Behind the Glass

Cotton. Underwear.
Silk. Pajamas.
Glass. Sex Toys.

If you’re anything like me, one of these groupings may not sound quite right. I’ll give you a hint which: it’s the one that involves an object designed to be inserted into a sensitive, erogenous orifice and a material that’s known for, among other things, its tendency to break into razor-sharp shards.

I’ll admit: in general, fragile things and me make poor, er, bedfellows. In fact, if there was a career for someone who regularly breaks household glassware, I’d be on the fast track to becoming an industry star. So with that perspective, when I first heard about burgeoning glass sex toy businesses as they began sprouting up a few years ago, I winced. And when our buyers at Good Vibrations decided to begin carrying some of these unique toys, I was initially skeptical. Sight unseen, these toys sounded relatively expensive, fragile, and so unlike anything else we carry, that I couldn’t imagine they’d be in-demand items.

And then I got a look at some of the toys, namely the Nova, Eclipse and Andromeda. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They were fun to simply hold. They felt smooth, pleasingly heavy and the swirled streaks of color made them distractingly beautiful. My skepticism faltered. Just because something may not sound right at first, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. After all, there was probably a time when cotton underwear or silk pajamas were considered blasphemous, right?

Anyway, as the describer of the toys (or “copy writer” as most would call this aspect of my job), I needed to figure out why customers would want these toys. Sure, they’re beautiful, but why glass? And what about potential (gulp) breakage?

The answer to the “why glass sex toys?” question is simple: Glass is nonporous and inert, meaning that cleaning and sterilizing it is extraordinarily easy, and with the proper care a glass toy can last forever. Glass offers firm, weighted pressure to those magic spots, namely the G-spot and prostate. Finally, after simple heating and cooling steps, a glass toy can retain a temperature for 10-25 minutes of use.

As for breakage, glass toy distributor Dave Caraker said that in his experience, “it’s never happened. There’s a pretty rigorous quality control in place — [the toy artists] have a machine that checks the stress on all the pieces. The artist does visual inspection for flaws, and my partner and I inspect the toys for flaws once they come to use as well. It’s similar to Corning Pyrex glass — it’s super hard. You’d have to try pretty deliberately to break the glass, and even then it wouldn’t be easy.” In fact, part of the toy-making process involves annealing each toy at a high temperature — 1050 degrees — to ensure durability.

Even though they’re hard to break, a glass toy owner should handle these toys carefully and use common sense. Keep the toys stored in a cushioned place, ideally where they won’t roll around or strike other hard objects. Do not let glass toys bump or clank into each other. Some of the toys we sell, such as the Nebula and Spectrum, come with a padded velvet bag designed especially for safe storage. Avoid impact with another hard material such as glass or concrete. Never expose the toy to overly stressful temperatures such as a freezer, microwave or boiling water. (Submerge the toy in ice water or warm water for approximately 20-30 minutes to adjust the temperature.) If you think your toy has experienced any of the “do nots” mentioned above, inspect your toy closely before use.

Caraker, who along with his partner Nathan Weber distributes several toys designed exclusively for Good Vibrations, described how each toy is hand crafted. The toy maker starts with a rod of glass and puts in on a lathe, “a device in which you put a tube horizontally, and spin at high RPMs. It’s like a potter’s wheel but it’s oriented horizontally.”

As the tube spins, the maker uses “rods and a blowtorch to make the basic shape,” the way a potter uses his or her hands to create a smooth, consistent shape on a piece of pottery. To get the color streaks, “smaller rods of colored glass are heated and applied to the clear part. It’s very cool to watch. There’s a huge flame coming out of the torch,” Caraker added.

From there, the toy “is put in a kiln and fired at a high temperature to create a strong seal. Then it cools, and after that you can take the piece back and add more to it for texture. Simpler shapes can take maybe an hour or two; some more complicated pieces can take hours and hours to finish.”

Looking at the toys Caraker and Weber distribute, such as the Nova, Eclipse, Comet and Andromeda, you can imagine how the toys are made. Each ridge and texture comes from applying rods to the hot, spinning glass. Each piece seems to be painted with a streaks of colors — the smaller rods melting into the clear glass.

Phallix, considered by many to be the industry’s premier glass dildo maker, creates the Nebula and Spectrum dildos (along with a many others). One look at these toys and you can see how they’ve earned their reputation. “The techniques we use are common and well-known,” said Phallix’s Michael Douglass. “They just take really skilled people to do them well, and we hire the best.”

Look closely at the Nebula. Its colors form a 3-D twisted version of the outer clear, smooth surface of the dildo. This technique is called lattachino. In it, the glass artist takes colored glass rods and melts them into a twisted, braided shape. “Imagine if you take three crayons and you melt them together into a braid,” said Douglass. “If you look at [the Nebula], you can imagine how it happens.” The outer smooth, clear part is then annealed around the twisted colors.

The Spectrum is a clear, smooth dildo with a thick, ribbon-like ridge of colorful iridescent glass wrapped around its shaft. According to Douglas, the “ribbon” is actually a Dicroic wrap, a material created by the manufacturer by boiling metal oxides and precious stones. “The vapors and steam are applied to glass a very high heat and allowed to cool in a thin film,” Douglass said. The shimmery, light-catching bits are essentially tiny particles from the oxides and precious stones. The result? A one-of-a-kind, beautiful piece of artwork.

Ok, I’m ready to give it another try: Glass. Sex toys. You know, it’s starting to sound like a brilliant match.

Sarah Burgundy is the Catalog Manager at Good Vibrations. She’s proud to say that she’s set a new record, and gone four months without breaking any glassware in her apartment.

Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations is the premiere sex-positive, women-principled adult toy retailer in the US. An iconic brand and one of the world's first sex toy shops to focus specifically on women's pleasure and sexual education, Good Vibrations was founded by Joani Blank in 1977 to provide women with a safe, welcoming and non-judgmental place to shop for erotic toys. Good Vibrations has always included all people across the gender spectrum, and is a place where customers can come for education, high quality products, and information promoting sexual health, pleasure and empowerment. Customers can shop Good Vibrations' expertly curated product selection across any of its nine retail locations or on the GoodVibes.com website, where they can also find a wealth of information pertaining to sexual pleasure, exploration and education.

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