Australiana-themed sex toys all the rage
YOU might call it the elephant in the room: a giant, jet-black dildo that sits erect on the table between JD Ryan and me.
Eventually I can't take it anymore and I shamefully admit to JD that the black plastic penis makes me feel a little, well, embarrassed.
Like most people who work in the sex industry, JD is not one to judge. She simply throws the toy into a tub on the floor and pulls out a considerably friendlier cornflower blue version that's half the size.
JD has been running Downunder Toys, a Melbourne based company that manufactures silicon sex toys, for over 20 years. In other words, JD is well and truly desensitised to the colourful range of vibrators, cockrings and strap-ons that she meticulously designs from scratch in the office of her three-bedroom home in Melbourne's inner suburbs.
With a degree in history and women's studies and a background in HR, JD has an intelligent no-nonsense air about her.
She's dressed simply in a white shirt and black jacket, her hair a sensible crop.
I meet her just after Halloween and I know for a fact that the neighbourhood families who trick-or-treated at her door would have had no idea that the founder of Australia's premier artisanal sex toy company lives among them.
It was during a sex toy shopping trip with friends in the early '90s that JD began to think about starting Downunder Toys. Those were the days before that Sex and the City episode, where Charlotte became addicted to her Rabbit vibrator and women around the world started to think that maybe it was OK, fashionable even, to experiment with vibrators and dildos.
"We walked into one of those scary looking sex shops with the blacked out windows and I had no idea that the products for women would be so vile," JD reminisces.
"They were made from hard cheap plastics that smelled bad and the designs were hideous. I wasn't inspired to put those toxic products anywhere near my body."
Shortly afterwards, JD's partner came back from a trip to the States with a vibrator made of silicon. "This is the future," she told JD.
A future that JD decided she wanted to be part of.
So JD took a voluntary redundancy from her government job and began a small boutique specialising in quality sex toys for women. But sourcing good quality products posed a challenge. JD said that even the better quality products tended to be heavy and unergonomic.
The next logical step was to begin designing and manufacturing her own.
A self-confessed product nerd, JD knows pretty much everything there is to know about the constantly evolving sex toy market. She says she loves nothing more than the design process, the mix of creativity and engineering. With a team of loyal testers, JD had designed and produced hundreds of toys and the company was currently planning to release its first mass-market product, The Downunder Bliss.
She said she looked back at her first toy, The Diva, with humour. "I call it the angry prawn. It was so over-engineered," JD said.
"Australian sex toy manufacturing is unregulated, but in the EU sex toys must follow the same health and safety standards as baby chew toys, so that is the standard we've always adhered to. "The medical grade silicon we use is completely hygienic. You can heat it in the microwave, wash it, sterilise it."
It can also be moulded into pretty much any shape and size you want. Downunder's catalogue includes The Koala Kiss (the company's Aussie ode to the Rabbit), Mr H Rod, of black dildo fame, and Sydney Starlet, a vibrator in the shape of - you guessed - the Sydney Opera House.
The rainbow of colours and shapes available might be cute, but there's a serious side to the philosophy behind JD's work.
"It's so important for a woman to feel her own power, to be in control of her sexuality," she said. "I've seen women who have never had an orgasm. When they experience one, they become more confident, more in touch with their body, it's transformative.
"We have customers of all ages, genders and sexual preferences. I recently had an 84-year-old man contact me. He was looking for a gift for his wife. He said she still enjoyed sex and that she'd taken a look at our website and knew exactly what she wanted.
"Our products are all made in Melbourne and with silicon. It's easy to produce a mould and customise it to whatever the client is after.
"We also see a lot of men who are looking for something to please their wives. Often couples with older kids are looking to reconnect so they come and see us. We are here for everyone. "Nobody is excluded. At the end of the day, what we do is about love."