Joe Hanson, CEO of EmpireLabs — maker of the Clone-a-Willy, a $49.95 kit that turns your dick into a colorful, vibrating silicone sex toy — hadn’t fully considered the question of what his customers should do with their penis replica post-break up until he was confronted with the situation firsthand.
While making small talk on an internet date in Portland last year, his new lady friend “totally freaked out” when he told her about his profession — not because she was weirded out to find herself at dinner with a successful sex toy entrepreneur, but because she thought of herself as Clone-a-Willy’s biggest customer. “Every guy I sleep with, I make him make a copy of himself!” she told Hanson, her hands trembling with excitement.
“She had over a dozen, and they’re in a bookcase displayed in her house,” Hanson recalled to MEL over the phone last week.
While he was thrilled that his date turned into an informal market research session with a superfan of his brand, a new romance did not bloom that night. “I don’t know if I want to date you ‘cause there’s all these dicks around your house of other people,” he recalls thinking. “It could be intimidating.”
The problem of old dicks cluttering people’s homes and garages is a good problem for Hanson — a byproduct of Clone-a-Willy’s meteoric success. According to him, his company has managed to turn “something that was exclusively for porn stars” into something that’s for regular people, in part, by marketing the kits as an erotic arts-and-crafts project that’s fun for couples to do together (and more or less impossible to do on one’s own, as a single Vice writer and his “very average, very American dick” discovered last week).
“It’s not just the fact that you’re making it; the making part of it is the experience as well,” says one woman in Clone-a-Willy’s video “Couples Clone Their Junk”—a sexy, silly experience that’s not unlike a birth (albeit more inclusive, given the diversity in genders and sexualities of the couples profiled). But instead of creating a new life, they’ve created silicone dicks (or pussies, using the Clone-a-Pussy kit).
But with more than 1 million units sold, there are likely hundreds of thousands of clones orphaned by the once-loving couple who giggled their way through the process of collaboratively making the vibrating dicks together. Clone-a-Willy may owe its domination in the DIY-dildo niche to helpful customer service and clever packaging, but the instructions for use stop after the point at which you’ve inserted your erect penis into a mold full of goo for two minutes and waited for it to solidify. What one does with the toy after the relationship ends depends on the member in question.
“We’ve had people who say they wish they had had that kit ‘cause that’s the best part of the ex,” says Victoria Nelthropp, marketing coordinator for Empire Labs. “They wish they could’ve kept [the dick mold] and gotten rid of the regular person,” she adds, whereas others “want to send the replica to the ex and tell them to ‘go fuck themselves.’” (Nelthropp, for her part, said a replica that outlasted one relationship went directly into the dumpster. “A lot of homeless people dig through that dumpster, so it could still be on the streets of Portland somewhere.”)
In search of a scientific answer, Nelthropp posted a poll to Clone-a-Willy’s Twitter followers, which yielded little clarity. (The responses were dead even. )
Kalaija Mallery, in-house photographer for Empire Labs, can’t decide whether she’s in the trash-it or shrine-it camp after rediscovering an ex’s cloned Willy while packing up her apartment to move a few weeks ago. “I thought about using it for an art project, but the art world is already so phallocentric, and it’s not my style anyway,” she said via email. “My gut instinct is to run it over with my car and put a video on YouTube, but I’m not sure.”
Redditors, who love debating all things Clone-a-Willy (as you might expect), were just as conflicted. Multiple posters expressed concern about the potential of an ex working out their anger on their cloned dick, voodoo doll-style. Others were horrified at the prospect of an ex, or even a current romantic partner, exposing their junk to the world by showing people the Clone-a-Willy or documenting it on social media. “You can bet your ass I never showed it to ANYONE! Even after the horrendous breakup!” wrote one particularly moral Redditor, responding to another Redditor’s post about his girlfriend posting pictures of his cloned Willy. “Unacceptable, immature and just plain disrespectful.”
The predicament is a more extreme version of what everyone who has ever sent a nude photo to a romantic partner must go through after the breakup. Can the ex be trusted to keep that intimate material between just the two of them? Or will revenge porn follow? But Clone-A-Willy provides potential for an experience that’s more morally ambiguous than anything photos can offer: How would it feel if an ex continued to pleasure themselves with your replicated penis, with you no longer in the picture?
“I’m pretty satisfied with it,” said one Reddit user, whose ex confided that she still pleasures herself with a copy of his dick. “Even if she were to get angry and show [people], who cares?… Sometime after we broke up I got a piercing in my penis, too, so it’s not even a good likeness of me anymore.”
But for those of us not willing to go such lengths to disguise ourselves, there’s little one can do in this situation — other than asking for the replica back directly from the ex. That’s the plot of a short film made by a Swedish filmmaker posted to Clone-a-Willy’s Vimeo channel. When a relationship goes sour, the guy visits his ex to retrieve his belongings from her apartment, but there’s one thing she’s held onto — the seemingly huge replica of his penis, a sign she’s still in love with him.
“I think it’s a real compliment when someone says, ‘When you’re not there, I actually want to pleasure myself with you,’” says Hanson, the CEO. “That’s a major compliment to a guy—at least it would be to me, I think.”