Part of being a sex toy reviewer is seeing a lot of sex toy manuals. Part of being a sex toy reviewer is also, in most cases, completely disregarding those manuals because many are notoriously useless.
On a recent day, as with many days, I ravenously tore into the packaging for an exciting new vibrator, tossing the manual aside and immediately poking at buttons. Moments later, confused by the toy’s controls and apparent lack of steady vibration options, I sheepishly retrieved the fold-out instruction booklet from the floor to make sure I was actually doing things correctly (spoiler alert: I was). It was at this point that I noticed the WARNING section in the manual, which, among reasonable disclaimers like “Not for medical use” and “Do not use charger near water,” also contained this choice excerpt:
Obviously, anybody who has or knows someone with a disability knows that this vague warning is both incredibly offensive and incredibly unnecessary. People with “reduced physical, sensory, or mental capabilities” make up a significant chunk of sex toy consumers. Hell, I’ve got an entire Sex Toys + Disability Guide, and many of the sex toy bloggers and educators I know have some form of disability.
However, this is far from the first time I’ve seen a version of this warning in a sex toy booklet. In my Jimmyjane Form 5 review last year, I complained about that manual including the sentence:
Close supervision is necessary when this product is used by, on, or near children, invalids, or disabled persons.
Cassandra J. Perry spoke out against a nearly identical warning in a Womanizer manual in 2015:
The device should not be operated by people with physical, sensory or mental disabilities, nor by people with insufficient experience or previous knowledge, unless adequate supervision is provided or detailed instructions on how to use the device are ensured by a person responsible.
And way back in 2013, Epiphora noted the same fucking thing in a Revel Body booklet:
DO NOT use on or near children, disabled persons or animals.
In 2015 I got a tweet from Revel Body explaining that the language in their manual was actually “pulled from a Hitachi Magic Wand warning list.”
Which I fully believe, given that the Magic Wand manual still includes this sentence:
— Kaleigh Trace (@KaleighTrace) July 9, 2015
To learn a little bit more about how these warnings make it into sex toy manuals and why they are so common, I reached out to Robin Elenga of the former Revel Body. Here is an excerpt from his response.
[…] it is in the best interest of a pleasure product company to not include much in the way of instructions. Charging, cleaning, storage; yes. Instructions on how to use; dangerous.
Warnings – given the fact that you cannot really give usage instructions, and we are in a very litigious society, it is in the best interest of the company to include as many warnings as they can. If a consumer gets hurt using a product, there is a large potential liability. A product that may have netted the company a $10 margin could lead to millions in damages if someone uses the product in a dangerous way, gets hurt and sues the company. And people seem very innovative in coming up with ways to use products that they were never intended be used. If you explicitly warn a user not to do something, then you have some level of protection from liability. I think the legal thinking goes something like this: it pretty hard for someone to sue you for being injured from eating a vibrator if you warning manual told them not to eat it. But if you did not warn them to not eat a plastic vibrator, how were they to know?
When we created our manual, we put a lot of effort into the instructions, many more hours that it probably appears. When we started on the warnings, I had a lawyer give us a quote on what they would charge to go through and create a set of warnings that would protect us from liability, the quote was $80k. Instead, we decided to look at what other people put into their manuals and create our own version based on a belief that their warnings were probably effective for them.
So essentially, companies see other sex toy brands and electronics manufacturers using these ableist warnings and assume they must be necessary, without actually considering how offensive and alienating they are to a large chunk of consumers.
I don’t think any of these companies genuinely believe that nobody with disabilities should use their products. They’re simply ignorant and fearful. However, as any member of a marginalized group will tell you, ignorance and fear is probably the most common recipe for prejudice.
These warnings have no place in sex toy manuals, and many vibrator companies can and do run successfully without them. If you are a sex toy brand whose manuals include warnings like these, I strongly urge you to reconsider the message you are sending to your customers. Because this is not okay.