Dave, who prefers to keep his surname to himself, is unhappily employed as an on-line marketer at a Fortune 500 manufacturing company downtown. "There's no reason why people should congregate in a large organization and work together," he complains, "because we'd all rather be doing something else." He, for instance, would rather be painting or sculpting. But he's in his 30s, with a wife, two kids, and a house on the northwest side, and right now he needs his job.
And besides, if he hadn't been working there, he might never have pursued the invention that he believes will be his ticket out of the corporate world: the BoneClone, a do-it-yourself silicone dildo kit.
The idea had been brewing for years. At 19, before earning degrees in graphic design and business technology, Dave had flogged dildos and vibrators in a Manhattan sex shop. He'd noticed then that straight men sometimes seemed apprehensive when contemplating the store's selection--something Dave chalked up to fear of replacement. And first-time female customers, he says, worried about whether the fake phallus would feel strange or unfamiliar.
One day in 1998, sitting around jawing with a friend, he wondered aloud whether these tentative consumers might be more comfortable buying a dildo if it looked and felt like their own or a partner's. The men, he figured, would feel more secure knowing their mates were pleasuring themselves with the next best thing. And for the women, well, mightn't the pain or boredom of separation be eased by a small (or large) piece of one's partner left behind?
From his art studies he knew a simple negative mold made with alginate--the pink bubblegummy stuff used to make dental casts--could be rendered fairly easily in the privacy of the home. Customers would just have to pour it into some kind of container into which the erect penis could be inserted. And filling the mold with silicone--the most natural-feeling material used in the sex-toy business--would be a snap.
Some penis-casting kits were already available, but Dave says none was what he had in mind: some were too expensive ($75 and more), some used unstable materials such as wax, and most came in boxes with porn stars leering off the sides. He and his wife attended a sex-toy convention in Las Vegas, where they heard a rumor that industry powerhouse Doc Johnson Sextoys had already tried--and failed--to develop a personal silicone dildo kit. But still he was undeterred.
One of the advantages of working for a Fortune 500 corporation, Dave allows, is the opportunity to take advantage of its vast informational resources. Disguising his intentions, he buttonholed company molding experts to ask questions about alginate properties: what type to use, how much water to mix it with, what a proper set time might be. When he had downtime, he called company suppliers to ask for advice on the many different types of silicone.
After narrowing it down to five possibilities, he mixed up batches of each and poured the goop into toilet paper tubes. After the silicone had solidified, or "cured," he peeled away the cardboard to get a set of cylindrical samples in a range of firmnesses. He showed them to friends and a handful of trusted coworkers, both male and female. "Tell me," he said. "Based on your familiarity with or usage of sex toys, which is most comfortable for you?" Most of the 40 or so people he polled chose the middle firmness.
But Dave didn't want his clones just to feel familiar--he wanted them to look familiar too. He shelved the project for three years waiting for a manufacturer to develop a clear silicone that could be colored realistically at home. When it became available, he got to work on a kit that was easy to use and came in a package that wouldn't put off his mainstream target audience. This past March he formed a corporation, TMC Inc., and in August he launched a Web site, www.theboneclone.com, where the BoneClone kit sells for $39.99 plus shipping. Right now it's available only from the site, but Dave hopes to break into retail after Valentine's Day.
The kit arrives in a plain cardboard box. It includes two bags of powdered alginate, a nine-inch-long and three-inch-wide clear plastic cylinder, 11 ounces of silicone base, and a small jar of the activator that catalyzes the curing process. There are also two jars of coloring, one of light skin tone and one of dark skin tone, which can be mixed to achieve just the right shade.
Creating a BoneClone is fairly simple, but a certain degree of coordination and concentration is required to achieve optimum results--and an extra set of hands doesn't hurt either. The cloner has just 45 seconds to mix a cylinder full of water with a bagful of alginate powder, pour it into the tube, and get the erect penis submersed in the wet pink glop. The man must maintain tumescence for 15 seconds while the alginate hardens around him. Dave acknowledges that this is the most challenging part of the process and recommends that the partner provide "the basic fluff factor." The inevitable subsidence of the erection frees the penis from the mold. The extra bag of alginate is provided in case the first attempt goes awry.
Next the cloner mixes the silicone base and activator; he has an hour to add the color before pouring the primordial ooze into the mold. Dave also sells an optional vibrator ($9.99) and suction-cup base ($2.99), one or the other of which can be inserted into the hardening silicone. The BoneClone can be removed from the mold after 12 hours and is ready to use in another 12.
"When we first tried it, it was really cool," says Dave. "Men have this perspective of only seeing ourselves from the top. Or we use mirrors. But to run around and hold this thing--you're running up and down the hall of your house yelling, 'Ahhhh! I did it! I did it!' It's really wild. Like an ego boost. And psychologically it was really pleasing seeing that item give pleasure to your wife."
Dave has the additional satisfaction of having learned "how to use the corporate host" to start his own business. He doesn't sell the BoneClone on company time, but he's unloaded about 250 kits already. He predicts that he'll turn a profit--even with "up to 5 percent" of every sale going to a charity of the customer's choice--in the first quarter of 2003, and that he'll eventually be able to bid the corporate world good-bye.
"There's a lack of real entrepreneurship in organizations," he says. "Everybody loves to throw the buzzwords--innovation, entrepreneurship. But they're not set up to do it. There are really no new things being discussed. And maybe that's another impetus as to why I wanted to do this. I wanted to prove to myself that you can do something on your own if you want to...with a little help from your employer."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yvette Marie Dostatni.