Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why We Need Taboos

taboo
In almost every news story about sex, someone declares that we’ve “broken down the taboo of” a sexual practice or sexual device. Breaking down a taboo is always assumed to be a social good. The implication is that once we break down all the taboos we’ll live in peace and harmony in a mesmerizing sexual utopia. However, not all taboos should be destroyed. Some taboos are needed for our imagined sexual utopia. The problem with our discussion of taboo is our failure to distinguish between types of taboos. We conflate social taboos with sexual taboos. The former needs to be destroyed; the latter needs to be savored.

A social taboo involves shunning those people whose consensual sexual or relationship practices differ from the norm (whatever that happens to be at the time). Social taboos affect groups as wide-ranging as gays and lesbians, the BDSM community, plushophiles, and the happily non-married. This type of taboo can and should be destroyed. Historically, non-procreative sex has always raised suspicion, but we should be enlightened enough in the 21st century not to ostracize people for engaging in sexual acts that make us uncomfortable. What people do with their genitals should be irrelevant to their social status. We’re making a lot of progress on this front. That nine states have legalized gay marriage is a start, but we need to stop thinking in terms of having gays and lesbians conform to heterosexual ideals and actually allow them to make their own space.

In contrast to the social taboo, the sexual taboo should always remain. The sexual taboo is the I’m-doing-something-wrong-and-it-turns-me-on taboo that leads to the eroticism of such practices as anal sex, double penetration, and rim jobs. Because it heightens sexual pleasure, the sexual taboo should never be destroyed. There’s something erotic about violating rules. Sex is dangerous, and there’s no reason we should pretend that it isn’t.  The possible complications of sex are serious, from the physical—unwanted pregnancies and STDs—to the emotional—soul-crushing blows to self-esteem and unshakeable heartbreak.  Of course the possible benefits outweigh the risks: sex can bring you the most acute pleasure that the human body is capable of. And, there’s a particular euphoria between two people that can only come from a sexual relationship. The taboo that says that sex is dirty needs to stay. It is this taboo that brings us love and happiness. Continue reading

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Let’s Abolish Sex Addiction

Michael Fassbender: The Most Beautiful Sex Addict in the Land.

Michael Fassbender: The Most Beautiful Sex Addict in the Land.

To be human is to be a sex addict. To be subsumed in sexual fantasy, to masturbate regularly, “to have sex with inappropriate people,” “to think that there might be more you could do with your life if you were not so driven by sexual or romantic pursuits”: All these things are normal.  And yet we’ve clumped these behaviors into a haphazard diagnosis: sex addiction. In its pathologization of normal sexual behavior, sex addiction is a dangerous concept.

Even sex addiction experts themselves cannot agree upon what characteristics make up the sex addict. The founder of the sex-addiction movement, Patrick Carnes, offers up this unhelpful definition:

No single behavior pattern defines sexual addiction. These behaviors, when they have taken control of addicts’ lives and become unmanageable, include: compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, child molesting, incest, rape and violence.  

Not only is sex addiction nearly impossible to define, but there’s also no consensus on whether the disease actually exists. The bible of psychology, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of disease (which is used by insurance companies to determine coverage) included sex addiction in its pages in 1987, but then removed it in 1994. However, a lack of scientific evidence has not prevented popular culture from becoming captivated with sex addiction, and a slew of celebrities have blamed sex addiction for their cheating ways (see: Tiger Woods, David Duchovny, Rob Lowe). Furthermore, sex-addiction centers abound, supporting a healthy industry of 12-step treatment programs, expensive sex addiction therapies, and innumerable books. Given its shaky scientific basis, sex addiction should have faded away a long time ago. So why is the concept still being taken seriously? Continue reading

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Do Sex Toys Infantilize Women?

I Rub My Duckie Kitty

Is this a sex toy or a children’s toy?

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. Continue reading

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Why Monogamy Should Be Classified as a Paraphilia

Married Couple

Do these people have a paraphilia?

Imagine this scenario: a friend (we’ll call her Rene) says to you that she plans on spending the rest of her life having sex with the same person (we’ll call him Tom). Rene claims that for the next fifty or so years she will flirt only with Tom, fantasize only about sex with Tom, stay with Tom even when he gets fat and sick and old. This will make her happy, she thinks. It will make her so deliriously happy that Rene must celebrate by inviting all their friends to an expensive, drunken party where she declares these intentions while her friends and family cry, not out of sadness for her misplaced ideas about happiness, but with joy, with the hope that unlike the majority of married couples, she will continue to have a great sex life with Tom. But in all probability this will not happen. There’s about a 50% chance that there will be cheating in the relationship and a 15% chance that they will stop having sex altogether. And most likely even if Rene and Tom are still having sex, it will be of the routine, robotic variety. Yet our society continues to perpetuate the myth that lifetime monogamy is a normal state for most human beings and that it leads to happiness.

It’s such an ingrained societal belief that deigning to question it is seen as heresy, which has created a situation where people who question monogamy are too scared to openly discuss it because they fear social reprisal. They then assume that most people are happy practicing monogamy, since few people are saying otherwise. Communication theorist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann called this phenomena the Spiral of Silence, which is succinctly described by Wikipedia as “the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because they fear isolation from society.”

Side note: The Spiral of Silence is controversial among some because of Noelle-Neumann’s connection to Nazism. Having tea with Hitler and writing for Das Reich, a newspaper founded by Joseph Goebbels, isn’t the best way to endear yourself to the academic community. Some scholars believe that her theory is “riddled with totalitarian ideology gleaned from working as “Germany’s leading pollster.” Continue reading

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Why the Movie “Hysteria” Gets Its Vibrator History Wrong

Hysteria Movie

A still from the movie Hysteria, about the invention of the vibrator in the 19th century.

Given my profession as a dildographer, I should be elated that Hysteria a movie about the history of the vibrator, is premiering in the U.S. in two weeks. Although I’m thrilled that a legitimate studio produced a movie on the subject, I’m also frustrated that an inaccurate and unfortunate myth about the vibrator is being perpetuated. The movie details the invention of the electromechanical vibrator in the 19th century, and its use as a medical device to treat hysteria. And it maintains the myth that 120 years ago using vibrators on your clitoris was not considered to be sexual because women were thought to only get pleasure from penile penetration. Although it makes for a great story, it doesn’t give the full picture. I don’t expect historical movies to tell the truth, but in this case, media coverage is acting as if this movie is presenting an accurate story about the history of the vibrator. This blog post is my attempt to set the story straight.

To understand this lingering myth about the vibrator, it’s important to understand its origins. The story is gleaned from Rachel Maines’ 1999 book The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” Vibrators and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Maines should be given credit for opening up the field of sex-toy history to scholarly research. That being said, her book shouldn’t be uncritically accepted just because it’s the only one written on the subject. And it has been criticized by historians of technology and sexuality. The problem is that popular culture has wholeheartedly embraced her story, leading to artistic works that are perpetuating this myth. In the past five years, three  pop culture products have been based on her books: a play (In the Next Room, (or the Vibrator Play)), documentary (Passion and Power) and fiction film (Hysteria.

Here’s Maines’ vibrator story that’s been circulated throughout pop culture for over a decade:

Victorian women were sexually frustrated. Sure, some of them were having sex with their husbands, but they were left unsatisfied because most women can’t have orgasms from penetration only. And since masturbation was considered dangerous and unhealthy, they didn’t have that outlet either.  So, what did women do? Well, they went to their doctors, complaining of vague symptoms like nervousness, and their doctors promptly diagnosed them with hysteria, whose other symptoms included insomnia, shortness of breath and muscle spasms.

Doctors decided that the best treatment for the hysteric was female genital massage, which in practice involved rubbing their patients’ clitorises until they had orgasms (which doctors called “paroxysms”). Few people raised their eyebrows. Doctors didn’t think of their medicalized hand jobs as sexual because they didn’t understand the function of the clitoris, instead believing that women only got pleasure from sexual intercourse. And even though getting paid to rub women’s genitals should seem like the best job in the world, it was the opposite. According to Maines, being a professional hand-job giver was “the job nobody wanted,” because it was so tedious and time-consuming.

So when the vibrator was invented, doctors eagerly embraced it as a replacement for their tired hands because it gave women orgasms in ten minutes, instead of the 30-60 minutes that it usually took.  Since it allowed doctors to see more patients in a shorter period of time, they were able to treat more patients and make more money. Therefore,  the vibrator was a “capital-labor substitution device, ” she says. With its legitimate medical uses, the vibrator became known throughout culture as a medical device, and its sexual powers remained hidden. Companies like Hamilton Beach began producing consumer vibrators that they marketed to housewives as essential home appliances that women could use to treat their insomnia and other ailments. But when vibrators began appearing in porn in the late 1920s, they lost their “social camouflage as a home and professional medical instrument,” says Maines. Once the vibrator had been revealed as a sexual device,  doctors stopped using them in their practice and companies stopped marketing them. The end.

My issues with this story:

  1. Some women have vaginal orgasms, so these orgasmically blessed Victorian women must have enjoyed sex with their husbands.
  2. Cunnilingus wasn’t invented in the late 20th century. Although all husbands didn’t perform oral sex on their wives, some of them did. And those lucky wives had clitoral orgasms, at least some of the time.
  3. Just because an advice book tells a woman not to masturbate, it doesn’t mean she’ll listen. Victorian women masturbated. The Mosher survey shows this.
  4. Doctors knew about the function of the clitoris, that’s why in the late 1800s some physicians bothered to remove them  to cure nymphomania.  (Sarah Rodriguez wrote a great article on this).
  5. Women alerted vice societies to the immorality of their physicians’ vibratory treatments, so women must have thought these treatments were sexual.
  6. Doctors who massaged genitals were usually considered to be quacks. At least that’s what the American Medical Association thought about them.
  7. Vibrators were also considered to be quack devices by the AMA, according to their Historical Health Fraud Collection.
  8. Consumer vibrator ads weren’t openly sexual because of draconian anti-obscenity laws, not because of a lack of knowledge about women’s sexuality. If companies described orgasms in their advertisements, they faced arrest. That’s why they had to rely on coded language.
  9. Companies didn’t stop advertising their vibrators in the 1920s. Ads have appeared in every decade since. And most people didn’t watch porn films in the 1920s anyway because they were difficult to get a hold of. So, knowledge about the vibrator’s sexual uses couldn’t have been spread through them. Continue reading
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Teledildonics: Is it Cheating?

The RealTouch Interactive Experience (image from RealTouch)

Within the next forty years, we’ll all be in polygamous relationships with sex robots. But until then we’ll have to settle for sexual partnerships with other humans, who usually expect monogamy, unconditional love, and a host of other unrealistic things. Like Dan Savage, I believe that non-monogamy can work, provided the partners are open and honest about it, and there aren’t hundreds of affairs throughout the relationship. But monogamish relationships aren’t socially acceptable, so about half of people end up cheating in their “monogamous” relationships, exposing their partners to STDs, and becoming emotionally attached to their lovers.

But what if you could still get sexual variety, yet avoid all these thorny problems? Enter RealTouch’s new product: the RealTouch Interactive Experience, an experience that involves penis-shaped joysticks, masturbation sleeves, and female models. First, let me describe the RealTouch penis sleeve. It isn’t just any penis sleeve. It’s the most technologically advanced male masturbation device in the world. It’s a motor-driven sleeve that heats up, dispenses lubricant, and syncs with adult videos. So if you’re watching a movie of Sasha Grey fellating a lucky gentlemen, the RealTouch’s four DC motors will squeeze and stroke your penis, giving you the best robotic blow job in the world. But the Interactive Experience takes this one step further. It allows the RealTouch to be operated via the internet by hot models using joysticks equipped with the same type of “captive sensing technology” found in iPad screens. Envision a nubile Eastern European teenager lightly stroking a phallic joystick, as your penis is firmly ensconced in a moist 98.6 degree cocoon that’s whirring with mechanical enthusiasm and you’ll get the idea.

The Real Touch Male Masturbator (image from Real Touch)

This type of technology isn’t brand new. In fact, it’s been around so long that it’s got its own name: teledildonics.  However, RealTouch was the first company to bring this technology to the consumer market and provide the option of paying a model to remotely bring you to orgasm. It seems like a win-win. You get your sexual variety without the thorny complications. If they had a version of the RealTouch for females, I would be the first in line, provided the “hot” models operating it were balding Jewish men who wore yarmulkes and sang Yiddish songs.

I know that not all men and women would be willing to allow their partners to have the RealTouch Interactive Experience, but I don’t know why, which leads me to this question:  Is it cheating if the person lives 1,000 miles away and is manipulating your penis via a joystick?

Of course I would answer no, but I’m not the typical woman. So I’m asking you.

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Sex Toy Review: The Sasha Vibrator

Sasha: a Rabbit for the discriminating masturbator. Image from A Woman's Touch.

Introducing Sasha: a beautiful Rabbit-style vibrator with 10 speeds, all of them tasteful.

Full disclosure: I believe that the iconic Sex and the City-type Rabbit vibrator is overrated.  Sure, I like a lot of movement in my pubic area. If I could shrink the cast of Cirque de Soleil, insert them into my vagina and have them engage in nightly performances of  “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” I would. But there’s something about the original Rabbit that is a bit overwhelming. It’s as if Ron Popeil had designed it, as if it were a Showtime Rotisserie for the vagina (“Set it and Forget It”).  Sometimes a vibrator requires too much of its users. The original Rabbit has a vibrating phallus with rotating beads on it and a protruding clitoral stimulator with rabbit ears, which is where it gets its name. It usually has 9 speeds, and controls for both the clitoral and vaginal stimulators. It’s the two sets of controls and the rotating, beaded shaft that set me over the edge. The choice of speeds always leaves me thinking that I chose the wrong setting, that someone somewhere, is using the Rabbit with more skill than I ever could, and consequentially, having better orgasms. And the rotating beads manage to be both clumsy and tawdry.

The Sasha fixes all these problems. It is sleek, lacks vibrating beads, and has only one set of controls. It is made of silicone, instead of phthalate-filled “jelly” plastic (polyvinyl chloride) like the original Rabbit is. And at the tip of the penis, there is a textured pad that provides a little extra stimulation. The Sasha is a Rabbit for the discriminating masturbator, the type of woman who likes to pour herself a glass of Franzia and crank up the Michael Bolton before stimulating herself to orgasm.

The verdict: Eight out of ten clitorises. 

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I Need Your Pop Culture Expertise

Ryan Gosling Romancing a Sex Doll in  “Lars and the Real Girl”

For my dissertation, I’m attempting to chronicle the history of sex toys in popular culture. I’m trying to document how depictions of sex toys changed over time in films, TV shows, novels, songs, and any other popular media.

Right now I only have a short list.

The first movie that came to mind is the classic Ryan Gosling film shown above that costars a Real Doll.  Then, of course,  I thought of the famous episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte gets addicted to her Rabbit vibrator. Following in quick succession were the episode of Weeds where Andy gets reamed by a Torah scholar wielding a strap-on and Eminem’s “Crazy in Love”: “Like a devil in disguise/You’re always full of surprises/Always pullin’ devices out your purse, little vibrators/And dildos, you fucked yourself so much/You barely feel those anymore.”

I’ve included the rest of my meager findings below. As you can see, I’m failing miserably at this task. Please, I implore you, if you don’t perform any other acts of charity this year, you must help me update these lists. It’s for the good of humanity.

Television

 1. The Osbournes’ episode where Jack uses a Clone-A-Willy kit

2. The Bad Girls’ Club (I think some sex toy company sponsored them)

3. Most episodes of Talk Sex with Sue Johanson

4. Oprah (I know there were a few episodes that focused on sex toys, but I’m not sure which ones)

5. The Mad Men episode with the vibrating device

6. The sex-toy home shopping channel

Note: I know that I must be missing some CSI stuff, since I don’t watch those shows. I’m hopeful, but doubtful, that dildos have been in The Amazing Race and other mainstream reality TV competition shows.

Film

1. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

2. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)

3. Selected films from the John Waters’ oeuvre

Note: I’m missing about five thousand movies here.

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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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