya, Fleshlight began using digital imagining to create the molds.
And speaking of moulds, what about the insides? How do they get all those wild-looking internal textures? Do they pour plaster inside people? (No, please no.) Or do they digital image them as well? (That would involve some serious gaping!)
Turns out, neither. The internal textures, of which there are standard and unique custom options for every Fleshlight Girl (e.g. the Stoya Destroya), are all designed by another Shubin son. Before that, “I did it,” Brian told me matter-of-factly.
“We listen to our forum members and design their requests,” he continued. “My brother is really good at bringing those requests to life."
I also learned about toxins. Surely there must be some weird chemical involved in the creation of a lifelike vagina, something that’s slowly rotting your penis every time you use it. What is it? And more importantly, what does it smell like?
The Fleshlight material is a secret (!) combination of high-quality mineral oil and rubber polymers, and it's protected by a series of U.S. patents. Also worth knowing: The Fleshlight material does not contained phthalates. Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers—substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, durability, and longevity. All things you’d want in a soft squishy sex toy, except that there’s a lot of controversy about the safety of phthalates. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.
Generally, you can tell if something contains phthalates if it has a strong plastic smell when you first open its packaging. As a test, I opened up a Christy Mack Fleshlight fresh from the warehouse and took a big whiff—nothing.
According to Brian, 45% of Fleshlight customers are repeat buyers coming back for more lights (so you can have an orgy!), additional sleeves, accessories, lube, and maintenance/care products. And because I know you want to know: Fleshlight sells 80,000 units of product per month, worldwide. And each one of them is hand-poured by a real live person.
By now, it was time to head out to the factory and see exactly where all these real live people worked.
As we entered the warehouse via the main building, Brian apologized. “It’s pretty empty out here,” he explained. “We work four tens. It’s more productive that way, and everyone always gets a three-day weekend.”
Four ten-hour workdays? No work happening in the factory on Fridays? I was flabbergasted. In all my years of listening to people talk about improving working conditions and maintaining productivity, I had never come across a company that actually did anything about it.
The factory was basically a ginormous room divided into two main sections: packaging and manufacturing. Packaging was what you’d expect: lots of big tables for putting together product and huge rows of shelves containing endless sleeves.
I kept asking questions as we meandered through the labyrinth.
How exactly do you know when it’s time to retire a Fleshlight? When does it start to break apart? With proper maintenance and care, Brian says, a Fleshlight will (allegedly) last forever.
And cleaning? Apparently, a textured canal runs all the way through each Fleshlight sleeve. To clean one out after something’s been... er.... deposited inside, you remove the sleeve from the case and run warm water through it. Then you spray it down with Fleshwash (a special cleaner that won’t erode the material), re-rinse with more warm water, and allow to air dry. Image your Stoya Destroya sleeve left out on a dish rack or drip-drying in the shower!
It was time to ask questions submitted by the Fleshlight curious on Twitter.
Jim from Tennessee wanted to know if you can get your penis stuck inside a Fleshlight. “Ehhh, no. Not if you’re using [your Fleshlight] within the realm of predictable intended use,” Brian informed me with a quizzical grin.
Adam from Kansas wanted to know if there’s a size guide for guys that are larger or smaller or thicker? “Well, is there a size guide for real life vaginas and mouths and butts?” Brian asked rhetorically. “No, but Fleshlight does offer the mini-lotus texture for guys who are not quite as far reaching.”
I wanted to know if any Fleshlight toy had ever become unavailable—like retiring a number? (Yes.) And Chris from Chicago wanted to know if there were plans to make any heated ones? (Coming soon!)
Finally, Brian and I made it to the manufacturing side of the factory just as I was about to raise the most important issue: Can you make your own Fleshlight at home? Honestly, I didn’t even ask this question (sorry, Ted from Phoenix) as I already knew the answer. No, you can't. Because here are just a few of the things you'll need to make a Fleshlight:
Fleshlights are made in one of four giant bays. Each bay consists of an outer perimeter of individual molds surrounding a center console. The person pouring your Fleshlight first sets up the molds, attaching the appropriate external (mouth, vulva, or butt) and internal texture forms to each. Meanwhile, a vat of Fleshlight material is busy being heated at the center console. Liquid Fleshlight is then piped to each individual mold, one at a time and by hand, via some sort of gun injector apparatus. There is also an elaborate hot and cold cooling system running through each individual set-up, helping to ensuring uniform consistency.
The entire process was complex, high-tech, and (honestly) intimidating. It looked scary and dangerous. And occasionally, it could be.
"The only real problem we’ve ever had is when people don’t wear their safety gear and accidentally spill some of the [liquid Fleshlight material] on themselves," Brain said. "That stuff is heated to 300 degrees, so when they try to brush it off, skin comes off too."
We left the factory area, walking past a fairly large kitchen, where Brian informed me "We make lunch for everyone every day."
MORE OF YOUR BURNING QUESTIONS ABOUT FLESHLIGHTS
"Can a guy potentially get a UTI (or any sort of bacterial infection) from using a Fleshlight?" (Moe from Portland)
The level of funk (due to improper cleaning or sharing your sleeve) happening in your Fleshlight would have to be so great that you’d almost deserve it.
"How do they quality test those things? Like, do they have a QA department that gets paid to masturbate?" (Chris from Chicago)
According to Brian, this is his most frequently asked question. (Followed by: "Do you have any product tester positions open?")
Luckily, the Fleshlight team is comprised of mostly guys, so products are well tested at the prototype level. As far as a specific QA department, Fleshlight has multiple points of quality control throughout their production and packaging process—none of which is actually a masturbation zone.
"They make Fleshlights modeled after porn star vaginas. Can I have one custom made after my girlfriend's vagina?" (Eric from New York)
"Or what about from my own vagina, for a gift?" (Reba from Las Vegas)
Technically yes, but the cost of creating a special mold and pouring only one is quite prohibitive—approximately $5000 per.
"Does using a Fleshlight really increase my stamina? How?" (Spencer from Austin)
Fleshlight has developed an entire “Legends Gym” program that you can follow. Like any other training program though, your success is depended upon your willingness to get your reps in.
"What’s the difference between the Sex In A Can toys and everything else?" (me from Los Angeles)
The size and the gimmick of the overall packaging is really it. Each Sex in a Can toy has a generic external orifice and a standard corresponding internal texture, except for the Succu Dry vampire model. That one has fangs on the external mouth, as well as a custom texture called The Fang on the inside.
I admit I have been obsessed with this fang Fleshlight for years. Brian gave me one to take home, and it’s now sitting on a shelf in my office.
Chauntelle Tibbals, Ph.D., is a sociologist living in Los Angeles, Calif. Visit her at chauntelletibbals.com or on Twitter at @drchauntelle