Tag Archives: Butt plug

Let’s Rebrand the Butt Plug!

Young's Rubber rectal dilator, circa 1890's, Courtesy Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History

Young’s Rubber rectal dilator, circa 1890’s; Courtesy Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History

Butt plugs get a bad rap. And they shouldn’t. While vibrators have served as feminist symbols of liberation, and cock rings are manufactured by major corporations, the butt plug remains on the sidelines as the outcast, the pariah, the sex-toy-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. The butt plug is a cultural joke. But in many cases, people’s mockery of the butt plug is caused by terror that they would enjoy using them.

One reason the butt plug is so repugnant to a wide swath of the population is simply its association with the rectum. But it’s larger than that. Mocking butt plugs is one way people confirm their heterosexuality, while insisting that their anuses remain utilitarian.  Straight men often see anal sex with their girlfriends as a cool and edgy variation on vaginal intercourse, and the assumption is that men are the instigators who are getting the bulk of the pleasure from the act.  But a butt plug carries no such camouflage, and behind every man’s purchase lies the gnawing question: “If I get off on a butt plug, will that make me gay?” While straight women ask themselves: “Can a woman who uses a butt plug still be considered feminine?”  

Even in the most sexually progressive corners of American popular culture butt plugs aren’t wholly accepted.  Witness the words of Hannah, the main character from the controversial HBO show Girls, who defines her sexuality in relation to the toy: “I feel like I’ll do almost anything sexually. I feel like the only thing that I won’t ever do again is a butt plug.”

Its disorienting name also doesn’t do it any favors. Butt plug manages somehow to contain within its nine letters both the juvenile and the antiseptic, garnering images of arcane plumbing tools and cartoon adolescents, boisterous gastroenterologists and giggling toddlers. We don’t call dildos vagina plugs or cunt corks, so why do we call the rectal equivalent a butt plug? It’s related to both the shape of the sex toy and its storied history. Continue reading

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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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