Talking to the Ex-Cop Who Invented the Fleshlight
You know what Fleshlights are. Your knowledge may not be as extensive as some but, come on, you know.
And yet, despite the fact that these fleshly little buggers have been around since the late '90s, the public knows very little about the man behind the faux-vagina. His name is Steve Shubin, and he's a hard-boiled, no-nonsense ex-cop who invented the "device for discreet sperm collection" as a means to save his marriage. He's been reaping the benefits ever since.
After receiving a gentle warning from Fleshlight about Steve's no-holds-barred attitude, I jumped on the phone with the eccentric inventor to find out how exactly he got into the fake lady business... business.
So let's start from the beginning. How did you come up with the idea of the Fleshlight?You know, I'm an ex-cop from Los Angeles, not LAPD, but LA County. My wife was an ex-professional tennis player, number five in the world. She's a great athlete. We'd gotten to a point in our marriage that we had decided we would try for one more baby because she had one from her first marriage, and I had three from my first marriage.
We had one daughter, and we thought, "let's go for one more."
She did get pregnant, the egg split, we ended up with twins.
The doctor said no intercourse because we were 40 years old at the time. This is considered high risk at 40, so we have to be very, very careful so we don't lose the pregnancy. And the doctor, who became a friend of mine, he said, "Look, no intercourse. You can't do anything with her because you don't want to jeopardize the pregnancy." So I said, "Oh great, here I go back to jerking off."
"I said, 'Look, would you think I'm a total pervert if I told you that in your sexual absence, if I would use something to replace you?'"
The next day, my wife Kathy asks, "What are you thinking?" I said, "Look, would you think I'm a total pervert if I told you that in your sexual absence, if I would use something to replace you? Would you think I was a total pervert?"
I'm a big guy, I'm like 6'3", 300lb. I'm kind of a mean-faced ex-cop so that's not my personality, but that's certainly my presence. So we kind of laughed because you think about the blowup dolls and all that bullshit.
And she goes, "Well, I guess, you know, if the option to that was infidelity and disease and all the things that happen to relationships that are terrible," she goes, "I would say yes, but it would need to be something that was beautiful, artistic. Something of some high level of class that would make sense. I would love you to use it, and once I was back in full sexual service, so to speak, I would want it to be gone."
I said, "Well, this is a great opportunity." Because I felt like nothing had existed at that point, and so we decided to start investigating what's out there. And so that's where the idea first came from.
How much trial and error was there?An amazing, enormous amount of trial and error. I actually did it in my garage. You all hear these crazy garage stories -- I actually did that. I had to mix food-grade mineral oil, because I knew it couldn't harm the human body, so I had to use components that you could actually ingest, and so I started with mineral oil and different thermoplastic elastomers. Which is kind of a fancy word for plastic.
"The interesting thing about that is that it was the consistency of the human flesh..."
A different kind of plastic that's actually used in medical procedures and stuff like that. But when you use it in a very loose, gelatinous kind of application, it kind of makes what really turns out to be like Jell-O.
The interesting thing about that is that it was the consistency of the human flesh, it just didn't have the resiliency or the stretch or anything, so in my mad-scientist garage I had to mix different levels of polymers and keep notes and get to a point where I could actually make something that could stretch and then return to its normal size and not lose the appearance.
That was my biggest tackle, and I did that, but it took me a lot more time and money than I thought it was going to take.
Do you have a background in that kind of area of mixing materials or was it kind of just self-taught?It was all self-taught. I knew I had to nail the product, but I had no education. I knew that the Internet was coming, I just didn't know how to get there. So I started designing materials and mixing and matching and, honestly, my grandfather was part of the invention of the gliders for the military for World War II. I just felt like in my blood I had an engineer's background to match my mad-scientist mentality.
So, I knew that if I could nail a product that would give men the true feeling of the actual biological sex function, that would at least be some kind of option to the lives that they were leading -- driven by their dick is what it boiled down to. That's really what drove me to keep mixing... I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box, but I'm probably the most sexually driven person.
"I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box, but I'm probably the most sexually driven person."
My sex drive is probably, you know, I wouldn't say it's higher now than when I was 11, but it's always been a little off the charts, maybe a little too much. But we all assume and deal with what we have, and I knew I needed to nail this thing because it was a critical need for us guys.
So, let's make the jump from the garage into storesI think what I learned about inventors is that it's very easy to get tunnel vision. You think you have the answer to everything, and oftentimes your first invention is really only the springboard to what you really should be looking for if you're smart enough to realize it and adapt.
Keep in mind, I didn't really have money. At that time, I had a pretty successful business -- at least it paid my bills -- in the area of building maintenance and things like that in Los Angeles. So I did OK, but it was very unfulfilling. So, Kathy and I took $50,000 and decided to start working on these body parts.
"Most guys have a flashlight in their car, their truck, or their garage so I'm going to call it Fleshlight."
What I came to understand was that men are into portability, something you can easily conceal. Guys want to use something that's portable, is discrete, et cetera. I came up with the idea with, well, if I have to suspend my material inside a container, I need to design containers.
You know guys are into tools and beers and thermoses and things like that. From all that, I decided I'll make it a flashlight. Most guys have a flashlight in their car, their truck, or their garage so I'm going to call it Fleshlight.
So then I went to work on that concept by myself. I had written the patent and I had gone then to a patent attorney who had a background in chemistry. I showed him all of my notes -- he knew how to write up my notes in an intelligible way as a chemistry-background person, which I am not.
So he understood how to write my formula, and my concept and everything and we applied for that patent. We received that patent in 1998. And that's when the whole concept of a portable device came to light.
How did you get porn stars involved?At the time, a couple of my sons worked for me in the company... The porn industry was very big then. It's evolved quite a bit now, but at the time the adult videos were very popular.
There were certain girls that were very popular. My sons came to me and said, "We need to get these girls to be Fleshlight Girls," we named it that at the time, "we need to pull molds off them."
My sons and I all learned how to take molds off of people. It's just a matter of using plaster. When you go down to take dental impressions, or whatever... your teeth need guards and stuff like that, we knew how to do that and became very good at that.
So what we did was we had a couple of the girls come in, we got them on kind of a gyno kind of a table, put the plaster on them, and the interesting thing was what you need to do if you're the girl when you're going to pull the mold. Since this material is relatively cold, when you apply it to them they need to be exceptionally excited, because you have to have them pretty plumped up, so to speak, to get whatever the real look is.
"... Once you pull a mold then you reverse that mold into clay then you can sculpt it perfectly from the pictures to really recreate their exact anatomy."
So what you do is you take the pictures first, when they're excited up on the table and everything's ready to come, you take all of those pictures and then you put the plaster on them, because you need the geometry and all the math to be correct on the size of everything.
Then, once you pull a mold then you reverse that mold into clay then you can sculpt it perfectly from the pictures to really recreate their exact anatomy.
WowAnd then we transfer that onto the pace of the Fleshlight. We invented our entire system of mass-producing women, which is pretty incredible to see. But we invented all of that, and we were able to actively bring women on all the time and probably in a pretty short amount of time we can put any girl's anatomy on a mass-producible product.
So has the material changed from the first couple of days to right now, or is it kind of the same basic compound as before?It's the same compound. The only thing that's maybe changed is the manner in which you dispense it, because it has to do with how perfect it is and how consistent it is. That's changed a little bit, but the recipe has never changed.
Do you have a favorite Fleshlight?A favorite Fleshlight, if we're speaking about the actual girls, my favorite is actually Stoya. I like Stoya because I love her anatomy, I love her edgy personality. I'm a leg-and-ass guy, I don't really care much about breasts, she's that girl but since I don't know her super well -- she has a pretty edgy, kind of a tough girl, but a sensitive girl combination... so for me her personality was perfect. I'm big on anatomy, I know exactly what kind of vaginas I like. And hers is for me, perfect.
Just like Love ActuallyYou know what's interesting about Stoya, when she first came to our company in Texas she came in to do all the photography and pull the mold and all that stuff when she was going to become a Fleshlight Girl. I walked out and I saw her in the back makeup room and I introduced myself. I said, "Hi, I'm Steve and I'm not very good about being very diplomatic about this, I really just came to see your pussy."
"And just kind of shows me her pussy, and her pussy's amazing."
She goes, "Well, let's show you." And she stands up from the makeup table, turns around, sits down on the ground, throws her robe back, and opens up her legs and says, "What do you think of this?" And just kind of shows me her pussy, and her pussy's amazing.
Again, understanding that this is my version of what great pussy is. She looked down as I got kind of close to it and I looked and I said, "Wow, you're right, that's an amazing pussy." And so I thanked her for showing me and I was on my way. Interesting stories from that.
What a perkAgreed. I have a tough job.
So, where are Fleshlights actually made?Everything that's made for North America, and actually for Australia, is made in Austin, Texas. We have about 100 employees there, everything is made there. My second facility is in Seville, Spain.
That manages and ships to all of Europe. It's the exact same process, exact same product, but everything made here from Europe -- I'm saying here because I'm here now in Seville, Spain.
What is the most unexpected part of the job?I still like pussy more than anybody on the planet. I'm blessed with, honestly, everyone has to say they have the perfect wife -- I'm the one that actually does have the perfect wife.
My wife is exceptionally beautiful, she is phenomenal, but what more than all of that that she is, she understands men. She understands biology. She understands what we're doing and she loves what we're doing.
You would think at my age I would be getting ready to bounce my grandkids on my lap and do all that stuff, but I wouldn't get any ass anymore. I'm not, I do have grandkids, but I'm pretty driven for pussy.
"I still like pussy more than anybody on the planet."
I think in life once you lose that drive for pussy -- that's a scary thought, because I'm never going to do that. I'm going to die in the saddle, I swear to you because I think the greatest ride of life is the biological relationship, the feel, the touch -- I mean, we're not replacing women. There is not a woman on the planet that can keep up with my sex drive. Nor do they have to keep up with my sex drive. It's not their job.
You know, I've been jerking off since I was 9 and I know exactly how it probably isn't an attractive function if I was caught on camera. I know how to get rid of my stress, I can do it quickly. But it has nothing to do with a relationship with a woman. I can tell you this for sure. If any woman ever thought that using a sexually usable product was going to take away from their relationship, they're wrong, it's actually going to add a whole lot to it.
Can I assume you still use Fleshlights?
Of course. You know, I've been very fortunate and lucky. It's also given me a really great life and I can do what I want and I'm still driven to work every day. I could retire at any point, but there's just no chance I would.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and has three Fleshlights in his desk drawer right now.