Tag Archives: Human sexual activity

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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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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