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Designing the Superior Sex Toy, for Men

It starts with medical technology.

Chase Pellerin

Nine months into his project, with a prototype already made, Adam Lewis, co-founder of Hot Octopuss, came across a medical report that detailed penile vibratory stimulation (PVS), a medical procedure that helps men with spinal cord injuries procreate. Lewis learned that during PVS, medical personnel use an FDA-approved vibrating device to stimulate men. This medical device — which is loud, overly powerful and coaxes men to involuntarily ejaculate (via an oscillating disc at its end) — was similar to what Lewis was trying to create, except he wanted something for recreational use. A “guybrator.”

At the time, in 2010, there weren’t any male sex toys on the market that utilized vibration technology, claims Lewis. The medical vibrator did the job, but it wasn’t on the consumer market. So Lewis got in touch with Multicept, the Danish developer of the medical device, to see if he could license their technology. Multicept agreed, and Lewis moved from trying to invent the right engine to simply putting the right engine on a consumer-appropriate chassis.

Their first prototype was a black box they made with no prior working knowledge of how to make sex toys. Lewis says it looked, sounded and worked terribly. Of the six engineering companies they interviewed with, five “ran for their lives.” But with the backing of the PVS technology, Lewis had a significantly more developed product, and it made selling the idea a lot easier. Hot Octopuss approached Curventa, a young cutting-edge design company in central London with a number of Red Dot Award-winning devices to its name (such as Motorola’s IT.6 home phone and Vicon’s Cara facial motion-capture system). Curventa specializes in user-centered products, in all shapes and sizes, and they didn’t back down from the sex toy.

“In the past four or five years, the industry has very much focused on couple’s toys. It’s something like the Holy Grail of sex toys to come up with a really good couple’s product.”

“We approached this product as very much the ultimate wearable,” says Tom Owen, one of Curventa’s senior designers. “It’s a wearable for the most intimate of regions.” When they first took on Hot Octopuss as a client, all Curventa’s design team had to work with was Lewis’s prototype and the newly licensed oscillating technology. Their job was to bring it together into something beautiful.

The design obstacles were twofold. One, they had to create a product people want to wear, meaning it couldn’t be too bulky, loud or uncomfortable. And two, they had to refine the oscillating technology’s frequencies and movements. “We actually found that at the beginning it worked almost too good,” says Owen. The first prototypes were so powerful, not unlike Multicept’s original device, that they forced male testers to orgasm too quickly. “There was quite a lot of work getting the oscillating PulsePlate [patented by Hot Octopuss] to hit that right frequency.” Eventually, though, Owen’s team got it right.

In 2013, Hot Octopuss released their first device, the Pulse I. It was the first male-only product to use PVS medical technology, and it arrived after four years of development — much longer than anticipated. The company had sunk all its resources in the device, and they were essentially out of cash. However, Lewis says that the Pulse I hit enough sales to help fund the next generations: the Pulse II Solo and the Pulse II Duo. These two devices launched in February 2015, and they are now the entirety of Hot Octopuss’s line. They improved on the original device, adding more oscillating speeds and quieter mechanics, and the Duo also added a second motor to stimulate both partners, making it the first couple’s toy from the maker.

Early concept drawings for the Pulse 2 Duo.

“In the past four or five years, the industry has very much focused on couple’s toys,” says Lewis. “It’s something like the Holy Grail of sex toys to come up with a really good [heterosexual] couple’s product.” Many claim to be couple’s toys, but they don’t stimulate both partners simultaneously. Lewis claims that the We Vibe — a U-shaped product (completely different from the Pulse II) that’s one of the best-selling sex toys of all time — was the only other product available that stimulated both partners when the Pulse II Duo launched.

As for design, the Pulse II Solo and Duo look identical. They have a soft silicon upper, which is what comes in contact with the penis, and a sturdy polycarbonate lower. The secret to both’s success is the hand-wound motor, which makes the PulsePlate tick. Unlike a vibrator, which uses a weighted motor to produce a standard buzz (similar to an iPhone) the PulsePlate uses a series of CAMs that translate the actual movement of the motor to a linear movement. “The mechanism itself isn’t game changing, it’s been used on many things in the past,” says Owen. “But putting it into that toy to do that purpose is something that hasn’t been done before.”

What makes the Duo a couple’s toy, and different from the Solo, is an extra motor that operates the same way a normal vibrator does — not using PulsePlate technology. Lewis says that it became obvious that if the Solo was adapted only slightly (adding an extra motor), they could create a whole new function. This second motor is controlled via a remote and is designed to stimulate the woman.

“We sold about 10,000 in our first year, and then we’ve increased about 300 to 400 percent each year. And it’s still growing at roughly the same rate.”

Lewis estimates that 85 percent of the Pulse I’s buyers were men. With the Pulse II Solo, that percentage moved closer to 70 percent. And the Duo is actually pretty evenly split. While these percentages are based off Lewis’s estimations, the sales are harder numbers. “We sold about 10,000 in our first year, and then we’ve increased about 300 to 400 percent each year,” says Lewis. “And it’s still growing at roughly the same rate.”

Hot Octopuss products also eschew the typical trappings of the sex toy industry — making products that are explicit or extremely flashy and bright. The goal with the Pulse was to cut against the grain and create products that looked and felt aspirational — something that one wouldn’t be embarrassed to wield at home. Of course, Hot Octopuss isn’t immune to some of the industry’s faux pas. The name, for one, was the password to get into one of Lewis’s rave-themed house parties. And in early 2016, a marketing campaign that fictionalized a public masturbation station set in a NYC phone booth was widely publicized (and criticized). But as a product, the Pulse products don’t enter into petty vulgarity. It doesn’t resemble a vagina or phallus, and it’s designed to look desirable from an aesthetic point of view.

“The hardest thing for a sex toy company to do is create a market-changing product and to keep doing it,” says Lewis. Hot Octopuss has three new products in the works: the Queen B, a female toy without the Pulse’s “wings” (Autumn 2016); the Pocket Pulse, a smaller, more affordable Pulse Solo that “could be game changing at that price point” (Autumn 2016); and the Pulse III, the next-generation product with magnetic charging (ETA unknown). “In one sense we’re very lucky,” says Lewis. “Where other companies have created a new product, we’re working with an entirely new technology for stimulation.”

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