I thought making a penis neck pillow would be easy. Here’s why it was hard.
The inside, full-frontal story of one woman's three-year-long quest to build a better penis.
I’ve been designing and making plush organs since 2007. I’m pretty confident in my process — I usually draw an organ, then release the design as a lapel pin first, to see if people like it or not.
The vagina+vulva went from drawing to pin to plush in record time. The penis, on the other hand, was a struggle. I spent three long, hard years and scores of design revisions developing my penis neck pillow. Who knew the penis would be so difficult?
Nobody Likes a Severed Penis
I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but nobody likes a penis detached from the body! Our first penis design was green, severed, circumcised and flaccid to boot. Soon after we released this version as a lapel pin, the questions started rolling in — Why was it green? Where was the foreskin? Why wasn’t it erect? Where were the balls? The penis keychain did a little better, sales-wise, probably because a good friend had a stroke of genius — why not add sparkly semen? Somehow that added sparkle made the keychain irresistible.
I had a penis sculpt on my desk for a full two years — I would look to it for answers : “How can I turn you into a plush, my friend?” Anyone who knows me has heard me complain about my penis over the past three years. I’m proud to say I spent a lot of time and effort on designing and producing this penis neck pillow and I’d like to share the detailed ups and downs of releasing this particular organ with you.
Your Penis is a Knee
My most important goal in making a penis was to make it a normal body part so we can talk about it. The penis is just another organ that merits straightforward discussion, much like your knee or elbow. Medical professionals don’t get embarrassed talking about penises, so why should we? I wanted the penis to be friendly and approachable — nothing to be scared or ashamed of. Just a regular penis doing its job. As much as I personally enjoy dick jokes, I strive to keep things relatively PG on our hangtag and website and treat the penis to the same respect I would to any other organ when describing its job.
The Penis’ Job
The human penis has a lot of jobs. Actually, it has just two: delivering pee and sending semen to the outside world. But from a plush standpoint, my penis had to do a lot of things and be a lot of things to a lot of people. It had to be both erect and flaccid. I wanted to represent both. I didn’t want to have to choose. I also wanted my penis to be utilitarian — could it be more than just a gag gift?
Our plush organs come with educational material designed to introduce young minds to anatomy basics. Of course the penis is one of those giggle-inducing organs, so we had to figure out how to approach the material tastefully and to take the penis seriously.
Believe it or not, the idea for the plush penis began with a question from a Marshall’s buyer at the New York Gift Show back in 2012. Back then, I had zero desire to make external organs at all. I hadn’t even made eyeballs or teeth, despite requests from customers. I was showing my gutsy wares at the gift show when an older gentleman buyer from Marshall’s (who loved the guts but obviously could not sell them at Marshall’s) asked me, while holding our plush testicle aloft, “Why is it you have the acorn — but not the stick?” I had no reply, but the seed was planted that we would, eventually, have to tackle the penis.
You won’t be surprised to learn many other penis plushes had flooded the market long before ours arrived on the scene. My major beef with these? Most were enormous erections designed for use at bachelorette parties. But the penis spends most of its time flaccid, I thought to myself. If possible, I wanted to make sure my penis could be both flaccid and erect, so both would be represented.
Insert Stiff Neck Joke Here
The neck pillow concept had the added benefit of being ridiculous and a great conversation stopper on a plane or train. People had told me the colon plush made a pretty good neck pillow in a pinch. Why not a penis? I found an adjustable neck pillow on Amazon and dissected it to discover how it was made. Essentially it had a gooseneck lamp stuck inside it. Getting a metal rod strong enough to keep the penis’ bent shape was tricky and required several revisions. [It looked a lot like a urethral sounder (NSFW — be sure to look this up later or visit your local adult store for an eye-popping array or things to stick up your urethra. When asked why on earth anyone would want to put a metal rod up inside their urethra, my friendly local adult store owner replied simply, and without judgment, “Some people like it.”)]
The first penis plush sample was too small to wrap around the neck, then it was really too long, clocking in at a horrifying 23 inches. Even a horse would be running scared at this schlong. All it took was seeing my then-7-year-old daughter running around my office with it to make me realize I had to downsize the penis. Eventually we arrived at 18 inches, which fit snugly around the neck but didn’t send any horses running. The other bummer about the neck pillow aspect of it was that it really required adult supervision and would in no way pass a kid safety test. So this one is for 14 and up. Sorry, kids!
Mailing the Male
Even decisions regarding packaging the penis were complicated. I felt pretty strongly I did not want to ship a huge erect penis to customers and stores. People can do whatever they want to their penis at home, but I wanted the penis to arrive, um, well, in a…relaxed… state. Also the penis would, according to the postal service, technically become an “oversize package” — no joke — unless it were packed curled over from the factory. This unfortunately meant we could fit a lot fewer per case than we would had we had them packed flat/fully erect. My fulfillment guy assured me if we twisted the balls, the penis fits into a standard USPS Tyvek envelope with ease. Ouch!
The world around us also changed during our extended design process. The #metoo and trans movements all influenced our thinking in how to present a plush penis to the world at large. How does one make the penis approachable and even desirable in the #metoo era? Would anyone want to buy this thing?
To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise?
That is the question! Like any mother of a baby boy, parents are asked whether or not they want to circumcise their son after birth at the hospital. We struggled with the same issue with our plush. The American Pediatric Association no longer advocates for one position over the other, leaving the decision in the hands of individual families and their cultural choices. Many recent anatomy textbooks include both circumcised and uncircumcised penises, as doctors will surely encounter both during their career.
Fascinating Foreskin Facts
In the US, 57% of penises are circumcised. Globally, that number drops to 33%. Did you know that Korean men did not circumcise until American GIs showed up during the Korean War? After the war, circumcision rates jumped to 99%. In Japan, 99% of men are not circumcised. Catholics do not circumcise, while Muslim and Jewish faiths both circumcise.
In the Philippines, boys are circumcised at age 13. In sub-Saharan Africa, many adult men have elected to circumcise following studies that show greatly reduced HIV transmission in circumcised males. There’s a fascinating array of penises out there in the world!
Handling the Foreskin
How to handle the foreskin for our plush? We thought perhaps a removable cape or turtleneck would work, but the foreskin lobby — called, yes, “intactivists” — voted vociferously against this. My son’s Groot toy had a sort of fabric flap that went over its head that I thought could work, but the fabric would not have matched the rest of the penis.
I loved the idea of a babushka head scarf... I fondled reversible plush toys at Target, hoping to find secret solution to my penis problems. One of our early designs with a fully retractable foreskin turned out to fray with user testing and could not work for the final product.
I did a lot of strange things to my penis to try and find a foreskin solution (see above). We ultimately went with a stylized retracted foreskin that was sewn in place. We were able to turn the foreskin into a pocket feature, which I hoped would add a bit of humor to the issue. Our toys are stylized body parts — not one is an exact representation of what you’d find inside a human body. And if anyone out there has a blue, 18-inch penis with a happy face on it, then we’ve got the neck pillow made JUST FOR YOU.
Penis Talking Points
I went to extreme lengths to not say “erect” or “flaccid” to factory in China. "Can we make it... stretch out? Is it possible to make it...curved?" Mostly because of the language barrier, but also so that my questions didn't seem like I was asking for something highly unprofessional.
I also desperately wanted to ask my factory rep if men in China were circumcised but obviously didn’t want my question to be taken the wrong way, so I put my curiosity in check (FYI circumcision rates hover around 14% in China).
Warehouse Full of Penises
I have been having a great time making penis jokes like a middle-schooler with the staff at my wholesale distributor's warehouse. Unfortunately, the mental rod inside each penis has made these cases really heavy for the staff, whose job description does not include lifting 50-lb boxes of penises. So now’s my time to say “Thank You” and “I’m Sorry” to warehouse manager and personal hero Manny Rivas, who is now tasked with helping lift 50-lb boxes of dicks. “Wendy and her #$%#$ one-pound penis,” is a common complaint around the ol’ warehouse. (My husband would like everyone to know the plush is actually an accurate, life-size model of his penis. LOL)
Penises on Amazon
In the past, I have had my testicles, prostates, and vagina plush blocked from searches on Amazon because they are considered "adult" products. I have fought hard for the right to make my testicle plushes discoverable on Amazon. The Amazon algorithm (always blame it on the robots) decided our penis neck pillow should be put in with other “adult” products, so it's actually filed under Health & Household > Sexual Wellness > Sex Furniture > Ramps and Cushions! So if you search for our penis neck pillow on Amazon, it will not appear with other neck pillows, or even other plush organs on Amazon, but will be surrounded with ads for vibrators and lubricants. Talk about not exactly fitting in!
So how has the penis been doing, you might ask? Well, we ran out of them at Comic-Con, for starters. Most of my customers are women, and most of the neck pillows I have sold are to women. And sales have been brisk! And yes, we have seen them used as a neck pillow on Instagram.
Well, now you know the entire story behind my penis. It’s been a huge relief to unload on you — thanks for listening!