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Female sex tech pioneers are turning pleasure into empowerment

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Women are founding startups to design sex toys and wearables that appeal to female sensuality and increase representation in the tech industry

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The percentage of female leaders working in technology is notoriously low and the sex tech industry fares no better. But there has been a surge in the number of sex tech businesses founded by women in recent years – so much so that 2017 has been hailed the year of the ‘vagina-nomics’ by the intelligence agency JWT. But how is the rise of female sex tech disrupting the industry and empowering women?

For years sex toys have largely been designed around the idea that they can only be effective for women if they’re penis-shaped.

“It’s a misconception that largely stems from the fact we’ve mostly had men designing sex toys and, well, God forbid women would find anything other than penises pleasurable,” says Alexandra Fine, clinical psychologist and co-founder of sex tech company Dame Products.

“In this same vein, there are design flaws – like on-off buttons facing the wrong direction or small quirks that give away the fact that women haven’t been designing these toys.”

Because gaudy sex toys aren’t for everyone, they’re now being joined by delicate, intuitive products that wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple store. These are lifestyle products that are customisable and personalised, rather than simply bigger and faster because technological advances allow it.

“Women are driving a huge increase in demand for sex toys which are ergonomically designed and beautiful,” says Stephanie Alys, co-founder of Mystery Vibe, the company behind Crescendo, the world’s first completely bendable smart vibrator.

Wisp, a sex tech start-up run by Wan Tseng, is designing wearables that recognise, for women, sexuality is not black and white.

“Our products don’t resemble things that go in holes, it just feels a bit too male,” says Tseng. Instead Wisp’s products are designed to be worn like jewellery and tap into the arousing sensations of touch, breath and smell.

“For lots of women, a good sexual experience is not just about orgasming, but everything up until orgasm. We want to empower women and help them relax and get into the mood.” It’s a concept that some men have struggled to grasp, according to Tseng. The first collection will release arousing scents, while another product in development simulates the warm sensation of breath blown gently into the ears.

Last year Alys co-founded a collective for women in the UK sex tech industry, to complement the New York-based Women of Sextech group. “The women in the industry are really up for collaborating and supporting one another.” She adds they are driven to “close the orgasm gap” – referring to the fact that men tend to climax more than women – and “help create a more sex-positive and equal society”.

The wealth of data that can be collected from smart sex tech should mean the offering will continue to improve. Mystery Vibe plans to incorporate sensors into its products that learn what stimulation methods work best, unveiling more data about the often elusive female orgasm.

Having a woman behind the creation of sex products means the stock is more relatable to other women – something that Fine believes has been missing. The company was the first to successfully fund the Fin sex toy on Kickstarter, bringing sex toys closer to being treated like any other consumer product.

Women-led companies are recognising that, just as not all women are turned on by toys that are flesh-coloured and phallic, not all women see simultaneous orgasming with their partner to be the holy grail of sexual fulfilment.

Fine, of Dame Products, adds: “I think our culture sometimes promotes orgasms over factors like intimacy and overall pleasure. Most people aren’t trying to attain the rare simultaneous climax – they want to share pleasure with their partner in a more general, less goal-oriented sense.”

Women are also harnessing sex tech to create products with women’s sexual fitness in mind. Tania Boler is co-founder of Elvie, which has created the Elvie Trainer – a mint-coloured, pebble sized kegel trainer that connects to a smartphone app to track and improve a woman’s pelvic floor muscles.

She argues the more traditional offering of kegel trainers have not been designed from the perspective of the user; they’re hard, clinical, cumbersome. Boler, who has a PhD in women’s health, was dismayed to discover there are only a few recognised scientific studies about the anatomy of the human vagina, despite half the population of the planet being in possession of one.

“Pelvic floor is the most important but most neglected muscle group in a woman’s body – a stronger pelvic floor means higher levels of arousal, more lubrication and stronger orgasms for women – and yet the product has been accused by some in the past of being anti-feminist because it means men enjoying tighter sex,” says Boler.

“This is about breaking taboos and realising pleasure and sensuality can be enjoyed for both sides.”

Stories about sex robots which allow men to act out rape fantasies have sparked outrage from women’s rights activists. It is not just heartening but essential that women are part of the sex tech movement if it is to be maximally beneficial, responsible and healthily balanced, says sex educator Alix Fox. “That’s not to say that left to their own (vibrating, thrusting) devices, all the sex tech men create would be damaging – not at all,” she adds.

“But in this era of technological boom, when the digitised and the mechanised is infiltrating almost everything from our boardrooms to our bedrooms, we must include women – lots of women, diverse women – in every conversation and at every stage.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Spice Up Your Relationship With Porn

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Believe it or not, porn can strengthen your relationship

 

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Let’s face it, many believe that pornography ruins relationships by setting unrealistic expectations in the bedroom. It’s a sound argument. But it would only be fair to make an opposing case that in some ways porn can improve your sex life.

“Pornography can spark curiosity and open conversation between partners. It’s so easy to get into a routine with your significant other, and it can be hard to break out of that. Watching or reading erotica allows couples to explore sexual activities that they may be curious about,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound.

A study published in the journal Sexual Medicine even shows that watching at least 40 minutes of porn twice a week can boost your sex drive and your overall desire to have sex. Not to mention, it’s really hot to watch people have sex, and sharing this with someone you love can enable a deeply sensual experience.

Convinced enough? Here are nine ways to incorporate porn into your sex life.

1. Have an open & honest conversation about it

Talk about your desires and interests and set boundaries of what is and isn’t OK, suggests Rodriguez. “From there, only good things can happen if you’re open and honest with each other about what you’re curious to try.”

2. Use porn as a source for inspiration

Be it BDSM or role-play, Rodriquez explains that having an example you can both watch and learn from together helps to frame what it is you’re curious to try.

3. Expand your sexual repertoire

Talk about the type of porn or fantasy you like to watch. Girl on girl, threesomes, just oral… have you always wanted to try a certain position or sex act? “This is the chance to open up and be honest about what you may have been afraid to voice to your partner,” says Antonia Hall, a psychologist and award-winning author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life.

4. Don’t be judgmental

Your partner might like something you don’t, notes Alicia Sinclair, Founder and CEO of b-Vibe and Le Wand. “It’s important to find the common ground and make the process sexy.”

5. Start soft

Begin with something you know turns you both on. “Try something in the amateur or couples section. It’s probably not a good idea to start with a hardcore sex scene (unless you’re both already into that of course),” says Sinclair.

6. Find a website both of you enjoy

Send each other clips you want to watch together later. “I’m a personal fan of Bellesa (run by Michelle Shnaidman) because it’s a bit more sensual than what you’d find on one of the bigger tube sites,” says Rodriguez.

7. Let it put you in the mood

Before your sweetie gets home. Put on your favorite video, rub one out and let yourself get totally aroused. As soon as they walk through the door, you’ll be in full get-it-on mode.

8. Aim for quality content

Sinclair suggests, Trenchcoatx. “This porn-for-women site is run by two women and has tons of quality content. Plus, you’re supporting women making porn, which is kind of a win-win in my book,” she adds.

9. Make you own porn

Get creative and make your own erotic video. It’s a fun way to experiment, act and enjoy watching it together later on. Just make sure to use a digital camera and not your cell phone so you don’t have to worry about it accidently getting uploaded and can delete it at any time.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s Surprisingly Hard to Ban Toxic Sex Toys

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But Here’s How to Protect Yourself

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These days, most of us will carefully check ingredients lists for gluten and trans fats, demand that our water bottles be made without BPA, and seek out paraben-free, body-safe cosmetics. But the average person can’t tell you what a toxic sex toy is—or even that they exist. Unfortunately, in the unregulated sex toy industry, plenty of sex toys are potentially rife with products that can hurt you (and not even in the fun, kinky way).

Perhaps the most well-known offender in terms of toy toxicity is a group of chemicals known as phthalates, a plasticizer that can be blended with other substances to make them softer and more flexible. A spotlight’s been shone on phthalates in recent years, as publications like Bustle and Bitch, and feminist-oriented sex shops like Good Vibes and Babeland have spoken out against them.

So why all the hullabaloo? It turns out that phthalates may have side effects when they come into contact with your body that could potentially be terrible for you—and aren’t disclosed by most sex toy manufacturers. According to Amanda Morgan, D.H.S., a faculty member at the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who wrote her master’s thesis on harmful sex toy materials, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that can cause health problems. “[Phthalates] mess with your hormones; they can cause birth defects, or other things related to liver or kidney functioning,” Morgan told me, referencing studies that have linked phthalates to irregular fetal development, early-onset puberty, and lower sperm counts, among other issues. “They can really mess you up because they pretend to be your hormones, and so your body’s hormonal cycle gets knocked out of whack from exposure to these things.”

When you hear horror stories about sex toys, though, it’s not necessarily phthalates that are to blame. One of the most common anecdotal complaints about toxic toys is that they cause skin irritation: “I first thought [it] was a yeast infection or BV, because of extreme itching and burning on my inner labia,” reports one reader who wrote in to sex toy review blog Dangerous Lilly. “My ass suddenly felt like it was on fire. A burning sensation spread throughout my butt,” recalled sex educator Tristan Taormino about a questionable dildo she used. One Playboy story described a dildo that caused a woman “such severe pain that she could barely speak.”

I asked Emily S. Barrett, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Health who has done extensive research on the prenatal effects of endocrine disruptors like phthalates, whether these reported burning sensations fit with her understanding of the chemicals. She told me she hasn’t seen evidence that phthalates irritate the skin in this way, and that they tend to “act on a much more subtle level most of the time.”

So what is causing these health problems? According to Amanda Morgan, phthalates aren’t the only sketchy ingredient still getting into our sex toys. As part of her thesis research, Morgan tested 32 sex toys to determine their chemical makeup. What she found was pretty scary: The toys she tested typically contained 30 to 35 percent chlorine. She said PVC, a material commonly used to make inexpensive sex toys, always contains chlorine (hence the chemical name “polyvinyl chloride”). Even scarier, in 2006, BadVibes.org—an organization that, full disclosure, is linked to pro-toy-safety sex shop The Smitten Kitten—ran lab tests on four popular sex toys. They found that two of them were made of PVC and contained “very high levels of phthalate plasticizer.”

“We use chlorine to kill bacteria in things,” Morgan said. “If you are being exposed to this high level of chlorine, especially in a sensitive membrane area [like the vagina or rectum], we could definitely chalk that up to causing irritation, burning, or messing up the environment by exposing it to something that is, as we know, a sterilization product.” So with the short-term burning effects of chlorine and the long-term endocrine effects of phthalates, PVC is, Morgan said, “definitely one of the worst sex toy materials we’ve seen.”

Now, you might be thinking, “OK, great to know! I’ll just buy only safe toys from now on!” Well, it’s not so simple. Since the sex toy industry is unregulated, it doesn’t fall under the current purview of the Food and Drug Administration. According to FDA press officer Angela Stark, that’s because the agency “does not regulate devices meant purely for sexual pleasure. It does, however, regulate genital devices that have a medical purpose such as vibrators intended for therapeutic use to treat sexual dysfunction or to supplement Kegel exercises.” Of course, the vast majority of sex toys don’t fall under this “health aid” umbrella.

The responsibility of regulating sex toys could potentially fall to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but Morgan told me the understaffed CPSC is already in charge of regulating over 15,000 types of products—not to mention the products themselves. The complex issue of sex toy regulation would be a big ask on top of all that.

Add to all of this the fact that the current Congress likely wouldn’t rush to make a bold, sex-positive statement by mandating sex toy safety, and there are plenty of reasons your sex toy might not meet body-safe standards. “Our government doesn’t generally like to talk about people pleasuring themselves,” Morgan pointed out.

Beyond that, though, Morgan adds that regulating the sex toy industry might not even be the best solution to getting rid of toxic toys anyway. “If something is federally regulated, that means that the federal government—depending on where they are in their political leanings at that time—could potentially make it illegal to have these products, by saying they are ‘dangerous’ and then regulating them out of existence,” she reasoned. “You get certain types of people in power, and they may not believe in sexual health, wellness, [or] self-pleasuring. It might go against their core values, and therefore they [might] use their political agenda and the federal regulation system to regulate these products out of people’s hands.”

It’s a conclusion that Zach Biesanz, a legal assistant in the office of New York’s Attorney General, came to in his 2007 paper in the journal Law & Inequality: “Special regulation of the sex toy industry would be unreasonably burdensome from a regulatory standpoint,” he wrote. “Only banning these toxins outright will suffice to protect consumers from phthalates’ harmful and even lethal effects.”

In the meantime, how do you tell if a toy is safe? Sex toy experts like Morgan, Smitten Kitten founder Jennifer Pritchett, and seasoned sex toy reviewer Epiphora all recommend buying toys made of phthalate-free, body-safe materials like pure silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Still, it’s difficult to know what’s what in an industry that mislabels its products so frequently. “Sniff your sex toy,” said Morgan. “That’s the easiest thing you can do. If you smell these products and they don’t smell like anything, then it most likely is a stable chemical compound like silicone.” Phthalates and PVC, however, smell “like chemicals,” according to Morgan, “like a new shower curtain,” according to Epiphora, and “like a headache,” according to Pritchett. The sex toy smell test might sound a little weird, but it’s a pretty good first line of defense.<

Morgan also recommends buying toys made by “companies that take a lot of pride in making good-quality, body-safe toys,” citing Tantus and Jimmyjane as examples. Other companies that proudly declare their products body-safe include We-Vibe, Fun Factory, Vixen Creations, and Funkit Toys.

And when in doubt, find a reviewer you can trust. Sex toy review blogs abound on the internet —Epiphora, Dangerous Lilly, and Formidable Femme, to name just a few—and while you’d be wise to take claims about sex toys with a grain of salt in this unregulated industry, sometimes the preponderance of good or bad reviews about a particular company or toy can suggest conclusions about its safety (or lack thereof).

Most important, though, demand body-safe sex toys by buying only from companies you can trust. “Consumers vote with their pocketbook,” said Tantus founder Metis Black. “Support the businesses that make safe toys a priority, that use their resources to educate, that take a stand and advocate for consumers.” She added that while pure silicone toys are expensive now—especially in comparison to PVC toys, which can often be under $30 a pop versus $100+ for silicone—more consumer demand for body-safe toys will create a larger supply at lower prices, as bigger companies with more resources start making nontoxic toys in larger quantities. That’s just sex toy economics.

Bloggers, consumers, and ethical toymakers alike all dream of a future in which no sex toys will burn your junk, give you infections, or cause long-term bodily harm. It seems reasonable enough. And if we keep fighting for it, maybe one day it’ll be reality.

Complete Article HERE!

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Bugs, Boners and BDSM: A Day in the Life of a Dominatrix

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Because quirks can be quirky.

By Andre Shakti

“We’ve got a live one, ladies!” Svetlana called out from the office. The scantily clad women seated around the kitchen table barely flinched.

Tuesdays were notoriously slow, with our phone lines typically dominated by time wasters. We called them “wankers,” the men who contacted us under the guise of arranging an appointment while having no intention of following through; simply calling up a domination house and confessing their fantasy to a live woman got them off. Sometimes all we could hear would be the wet slapping sound that accompanied them masturbating while they spoke to us; hence, “wankers.”

“Is it a wanker?” Lydia called back. She sat directly across from me at the table; Minna lounged to my right, and Cynthia leaned against my left side. We were an unusually small staff for an evening shift, but none of us minded. Fewer girls meant less competition

“No,” Svetlana replied, shuffling into the room wearing nothing but tattered SpongeBob SquarePants bedroom slippers. “Believe it or not, he put down a deposit. He’ll be here in an hour, and he’s not picky about appearance.” She maintained a quirky little smile as she delivered the information.

The three of us immediately perked up. If a client didn’t voice a preference for aesthetics, it evened the playing field. He could be anyone’s mark, although your skill level, number of years spent at the house, and relationship with the house manager all factored in.

“Please tell me he wants bondage,” Lydia purred. She was a whiz with rope, and a bombshell to boot. If the client had requested shibari, it’d be an easy match.

Svetlana’s grin stretched wider. “Oh, he wants bondage. But there’s a catch. You ladies know what an entomologist is?”

“Uh, is that an ENT? An ear, nose and throat doctor?” Minna guessed.

“Someone who studies insects,” I offered. As if on cue, Lydia and Minna pushed themselves violently away from the table in unison.

I’ve always gravitated toward creepy-crawlies. When most young girls my age were experimenting with makeup, I was scaling trees and pulling rat snakes out of neighbors’ birdhouses. Home videos of my childhood soccer games document me decked out in my goalie uniform, kneeling in the grass to trap a grasshopper as the ball whizzes by my head and my parents groan in disappointment

“Indeed!” Svetlana crowed. “The guy wants to book two girls. It’ll be a Snidely Whiplash gender-swap role play — you know, the cartoon villain that ties girls to train tracks? You girls will tie him down and torture him, except you’ll be torturing him with giant bugs.”

Lydia and Minna were already on their feet and backing away, their hands fluttering around their heads like moths around a light. Cynthia and I gazed up at Svetlana, barely able to contain our excitement.

The Divine Ms. Shakti.

Cynthia was the “evil genius” of the house. She went on to become one of the biggest fetish porn stars of the modern era; during one interview she disclosed — in earnest — that if she hadn’t found the sex industry, she’d probably be a serial killer. It almost goes without saying that she was my favorite co-worker.

Cynthia and I spent the next 45 minutes cleaning ourselves up and prepping one of the playrooms for the session. Before we knew it, the doorbell rang and we ushered a small, bespectacled older man — let’s call him Ned — into the session room. Ned was pale and slightly stooped, with a subdued manner that conveyed his reverence. This was not his first rodeo

We exchanged pleasantries and confirmed the requests he’d made over the phone. Ned proceeded to methodically unpack the cheap Styrofoam cooler he’d brought with him. Out came half a dozen small, identical Tupperware containers, each housing a different species of insect. First came the crickets, then the mealworms. The centipedes followed, as did the giant millipedes and hissing cockroaches. Finally, a pair of wolf spiders emerged to complete the collection.

With each unveiling, Cynthia and I cooed our mounting anticipation. I prematurely fondled one of the millipedes, allowing it to encircle my forearm as Cynthia stripped Ned nude. Together we tied him efficiently to the floor, stretched out on his back between a leather spanking bench and an elaborate canopied bondage bed. Once he was secured, we stepped back, surveying our work. Ned struggled pathetically. Cynthia’s eyes flashed, and I knew we’d transitioned seamlessly into our scene

“Do you hear that sound, Cynthia?” I tilted my head to the side. “It sounds almost like … a train!”

On cue, I pressed play on my phone, and the sound of a distant locomotive burst from the speakers. Ned squealed.

Cynthia leaped astride Ned, dangling a cricket an inch above his face. His eyes locked on the flailing insect as Cynthia traced his body with it, nose to toes, bathing in his fear. I took hold of my millipede and knelt beside the squirming Ned.

“Look how pathetic he is! I bet this millipede is even bigger than his cock,” I teased, moving the millipede to Ned’s lower abdomen to compare it to his flaccid penis.

“Let me go, please!” Ned screamed.

“Looks like you’re out of luck, Ned,” Cynthia mused, her face an unreadable mask. “The train’s coming around the corner. Sure you can’t get out of those restraints?”

Ned wrenched his hands and feet against the restraints, but remained stuck fast. Beads of sweat formed on a face that was getting redder by the second. I surreptitiously turned the volume up on my phone, simulating the train’s rapid approach.

“Any last words?” I said, locking eyes with Cynthia. As Ned opened his mouth for a final protest, we pried the lids off all the Tupperware containers and let every last insect rain down on his naked body.

Later that evening, I slid into the driver’s seat of my car and placed a small Tupperware container on my lap with care. Ned the millipede made an excellent pet.

Complete Article HERE!

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Taboo-busting sex guide offers advice to Muslim women seeking fulfilling love lives

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The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide to Mind Blowing Sex is praised for empowering women

Many Muslim women enter into a life-long commitment with little knowledge of sex.

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It was a confession by a newlywed friend about her disastrous sex life that gave Umm Muladhat an idea for a groundbreaking book.

Published last week, The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide to Mind Blowing Sex is the first such guide written by a Muslim woman. The author has chosen to stay anonymous, using an alias.

Candid advice is offered on everything from kissing to cowgirl positions – with the core message being that Muslim women can and should enjoy a varied sex life and take the lead in physical relationships.

While some critics have accused the author of fetishising Muslim women and encouraging promiscuity, the book has been welcomed by readers who have lauded her as a Muslim Belle De Jour, bringing a taboo subject into the open. “I’ve received encouraging feedback, but also a significant number of demeaning and disgusting messages,” said Muladhat. “One woman said it’s not needed, they learn everything from their mothers. I doubt any mother speaks in as explicit detail as I have.

“I put an emphasis on having sex only with your spouse, but having the full range of sexual experiences with that spouse. Islamically, there’s an emphasis on enjoying physical relationships within the context of marriage, not just for procreation. It is the wife’s right that her husband satisfy her sexually.”

Muslim women’s organisations have praised her, saying the book will empower Muslim women and protect them from entering into sexually abusive relationships. Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK which runs the Muslim Women’s Helpline, said: “I’m all for women talking about sex. Why shouldn’t they? Talking about sex in Islam is not new, and past scholars highlighted the importance of sexual pleasure for women, which included advice for men to ensure this happens.

“However, in practice, sex seems to all be about men’s pleasure. Cases often come up on our helpline where women’s complaints range from being forced into participating in unwanted sexual acts, rape, to being treated like a piece of meat with zero effort made to ensure the woman has an orgasm. I suspect the problem is much bigger, as most would feel too embarrassed to talk about it.”

Muladhat said she felt compelled to write the book after she discovered women were entering into a lifelong commitment with little knowledge about sex other than snippets gleaned from the back of guides to marriage, with an emphasis on what was forbidden, rather than what was allowed, and with little from the perspective of women.

“I saw many Muslim women were getting married with no real avenue for learning about sex,” she said. “Couples knew ‘penis into vagina’, but little on how to spice up their sex life. Different positions, different things to try in bed – it’s all absent in contemporary Islamic literature. For those in the west, certain things permeate through osmosis, so women have heard about BDSM and doggy style, but only in a vague sense.”

Many misconceptions that the book deals with stem from cultural attitudes that decent women don’t enjoy sex and should “lie back and think of morning prayers”. Gohir said: “Guilt associated with sex is drummed into women from childhood. It’s portrayed as something dirty where women’s sexuality is often controlled. This does result in women going into marriages not having the confidence to say ‘I am not enjoying this’ or ‘I want this’. It’s time this topic is spoken about more openly.”

Muladhat also found that confusion about what sex acts were permissible in Islam was inhibiting women from experimenting in the bedroom. “Outside the house, culture varies a lot. Inside the bedroom, the concerns and desires of Muslim women from around the world were strikingly similar,” she said.

After holding informal workshops, she set up a website to ascertain interest in a book. Such was the response, that Muladhat is already considering a follow-up, after being inundated with emails from men also looking for advice. “I didn’t find any guides to sex aimed at Muslims, women or otherwise. There are plenty of books already on marriage, but spicing up a Muslim’s sex life while staying halal? There’s nothing.

“I’ve received dozens of emails from men asking if I had any plans to write a companion book to teach them how to please their wives in bed. I’ve taken that into consideration and plan to write a follow-up if this book is successful.”

The author chose to stay anonymous, partly for fear of a backlash but also because she didn’t want to be known in her tight-knit community as the “sex book aunty”. “Initially, I thought my real name would add credibility, but it’s a sensitive topic,” said Muladhat. “Whether it’s ethnicity, socioeconomic status or religiosity, people who want to attack the book will invariably do so by attacking the author. By separating my real self from the book, people are forced to deal with the content.”

What she will reveal, though, is that she is an American-born psychology graduate and much of the book is based on her personal experience of keeping the spark alive within her own marriage, along with tips picked up from friends and old copies of Cosmopolitan.

“My biggest qualification is the knowledge which comes only with experience. A doctor can explain the biology, but if you want an attractive physique you’re better off learning from a bodybuilder than an overweight doctor.”

Complete Article HERE!

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