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The End of Handmade Sex Toys on Etsy

On June 27, 2024, Etsy updated their rules to prohibit the sale of sex toys. The rules go into effect July 29, 2024.

Excerpt from Etsy’s updated rules

Table of Contents

Sex Toys on Etsy

Over the years, many indie toy makers have hosted their shops on Etsy, reaching a broad audience and thriving as the small, handmade businesses that Etsy claims to support. Some small brands—including many run by only 1-5 people—have made a living through selling on Etsy, especially after the lockdown business boom in 2020-2021. It was the small business dream that Etsy advertised and it brought quality artistic products to customers through a convenient marketplace.

Now, after years of providing an online home for independent makers (and profiting from the platform fees), Etsy is shuttering all of that and leaving makers with only a month to scramble for a plan B.

I’ve bought a lot of my toys through Etsy, including some of my favorites like Adventurer from Masterwork Toys and Cyerce Symbiote from Xenocat Artifacts. It’s been an easy way to browse and find new sex toys. For a number of years, it was a great, quality marketplace where you could reliably find indie silicone toys.

My Adventurers, both from Masterwork Toys on Etsy

Over the past couple years, though, Etsy’s thrown their handmade products commitment to the wind.

I used to say “You can reliably find safe, quality sex toys on Etsy.” That eventually turned into “There’s a lot of great sex toys on Etsy, but always double-check the brand and materials to avoid the dropshipped junk.” For sex toys and other products, Etsy has become inundated with the same factory-produced items you can find on Amazon and AliExpress.

Many of the top search results for “dildo” on Etsy are dropshipped products that are almost certainly not made of body-safe materials

Dropshipping isn’t bad by default, but as far as fantasy silicone sex toys are concerned, I do not trust dropshipping brands to use quality silicone or to not rip off designs from other companies. I’ve seen too much. That aside, it’s blatantly against Etsy’s terms that prohibit resale* outside of vintage items and craft supplies. (Until July 9, 2024 – see note.*)

There have been signs of Etsy trending towards anti-sex guidelines, like being unable to use the word “tentacle” in a product listing or having to censor all dildos, including tentacles. (How do you censor a tentacle?) Some brands have had to replace their thumbnails entirely with images not representative of the products, if Etsy even lets them relist the product or continue operating at all.

Censored toys on Sinnovator’s Etsy shop

Some mature products are still permitted according to the guidelines. For example, I would bet that the Harfordil, an accessory to strap down dildos, can remain on Etsy. However, the updated guidelines make it seem like we can say goodbye to the majority of adult-oriented products.

* While this was true when I wrote this article, that quickly changed. Etsy announced a category change on 7/9/24. The new categories make more room for dropshipping and explicitly welcome AI-generated content.

How Did We Get Here?

I’ll start by saying that I don’t know exactly why Etsy decided to ban sex toys. They didn’t exactly provide a reason beyond “safety.” But I have a few ideas about the influences behind this decision.

** Through March 2024, Stripe prohibited sex toy sales in/to the US. That changed to “sex accessories” in April 2024 and then that restriction was lifted in June 2024. I mention them here due to their historical impact on sex toy companies and their continued restrictions on other adult material like porn.

Sex toys may not be considered pornographic, but anything that targets sex workers and porn in general inevitably impacts more than just that, including the sex toy industry and the LGBT+ community. We’re all considered to obscene for polite society. Where porn and sex work are gated or prohibited, sex toys are at risk of getting caught up in the same restrictions.

Is Etsy banning sex toys as an easy way to wipe these dropshipped products without employing enough staff to identify what’s handmade vs. what’s not? Are they trying to reduce risk across the board? Are they concerned about getting caught under any of these age verification laws? Are they facing pressure from payment processors and credit card companies?

I don’t have the answer, but whatever the cause, the problems extend beyond Etsy.

My Ryu from Nyoon, which I purchased from their Etsy storefront

Where Will Indie Toy Shops Go?

Many shops have already migrated away from Etsy over the years. Xenocat Artifacts and Wandering Bard, among many others, started on Etsy but moved to their own storefront. Others like Kreature Toys sell on both Etsy and their own website, so they have an operational storefront. Some makers currently on Etsy may create their own sites using platforms like Shopify and may return to operation once those are set up. Partnerships with retailers are also an option for some.

Right now, there isn’t a great hub for indie and fantasy sex toy shops. Amazon is filled with questionable and dropshipped toys and could be a reputational risk given the number of times bloggers have said “never buy from Amazon.” I honestly don’t know much about Ebay or how viable it is. Marketplaces like Konfettie have sprung up just to fade away.

Artisans Cooperative is a co-op marketplace that carries sex toys. It’s very small right now and I have not heard much about it, but it does exist.

Spicerack Marketplace advertises itself as an alternative, but it’s run by the same people who own Twisted Fantasies, a shop that created a dildo based on celebrity’s testimony of being sexually assaulted and doubled down on that decision when customers pushed back. While they posted an actual apology (which notably does not include any apology for doubling down, nor for their insistence that an allegation was made up) after the information about Spicerack’s ownership publicly came out, it took them years to make any kind of half-decent apology, it’s impossible to find any disclosure of the ownership on their website (and may seem like they were actively hiding the connection by removing evidence of it), and the ownership of both companies in itself shows a potential conflict of interest when it comes to marketing and data collection on the platform.

Some brands have made the move to Spicerack. I don’t know if I can blame them, given the state of things, but I’m not happy with it. I do not ever plan to purchase anything via Spicerack, nor do I ever plan to support or endorse Spicerack, given their past actions, the potential conflict of interest, and the continued failure to disclose this on their website.

If I hear of other promising marketplaces, I might edit this post to add them in. For now, though, I don’t know of many at all.

Four toys from Foxy Moxy, a shop which is no longer in operation

Toy Shops Will Shut Down

Some sex toy shops exclusively hosted on Etsy will shut down. Some sex toy shops that are cross-hosted on Etsy will shut down; some have indicated that the vast majority of their sales come from Etsy and they’re not going to be able to make up the difference.

Marketplaces like Etsy give the opportunity for small businesses to focus more on their craft and less on the business side of things along with providing a large audience of potential customers. Anyone interested in indie or fantasy sex toys could stumble across a relevant product on Etsy as a go-to platform. Now? Good luck making your way through Twitter’s shadowbans, Instagram and Tiktok’s surprise suspensions, and Bluesky’s small community. The economy alone adds another barrier to success as many people cannot afford to purchase toys.

It might be easy to say “Well, they should learn to market themselves.” And I get that. As a blogger/reviewer, I play a part in those marketing strategies myself. I know that marketing assets and social media managers are worth investing in. But there’s a balance to it. I want makers to thrive even if they’re not able to invest in marketing. I want customers to find makers without having to roam the internet or hear about them from a friend. I want it to be easy to sell and buy toys.

Coffee-colored dildos and accessories

What Can We Do?

We can directly support shops that have to move from Etsy by purchasing from them and helping keep them afloat until they set up their own sites. This spreadsheet from Peny Envy on Twitter indicates Etsy-based shops in bold.

We can support shops in general by purchasing from them and boosting their visibility; retweets, reblogs, and otherwise sharing them with friends helps get them out there. This includes the brands’ own posts along with their collaborations with creators like sex workers and reviewers. Sign up for their newsletters to stay up to date. I maintain a list of resources at the bottom of this post, including multiple lists of shops, and the affiliates in my sidebar are all shops that I can recommend.

Contact Etsy support directly to let them know what you think about this policy. Who knows if it will change anything? But at least your voice may be heard.

Makers have been speaking out on social media and speaking with reporters to have their voices heard. We can listen to them, support them, and boost their words. Here are a few links: Simply Elegant Glass’s open letter on Twitter (account required to read the thread); an article including an interview with Simply Elegant Glass and another maker; an article including interviews with Fantasticocks and Mr. Hankey’s Toys; an article including interviews with multiple impacted businesses/individuals.

The ACLU and Free Speech Coalition fight against anti-sex policies like age verification laws and unfair content restrictions in the US. Stay informed with what’s going on and participate in calls to action, such as signing petitions, calling your representatives, and donating to these organizations and others that are fighting to protect our freedoms and livelihoods.

Sex workers should have the right to operate independently and receive fair pay for their work, and that alone is worth contesting the laws and rules that unfairly impact them. They end up impacting far more than just those sectors, however, so for those who care about dildos, expressions of sexuality online, and the right for consenting adults to do as we please in our own bedrooms, we need to pay attention and push for positive change across the board.

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