Over the last few years, new products have entered the sex toy market which have irrevocably changed it – a change long over due. An industry that normally caters to cisgender, heteronormative buyers has been rocked by new toys for LGBTQ communities. From Buck Angel creating the first-ever transmen/FTM specific line, Buck Off, to the New York Toy Collective’s uber realistic packers, to the dildo-turned-artificial inseminator, the Semenette (now known as POP Dildo), sex toys have opened up to become more than just toys. They’re pregnancy tools, gender gear, and as per usual, desire-fulfilling devices.
But one toy checks off all three boxes, the high-quality ejaculating dildo, the POP Dildo. The first POP Dildo, the Semenette, hit the market about five years ago. The engineer behind this sexual masterpiece, Stephanie Berman, created the toy with one intention in mind: helping LGBTQ or reproductively challenged couples conceive through artificial insemination. Yet, soon after her product was launched, she realized there was a much bigger need for her ejaculating dildo. While her toy has received a lot of praise and accolades for being an innovative inseminator, it should also be acknowledged for it’s imperative role for trans folks, specifically for transmen/ FTM.
I sat down and spoke with Stephanie Berman about how the POP Dildo is impacting trans communities.
Tell me a bit about POP Dildo.
“Basically, the whole idea for the toy came about when my wife and I were trying to get pregnant and we didn’t want to use doctors or more traditional methods of conceiving. We were using the available options at that time for home insemination, which were pretty much turkey basters and needles or syringes. We were obviously feeling pretty discouraged with these products and that’s how the whole idea started. My wife and I have had two children with my product, two of my own personal success stories.”
“When I brought the toy to the adult market, I didn’t really understand that there was a much bigger need for a high-quality ejaculating dildo. I started getting emails from all kinds of people. Men with physical disabilities that couldn’t’ achieve an ejaculation, men with erectile dysfunction, surrogacy coordinated couples, mixed status couples, and then there were people from the trans gender community. I remember really early on having conversations with buck angel, who’s been so outspoken for the transgender community. He was saying, “Oh Steph, this is a game changer for the community.” I really started seeing how many different sex communities there were who could benefit from this product.”
Let’s talk about how your products help transmen/ FTM or trans masculine folks express or explore their gender identity.
“That’s really exactly what it does. For the trans male community, there are thousands of packers and toys on the market that can help with their gender identity and gender affirmation, but none that offer the squirting technology POP does. So, I think from different perspectives, it’s important to be able to wear a toy where you can have that realistic finish. It’s a natural function for a cis male. So, for someone who is trans male or trans masculine, having that feeling of being able to have that ‘realistic’ finish, the feeling of being able to ejaculate, wherever they want to, whether it’s on their partner, beside their partner, inside their partner, adds an additional layer of connection to their male identity. This is really what’s been the game changer in setting my toy apart from a regular packer.”
Can you talk a bit more about the difference between the POP and Packers?
“A regular packer is going to be much softer, it’s not necessarily what you’re going to use for play. I always like to think there is room for everyone here. I’m not trying to compete with packers. I’m trying to be something completely different. It’s really about being able to have that realistic and authentic experience of being able to finish and ejaculate that transmen/FTM didn’t have access to before. That’s really what the feedback has been.”
What have you learned about the needs of trans folk when it comes to sex toys? How has that changed aspects of your product or what u bring to the market.
“One of the things I’ve learned which is certainly applicable to the trans community, but mainly for people in general, including myself –a female identifying lesbian – was that there was a problem with strap-ons. When it came to wearing strap-ons, especially ones with tubing, all of the other toys I saw with a tubing or squirting aspect, came with tubing made from a hard plastic that was glued into the shaft of the toy, so it didn’t really allow me to strap it on comfortably or clean it properly. I’m trying to be cognizant of those things as I’m creating my toy. That’s why you’ll see on POP, there’s a chamber on the base where the tubing comes through. It comes out of the bottom of the base so that the rest of the tubing goes into a chamber and it lays nice and flat. So, for me who would be wearing it, or a trans male who would be wearing it, it’s very comfortable for them. It’s not bulky, I didn’t make the tubing or the bulb very cumbersome with that aspect in mind. If I were to wear this in a harness, like a tomboy harness with briefs, it would still be comfortable for me to wear jeans or pants over it and I could go right into play.”
“With POP specifically, the toy is not a packer. Fun Factory (who Stephanie has partnered with) is known for their more rigid sturdy silicone, which is why as I’m evolving the toy, the next version is called the Pop N’ Play, I’m working with fun factory to create a softer blend of medical grade silicone so you can still wear it as a packer. Again, I’m not trying to be a packer or a really authentic packer. I think of Pop N’ Play as an in between. So, if you were going out at night you wouldn’t mind having a little bulge in your jeans. You can have the toy ready to go, loaded up with whatever lube or liquid you wanted, or load it up before play. The idea is to make it more accessible to the trans community, not as a full-blown packer but being able to pack and go right into play.”
The difference between your product and others is that it can be used during intercourse, and when I say intercourse, I mean all sex, not just penetrative.
“Absolutely! I have a lot of people who use this just for oral sex. If a trans male wants to have a feeling of oral sex and they’re able to strap on POP, they can have that realistic finish. Some people want to see what it’s like to ejaculate on someone’s chest, their breasts, their face, their back. Pop really lends itself to creative minds. You may not think oh wow I need an ejaculating dildo, but when you see that it’s available, your mind... Usually when I explain this to people who don’t know about it, they’re like “Ohhh…” I can see the wheels turning in their mind with all of the different ways they can use it or what they can put in it. You get to use your creativity when you’re using it in whatever capacity you want. Someone who is using this for conception will be using it differently than someone who is trans or someone who is a pegging enthusiast.”
It sounds like your product really fills the gap for someone who’s trans and wants an authentic sexual experience without having gender reassignment surgery, which as you know, is only a small percentage of trans folk.
“That’s really been what the feedback is from the trans community. Just being able to recreate that experience with a toy that may not be your every day toy. But if you’re in that mood, you want your partner to give you oral sex, or you want to experiment in that way with ejaculation play, you can use POP.”
How has the sex toy industry changed over the past few years to include trans folk, their needs and desires? How does your toy fit within this change and where do you see the sex toy industry going forward?
“Since I’ve entered the industry, even in the last five years, when I started, there was really no category for specific LGBTQ products that I noticed, even as a consumer. You have your standard dildo upon dildo, vibrator upon vibrator, still to this day, no one’s really done a specific dedicated line of toys – I’m talking about big companies – I’m a small independent manufacturer, I’m doing this all on my own – I’m talking about the major companies – no ones’ ever really done a dedicated line of toys specifically marketed too or designed by LGBTQ members.”
“I think you’re seeing more women stepping up, becoming engineers and designing toys for women and having huge success with them. I think that’s one of the major shifts with the industry as of late is that the female really is the future. What used to be a very male dominated industry is now shifting and females are sort of becoming the future of the industry. I think it’s wonderful to see! I would like to think I’ve been a very small part in that shift, being a female entrepreneur, a lesbian, considered a minority and all of the struggles that come with that. So, I think being a part of that trend or shift has been incredible.”
“In terms of how products are received, I think it was a much tougher sell for me in the beginning than it is now. I think people are much more receptive to bringing on products that are inclusive to LGBTQ members, and specifically the trans community. Like with Buck Angels line with Perfect Fit. He was really the first to design a line specifically and basically exclusively for the trans community. That was huge. No one was wiling to take the risk to do that until he partnered with Perfect Fit and you can see the success they’ve had.”
“Do I think there is more room to grow and for companies to be more inclusive and exclusive to LGBTQ members? Yes. 100%. I’m always looking for companies that are wiling to take that risk and step up to create more products for the LGBTQ community, but it’s a tougher sell. People view the community as more niche, but the fact of the matter is, we are one of the most affluent communities. Gay men are one of the most affluent. I know the transgender community doesn’t, typically speaking, have a lot of fluid income to spend on high priced products that they can purchase, but at the same time, if we are making products that are still high quality and at an affordable price, I think that is definitely achievable and I think there’s a lot of room to grow to do that. “
“My price point is a little bit higher, my products are considered luxury items. I guess that is one of the things that I would change specifically for the trans community, is making the price point more accessible. I would love to have the price point lower so it would be more affordable and easily accessible item. But that takes funding, manufacturing, and as a small business, that’s my biggest challenge. That’s something I’m constantly working on to do.”
It would take a wave of larger companies and manufactures to open up their markets and see these toys or gender gear as necessities for specific communities rather than as profitable products.
“Exactly. Maybe it’s not going to be their million-dollar product. But at the same time, it’s an absolutely necessary product. For companies that want to continue to be considered pioneers in the industry, eventually they will have to jump on board. Like I said, Perfect Fit, kudos to them, they were willing to take the risk and they saw that there was a major gap in the market. Look at the success it’s had for them. I think that’s a great example. And POP, am I a millionaire? Absolutely not. Did I think I would become a millionaire from this product? Absolutely not. But one of the things I’ve prided myself on is never cutting corners on the quality of my product so I can make more money. I hope that is a trend that will be recognized and I would like to see more quality over quantity. You know, really how many vibrators and dildos can we have in our stores. I’d love to see products that really have a purpose. Again, you’ll make your money on your vibrators and your dildos but it’s still so important to have these other niche products just so that were servicing every member of our community.
Totally. Otherwise there’s no way the sex toy industry can remove itself from being predominantly based in heteronormative people as their primary sellers.