Once in a while, I’m reminded that sex toys still weird some people out. They’re so normalized in my life and have been for such a long time, that it’s easy to forget how differently some people feel. I’m very private about having sex toys (and, indeed, only a couple of people know about this blog), so it’s not a topic that comes up often with people face-to-face.
But when it does, I remember how scary sex toys are to some. I’m pretty sure my mom thinks that sex toys are the devil’s spawn. If I showed her the cute little Velvet Plush U Vibe or Lush so that she could see that sex toys can be chic and tasteful, she might change her mind, but we’ll never be at a place in our relationship where I could do that.
I was 18 when I bought my first vibrator. My then-boyfriend and I walked into a beach-side “romance” store. It was a woman-friendly store, and I didn’t even know that there were sex toys until I wandered to the back of the store. I bought a G-spot vibrator for $30. It was a god-awful shade of lilac and it definitely wasn’t silicone. But I loved it. I even gave it a name (Charlie??), not because I saw it as a person, but because my boyfriend and I needed a code word to refer to it. We loved using it together, for a time.
About a year later, I went back with a girlfriend and bought two more. Both toxic, but I didn’t know about that back then. I didn’t even use them much, but I felt weirdly empowered buying them. As many 19-year-old girls, I desperately wanted to reclaim a sense of sexuality for myself. Buying sex toys was, for me, a way to prove to myself that I was in control of my body and my pleasure.
When I light-heartedly told my then-boyfriend about my new toys, I expected him to be excited. After all, a year prior, he loved using my first vibrator with me.
He was not excited. He freaked out. One sex toy was okay, it seemed if I used it with him. Two or Three, for use without him? Absolutely not. Suddenly it was a problem.
Apparently, I’d crossed some invisible line, one that threatened his masculinity, his pride, his I-don’t-know. I remember it clearly – his wounded voice, my horror at wounding him, and my confusion. He felt it meant that I no longer valued him. I didn’t buy another sex toy during that relationship, nor during the next several relationships.
Fast forward 6 years. A few months ago, I received a comment on my review of the We-Vibe Touch. I’ll paste it here:
So I’ve always felt rather pressured by the existence of vibrators– It’s all well and good that dildos exist, sure. Simply having an organic penis puts me above the pay-grade of even the best dildos, I’d think! But a vibrator, that’s a different story. Pleasing the clitoris with your mouth and hands… It’s hard work, man. Hard work that I’m happy to do, but hard work. It’s integral to my sexual self-esteem, so the idea of a machine that does my job… Not really great.
There’s a lot going on in there, so I’m going to break things down into sections.
Insecurity #1: My partner’s sex toys replace me
It’s integral to my sexual self-esteem, the commenter said. When I read this comment, I remembered so keenly my ex-boyfriend’s insecurity about my vibrators. I’d wounded my partner’s sexual self-esteem. He thought I preferred a sex toy over him.
As if an object could replace a human.
A sex toy never equates to a person. A dildo is never a penis. A fleshlight is never a vagina or a butt. Someone using a Fleshlight or a male masturbator is not having sex with another person. They aren’t cheating. Likewise, someone using a G-spot dildo is not cheating because there is no other partner.
In the world of sex toy blogging, it’s a huge faux pas to directly compare a sex toy to a real person. Ie, “who needs a boyfriend when you can have this dildo?” Or…“This dildo is the perfect boyfriend.” This is one of the reasons most sex toy reviewers will not use gendered pronouns (he/her) when referring to sex toys. Toy reviewers realize the danger in speaking like this — it feeds the seeds of insecurity that some people have that, somehow, their body parts aren’t valuable anymore because there’s a mechanical tool in the mix.
I understand this insecurity only too well, because I felt bits of it when, years ago, my partner and I browsed through realistic Fleshlights. They’re so realistic and beautiful, I thought. Those labia are perfect, and it’s flawless, and it probably feels way better than my vagina would because that canal is all ribbed and stuff.
Then my partner and I received a realistic Fleshlight when we reviewed the Fleshlight Tanya Tate. And, lo and behold, it was not like having a threesome. Despite my partner thrusting into a perfectly sculpted fake vagina, I didn’t feel like there was another presence or woman in bed with us. A Fleshlight is not a person.
And, just to put it out there, from my perspective as a cis-woman, using a dildo NEVER feels like an actual penis. Even dual-density toys, which are about as realistic-feeling as they get, don’t feel like actual skin. I experience similar pleasurable sensations, obviously, but I can’t grasp a dildo and feel like it’s a real penis. The skin of a penis is smooth, warm, and real. It’s skin. A dildo (any silicone dildo) feels like an object. It feels like a sticky/matte soft plastic of some sort. My fingertips can feel the difference. There’s nothing wrong with this. I love dildos. It’s not better or worse, just different.
Likewise, male masturbators don’t feel like actual vaginas or butts. When my partner used the Tanya Tate Lotus, which is supposed to feel similar vaginal sex, he said it didn’t even come close. It’s not to say that it didn’t feel good (it did), it’s just that it felt different to vaginal sex. A vaginal-sculpted male masturbator isn’t self-lubricating and flexing and squeezing vaginal canal, nor does it have a person attached to it.
A sex toy can never replace you. You are a human. You aren’t a lifeless object. You have real skin, not synthetic materials. You have a body, with a voice, with emotions, with a personality, with laughter. A sex toy does not.
Insecurity #2: A sex toy is a machine that does my job, and I can’t compete with that
This is the meat of the problem posted by the commenter above. He wrote, “Pleasing the clitoris with your mouth and hands… It’s hard work, man. Hard work that I’m happy to do, but hard work…The idea of a machine that does my job… Not really great.”
Again, this is about feeling replaced. But it also touches on the idea of trying to compete with mechanized pleasure — a machine providing the function he feels it’s his job/duty to pursue, rendering his hands/mouth/skills useless.
In a nutshell: try to not compare yourself to a motorized tool, because you’re comparing two very different things.
I’ll paste my response to the commenter here:
Think of a pair of legs vs a car: You really can’t compare legs against a car, although they both provide the same function of transport. A car is a machine designed by engineers with transport in mind, giving us capabilities that aren’t natural, but still definitely useful. Just because you have a car doesn’t mean that your legs are useless. Your legs are still very much needed. And your car is a tool that’s left in the garage between uses. You’ll forget about your car once it’s tucked away. You won’t forget about your legs. You can have both legs and a car to get the most out of your transport experience and, given the choice between losing your legs or your car, you’ll always want to keep your legs.
There are a lot of machines in this world that can do things better than we ever could, and that doesn’t make us bad or those machines evil. Cars let us travel across land better than our legs let us, but legs are still pretty damn awesome. We don’t need to feel bad that our legs don’t give us the same capabilities of a car — it’d be masochistic and a bit pointless to do so. And no one is thinking your legs suck because you can’t overtake a car. People are logical and reasonable, but with sex toys, insecurity around masculinity and sexual performances come into play. But if we take a step back, and try to look at things through an analogy, it renders things simpler and less threatening.
Insecurity #3: I hate that I can’t make my partner orgasm, but their sex toy can
Just to be upfront here, I can count on ONE hand how many times a partner has made me orgasm with their body parts. One hand. Not for lack of trying, mind you: my partners have always pursued the elusive Ruby Orgasm like it was some mythical creature, all willing and twitchingly-desperate to discover, invent, and accomplish it all by themselves.
I can’t have a G-spot orgasm, so penetrative sex alone will never ever make me orgasm. Same with oral sex. I still love it, but it won’t make me orgasm.
And my clitoris is finicky as hell. It needs a super specific touch, focus, movement, and pressure. To make things more difficult, half the time someone touches my vulva with their hands, I get really badly triggered by past trauma. It’s an automatic response in my nervous system, and it doesn’t always happen, but I don’t always feel up to the effort of fighting back triggers and so I don’t want to take the risk. So I’d rather use my own hands.
OR a toy. When my partner presses the Magic Wand or the We-Vibe Touch against me, I don’t get triggered. And those things are so powerful that my clitoris can’t help but respond. Voila! Suddenly my partner actually has a decent chance of making me orgasm.
To put it simply, having a sex toy means that I get to have an orgasm with my partner. Obviously, this is awesome.
Can you imagine how grumpy I’d be if I never had an orgasm with my partner? I mean, I don’t have to imagine…I was in that boat for years. It’s not fun. Trust me. If a sex toy makes orgasms with my partner possible, then woo! A solution! A simple solution to making me considerably more interested in sexytime with my partner. And that’s not anyone’s fault. That’s just the way it is.
Does this mean I don’t appreciate my own partner’s hands/tongue/etc? No! Of course, I do! I love them; they’re attached to my partner, after all. Being physically incapable of having an orgasm by their hands, however, means that a sex toy makes our sex lives a LOT richer and more satisfying, for both of us.
A lot of people (especially cis-women) struggle to have an orgasm, for any number of reasons. I can’t help but feel that, instead of torturing everyone involved by trying to manually achieve something that may never happen, a good sex toy can be an effective solution for everyone.
**A note about communication and consent: This is all well and good, but please remember to discuss bringing sex toys into your relationship before doing so. Do not push your partner into anything they’re not comfortable doing. That will not help anything. Don’t surprise your partner with a sex toy if you haven’t discussed it or if they’re on the fence about it — make sure they’re informed and be as equally comfortable as you in the matter.
At the core of every insecurity lies the unnerving belief that you’re not enough. You’re not good enough, you’re not big enough, you’re not thin enough, you’re not something enough. Insecurities are hard to get rid of. They have a way of latching on and sucking the life out of your confidence over the years. From my experience, insecurities are just that: ghostly voices in your brain trying to bring you down, painting a picture that’s far from actual reality, preventing you from taking the full enjoyment of things.
To anyone reading who feels threatened by a sex toy:
- Your body has value. Your body is fabulous.
- Sex toys are not people. Sex toys do not feel like people. Sex toys are inanimate objects. There is no need to compare.
- Sex toys have the power to enhance your sex life. More orgasms = more fun.
I’ll paste some of the last words of the commenter here (they were awesome).
But to read a review of something that I view as such a threat is somewhat enlightening. It reminds me that sex toys are just sex toys, something capable of being reviewed clinically even by the intended users of it. And it’s great that partners can reach a place where they’re using toys together. I’ve never had a relationship like that personally, but I’m glad to know it’s possible.
Yup, it’s possible. And it rocks.
Image: The Quint