Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews unveils an astonishing American subculture, and the homespun inventors and users who propel it. Meet a laid-off tech industry exec who transforms a thrift store pasta maker into a high-powered sexual appliance and a new career; an apocalyptic visionary who builds a sex machine prototype for female survivors of a future without men; and an Idaho cowboy who intends to use his device as a form of Christian-based marriage counseling.
Sex Machines celebrates the spirit of American ingenuity and bold approaches to an ever-changing sexual landscape.
Timothy Archibald’s photographs have appeared in New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, GQ, The New Yorker, and Outside Magazine, and in ad campaigns for Apple Computers, Eastman Kodak, and IKEA. Archibald lives in San Francisco with his wife, Cheri, and two sons, Elijah and Wilson.
Redwood City, California
Sartan’s Workshop, a place known for being committed to advancing the art of sex machines, is cluttered with kids’ bikes and hedge trimmers tossed around the band saw and drill press. Sartan is really a guy named Paul, and he happily agreed to spend time with me as long as we were done by the time his kids were home from school. We hung out in his garage and his kitchen, surrounded by former domestic appliances he has converted into sex machines. A pasta maker chassis found at a thrift store had been transformed into a powerful love machine named “The Thumpstir.” A spiderlike, four-person machine called “The Gang Bang” sat on his family room pool table. Paul and his wife Jenny are open about their own use of machines.
The popular image of the adult industry, or anything sexual in general, has dark rooms and black curtains and kinda grungy nasty people behind it—people not in touch with the emotional factor. And it’s not true. Look at us. We are average neighbors. We mow our lawn, we feed our kids healthy food, we go to school meetings. I guess we are the perverts of the world. We could be next to you in the supermarket.
I went to school for an MBA in strategic management with a minor in human resources. I moved up very quickly in my job and ended up at the director level. I had always figured that sex was the one thing that really was recession-proof. In hard times, people will still spend money to comfort themselves with life’s simple pleasures. When I got laid off in early 2001, it was my time to put this idea to the test. Making sex machines for my wife and me had been a hobby. Then I turned the hobby into my real job. I’ve designed 153 machine designs and built 142 of those, with five more in development right now. It’s more enjoyable than a typical job, and there is a market for these things. I think it is a very common fantasy, this machine fucking fantasy thing. It really comes down to the desire to have something that can out-perform a man. There are also people who have a very personal reason to have a machine. Like the closeted homosexual guy.
He’s not comfortable finding someone, so this would let him try it. For a couple, it opens up a lot of possibilities sexually. Then we have people who are away from their wives. This guy was a driller on a platform, leaving his wife behind three months at a time. He told me he wanted her to be satisfied so she wouldn’t cheat on him. I had one couple, he’s 93 and she’s 87. He’s running out of steam, but she is still into it. It can allow him to participate in sex with her, participate in her enjoyment, and enjoy that himself. People share these things with me.
St. Paul, Minnesota
The Huskette has a $300 KitchenAid mixer motor inside it. We thought it was silly to spend $300 on something with only one use, so we made this detachable. So, if you wanted to make cookies, you can detach the mixer from the machine, hook it to its original base and bowl—clean it off, of course—and you can get to work in the kitchen. We aren’t kidding. We did have a kinky cookie bake with our local BDSM group last year during the holidays. We do every year, in fact.
Deb and Bill Howard
Deb and Bill Howard live in Northern Virginia with their two kids, ages 19 and 13, and two romping dogs wearing Grateful Dead collars. Before launching their own homemade pornographic pay site on the Southern Charms portal, Deb and Bill were supporting the family on their disability and retirement paychecks. For years Bill posted erotic shots of Deb to various online listservs, but decided to try his hand at running a pay site this year. They post three photo shoots of Deb a week, all shot on location in their three-bedroom house. Deb has adopted the porn name “Virginia Belle.”
I was always taking pictures of Deb, since the day we got together. When the Net came along I got into posting them. It felt good knowing that other guys found my wife attractive. A few months back we looked at our bills and felt we should try to make some money with this.
I got hit by MS and ended up in this wheelchair. Then Deb had to have her hip replaced. She couldn’t have sex with me, and look, I’ll be honest: Deb likes sex. I can’t deprive her. A friend we met on the Net offered to make us a machine. We used it and we liked it.
Deb and I have always been sexually open and ambitious, and we explore all options together. The same old thing gets boring, and our physical situation has something to do with it. This machine fit in with our life perfectly. Now with the website it’s a whole new thing—it’s become an asset.
We felt there was a need for something erotic on the Net that involved the machines and involved a woman like Deb, a real woman. We wanted to get machine sex porn into the hands of the average Joe, with a woman they could relate to.
Right now, we’re pretty excited. Our site has 35 members! We are the only ones using the machines on the site, so that may give us an edge…or it could be Deb.
We send thank you notes out to everyone who joins. We like to remind them that we are real people and they are too.
Doing this lets us keep our house and have a few little luxuries. Plus, it’s great for the selfesteem. I’d never have the confidence to do this at a younger age. But now I feel great…I’ll do anything.
I’m not going to pretend I’m Marilyn Chambers, you know. I’m Virginia Belle, a middle-class housewife in Woodbridge, Virginia. I’m a 51-year-old mother of two, a big woman… look at me. This was about acceptance of myself. When someone would say I was beautiful, I always denied it. I couldn’t accept it. Now I can.
It made me feel good to read guys’ notes about how they liked me. Yeah. You bet. And that was when Bill was doing it for free. And now…they are spending MONEY TO SEE ME… It feels great to have guys want to spend money to see me! You bet. I’m shocked, but I like it. These people…I don’t know what they see in me, but if they are into it, then great. And if I can make their lives happy, bring something happy to them for just a little while, and they get their ya ya’s out, that’s great. I have a good feeling about this.
Inventor of Deb and Bill Howard’s machine
Wappinger Falls, New York
The original idea came from a conversation I overheard in a restaurant one night. It was two women talking about their fear of disease, and not having time to be involved with a relationship. They were discussing the idea of finding a replacement toy instead of trying to meet men.
I’m a welder/mechanic by trade, and I own a small lathe and milling machine. I started on the basic parts of the flywheel and linkage the next day. I had a crude, working machine in a few days, and happened to see exactly what I was building on HBO one night. I got a couple of ideas and perfected it in about two weeks. I was looking for someone to try it out and came across the machine site. I joined and emailed a couple of people from the message board. That’s where I met Deb and Bill, and
two other people who I built machines for.
I built a couple with the idea in mind to help women with sexual problems. One machine went to a woman in California, and I received an email from her that she was completely satisfied with it. One went to a woman in Florida, and she absolutely raved about it and said she had G-spot orgasms that she didn’t have before receiving the machine.
One went to Deb and Bill. That machine was built with the idea in mind to help someone with a disability. The last machine I made was made for a retarded girl at the request of a family member. I don’t even know how they got my email other than from the machine site. I never heard from them again after I shipped the machine.
For the most part, everyone I built a machine for had choices to make during the entire process. The end result was a machine with their own personal preferences (color, stroke length and speed). One was even finished to match other furniture in the house.
All the machines were donated free of charge and all I asked in return was input about the function of each machine. I build custom flatbed trailers and enjoy the interaction with people, building what they want, and the same was true about the machines.
Idaho City, Idaho
Jon Traven’s homestead sits on four acres of land in the woods outside of Idaho City, Idaho. He acquired the sprawling property at a time when he was exiting a marriage and looking for some purpose to his life. He is slowly renovating the main house and various buildings to be used as a Christian children’s ranch, serving the needs of the local foster care system.
Here I am, this divorced Christian guy, not promiscuous at all, and here I am with a sex machine. It was an idea I came up with in the last year or two of the marriage, as a lastditch attempt to save whatever we had…our sex life, if nothing else. She actually pushed me for a divorce before I could finish it and give it to her.
As a single person, I’ve had more married couples come to me and ask, “Jon, can you sit down with us, listen to us, and give us feedback?” They were essentially asking me, the single divorced guy, for marriage counseling. Maybe that is God’s way of giving me direction and being real. This counseling is something I’ve begun to take seriously.
How does this all relate to the machine? Well, I just think it would be a good door to open for people who are looking for help. The people who would be interested in these sorts of things sometimes also are the same people who are searching for answers. And I think that at those intersection points I could help out.
So, I want to sell it to a couple. I was a virgin when I got married. I think sex outside marriage is, quite simply, destructive. But if a married couple wants something I can build, to add spice or enjoyment to their own relationship, I am all there, and am open to building more.
I will require anyone ordering a machine from me to provide proof of marriage and a signed statement of intent to use only within that marriage—kind of like a gun dealer that requires proof of age and proof of passage of a firearm safety test before selling someone a firearm. Sexual arousal is a doorway to a person’s very soul and isn’t to be messed with lightly.
Ruiin and Tuesday
Ruiin is a pervert, he really is. Well, he’s not a pervert. He’s just really into sex. He’s openminded. He’s not into sex in a creepy way or a gross way. He’s just like, “Everything is beautiful”, and he sees sex in that way, too.
We met three years ago. Ruiin was working as an airplane mechanic and really wasn’t liking it. He hated the grease, the dirt—all the things boys like, Ruiin really hated. I was working at Hot Topic in the mall and he came in as a shopper. Hot Topic is a big chain store in malls that essentially tells you how to be Gothic. It’s the Gap for the Goth crowd. He came in and I dressed him up in vinyl dresses. Then we started hanging out.
Well, I’ve gone through a lot of name changes recently. I was Raven Solace for a while, but now I’m Ruiin, with two ‘i’s. It’s not really based on anything, it just looks cool when it’s spelled out. I was using Solace as my last name. I liked the meaning, like solitude, being there for someone, being comforting and all those nice things, but Tuesday thinks it sounds too much like the word “lettuce” so I may be changing it.
For me, the Holy Fuck is just something to have that I made. Like with sex, I’m not really into the orgasm. I just really enjoy the path to get there. The machine was like that for me: I really enjoyed making it, working out the details and the design, finding ways to do it affordably, thinking it through. But using it was not really anything special.
Tuesday got to take it out for a ride, but that’s about it. It’s not like I’m loaning out a rake to someone to use in their yard. A lot of people gross me out. I’m picky as far as who could use this thing.
I don’t really know what we are going to do with the machine now. Halloween is coming up. I was thinking of putting a ghost on the end and setting it up in front of the house for the trick-or-treaters.
Sex Machines Unlimited
Scott and his dad Cy search for an extension cord as his newest sex machine sits on the kitchen table. Tapping into his skills as a customized motorcycle builder, Scott began Sex Machines Unlimited and has named his newest machine the Ultimate Ride.
I always felt good about building things. I think I got it from my Dad. It started with Legos, then Lincoln Logs, then it got real with the Erector Set. I’ve built houses, I’ve built machines, but I’ve never built a business…the learning curve is steep! We were planning a spam mail campaign of 20 million email addresses, but unfortunately the spammer ended up in prison.
I’m not bisexual in any way, shape or form. I’m strictly about the pussy. But this machine is good for any person I can think of. Gay men, gay closet cases, couples who aren’t having sex, couples enhancing their sex life…Renting it out to the women’s prison is another idea I was thinking of. Why can’t we do that?
My boss, who is very religious, thought it was a great idea, because this could be saving marriages. I can’t think of anything else you could invent that you could market to every demographic like that.
The Bank of America was giving me problems when I was trying to get my money together to put into startup costs. I was telling the guy at the bank about my invention and I think he thought I was just bullshitting him about this. So I decided to bring it to the bank, ask to see the vice president, and show him the thing.
I brought my machine in, with the dildo on it, and placed it in the center of the lobby. All the tellers were curious about it, old people were checking it out—I think they had a good idea what it was used for. Everybody when they see it usually has a smile on their face.
Scott reaches me five months after my visit. He has just sold an Ultimate Ride through his Internet site and calls me to share the news.
Looks like I just sold a machine. The Ultimate Ride, not the meatloaf one. Yeah, I’m still making them, but I realize that it’s probably not going to be as big as I thought it might be. I had a rough few months. Had some personal problems, looked at my life and began looking at my relationship with The Lord. I took Jesus as my savior and it really put things in perspective.
I had to sell off some stuff, I was afraid I was going to lose my house. Nah, still got it. Now I got my job, my girlfriend Jill—she’s on the site, that’s her—and I’ll make the machines when I get the orders. And I’ve got another one I’m working on called The Pipeline.
I realize when you were out here I never asked you about your relationship with the Lord.
Have you thought about it?
Kansas City, Misssouri
Steve Ryan lets me into his home off the highway in south Kansas City. Currently single, Steve has been through marriage, divorce and some long-term relationships in this home. His current housemate is Cassie, a 19-year-old community college student whom Steve has known for a few months. Cassie and Steve are telling me about the business they are planning to launch in the months ahead, an Internet porn site called “Cassie’s Dollhouse.” The plan is to use Cassie and her friends as talent, and Steve’s classically decorated home as the set. Steve explains how this all got started:
I ran an ad in the local newspaper that read: “Voyeur seeking sexually adventurous beautiful females with excellent bodies and excellent attitudes to audition on simulated sexual machines. Up to $200 per session. Please call: 816 668 XXXX.”
I would explain that I have these machines I bought for my ex-girlfriend that are home collecting dust. I’m a voyeur. I want someone to come over and play on them while I videotape them. Totally honest, totally frank. This was just for myself and my viewing, there was never any idea of putting together a web site.
The first one I got a huge response from because no one knew what the hell I was talking about! I met a lot of nice girls that way. At my age, age 45, these 19-year-olds are what I’m attracted to, and these girls are not going to be attracted to me, so I gotta have a hook, something to make them comfortable coming over. The machines are that hook.
With the machines, there is this wonder and curiosity and it still seems safe. And, of course, I was offering money, up to $200 per session. You’re not going to get girls to come over just for fun and games. But once they get to know you and your personality then the money thing goes out the window. Certainly it started out as something to fulfill my sexual interests, but now the sexual part seems to have gone on the back burner, and we’re all pals; it’s like a community. They come back over because they know I care about them. I call them if they are sick. I remember their birthdays. Oh sure, there’s drama. The last thing I need in my life is drama, and hanging around with 19-year-old girls gets you that, but it’s a trade-off. It’s a hell of a lot better than hanging around with a 45 year-old wife you never talk to and never want to have sex with.
How many guys wanna be Hugh Hefner? I don’t have the money Hefner has, or the empire, or the means with which to have lots and lots of women at any given time. But I’ve created an atmosphere that simulates that on a smaller scale. Honestly, I knock on wood a hundred times a day. I’m very thankful for the great friends I’ve made. Now it’s not really permanent like a marriage, but that was never a good fit for me. That’s why I film it all, ‘cuz things could change and I may never see that girl again.
One of the first times I went to Steve’s house, me and my friend went over there, and he’s got like a normal two-story house, but if you go past the kitchen, there’s the back room that, like, everything’s set up in. One wall is all mirrors, and it’s the room that all the pictures are taken in, and it’s black and white with a bar, and then he’s got a backdrop for taking pictures. It’s a really pretty room.
There are four different machines in there, and lots of costumes, and handheld vibrators and stuff—anal beads and pearls, just a little bit of everything to play with. It was totally like a chill atmosphere, you know, because if you’re going to be down for doing sex machines, you’d have to be pretty open-minded, I think.
Me and Steve have never done anything. I’ve always been with girls and he’s just been the watcher. He likes to watch. He just has a way of making you feel comfortable, I guess. I don’t know exactly how old he is, but he’s older. I think he might have been married once, but all the time I’ve known him, he’s been single. I think he just likes being around females and likes the whole lifestyle of having pretty girls running around all the time. So he likes that, and I like it too. So he makes me feel good, we make him feel good.
I answered an ad in the newspaper; they were having auditions for a recurring role in an adult-oriented website. I met Cassie and Steve at a restaurant. They seemed cool. They explained the machines to me, but I had never tried one or even seen one before.
I liked it as much as I thought I would. But I wouldn’t buy one. It was missing warmth. If I never got married and I was 40, I’d get one. Because I’ve always liked young guys, and an old guy can’t go like that. A person with this thing would have been better. If I had the man on top of me who I was fantasizing about, that would have been better.
This is what they are pushing us towards, making society all mechanical and automated. It’s just like that. The machines are like part of that. I hate all this stuff in society that leaves the person out. I’d rather go into the bank and deal with the teller than use an ATM. I need to see someone, talk to them, have them see me. At a drive-through, I won’t talk to the speaker on the menu, I’ll go up to the window and order. I mean, what are they trying to do to us?!
I think the machines negatively affect the world, because it tells us that we don’t need anyone else, we don’t need other people. Why try to build relationships or nurture friendships or work on the sexual problems that come up? Here you can just get yourself off, you don’t need anyone else. It’s negative. It has a negative force on the world, it’s trying to replace people. Working through problems helps us grow as a species
Other images from book:
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