Tag Archives: dildographer

Guess Who Finished Her Dissertation on the History of Sex Toys?

Dildo TrophyAfter writing nearly 300 pages on the history of sex toys, you would think that I would be burnt out, that I would shut down dildographer.com and open up an Etsy boutique selling artisanal hazelnut butter and cardamom-infused rum. And I did have a two-day post-dissertation melt-down (sample thought: “Now that I’ve finished my dissertation, and I’ve run out of junk food blogs to read, my life is not worth living.”) Once I clawed my way out of the post-dissertation sinkhole, I realized that devoting the past three years of my life to sex toys had not dampened my love for them, that, in fact, I loved sex toys even more than I had when I started. I guess that’s what true love is: Even when you’re at your lowest the thought of your beloved brings you immense joy. In this case, as I was weeping in bed, thinking about my uncertain future, a penis-shaped beacon shone in the distance, shiny, glittering, burning my eyes with its brilliance. It reminded me that I still have a lot of work to do on the history of sex toys, and the current status of sex toys, and the future of sex toys (sex robots remain woefully ignored by the academy). It reminded me that I have to transform my dissertation into a trilogy of books on the history of sex toys, and that if I don’t nobody will.

But first, a few insights from my dissertation (and committee members, if you’re reading this, these are your Cliff Notes for my defense):

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Why We Need a Porn Portal For Teens

A still from the anti-porn movie "Don Jon."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Don Jon,” a porn-addiction dramedy.

When I was a teenager, the only way to get porn was by traipsing down to the Adult Fun Shop, where I pored over such titles as Gee Your Cunt Smells Terrific and Itty Bitty Bang Bang, with the enthusiasm of a sex-crazed scholar who believes the secret to life is scrawled across the back of Seymore Butt’s Cream Pies 12. I felt initiated into a hidden world of pure sex that legitimized my adolescent sexual desire. The commodification of erotic fantasies made me feel as if I wasn’t alone. My desire for older men was accepted in this world of ever-present orgasms, while it also confirmed my belief that the world was driven by sex, that Freud was right, that my Mom’s admonishment against sex before marriage was wrong.

But I knew that at some level this porn was “bad.” It was illegal for me to buy it, though compassionate (or sleazy) adult-store employees let me do it. I had to hide it from my parents, even though I felt a strange pride in my collection of videos. I had to defend my interest in porn to other teenage girls who had a knee-jerk porn-is-misogynistic reaction. Of course some of the porn I purchased  was misogynistic. One of the first porn films that I bought, Bagladies, had the following slogan: “Every Chick Looks Hot With a Bag Over Her Head.” But I chose Bagladies knowing that it was misogynistic,  that it portrayed women so badly that it actually rose to the level of sick art. I felt a particular form of glee that only comes to those who wade so deeply into transgression.

My limited access to porn as a teenager makes me insanely jealous of the current generation. They grew up having access to millions of videos, and they didn’t have to pay for any of them, nor did they have to leave their houses to get them. I know, most people bemoan the fact that porn is widely available to teenagers. And their concern is valid. Porn isn’t realistic. The performers frequently have perfect bodies and hairless genitals; they have unprotected sex with seemingly no repercussions; and women always have orgasms even when they’re not being clitorally stimulated. But not all porn is like this. A lot of porn focuses on women’s sexual pleasure. It shows clitoral stimulation via cunnilingus or manual stimulation, and it shows dominant women sexually manipulating men. And, for all of porn’s flaws, it does have the virtue of showcasing different body types (if you look beyond run-of-the-mill porn) and sexual positions.

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What Are The Best Erotic Books Ever Written?

house of holes Dhb lo

“Nicholson Baker does not look like a dirty-book writer. His color is good. His gaze is direct, with none of the sidelong furtiveness of the compulsive masturbator.”-  The New York Times, August 4, 2011

From the opening three sentences of this New York Times magazine profile of NIcholson Baker, you would assume that Baker was a writer of 50 Shades of Grey-style books. But he’s not a writer of fan fiction-turned erotica. He’s a revered prose stylist and winner of the National Books Critics Circle Award. So why did a journalist from The Times presume that Baker must be a masturbating sexual deviant? Because he’s written books with sexual themes. Journalists would never assume that murder-mystery writers have a history of homicide. So why do they treat writers of erotic books as if they must be morally unhinged?

In part, it’s related to our American value system that celebrates violence in cultural products but pillories sex. One need only to look at the MPAA to get an idea of how Americans view sex. To take one example: the heart-wrenching drama Blue Valentine (2010) received an NC-17 rating because it has an oral-sex scene between a married couple in it, while the dismemberment and cannibalism-filled Hostel 2 (2007) received an R.

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What It’s Like to Date a Married Man

The Mother and The Whore, 1973  (La Maman et la Putain)

Scene from “The Mother and The Whore,” 1973
(La Maman et La Putain)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My boyfriend is married to another woman. Yes, he’s in the process of divorce right now, but for much of the past year that I’ve been dating him, he’s been legally married and informally separated. Dating a man with a wife tars me as a hussy, a vixen, a minx—all the stereotypes of the devouring woman. And since I’m blonde and a quarter of a century younger than my boyfriend, I become a walking cliché, a symbol of the mid-life crisis, a threat to marriages everywhere.

People assume I’m a homewrecker, which I’m not. I can see it in their eyes.  There’s a certain look that you’re given when your recently separated boyfriend introduces you to his friends, a look that suggests with little subtlety that you are a stain on the pristine fabric of society. That you have dared to entered into a relationship with someone who is still legally married to someone else is still a socially fraught act, even in this supposedly progressive America. Sure, fewer people are getting married, but make no mistake about it, Americans still revere marriage. Gays are clamoring for it. Women are Pinteresting the shit out of it. Parents continue to pressure their children about it. In this matrimonialist culture, I’m cast as the villain to my boyfriend’s soon-to-be-ex-wife’s martyr.

I’m used to being judged for studying sex or having controversial viewpoints, and I’m fine with it because I’ve made a choice to devote my life to helping to change attitudes about sex. But being judged for falling in love with a married man is a different experience because falling in love is not a choice. I guess I could have not acted on my feelings. I could have walked away. But that would have left me and my boyfriend miserable. And his marriage would still be over. Continue reading

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Playtex Thinks Your Genitals Are Dirty

Playtex Fresh and Sexy Wipes Ad

How many times has this happened to you? You’re furiously ripping off your partner’s clothes in a mad, hormone-fueled dash, when you unbutton their pants and you catch a whiff of their malodorous genitals. Sighing, you zip their pants back up and tell them you’ve changed your mind, all the while thinking to yourself, “If only there were a product that could instantly remove rank genital odors…” That’s never happened to you? Well, some mastermind at Playtex seems to think it has because they just trotted out a new product to cure this problem: a wet wipe for cleaning your genitals before and after sex.

Although the product is simply another in the long line of rebranded wet wipes, Playtex’s Fresh + Sexy Intimate Wipes are the first attempt by a major company to address pre- and post-coital cleanliness (although the ad campaign exclusively focuses on the former). With clever taglines like: “A clean beaver always finds more wood” and “A clean pecker always taps it,” their message is clear: your genitals are smelly and gross and nobody will have sex with you until you deodorize them. Ironically, the opposite is true. Genitals secrete pheromones during sexual arousal that attract mates. Wiping away these pheromones may actually make you less attractive.

Although Playtex’s ads may seem novel, they actually follow a simple formula that companies have been using since the 1880s to convince consumers of the necessity of soap and mouthwash (which Julian Sikulva skillfully details in Stranger Than Dirt):

  1. Pinpoint a part of the body as particularly dirty
  2. Connect this dirtiness to social reprobation
  3. Offer a product that cleans the area, and, in turn, helps the aspiring consumer to achieve a cultural norm

What’s new is that our cultural norms have shifted. Instead of urging consumers to buy personal hygiene products by persuading them that cleaning their bodies will win them a spouse, companies are asserting that their products will bring consumers copious amounts of sex. Companies have been telling men this for years (see: the Hai Karate ads from the 1970s).  But, for the most part, they’ve shunned sex appeals in favor of marriage appeals when selling women personal hygiene products.

Listerine Ad From 1923.

Listerine Ad From 1923.

To trace this cultural shift, it’s instructive to examine the father of all orificial-odor shaming ad campaigns, Listerine’s “Often a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”  campaign from the 1920s.  A typical ad from this era featured an image of a dour woman bemoaning her lack of a husband, a lack which the ad traced directly to her bad breath. But it was the prose that laid the message on thick, as this ad from 1923 shows: Edna’s case was a pathetic one. Like every woman, her primary ambition was to marry…And as her birthdays crept gradually toward that tragic thirty-mark, marriage seemed farther from her life than ever.” Little did Edna know, the ad suggested, but it was her halitosis that was scaring away all her potential suitors. “That’s the insidious thing about halitosis (bad breath). You, yourself, rarely know when you have it,” said the ad. The ad worked because Listerine tied their mouthwash to the aspirational goal of the middle class woman of the 1920s: marriage.

Like Listerine, Playtex’s Fresh + Sexy ads shame women into purchasing their products to achieve an aspirational goal. In their most widely run print ad (shown above), an innocent beaver makes its way through the water, gazing at the consumer with imploring eyes. Next to the furry animal is this statement, “A clean beaver always gets more wood.” The implication is that women’s dirty vaginas are preventing them from achieving a cultural ideal. But instead of telling women that a cruddy cooch will stop them from attaining their dream of marriage, Playtex has a radically different message: A dirty vagina will prevent women from having a lot of sex. Playtex is implying that the 21st century woman aspires not to marriage (or a long-term relationship) but to sexual fulfillment.

Although the Fresh+ Sexy Wipes campaign is problematic, its pro-sex message represents a sliver of progress in our consumer society. It would be ideal if its sex-positivity weren’t tied into a larger message shaming women about their naturally occurring genital odors. However, the bigger problem lies not with Playtex, but with our commercial culture itself, which has succeeded by playing on our profound fears, one of the strongest of which is a fear of  sexual rejection.–Hallie Lieberman

 

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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 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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One Vibrator Per Teen

Hello Kitty Vibrators

One Vibrator Per Teen: Changing A Teenager’s Life, One Sex Toy at a Time.

To get sex toys when I was a teenager, I had to break the law. Like all teenagers, I was obsessed with sex. Unlike all teenagers, I was obsessed with sex toys and would tromp into sex-toy stores just to gaze at the bizarre dildo packaging. This being the late 1990s, shopping online wasn’t an option. So I went to brick-and-mortar stores for my dildo fix. The only problem was that I was 16, and the minimum age was 18. So every time I went into the Adult Fun Shop, I was afraid that I’d get kicked out. Even its name reminded me that I wasn’t welcome. That added to the thrill, of course, but it also made me think that exploring my sexual desires was illegal, which leads me to my proposal (actually it was my boyfriend’s idea) that all adolescent girls should be eligible to receive a free vibrator when they turn 13. 

Here’s how the One Vibrator Per Teen program would work:

When a girl turns 13, she would be eligible to sign up for the One Vibrator Per Teen program via a website, which would feature information on masturbation, sexual health, contraception, and all the other things you need to know when you develop breasts and pubic hair. A week later, a phthalate-free rechargeable silicone vibrator clothed in discreet packaging would arrive at her home, packaged with water-based lubricant and an informational booklet.

Not only would teenage girls benefit from this program, but sex-toy companies would also profit from the early brand recognition. Gaining brand loyalty by giving away swag to hormonal girls is a time-worn strategy. For decades the feminine-hygiene company Kimberly-Clark has offered free sex-education materials to teachers in an attempt to get their maxi pads in the hands of as many new menstruators as possible, so why shouldn’t Trojan also get in the game?  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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Why Older Men-Younger Women Relationships Make People Uncomfortable

Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in "Whatever Works."

Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in “Whatever Works.”

Neighbor: “I saw your father walking your dog.”

Me:  “That wasn’t my father. That was my boyfriend.”

So goes a typical day in the life of a gerontophile. I’m not upset when people mistake my boyfriend for my father. In fact, my boyfriend and my father do share the same name and ethnicity, and while my boyfriend is 11 years younger than my father, he is 56 years old, the same age as my mother.

No, it’s not this type of honest mistake that bothers me. It’s the assumptions that come with our age difference that bother me. My boyfriend refers to the age difference as our dischronicity, which is a combination of the Greek chronos, meaning time (from Chronos, the god of time), and the Latin dis, meaning apart.  Saying that your relationship is dischronic or “apart in time” lends it a poetry that relationships with wide age differences are rarely given.  But it’s an appropriate term for my relationship because part of what makes it so appealing to me is the delicious strangeness of it, the taboo of it. There’s an eroticism to the violation of norms, a separate, tangible eroticism unrelated to my own gerontophilia.

And my recognition of this eroticism leads to another level of problems.  This actually wouldn’t be so much of a problem except that people I barely know question me about my choice of boyfriend.  They want a reassuring answer as to why my boyfriend is 24 years older than I am; they want me to fit into the standard narrative of the gold-digging younger woman. They want to make sense of the abnormal. I disappoint them when I say that I’m just attracted to older men. Even though I am careful never to mention the inherent eroticism of dischronicity, I still get a side-eye because they want to see an ulterior motive driving us together. They find it difficult to believe that our relationship could be based, like many relationships, on sexual attraction and love. (Gerontophiles! They’re just like us!) Continue reading

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