Monthly Archives: September 2011

Why Capitalism is Good For Your Genitals

Adam Smith

There's a joke about the invisible hand of the market in here somewhere, but I'm too lazy to find it.

Whether or not you believe that Female Sexual Dysfunction is a real condition, or one invented by pharmaceutical companies to manufacture a disease and reap the benefits, it is undeniable that many women have trouble reliably achieving orgasm during intercourse. And some women can’t even have orgasms from masturbation, while others think masturbation is wrong, so they don’t even try. Something needs to be done about women’s orgasm deficit, and a commercial solution appears to be the only workable way. While non-profits are doing their best to improve women’s sex lives by promoting sex-positive lifestyles , they are underfunded and too obscure to make a real change in the functioning of vaginas across Americas. Universities tend to shy away from this type of research, because politically it’s safer to study sexual diseases than it is to study sexual pleasure. Consequently, there’s no wing of the University of Chicago Medical School dedicated to studying the clitoris, nor do doctors specialize in the field of bringing women sexual pleasure.  Academia is usually conservative and bureaucratic, and simply studying the history of sex toys raises eyebrows, let alone studying sexual pleasure. Although, research universities have done some work on women’s sexual pleasure—discovering in a study that heterosexual women are indiscriminate in their appreciation of pornography, getting  turned on by straight sex, gay sex, and monkey sex alike—it’s unlikely that any breakthrough discoveries about the female orgasm will occur there.

That’s why the cure for women’s sexual problems has been most strongly pursued by commercial interests: from the patent-medicine companies of the 19th and early 20th century that promoted cocaine-filled concoctions to solve female troubles to the pharmaceutical industry and sex-toy companies of the 21st century.  Obviously this system is imperfect, but it’s all we’ve got, so we should heartily support it. That’s why glum feminists like Leonore Tiefer really bother me. She created something called the New View Campaign that rails against drug companies who try to improve women’s sex lives. Its slogan is “Sex for our pleasure or their profit?” I don’t think it’s an either/or question, nor are the two diametrically opposed, but Tiefer clearly believes otherwise. She argues that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Disorders (DSM) has been defining Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) in a reductionist way, reducing women’s sexuality to their vaginas, while ignoring the psychological aspects of female arousal and the wide variety of ways that women experience sexual pleasure. Of course their approach is reductionist, because the only way to diagnose a disorder is to have some sort of criteria for it. But she believes that it is this approach that has led drug companies to attempt to capitalize off of FSD by focusing on a narrow goal of increasing physical arousal, a practice that she finds upsetting. She proposes instead that we should:

“resituate women’s sexuality within the political domain rather than the health-and-treatment domain. We believe that addressing issues of political equality, women’s emancipation and entitlement, sex education and health care access will lead to the prevention of many sexual problems.”

While I think that this is an admirable goal and would probably lead to improvements in third-world countries where women lack basic human rights, I don’t think this is the solution to sexual problems in the United States. In America, the only way a woman can obtain orgasms through a political route is if she receives cunnilingus from Bill Clinton.

The sex toy industry has been driven by profit, and it has brought pleasure to millions of women (and men) worldwide. A physician may have invented the vibrator, but it only became a widely available product, produced on a massive scale, because companies and investors believed they could make money from it. Advertising and marketing played a large role in the success of the vibrator in the early 20th century, so it should come as no surprise that commercial interests are leading the charge to discover a cure for women’s sexual problems in the 21st . There’s nothing morally wrong with accruing cash from powerful orgasm machines.  If we had been forced to wait for a large research university to develop and market a commercial sex-toy, we’d still be masturbating with Indonesian bottle gourds.

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Hysteria

I was so happy to be quoted in Friday’s article in the Toronto Globe and Mail about the history of the vibrator. Any time something like this happens, my parents’ embarrassment about my profession drops significantly, and even sometimes turns to pride that their daughter has become a full-time dildographer.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

And while women of the time didn’t necessarily know what masturbation was, Dr. Hall believes “doctors did.” For this reason and the threat of professional liability, she and other scholars suggest the treatment was performed on the fringes – the lineups of women in the filmic adaptation are sheer poetic licence.

“It’s making these people look like idiots and I don’t believe that was the case. Medical literature shows that doctors knew the role of the clitoris. And it makes light of women’s sexuality,” says Hallie Lieberman, a self-proclaimed “dildographer” and PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying the marketing of sex toys throughout history.

“[Maines’ book] really plays on this idea that the doctors didn’t know what the clitoris did, which I think is wrong,” said Sarah Rodriguez, a research assistant professor in medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Ms. Lieberman and others point to a number of sexual anatomy textbooks spanning from the 1820s into the 1900s that describe the clitoris as a primary sexual organ, one capable of erection. In 1890, physician Leonard Rau called it the “principal seat of sexual orgasm in the female.” An “electric bell” is how one gynecology professor put it in 1900. More accessible was Marie Stopes’ popular 1918 sex manual Married Love, which makes explicit reference to the clitoris and its role in orgasm. The book sold nearly 750,000 copies by 1931.

Ms. Lieberman suggests hysteria continues to enthrall modern audiences because with “women, it’s always a mystery, whether they’re aroused. … It’s hard to reliably give women a clitoral orgasm. There’s still a search for the Holy Grail of that.”

Indeed, in some sense the female orgasm remains elusive, as evidenced by pharmaceuticals’ failed hunt for a “pink Viagra” to treat the equally contentious FSD or “female sexual dysfunction,” a diagnosis in the current DSM, the go-to handbook for psychiatrists.

While Ms. Lieberman doesn’t go as far as to label the controversial FSD and its sister malady, hypoactive desire disorder, as today’s hysteria, she suggests the cure may be vibrators, of all things.

“I believe we should be having great sex throughout the life cycle,” she said. “Vibrators need to be promoted by physicians because they do give a lot of anorgasmic women orgasms.”

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Female Sexual Dysfunction, Part One

Does this woman have a sexual disorder? Not even her doctor knows for sure.

Last night I watched an interesting documentary called Orgasm Inc. that traces the development of two female sexual dysfunction drugs: Alista, a topical testosterone cream, and Intrinsa, a testosterone patch that was rejected by the FDA. Both failed because they couldn’t satisfactorily improve women’s sex drives or orgasmic capabilities. The film focuses on the invention of the disease Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), which director Wendy Ettinger argues is a disorder created by the pharmaceutical industry to sell unnecessary drugs.

The women’s equivalent of erectile dysfunction (ED), FSD is a vaguely defined disease, characterized by “persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response or desire,” according to the Mayo Clinic.  The DSM IV divides FSD into nine separate conditions, some characterized by physical symptoms, and others that are purely psychological. To illustrate the inability of the medical establishment to fully grasp female sexuality, here is a list of the symptoms that supposedly present themselves in cases of  Subjective Sexual Arousal disorder, a subset of FSD:

“absent or diminished feelings of sexual arousal from any type of sexual stimulation; however, vaginal lubrication or other signs of physical response occur.”

In other words, even if a woman’s vagina is saying yes, her brain might be saying no. And the brain overrules the vagina, unlike in the male system where the penis is king. That’s why Viagra doesn’t work as well for women. All most men need is an erection and they’re ready to go. Determining women’s sexual arousal is much more difficult.  Some women need a romantic setting and a loving partner to achieve an orgasm, while others just require a bottle of 99 Bananas and a clitoral erection.

To further complicate the definition of Female Sexual Dysfunction, even if you have all the symptoms, you do not necessarily have FSD unless “these problems are making you distressed or straining your relationship with your partner.” Not only has the medical establishment been unable to sufficiently define FSD, but also they have not come to a consensus on how to treat it, or determined how many people are afflicted. Researchers have variously estimated that anywhere from 10 to 46 percent of women suffer from some form of the condition.

Female Sexual Dysfunction is nothing new. In fact women’s sexual problems have consistently been a great source of concern in Western culture, especially since the mid-1800s. The only thing that has changed is the name. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, we called these diseases neurasthenia, hysteria, and frigidity. In the 21st century, drug companies have re-branded these syndromes as Female Sexual Dysfunction.

To date, drug companies have failed in curing this affliction, but I believe that if women take FSD into their own hands, they can solve it once and for all. The solution? Simply creating a detailed list of sexual instructions for current and future partners. These should be tacked to the bed or a motion sensor should be set up that begins playing a recording of them once the sexual partner has entered the bedroom.

A hypothetical example is given below:

“Welcome new sexual partner. In order to sexually arouse [insert your name] or bring her to orgasm, you must first perform a 22 minute full-body massage while discussing the history of erotic art in America. Then, place your tongue at a 45-degree angle to her clitoris, while massaging her upper thigh with your right hand, and inserting the index and middle fingers of your left hand into the vaginal canal. Do this for nine minutes. Try to ignore the cramping in your head, neck, and hands.

Side note: if you plan on engaging in sexual activity with her in the future, prepare for it by taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug thirty minutes before commencing sexual activity.

If none of these techniques work, download pornography to her laptop, balance the computer on her stomach and continue performing cunnilingus for the duration of the erotic film. If these approaches continue to be unsuccessful, remove the laptop, take a five-minute break and introduce your own methods into the mix. If all else fails, extricate your face from her vulva, make your way to the kitchen, and locate the bag of Pretzel M&M’s that is stored in the cabinet to the right of the sink. Bring these into the bedroom. You may share them with her, but you are only allowed to eat two of them.”

Coming Soon: In Part II of this blog post, I’ll be detailing some other medical treatments for FSD, including clitoral pumps. I’ll also argue why capitalism is good for women’s sex lives.

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Should workplaces have S & M dungeons?

Rihanna's video provides an appropriate prototype for a workplace dungeon

While waiting tables yesterday—a job I’m quitting as soon as I get my first fellowship check on October 1st —I was struck by how many of my co-workers ordered me around, demanding that I immediately complete non-urgent tasks like sweeping under a table. At one point, in a five-minute stretch, the manager, a fellow waitress, and the dishwasher all insisted that I complete different tasks in different locations of the restaurant, and when I failed to finish their orders in a few minutes, each summarily chastised me, with the manager patronizingly explaining to me how to properly pre-bus my tables.

I could tell that they took pleasure in making these demands, as if there were finally an area of their life that they were able to fully control, a person for them to lord their power over. There was no other reason for their behavior. The restaurant wasn’t busy; I had been diligently cleaning my tables. I wondered if a solution existed to this problem. Was there a way to rid employees of this unnecessary aggression? Corporations already waste money on pointless retreats where employees scramble up and down ropes courses in dangerous trust games, in the hope that these exercises will create a sense of community that employees can then take back to the workplace. I worked for an organization in Colorado that orchestrated these team-building activities. Once during an orienteering session, where groups of co-workers navigate through the brush with a staff guide and a shoddy compass, they encountered a mountain lion, which was crouching 100 feet from them, and everybody began screaming and crying. What did coming face-to-face with a violent, man-eating beast teach them about thriving in a regimented office workplace? I have no idea, except that they clearly failed this leadership challenge.

Rather than throwing away money on ineffective team-building events, corporations should build fully staffed S & M dungeons, where co-workers can take out their aggression on each other in a controlled environment. If things get too out of hand, employees can simply shout out the safe word, and the role-play ends. When co-workers have an urge to gleefully berate their fellow office mates in front of the entire staff in order to obtain a thrilling sense of power, they can take out this impulse in the dungeon, where they can truly get off on this false sense of power by reprimanding them in a fully stocked BDSM environment, where he or she can retaliate in turn. This office power play which usually goes on for at least four to six hours a day, creating a loss in productivity, would now be reduced to a twenty to sixty minute role play in the corporate dungeon. Blindfolds, whips, riding crops, and dog collars would be provided, all branded with the company logo, so when you’re ordering your co-worker around like the submissive cur that you truly believe them to be, you can be thanking your employer for their generosity for building this beautiful dungeon.

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Can Sex Toys Save Your Relationship?

Some Americans believe that this $150 Coco de Mer Ceramic Bird and Rose Butt Plug will dramatically change their lives.

I went to a lecture by Professor John DeLamater yesterday where I learned that most married couples stop having sex after 60 years of marriage, and sexual activity begins steadily declining after 34 years of marriage. One of the main reasons for the decline is a lack of novelty. It’s called habituation to your partner, and the longer you live with them, the more habituated to their presence (as a sexual partner) you get, and the less attracted to them you become. Some people in the lecture found this data depressing, but since I never want to get married, and I probably won’t ever cohabitate again, I’m not too concerned about this happening to me. And since I’m a gerontophile, I see this as a positive trend because it increases my prospects for a date with an older gentleman. But it left me wondering if you can retain your sexual attraction to someone if you live with them. Is it inevitable that you’ll get bored?

One way that’s recommended for overcoming habituation is increasing novelty through role play and sex toys, according to DeLamater. (The other ways involved unique sexual positions and settings for intercourse, as well as erotic media).  The sex toy industry is partly built on this belief, a hope that purchasing a Double Diver Dildo will revitalize a stale relationship, and will make you look forward to sex with a partner whose genitalia you’ve been fondling for decades.

Of course a sex toy can’t save a broken relationship, but Americans continue to have a hopefulness that purchasing things will change their life. It’s a religious faith in material things, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. We have to believe in something. I’ve always been inspired by supermarkets, viewing them as sparkling temples of consumption. I’m enraptured by Pop-Tarts in their unfathomable variety of flavors, including such glorious creations as Rainbow Cookie Sandwich, Wild Grape, and Confetti Cake. I look upon Boo Berry cereal with reverence, as if I’m in the presence of a holy relic.  And when I saw my first vibrator in Copps supermarket I almost cried, as the device that I had worshipped for the past twenty years had become available in the same store where consumers purchased their Entenmann’s Thick Fudge Iced Golden Cake. It’s appropriate for sex toys and food to be sold in the same store because they’re intimately related, both correlating to primal human drives.

But the supermarket represents the quotidian, and as excited as I was to see cock rings on the shelves, I also felt as if the uniqueness and beauty of sex toys had been undermined, as they’d been reduced to just another supposedly “life-bettering” commodity that promised what it could not deliver. Just as women purchase Special-K cereal in the hope that buying this 16.7 ounce box of rice and wheat flakes will grant them the supernatural willpower to avoid what they really want to eat, they also purchase Trojan Vibrating Rings in the belief that their boring married sex lives can be magically renewed with this $10  piece of plastic.  I don’t think that it’s futile to introduce sex toys into a stale relationship, but people shouldn’t ask too much of their Wireless Rings of Passion. The more pressure that we put on sex, the less fun it becomes. A butt plug shouldn’t be used as a relationship life-preserver. It’s more important to have an attitude of playfulness that a sex toy implies. In fact, in Delamater’s studies married women’s (ages 45-85) personal attitudes about sex were more strongly correlated with greater amounts of sexual activity than anything else.

I think that there’s a key reason why vibrators and dildos are referred to as toys. The best sex is playful and improvisational; it’s about setting up an environment where you can be as ridiculous and unembarrassed as possible because genitals are weird and sex is messy and if you can’t have a sense of humor while you’re doing it, then something’s wrong. Not that you should be laughing during the whole sexual act. I’ve done that, and I don’t recommend it.

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Is Larry David Terrified of Vibrators?

Larry David Navigating the Streets of New York in a "moving dildo."

My two favorite subjects–Larry David and vibrating devices–were magically intertwined in this week’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the episode, Larry’s car has a broken passenger seat that vibrates uncontrollably, producing orgasms in all the lucky women who get to ride in it. As he’s driving a woman he’s dating to his apartment in an attempt to receive postprandial intercourse, the woman achieves spectacular orgasm in the car, becomes sleepy, and decides not to go up to Larry’s apartment. Essentially, Larry is cock-blocked by his own vehicle. At the time, however, he is so clueless that he doesn’t realize that a woman has just orgasmed in his car. It takes his roommate Leon to discover the secret powers of his car seat. When he takes a ride with Larry, he explains the situation to him, declaring, “This shit is a moving dildo…This chair is a fuck machine. Man cannot compete with machinery.” After Leon’s revelation, Larry recognizes that his vibrating passenger-side chair is more capable of pleasing a woman than he is. (Earlier in the episode, Larry’s penis became flaccid during intercourse with this same woman). Not only do women like his giant sex toy more than they like him, but also he is unwittingly forced to transport this extraordinary vibrator, forcing him to be reminded of his sexual inadequacies time and time again. Larry is symbolically castrated by his car. (There’s another sexual humiliation subplot about an ice cream truck, but I’m not going to detail it here).

This episode left me wondering if vibrators intimidate most men or just old, balding Jewish men. Side note: I can say this because I’m a Jew, and I consider old, balding Jewish men to be the sexiest men around. When Leon says “Man cannot compete with machinery,” he is partially correct. Women do receive stronger orgasms from vibrators than they do from men. But orgasms aren’t as important to most women as they are to most men. I’m not including myself in the category of “most women,” by the way. Women argue that a vibrator could never replace a man because it can’t cook you a romantic dinner or snuggle in bed or hug you when you’re upset. But some men continue to be afraid of sex toys. And even though sex robots can’t cook penne alfredo now, I guarantee that in the future they will be able to. If Temple Grandin can create a hugging machine for cows, I don’t see why Doc Johnson can’t create clitoral stimulators that give affection.

Male fear of sex machines is irrational and primal, but completely forgivable and understandable. When a woman brings an eight-inch Jungle Jigglers Dolphin Vibrator  into the bedroom, she is introducing a penis-competitor into a man’s domain. This causes men distress because they can’t understand why their penises aren’t revered by the women they sleep with. And, I completely understand because I have one of the worst cases of penis envy in the history of America. If I had a penis, I would expect it to be worshiped too. However, the penis, like many celebrities, is amazing and beautiful, but flawed.  Men are either unaware of their penile flaws or choose to ignore them. Its main flaw is the lack of  a clitoral stimulator, causing most women to be unable to orgasm during intercourse unless they also manually stimulate their clitorises. During sex, women (meaning me) can’t stop thinking about the penis’ unfortunate flaw, while simultaneously being  jealous of a man’s ability to easily orgasm during sex. It seems only humane to allow a woman to bring all sorts of man-made devices into the bedroom to correct this flaw in the male anatomy. In time, most men come to welcome the vibrator into their penis’ domain, but this fear of vulva-stimulating machines will probably never completely disappear.

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Double-Duty Vibrators

Duet USB Vibrator, set to hit the market in October.

The upside to using your pen to masturbate? Nobody will ever borrow your pen again.

The upcoming introduction of the Duet, a USB-powered vibrator, got me thinking about other multipurpose sex toys on the market. Right now most vibrators that serve dual purposes seem to be impractical and lacking in adventurousness. There’s L’intimate, a vibrator that comes in a lint-roller container. There’s another that inexplicably doubles as a soccer-ball key chain. A few companies make “discreet” vibrator necklaces, but I’m not sure why that would ever be necessary. How often  have you been sitting at a boring dinner party wishing that you had a vibrator handy so you could run off into the host’s bathroom to masturbate?  Actually, that’s usually all I’m thinking about at dinner parties, so I may purchase one.  Other companies make make-up brush and hairbrush vibes, which just seem kind of gross, considering how disgusting hair is, or maybe that’s just my hair which frequently has twigs and other debris in it. The pen vibrator sounds somewhat useful, except I don’t want my writing implements  to smell like vagina. Vibrator Christmas ornaments are charming, but I’d prefer a vibrating Menorah. If I were rich, I can see myself purchasing  high-end hand job jewelry like Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera wisely do because the cheap vibrating rings are tacky. Overall, no currently available device stands out as being especially beneficial or innovative.

Although today our dual-purpose vibrators are pretty much impractical novelty items, 100-years-ago, vibrators doubled as useful home appliances. Companies sold home motors that, with separate attachments, could be transformed into fans, knife sharpeners, blenders, silverware polishers, and vibrators. On a sultry day you could mix yourself a chocolate malt, fan yourself on the porch, and then masturbate in your bathroom, all using the same device, which begs the question: Why have dual-purpose vibrators regressed over the past century? If the theory of technological convergence were true, then we should be riding our dildos to the moon by now. In the early 20th century, vibrators were advertised more openly than they are today, they were more powerful, and they served more functions for the household. Let’s bring back this spirit to the sex toy industry. I’m sick of cheap plastic butt plugs that disintegrate in your anus after two uses.

Apple, we need an iDildo ASAP.

1918  Sears Roebuck Catalog. Vibrator attachment for home motor is in the middle column, second from bottom.  Image from  Rachel Maines' "Technology of Orgasm"

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Review: Foreplay Ice Frost Vibrator

Foreplay Ice Frost Vibrator

When the heat index was over 100 degrees in Madison, Wisconsin, I decided that nothing would be more appealing than a vibrator with a built-in cooling mechanism. I really wanted to like this adorable genital Popsicle for a number of reasons:

1. I pin my hopes on new vibrators, while dreaming of the day when men evolve to develop clitoral stimulators on their pubic bones.

2. I thought it was adorable.

3. None of my friends had it, so I thought that I could be an early adopter and start a trend that would spread through the University, showering happiness on all who laid hands on the magical vibrating ice device.

Alas, I was disappointed. Just as it burns to place ice on a sprain,  placing a piece of vibrating ice burns the clitoris.  There’s a reason nobody masturbates with Del Monte Fruit Chillers. I’m not going to discount the fact that I didn’t like the Ice Frost because  I have an especially sensitive clitoris, but I’m also not completely convinced that I do, considering I wore my clitoris out on this when I was 19 years old. Maybe if I’d used the vibrator during Bikram Yoga, I would have been transported to absolute bliss. Although it doesn’t bring me sexual pleasure, the vibrator is not entirely worthless. It is a beautiful object. The ice looks like a miniature studded globe and it secures to its silicone base perfectly. The detachable vibrating bullet doesn’t provide enough vibration because the silicone base is so thick, so its more of a muffled pulsation, but maybe a rapidly vibrating ice cube would be even more unpleasant.

Overall Score: Three clitorises. The only reason to purchase this vibrator is so you can tell your friends that you masturbated with an ice vibrator. Actually, that’s a pretty good reason. 

Scale:

1-3 clitorises: Ineffective for sexual stimulation, but it may have some aesthetic value.

4-5 clitorises: It may bring you orgasms, but its design is ugly, and you might have to hold it at a weird angle to get pleasure.

6-7 clitorises: Reliably produces orgasms, moderately attractive and effective design, definitely bedside-table worthy.

8-9 clitorises: Innovative yet practical design, easy to grasp/insert, clean lines.

10 clitorises: It will bring you sexual bliss like no other device, and it is so beautiful that you could unabashedly display it in your foyer.

What My Clitoris Felt Like After Using the Ice Frost Vibrator

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