Tag Archives: United States

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):

Continue reading

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Why Obama Relies On the Myth of Monogamy to Defend Gay Marriage

Obama Gay ScandalAlthough I’m thrilled that Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, I’m not happy that he trotted out his monogamous gay staff members as a justification for his changed opinion. “Members of my own staff…are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships” and “are raising kids together,” Obama said as if this were a new phenomenon that hadn’t been going on for decades in the United States. Even though my opinion is biased since I’m straight-phobic (according to this test), I felt like what he really wanted to say was: “Now that gay people have finally stopped spending all their time fellating customers at truck stops in exchange for peanut-butter Wicked Whoopie pies, they should be granted equal rights.” Praising same-sex couples for following the heterosexual model of lifetime monogamy allows him to seem progressive by advocating for sexual minorities, while also enabling him to reinforce the deeply held belief that all worthwhile sexual relationships should culminate in monogamous marriage.

Since I’ve never been particularly impressed by the institution of heterosexual marriage, I’ve found it unfortunate that gay marriage is being used as a proxy for gay rights. A monogamous lifestyle should not be a requirement for civil rights. If that were the rule, then nobody would have any, since in practice, in nearly half of “monogamous” relationships, one or both partners has cheated, according to Dr. Terri Conley. And you can’t throw a rock without hitting a “straight” monogamous married man who frequents transsexual hookers.

Lost in this whole gay marriage debate is the idea of whether marriage as an institution is valuable and whether monogamy makes us happy. The gay marriage debate glorifies marriage, presenting the betrothed as blissful creatures who live moral lives of tranquility. But this is an inaccurate picture. Not only is cheating rampant among the married, but also 15% of married people are stuck in sexless marriages. Sure some people are happily married, and that’s great for them. But what is rarely discussed is that most married people have shitty sex lives. Defenders of marriage routinely trot out statistics that married people have more sex than single people. What they don’t mention is that most of this sex is boring and mechanical. A disappointing sex life seems to be an accepted trade off for the security of marriage, but does it have to be? Continue reading

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If We Can Send A Vibrator Into Space…And Other Sex Toy News

This Saturday, just in time for Yom Kippur, Dave Levine, aka Sex Toy Dave, is going to be the first person to launch a vibrator into outer space. Propelling a Mini Multi-Speed Vibrating Bullet into interstellar space may, on its surface, seem unnecessary. Logically, there’s no reason that a vibrator should be sent soaring into the heavens. But logic plays no part in space travel, and the symbolism alone is inspiring. We are reaching out into other worlds, offering up one of our most treasured artifacts to distant beings. I only wish they had chosen to send the Retro Pocket Rocket or an alien-themed Flesh Light into orbit instead of that boring bullet. If aliens stumble upon this sex toy, they will definitely attack us. They’ll assume that this is the best sexual technology the human race is capable of creating, which will lead them to believe that our military technology must also be extraordinarily bad. The future of humanity is at stake. Please, somebody, send another vibrator into the ether immediately.

Why Are the British Upset About This Tame Sex Toy Ad?

This is supposedly the first sex-toy advertisement to ever be shown on TV in the U.K. It was initially intended to be aired this week during prime time, but TV executives nixed that idea because they thought the name of the company’s website was inappropriate. For God’s sake the name is lovehoney.com, not discountgiantwoodenanalbeads.org, but nevertheless, that was the reason they claimed for its unsuitability.

Not only were they upset about the name of the website, but they were also upset with the idea of advertising a sex toy in the first place: “Sex is an intimate expression of lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, not a commodity to be advertised and sold like washing powder or a mobile phone,” said ITV Director Norman Wells in an interview for the Bath Chronicle.

Well, if sex is such a sacred act, then why were ads like this run on British TV without any complaint (as far as I know)?

This double standard is ridiculous. What is so threatening about sex toys that they can’t be openly advertised but ads for erectile dysfunction drugs can? I can only assume it’s because women’s sexuality is more threatening than male sexuality.

In an  interview for Ad Age, Nick Ellis, the creative director for this Love Honey advertisement explained the constraints of advertising vibrators: “You can use sex to sell most products, but as a sex-toy retailer, no hint of anything overtly sexy is allowed,” Mr. Ellis said.

Strangely, American sex toy advertisements from 100 years ago were more risqué than the controversial Love Honey ad.

Hamilton Beach New Life Vibrator Ad in The Des Moines News, November 25, 1912

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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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