Anna Maresova rethinks sex toys 12.11.15

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Too often, vibrators are designed from a male perspective, but a Czech designer has taken a less flashy, less phallic approach on her collection, Whoop-de-doo, which launches later this month

The decade-old trend for commissioning sex toys from big-name designers – Yves Béhar, Michael Young, Tom Dixon – has produced a stash of eye-catching vibrators resembling semi-abstract sculptures. Given that most women don’t find the male member particularly attractive, these curvaceous products are certainly an improvement on the wrinkled beasts found in sex shops, or the notorious Rabbit of Sex and the City fame, which first thrust the area under the media spotlight.

But, on a number of levels, there is something deeply dispiriting in the fact that the chosen designers are predominately male. In addition, these products retain a certain looming, totemic quality, exacerbated by overly lustrous packaging and product shots. Sadly, it seems that a disturbing “daddy-knows-best” attitude still prevails in the sex-toy industry.

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The vibrating egg in its dock

So there is something really encouraging – again, on a number of levels – in the story of the Czech designer Anna Maresova. She first tackled “erotic aids for women” during her MA at JE Purkyne University in the northern city of Usti nad Labem back in 2011. A friend had joked about the sensual properties of an earlier wind-power proposal, but it was the “rather too male experience” of completing her BA project – a tram for Prague – that finally persuaded her to give serious consideration to tackling sex-toy design from a woman’s perspective.

Although Maresova feels sex toys have moved on since the 1980s, she regrets their male bias: “It just seems a bit weird that so many of these products are not designed by women – personally, I wouldn’t consider designing sex toys for men.” Discussions with gynaecologists combined with extensive public surveys to inform the simple form and silicon covering of the first product in her Whoop-de-doo range, the pelvic-floor-strengthening Venus balls released in 2013, which come in a light version for those who have recently given birth or “are just beginners”.

The survey feedback from men had tended, with a certain grim inevitability, to plump for larger sizes and flashier designs, while simpler shapes and neutral colours were preferred by Maresova’s intended market – women. Her own preference has been to try and find a midpoint between the sensual and the medical, making the experience as unintimidating as possible. As a result, Whoop-de-doo’s range of products is sensible yet attractive, with a pleasing resemblance to props from 2001: A Space Odyssey. All the components for her new vibrator project – due to go into production at the end of 2015 – are embedded within white, indent-free, medical-grade silicon, ensuring a soft, flexible and waterproof result, with three separate vibration motors charged through two discreet magnetic contacts.

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The Venus balls

Maresova has since discovered that a large proportion of her market is over 60 years old, an age group that appreciates the firm’s polite but welcoming website, while necessitating a simplification in payment methods. This does at least suggest that Maresova has succeeded in her aim of creating unthreatening toys that appeal to a wide range of women.

All Whoop-de-doo products are made in the Czech Republic, ensuring quality but also high prices, so Maresova is looking for a business manager to increase sales outside the country. As a designer, she does worry about being typecast but, given the perennial difficulty of realising projects, is still grateful for the current publicity. Her ambition is to use this interest to establish a design company specialising in the needs, interests and desires of women – to this end, she has already produced a fertility monitor, Daysy, for Swiss company Valley Electronics.

That hardy perennial, the chair, has for too long acted as a calling card for ambitious designers and expansionist architects. There is perhaps an argument that sex toys should now fill this position for product designers. As Whoop-de-doo so elegantly demonstrates, they certainly play a far more exciting and fundamental role in human existence than one more unnecessary bottom pedestal.

This article first appeared in Icon 147: Sins



John Jervis


Above: The current Whoop-de-doo range


Images: Whoopdedoo; boys play nice

quotes story

It just seems a bit weird that so many of these products are not designed by women – personally, I wouldn’t consider designing sex toys for men

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The Whoop-de-doo vibrator

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