Photos: Inside Doc Johnson, Los Angeles' Massive Sex Toy Factory
In North Hollywood, there exists an adult toy factory where employees create all varieties of pleasure products, as they're called, from concept to the shelves. Visiting the factory is like walking through a bizarre, NSFW episode of How It's Made. If you're looking for an American-made sex toy, Doc Johnson is where to go.
Doc Johnson has been in the business of enhancing our sex lives for 40 years. They were founded by Ron Braverman and Reuben Sturman in 1976 as a novelty company. If you take a look at their company milestones, you'll find out they released the first porn star branded product—the John Holmes Personal Enlarger—in 1980, and developed the world's first Pocket Rocket in 1993. They expanded to 500 employees in 2012, and received PETA certification for their cruelty-free products in 2015.
The company's nine-building campus just underwent a recent remodel in celebration of their 40th birthday. And while the actual date is ahead in August, the company has been celebrating all year.
A fire destroyed much of the facilities in September of 1995, save a few beams. Chad Braverman, the co-founder's son, commissioned a sculpture made from those beams that now sits on the property. The sculpture is meant to serve as a symbol that celebrates the company's endurance and strength, and was unveiled last September:
Chad and his sister, Erica, now run the show. Chad's the COO/Chief Creative Officer and Erica is the marketing coordinator. It's Erica who greets me when I arrive for my Willa Wonka-esque tour into the world of pleasure products on a Friday afternoon.
The factory workers, a majority of them women, are in their last hour when I arrive, busily ironing the creases out of jiggling, phallic objects or hand sewing pubic hair into molds of genitalia. Things typically slow down in the summer and, as you might imagine, get busier as Christmas and Valentine's Day approach. Despite the factory's size and the fact that they've occupied the same spot in NoHo for years, Erica says that many people don't know they exist.
"I feel like Mad Men, trying to push cigarettes for the first time," she says. "Sex is taboo. There are lots of barriers. Google and Facebook won't work with us."
Of course, as Chad will be quick to tell you, their products—unlike cigarettes—help, not harm.
"We take [our company] seriously, but it's fun," Chad says. "It has to be profitable, but at the same time we don't lose track of the fact that we make fun products. If you come here, you see that this is one of the Valley's largest employers, and we're making products for pleasure."
One of the first people I'm introduced to is Dr. Tim Crawford, Doc Johnson's Scientific Director. Crawford has been with the company for the last six years. Prior to that, he tells me he worked in cosmetics, rattling off an impressive list of well-known brands.
Crawford is funny and friendly, and shows off the laboratory where he and his team formulate lubricants, creams, gels and, occasionally, fake urine and 'squirt.' (Yes, they make a vagina that squirts, and a penis that pees.) Some are practical, with creams to prevent chafing and lubricants for vaginal and anal sex. Some of these concoctions enhance sensation, providing a minty buzz to the body tissue where they're applied. Others do the opposite. A prolonging cream decreases the sensitivity of the penis, delaying orgasm, while a desensitizing spray might be applied to say, the back of the throat, for reasons I'm sure we don't have to explain. There are lubricants from their CANDiLAND™ SENSUALS line that taste like Strawberry Bon-Bons or Cotton Candy, and a sparkling Love Dust that one can spritz on your flesh and which tastes just like licking a cinnamon bun.
"My job is to think about sex all the time and what can I do to enhance it," Crawford says.
Some of Crawford's creations (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
Crawford works with Rolando Del Real, an artist who helps perfect the color of the products. A glance around reveals bright lubes of all the colors of the rainbow.
Crawford says they test their products on dildos to ensure that they're smooth and long-lasting. There are also testers in the field who try out the products before they go to market. Crawford tells an anecdote about one such tester who was so pleased with an anal product that she said, "Thank you, Tim," during the, er, testing process.
"Her husband's name was not Tim," he quips.
The products are poured into their bottles and packaged in another room called the filling room. It's just another example of how much is done in-house. "If we can do it here, we do it here," Chad explains.
Leaving Crawford's lab behind, we move on to the dildo making. To make a toy, you first have to make a mold. Some of these are realistic, molded from actual body parts, typically those of adult film stars. Others are more fantastical, containing ridges and bumps—or proportions—that you'd likely never encounter on a human being.
When one is rushed through the carnival that is a sex toy factory, the terms are thrown out rapidly. But let's pretend you might not know the difference between, say, a dildo and a dong. Though not industry standard, a copywriter explains that while the dildo typically has balls, a dong is just the dick. A masturbator is something the user would insert their penis into, and these are often made from molds of real people. A stroker is more like a sleeve, soft and textured on the inside. Some are open-ended tubes while others have only one open end for insertion, which creates a suction sensation and more accurately simulates receiving oral sex.
There is actually a specific room within Doc Johnson where the molds of real people are made. The walls of this room are covered in photographs of actresses getting their molds done. I spot "Duke porn star" Belle Knox and six-time AVN winner Remy LaCroix.
Where the magic happens (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
Diana Amezcua, who has been with the company for 28 years, manages the mold and silicone rooms. She says they try to make it fun for the performers, who generally hold still for about 20 minutes while the mold is made. They do boobs, butts, vaginas, penises, mouths and sometimes—as in the case of Belladonna—a fist.
The actor or actress will lie nude on a comfy bench and alginate will be applied to the areas in question. Amezcua said most performers choose to shave prior to the process, but in the case of Dani Daniels—who is known for her bush—Vaseline is your best friend. Once the alginate hardens, it's removed from the body. Then, plaster is brushed onto that alginate cast. The cast is used to create the mold, and soon, dozens of Sophie Dee's buttholes or Missy Martinez's pussies—these are the words used in the catalogue—are headed to a shop near you.
From the mold room (Photo via Facebook)
There's another building that's more like what you might expect when someone says 'dildo factory.' It's where the molds are poured, then cooled in water, then ironed to get out the creases. Some are dipped in colored, food-grade dyes for a more surreal look, while others comes in various flesh tones and are painted to look realistic. Workers do detail work on the veins that line of the shafts of realistic dildos and dongs, and dip the heads of the toys in pinkish dyes. On one table sits several of Daniels' molds. The product is a relatively massive piece for a sex toy, not the kind of discreet vibe one might find surreptitiously rummaging through a bedside drawer. It's Daniels' butt and pubic area, and on the packaging for the product she holds it like a fresh-out-of-the-oven apple pie while dressed in a '50s diner get-up. Someone is in charge of painting the labia pink—Daniels is white, with fair skin—and someone else handles sewing pubic hair into the mons pubis. The catalogue states that the product is "sturdy for fierce fucking."
"It's part of the fantasy," Erica says. "People want the full experience."
They sell molds of men, too. You can snag Rob Piper's 10.5-inch cock, for instance.
Most of the toys are made of silicone, which is more expensive, but also more hygienic and preferred by many sex toy connoisseurs. Others are made with UltraSKYN, which feels softer like actual human flesh and heats up to match body temperature with friction. It has a property called dual-density, which makes it feel hard on the inside when you squeeze it, despite its fleshy exterior. Doc Johnson, Chad notes, was the first company to make dual density butt plugs.
Powdering (Photo via Facebook)
There's another room, the Silicone Room, where TRUSKYN—the silicone answer to UltraSKYN—and silicone toys are powdered for additional softness. Rows of butt plugs, anal beads, strokers and dildos in various colors await their turn.
Fun fact: silicone toys will never be as soft as non-silicone toys, because if you try to make them too soft, the material gets sticky.
American Bombshell (Photo via Facebook)
In the showroom, Doc Johnson displays all of its fully finished products and packaging.
Some of Doc Johnson's best sellers are products from retired adult performer Sasha Grey, other realistic masturbators, their small vibe Pocket Rockets and the GoodHead line, which is specifically for oral sex. Surprisingly, the larger anal toys—such as the American Bombshell line—are big sellers, too. Chad explains that three people work in R&D, plus Crawford, and they pay attention to what the market wants when conceptualizing products.
"Sex toys have become much more accessible to the mainstream population for a number of reasons. One of the most visible catalysts for the public's growing acceptance of sex toys has been the media. The Sex and the City episode where the girls shop for a Rabbit led to a huge spike in our vibrator sales. And the '50 Shades of Grey Effect' is not a myth. Not so long ago, BDSM products were very niche, but since the massive popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, more and more consumers are asking for products like whips, restraints, and masks," Chad says.
Anal products make up another piece of the market that has become more prominent in recent times.
"Anal is a good example of what the market wants," he said. "Straight men are using more anal toys, so there's a new demographic."
To successfully market anal toys to straight men, the team had to consider what the curious man would gravitate towards. Ultimately, it ended up being smaller, "very non-intimidating" toys and prostate massagers that come in sleek, sophisticated packaging. This is a departure from other toy lines, where the only male toys are masturbators or marketed to gay men.
Doc Johnson is inclusive, though, considering products for all gender identities and sexual orientations.
The packing penis (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)
They make a product called a Packing Penis. These soft penises, which come in a variety of skin tones, are made to appear flaccid and can be placed in the underwear of someone who is trans or who wishes to appear to have a penis.
For women, there's an innovative strap-on called the Gal Pal, which the wearer inserts into the vagina versus attaching with straps. Then there's the Mangina, a particularly unique device. It's a dildo with a hole in the end, which men are invited to insert their penis into, and the shaft can either be used as a penis extension, inserted into another person, or inserted back into the user.
"Every product is crafted to give the most pleasure," Erica says.
It's worth noting that despite the subject matter, wandering around the facility conveys no sense of sleaziness. Many of the employees are women, including those found in the marketing office, and for the Bravermans, Doc Johnson is the family business.
I asked Erica what she might suggest to the curious person looking to try out a pleasure product for the first time.
"For the beginner who has never bought a sex toy before, it's sometimes simplest just to go to the local sex store and see what's out there for the fun of it. In-person shopping can help you get a better feel of the texture, size, and/or vibration of a product," she says. "On the other hand, with online shopping, you have much more variety to choose from. Some e-tailers are luxury focused, some are more kink-centric. Doc Johnson has something fun for just about anyone, and our entire catalog is available on our website along with detailed information on size, specs, texture, and so on. So even if you want to check out a product online before going to buy it in-store, those resources will always be there."