What's Inside A Cheap Vibrator? We Took This One Apart To Find Out [NSFW]

Electromechanical vibrators actually have a long history — consumer versions have been around for more than 100 years. But how do they actually work? To find out, we did a teardown on a nice cheap vibe: the Platinum Edition Butterfly Kiss from California Exotics Novelties, pictured here in all its garish pink glory.

Bedroom image via Shutterstock

What's Inside a Cheap Vibrator? We Took This One Apart to Find Out.

This is definitely not one of those expensive nonskeuomorphic sex toys that looks like a contender for a Swedish design award. Even with the little butterfly stuck on the front, this vibe's form makes its function pretty damn obvious.

The copy on its box says it's powerful and vibrates nine different ways. How does it create so much variety for just $18?

What's Inside a Cheap Vibrator? We Took This One Apart to Find Out.

The first thing we did was remove the business end of the vibe, a big thermoplastic rubber sleeve that peels right off the hard plastic case that holds the device's motor and controls. Turning it on may make the butterfly antennae wriggle frantically and the faux-cock flail back and forth, but mechanically speaking it's all a passive reaction to whatever's going on inside that bullet-shaped plastic case.

And it's a case that was never meant to come apart. Sure, you can unscrew the hot pink bottom to insert two AAA batteries, but there's no easy way to pull the moulded battery unit out of the clear plastic casing. The vibe is billed as being waterproof, and apparently the most cost-effective way to get there was to paint every inner surface of the case with glue. I had to wrap that plastic suppository in a towel and hit it with a sledgehammer a bunch of times to get it open. Apparently the manufacturers were expecting this thing to take some punishment.

As a result, some of the parts that came out of the vibe are a little squished. Sorry about that.

What's Inside a Cheap Vibrator? We Took This One Apart to Find Out.

It's clear that it doesn't take very many parts to create the magic. Sum total: six components and six wires packed in a plastic case to run a rubber flappy bit.

From left to right, we've got: one soft plastic button that lets a user toggle between "off" and each of the nine vibration modes, a small printed circuit board to control speed and vibration, contacts for the battery case, a silicone O-ring to waterproof the one spot where the consumer can actually open the device, a moulded plastic container to hold the two AAAs that provide electrons to run the thing, and a small motor.

Still, once all these parts are wired together and turned on, all they can do is spin the motor's drive shaft. Where's the vibration come from?

For that, focus your attention on the small cylinder at the top of the motor. It's a weight, and it's attached to the drive shaft asymmetrically. So when the motor spins its shaft, it's unbalanced, and the whole thing shimmies.

It's the same principal that can destroy unbalanced washing machines or (more dangerously) improperly loaded laboratory centrifuges, but in this case there's only enough power to make the vibe shake, not shake it apart. Given where people use it, that's definitely a good thing.

Images by Diane Kelly

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