Sex toy. The very name implies a childish device, something that doesn’t take sexuality seriously. While in theory this is fine, in practice the toy-ness of the devices sometimes ends up flowing through the design in a way that implies that female sexuality is infantile and frivolous.
It’s not that I want all sex toys to be realistic looking. In fact, one of the appealing things about sex toys is that they represent the cleaning up of the genitals. They’re not marred tangly pubic hair, pendulous droopy testicles, or uneven textures. But it’s worth examining why we have so many cloyingly designed genital stimulators. There is something decidedly un-erotic about many of the female sex toys on the market. It’s as if sex toy companies were focus-group testing themes on elementary school-aged girls. Why else would we have sex toys in the shape of seahorses, kitty cats, butterflies, roses, and cupcakes?
Take the Big Teaze Toys’ I Rub My Duckie, which is, as its name implies, a rubber duck-shaped vibrator (pictured above in the Furry Hoodie Kitty version). More akin to a Polly Pocket doll than to a dildo, the I Rub My Duckie comes in a variety of personalities, including Bondage Fashionista, Sweetheart, and Pirate. Most of these come with matching removable accessories, including a feather boa for the Paris and Sweetheart ducks and a fuzzy hat for the Furry Hoodie Kitty, unfortunate accessories for devices that routinely get slathered in female sexual juices. (In all fairness, the boas and hats are removable.) With its Swarovski crystals and hard plastic exterior, the design of the I Rub My Duckie has very little to do with sexual pleasure, and everything to do with play. It’s all toy and no sex.
If Big Teaze Toys were the only company designing infantilizing sex toys, I’d chalk it up to an anomaly and call it a day. But we also have the designer Shiri Zinn hawking a new luxury cupcake vibrator. And then we have the numerous other companies producing lollipop riding crops, Jawbreaker-candy ball gags, pink popsicle vibrators, and cookie-dough-flavored lubricants. As if that weren’t enough Doc Johnson is now selling vibrators inspired by children’s literature. Their Alice in Wonderland-themed vibrator line features abstract likenesses of the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, and the Cheshire Cat.
So what’s the explanation for all these infantilized sex toys? One possibly apocryphal story is that rabbit-themed sex toys were dreamed up by Japanese producers because realistic sex toys were banned in their country. But that excuse isn’t necessary any more (except in Alabama), so there has to be another explanation for all the vibrators created in the shapes of dolphins, hummingbirds, and daisies. (Side note: To be fair, male sex toys sometimes skew whimsical, but they usually look mechanical, and they’re never marketed like Polly Pocket.) Although women’s sexuality is taken seriously in some circles, in many ways it’s still imbued with childishness. Some sex toy marketers seem to think that if given a choice between a dick and a duck, a woman would prefer the latter. I beg to differ. —Hallie Lieberman