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Having Kids Helped Me Embrace My Own Sexuality

By

Margaret E Jacobsen

My children’s first interactions around sex and sexuality are actually taking place in our home right now. I’ve worked hard to establish where we live as a safe place for them to grow, make mistakes and learn from them, and to inquire about life. It’s why I made the choice early on in their lives to make sure that they learned about sex from me and from their dad, and that in teaching them about sex, we taught our kids to be sex positive. As much as people warned me that the conversation around sex is awkward between a parent and child, I didn’t let the fear of being uncomfortable keep me from taking about sex with my 3- and 2-year-old children.

I’m sure that talking to a 3 year old and a 2 year old about sex sounds like it’s a bit young, but I feel like that’s because we’re so used to framing the sex conversation around the “birds and the bees” conversation. When I was growing up I never had that conversation with my parents and had to frame my own ideals about sex and sexuality through experience and age. I didn’t want that for my children, though. So I felt that a toddler age was actually a wonderful time to start talking to them about how to love their bodies and how to appreciate them. I felt like the intro into sex isn’t about diving head first into questions like “where does the penis go?” and “what is the purpose of the vagina?” I wanted to give my kids a foundation for understanding and respecting their bodies before I ever taught them how about the intimacy shared between two people.

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More than anything, I wanted my kids to understand as soon as possible how to love themselves, to understand consent, and to respect others’ bodies. I believe that sex positivity isn’t just about the act of having sex, it’s also about learning that the experience starts with you and will eventually (if you choose) include others.

By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

My upbringing kept me from understanding what sex was. My parents sex hidden, far above my reach. I was told we’d open that box when I was old enough, but only when I was was getting close to marriage. I found this strange — even at 10 years old. I would look sex up in the dictionary and in the encyclopedia. I often wondered what sex was and what was so special about it — why was it something only adults could understand? I’d hear my friends talk about boobs, about liking boys, and wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to be naked around another person I liked. At the time, the thought horrified me.

I was uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t understand what was happening to it, or why I was suddenly getting hair under my armpits and on my vagina. My parents were constantly telling me to “be modest,” and I felt so much pressure and responsibility to look and behave and act a certain way. By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

Margaret E Jacobsen & kids

When I was 18, I was in love and I had sex for the first time. It was amazing, and I had no idea why I’d been so afraid and so ashamed. I was raised Christian and was taught to believe that sex before marriage was shameful. But after having sex for the first time, I didn’t want any forgiveness. I simply wanted to keep having sex, without feeling guilty because of it. After I’d gotten married to my then-husband and had two kids, I looked back on my own sexual experiences and realized that I didn’t want my children gaining their sex education from the world around them without some input from me. I didn’t want them feel ashamed of the fact that they liked having sex or pleasuring their bodies. I wanted my kids to know that they could always come and talk to me, that I would always support them.

I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

So I started to talk to them about celebrating their bodies when they were young. And because of that, I had deeper conversations with myself surrounding my own sex positivity. I had some sexual trauma in my past, which has always made it a bit difficult for me to grapple with wanting to be sexual and carving out safe spaces to practice having sex. I made changes in my personal life: I was more vocal with myself about my needs and wants, then with partners. It helped me shape the conversations I’d have with my children about how they can and should voice what they want, not with sex because that’s still a ways off, but when interacting with others. I wanted them to learn and understand the power of their own voices. I taught them to say, “No, that’s not something I would enjoy,” or “I would really like if we did this” in their everyday lives, knowing that these lessons will help them in their sexuality later on. We’ve focused on how important it is for them to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves.

Margaret E Jacobsen's kids

Another thing we do in our house is walk around naked. I used to shy away from showing parts of my body, like my stomach or my thighs. I have stretch marks and cellulite — both things I’ve been told aren’t “sexy.” My kids, however, could care less about whether or not my body is sexy enough, because they just like how soft my body is. It’s soft for cuddling and for hugging, two things that are very important to them. My kids move so confidently with their bodies, both with clothes on and with clothes off. My daughter’s favorite thing is to stand in front of the mirror and compliment herself. She’s actually inspired me to do the same. I’ve taken up the practice. They’ve seen me in some of my lingerie, and tell me it’s beautiful. They don’t know that lingerie is “just for sex” or that it’s something I should feel wary of other people seeing. Instead, I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other.

My kids are 6 and 7 years old now, and we’ve talked about what sex is. The conversation has changed as they’ve grown up. They understand that sex is a beautiful act, one that mostly happens when people are naked. They don’t really care to know more yet, but I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other. As a person who is non-monogamous, I’ve shown them that sex and love are not limited to one person. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In turn, my children have taught me to respect and be proud of my body. They think it is magic — and I agree.

Lately, the children have been exploring their bodies, which I’ve told them is fine, but it’s reserved for their alone time. I’m trying to make sure that when we talk about our bodies and about sex that we do so in an uplifting, positive way. I don’t want my children to ever question or feel any shame around their bodies or their wants. I want to equip them with the right knowledge so that they’ll be able to enjoy. Most of all, I want them to be happy.

Complete Article HERE!

Having sex with a man doesn’t make you gay

But if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it

by The Guyliner

men who have sex with men

Labels are important. They help us. They can protect us. Labels tell you that there are baked beans in the tin you’re holding; labels warn us not to wash our merino sweater above 30 degrees. We trust labels, because without them, we’d get it wrong. But sometimes, labels don’t work – they are derogatory or incorrect or unwelcome. One part of society where labels are changing is within sexuality and gender. As the landscape expands from straight/gay and man/woman to include bisexuality, queerness and trans people, among others, many are finding themselves moving away from the specific, restrictive pigeonholing a label can bring and merely tagging themselves “Me”.

But what happens when you’re happy with the label society has assigned you, but quite fancy trying out something someone like you doesn’t normally do, or what if you start to travel down one path, only to find you prefer another, and want to change course and stay on it for ever? Do you have to re-label yourself? Does it mean you’re not who you thought you were? Is it time to mute whichever episode of Stranger Things you’re watching, stand up, tell the room you dreamt another man’s erection touched you and have an identity crisis? In short: if you’re straight but have sex with another guy, does it make you gay?

beautiful buttIt rather depends on what you think being gay means. For most people, ask what “gay” means to them and, if we’re talking about guys, they’ll say a man who has sex with other men. And this, of course, is a huge part of being gay. But the reduction of gayness to be nothing more than just sex can not only be counter-productive – as in, uptight straight guys are missing out on something quite spectacular – and, frankly, homophobic, but it’s also plain wrong.

You know when you see a kid acting or talking a certain way and you think, “they’re gay” or “they’ll be gay when they’re older” – how do you explain that? They don’t even know what sex is yet, straight or gay. The feelings “gay” children have and the character traits they display can’t be boiled down to some potential gay sex they may or may not be having 10 or 15 years down the line – that’s gayness right there, already in play. Whether you believe in nature or nurture or any other theory, there’s more to being gay than just shagging another guy.

So if we remove the label of “gay” from sex acts we traditionally assume are only the domain of gay men, does this mean you can take part in them and still be straight? Where do we draw the line? Getting a blow job from a guy, for example, is something a lot more straight men have experienced than the stony faces down at the Dog and Gun might have you believe. Is it less gay if there’s no mutual contact of genitals? Because it’s passive? A service, almost?

James, 28, says he regularly got blowjobs from a gay pal in his teens, but he doesn’t consider himself gay. “Me and my mate would fool around but mainly he would do it to me,” he explains. “I wasn’t as interested in his cock as he was in mine, but I think we both got something out of it.” If there’s one thing hormone-frazzled 17-year-old boys aren’t getting anywhere near enough of as they want, it’s oral sex. “I didn’t have a girlfriend yet and my mate was just discovering his sexuality and wanted to try. I always made it clear we weren’t in a relationship and that nobody should know. But I didn’t feel guilty and I think he was cool with it.”shut your cock washer

You could argue that there was an element of exploitation to James’s relationship with his mate. The friend was finding his feet with his sexuality and James was the willing guinea pig – as long as nobody found out – but if you’re encouraging a gay man to perform fellatio on you, aren’t you gay? “I’ve never been with a man since and I’m happily married now. I doubt I’d do it again as that would mean being unfaithful, but I consider myself straight. It’s fine to experiment; it’s a big part of finding out who you are.”

And what about when contact with another man happens as part of your relationship? Mark, a 28-year-old investment banker had already had one skirmish with a gay guy when his colleague’s boyfriend came on to him in a club bathroom and went down on him – real life really is stranger than soap opera – but his second time was a different matter altogether. His girlfriend was there.

downlow6“I was in the couples room at Torture Garden [a fetish club in London] and a stranger gave me a blowjob,” Mark explains. “I was there with my girlfriend at the time and we’d both got pretty wild.”

So why stop at a blowjob and not take it further? When in Rome, and all that. “I just didn’t really feel the desire to f*** him. I suppose it’s possible I might go further one day but I think it’s very unlikely. I almost never think men are attractive.”

But if you’re involving a third person in your hitherto straight sex life, does this mean either you or your partner is bisexual? For Mark, it’s not a concern. “Why do I continue to identify as straight? I suppose it’s because I couldn’t imagine myself having a relationship with a man. In the same way I have gay friends who’ve f***ed women, but would never identify as bi, or worry they’re straight.

“I think that ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight’ is about much more than some sexual contact.”

So a BJ is a BJ, but what about when things go further? Is the threshold for gayness actual penetration? Surely, if you’re having anal sex with a man, you’re gay, no? That’s what the guys in the locker room would say, right?

Thinking about having sex with a man isn’t a sign you’re gay yourself, no more than idly imaging pushing your evil boss under a truck means you’re a latent homicidal maniac. Sometimes, though, even if you’ve never imagined it, when the opportunity presents itself, a primal instinct takes over, as videographer Zak, 25, discovered.

“I’d never really thought about being bi or gay, he explains. “I’d only ever been with girls and had never really been sexually attracted to any guys.

“When I was 20 a load of our sixth form year got together for a party. George was a guy from my year I’d known fairly well but never been close to. We were both fairly drunk and I remember just feeling happy to see him for the first time in ages and for some reason, knowing he was gay, I kissed him rather than hugging him. We chatted for a bit and then we both carried on with the night – not really thinking much about it.”

So far, so straight – no need to adjust any labels so far. Everyone is as they should be.

Zak continues: “Later on, we were both alone on the landing and he kissed me again. This time, for some reason, I didn’t really stop him and before long we were fully making out – we snuck into one of the bedrooms and one thing led to another.”

But was this a harrowing experience? Was there much soul-searching or did Zak just have a blast?

“I did enjoy myself. I suppose I’m quite a sexually liberal person and didn’t really think of it as being ‘gay’, it was just was fun and at the time I was enjoying it.”MSM

The ability to distance oneself from any gayness of a sex act perhaps comes from how it plays out. Who shags who, who touches what – that kind of thing. Like James getting a BJ from his pal, Zak’s mate was also providing a service of sorts, but Zak was an active participant. “We had sex, both oral and anal,” says Zak. “I ‘topped’ [the other guy played a passive role and ‘received’], I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with it the other way around.”

It’s not uncommon for straight men who have sex with another man to experience “gay panic” and feel guilty about what they’ve done and what it means. This can, on occasion, lead to persecution of, or violence against the other guy, whether he’s gay or also straight. But Zak remains unfazed about the experience.

“I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed,” he says. “I still identify as straight and don’t think I’d initiate something with a bloke, but put in the same situation I could see myself doing it again.”

Some guys might worry that they were gay – and if you’re wondering why anyone would “worry” about such a thing, do take a moment to research how gay men and women are treated across the world – but Zak takes a more relaxed approach.

“One of my uni friends described himself as ‘hetero-flexible’ and I reckon that’s probably where I am at too,” says Zak. “I don’t think repeating it would make me ‘gay’. I’m not attracted to them but I can appreciate men who are attractive. In the same way I’ve slept with women in the past who I don’t think I was really attracted to, sometimes sex is just sex and it’s fun.”

And Zak’s right, sex is just sex. It’s common for gay people, when they first come out, to say their sexuality doesn’t define them, that there’s more to them than simply being gay. It’s all part of the process of recognizing your sexual orientation and assert yourself as an individual, not part of some flock or movement. It’s the vestigial feelings of shame that coming out is supposed to eradicate, hanging on for dear life. “I’m not like the others,” they think. Most of us get over it eventually and reconcile with the fact we’re gay, but this refusal to define can, in some cases, be a positive thing – a defiance of society’s boring old norms. As long as it’s used constructively and positively, and not homophobically of course.

You as an individual get to decide how you label your sexuality, if at all. As long as nobody’s feelings are getting screwed over, you’re free to have sex with men or women at will and still call yourself straight.

But it’s worth acknowledging that you’re merely a tourist and all the privilege this gives you. You get all the pluses of gay sex – and they are pluses, admit it, you love it – but, as long it’s kept on the downlow, none of the prejudice and pressures the LGBT community faces apply to you. You get to dip in, and out, with little or none of the comeback.

Labels inform and warn and categorize, but they also help us come to terms with who we are. A label can be something to cling to, to identify with, to make us feel safe, to tell the world what we’re about.

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Avoiding them altogether is brave, choosing one and then flouting the conventions of it could be braver still, but living with a label 24/7 and taking all the consequences it throws at you is perhaps the bravest path of all. And those repercussions can be noxious: LGBT people are discriminated against, mocked, beaten and murdered, all for doing things you get to do without question. Just for being.

Having sex with a man doesn’t mean you’re gay, definitely not. You get to be who you want to be. But don’t forget the sacrifices your gay brothers make on a daily basis so you can have that freedom to choose. You get to go back to your privileged status in the world – we can only be us.

“Gay” sex acts aren’t something to be ashamed of; if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it. Don’t let it be a dirty little secret; own your sexuality – whatever it may be – with pride.

Complete Article HERE!

Shaming Men Doesn’t Build Healthy Sexuality

By David J Ley Ph.D

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Male sexuality is intensely under attack, in the increasingly vitriolic social dialogue related to pornography. Though women watch and make pornography, most of the current debates focus on aspects of masculine sexual behaviors. These behaviors include masturbation, use of pornography, prostitutes or sexual entertainment like strip clubs. Promiscuity, sex without commitment, and use of sex to manage stress or tension are all things that are frequently a part of male sexuality, whether we like it or not. But, male sexuality is not a disease, not a public health crisis, it is not evil, and it does not overpower men’s lives or choices. Shaming men for these behaviors isolates men, and ignores powerful, important and healthy aspects of masculinity.

There is a common perception of male sexuality as intrinsi­cally selfish, overly focused on “scoring” and sexual conquests, on anonymous, “soulless” sex, and on the outward manifestations of virility.  But there are other, oft neglected sides of male eroticism. Straight men are far more focused upon women’s needs, and upon closeness with women, than we give them credit for. Nancy Friday wrote that “Men’s love of women is often greater than their love of self.” Men give up friends and male camaraderie and accept a life of economic support of women, even leading up to an earlier death, all in order to be with women. More than half of all men describe that their best sexual encounters came when they “gave a woman physical pleasure beyond her dreams.” Men redi­rect their selfishness away from their own satisfaction, and toward a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, by giving sexual satisfaction. Male sexuality often involves an intense focus on the needs of their partners, and men gain great pleasure, even a strong sense of manliness, from giving their lover sexual pleasure.

In fact, men’s desire to sexually satisfy their partners comes at the price of their own satisfaction. When a man is unable to make his partner orgasm, many men report incredible frustration, disappointment, and self-doubt. Women even complain that men put so much pressure and intent upon helping the woman achieve orgasm that the act ceases to be pleasurable and starts to feel more like childbirth. In such cases, women fake orgasms, not for themselves, but to satisfy their partner’s needs. Until a woman has an orgasm, a man doesn’t think he’s done his job, and his masculinity hangs in the balance.

Franz_Von_Stuck_-_SisyphusMen are taught from a young age that they must be sexually competent and sexually powerful with exaggerated and impossible ideals. Surveys of sex in America find that, compared to women, men are far more insecure and anxious about their sexual performance. Nearly 30 percent of men fear that they ejaculate too soon, most men sometimes experience erectile dysfunction connected to anxiety, and one man in every six reports significant worries about his sexual abilities to satisfy his partner. These are huge burdens that men carry, and are just one reason why many men pursue other forms of sex such as masturbation to pornography.

Compared to women, men actually experience greater pain and psychological disruption from the ups and downs of romantic relationships. Not only do the negative aspects of a romantic relationship hurt men more than women, but the positive aspects and benefits of that relationship have greater impact upon the man than the woman. Because women are better able to access outside support from friends and family, they often fare better than men. Men are often isolated and burdened with the expectation that they shouldn’t feel pain, or if they do, they must suffer alone.

For men, physical affection and sex is one of the main ways we feel loved, accepted, and regarded. For many men, it is only through physical love that we can voice tenderness and express our desire for togetherness and physical bonding. Only in sex can we let down boundaries and drop our armor enough to be emotionally vulnerable.

Sex plays a greater role in the lives of men as a form of acceptance and mutual regard than it does for women. Women touch each other all the time, with hugs, holding hands, closer body contact, and smaller “personal space.” Men shake hands. Really good friends might, at best, punch each other in a loving way, do a careful “man hug,” or even swat each other’s buttocks, if it’s during an approved masculine sporting event. (Many homosexual men experience this differently, when they come out and are part of the LGBTQ community) So the body-to-body contact that sex offers feeds an appetite, a craving, one that is often starved near to death in men.

Male sexuality is portrayed as something that men must guard against, and describe it as though it is a demonic force, lurking within our souls, which must be constrained, feared and even rejected. Men are portrayed as powerless to control themselves, in the face of sexual arousal that is too strong. Men are painted as weak, harmed and warped by sexual experiences such as pornography. As a result, men are told to be ashamed of the sexual desires that society has called unhealthy, and told to forego those condemned sexual interests. But an essential part of man is lost when we encourage men to split them­selves from their sexuality.

Unfortunately, as we teach men to be men, to understand, accept, and express their masculinity, we rarely attend adequately to the loving, nurturing, and amo­rous side of men. The most positive way that society and media currently portray male sexuality is when it is depicted as bumbling and stupid-making, a force that turns men into fools, easily led by our penises. But more often, male sexuality is depicted as a force that hovers just on the edge of rape, rage and destruction.

What is necessary for a healthy man, for complete masculinity, is the in­tegration, consolidation, and incorporation of ALL the varied aspects of our sexuality. When we try to externalize our desires for love and sex, excising them from ourselves as something external and dangerous, we run the real risk of creat­ing men without compassion, without tenderness, and without the ability to nurture. It is easy to suggest that what we are trying to excise are the base, primitive parts of men’s eroticism, those desires to rape, dominate, and sat­isfy oneself selfishly. But in truth, those desires, as frightening as they can be, are integrally linked to male emotional desires for safety, acceptance, protection of others, and belonging.

A_ShipwreckThose things that make men admired and respected—their strength, courage, independence, and assertiveness—are the same things which contribute to the differences in male and female sexuality. By condemning these characteristics, we run the real and frightening risk of abolishing qualities that are essential to healthy masculinity.

A healthy sexual male is one who accepts and understands his erotic and sexual desires, along with his drive for success, dominance (and often submission as well) and excellence. Healthy sexual choices come from internal acceptance and awareness, not rejection and shame. Research has shown that all men have the ability to exercise control over their levels of sexual arousal and sexual behavior, but no men can fully suppress their sexual desire. Healthy men can be men who go to strip clubs, visit prostitutes and watch pornography. They are men who make conscious sexual choices, accepting the consequences of their actions.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation. The Religious Institute

We need to begin encouraging personal integrity, responsibility, self-awareness and respect, both for oneself and one’s sexual partner(s). This is, I think, the goal for all men – to make their sexual choices an integrated part of who they are, and the kind of man they desire to be. Unfortunately, as long as we continue to shame and condemn men in general, and specific sexual acts, we are merely isolating men. Further, we are exacerbating the problem, because removing porn or shaming men for their desires or fantasies, does not teach men how to be a sexually healthy man.

Complete Article HERE!

Off Limits? The Best Sexual Positions for People with Limited Mobility

Aging brings changes to our physical and emotional states. These changes can have both positive and negative affects when it comes to sexual intimacy. While it’s not a given that desire and frequency of sex decrease as we get older, it may be necessary to accommodate the limited mobility many of us experience over time. Painful joints, decreased flexibility, and physical disabilities can all contribute to restricted mobility. Rather than allow limited mobility to get in the way, we’ve provided illustrated positions to help you and your partner continue to be intimate. Remember that not all positions work for every individual or couple. Do what feels best for you and your partner and pay attention to any discomfort. Read on for our suggestions that appropriate for various conditions.

The Best Sexual Positions for People with Limited Mobility

Complete Article HERE!

How the penis disappeared from the sex toy

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by Hannah Smothers

You’ve seen what a penis looks like. Sure, there are variables that make each one a little different—the world is beautiful that way—but, generally speaking, they all fit a certain mold.

As the male sexual organ, the penis was designed to transport sperm from one body into another. As an added feature, the penis can also summon orgasm in a female partner during this process. But we know this isn’t always the case. While a healthy male organ works pretty well for its intended reproductive purpose, there are some design flaws in terms of maximizing female pleasure.

LILY 2So what if you could redesign the penis, make it a little bit better? Which pieces would you change, and which would you keep? Erasing the need for reproductive functionality, would you scrap the whole thing and start from scratch? In the end, would this magic device—capable of bringing women waves of pleasure—even resemble the penis in its current human form?

Welcome to the world of modern-day vibrators, a place largely devoid of the original pleasure device.

As sex toys have become increasingly sleek and modern—taking cues from the minimalistic designs of like Apple and Ikea—one clear trend has emerged: They no longer look like human penises. In fact, they no longer look human at all—which, according to designers, entrepreneurs, and sex therapists alike, is a very good thing.

Kitschy and grotesque

The first time the American public saw a non-human organ used to stimulate sexual arousal was in the early porn films of the 1920s. Over the previous few decades, small home appliances marketed under the guise of medical necessity (to cure the female ailment of “hysteria“) had become commonplace—kind of like how we now see “personal massagers” advertised in Brookstone. But in the new black-and-white pornos of the ’20s, audiences saw these appliances used for very non-medical purposes.

zini-deux-293x300And once the public was confronted with the idea that these devices could be used strictly for pleasure, the products disappeared from women’s magazines and reputable store shelves.

Vibrators made a second coming about 30 years later, during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But even though Americans were talking about sexuality more openly than ever before, we still weren’t totally cool with the idea of incorporating these objects in our sex lives. In response, early industry leaders made them as outlandish as possible: Rotating glitter-dicks, two shafts emerging from one testicle-shaped base, rubber duckies that secretly vibrated. We displaced the awkwardness of using machines as sexual aids by turning these aids into novelty objects, or toys.

But there was a big problem with this approach. Since the products were advertised as “novelties,” not health aids, they were held to lower standards than medical devices and other things we put inside our bodies. The cheap toys were unsafe, ugly, and ineffective. And not at all sexy.

“I don’t think anyone has ever said, ‘I want a vibrator that looks like a bunny rabbit and a penis all smashed together,’” Ti Chang, the female co-founder of sex toy and jewelry design company Crave, told me. “I think the sex toy industry has really had a lot of male voices—it’s been men designing products for women, so it tends to be very male anatomy centric. Like, ‘Oh, it’s sex, she wants a big cock, so we’ll just make lots of different colors of cocks, and to make this really silly, we’ll put a little rabbit on it.’”

Companies like Doc Johnson—a leading novelty company for decades, notorious for its line of Zini DonutRealistic Cocks—offer a good example of the “she wants a big cock” mentality that dominated the industry during the late-20th century. Robert Rheaume, the president of high-end sex toy company JimmyJane, charmingly described these hyper-realistic dildos as the kind of severed penis you’d get if “there was an Orc from Lord of the Rings walking around, and they cut his penis off.”

He also argued, by nature of them being just so grotesque, they’re not very sex-positive. He put it to me this way: “Let’s say you and I are well into our sexual relationship, and I pull out this giant, Doc Johnson, 15-inch cock,” Rheaume said. “You might be like, WOAH, where’s that going? Get out of my apartment right now, I’m leaving—call me a taxi, call an Uber. It’s just intimidating and scary for some people.”

Kitschy, intimidating, grotesque—all are terms you could use to describe the sex toy market up until the early 2000s. The poor designs, cheap rubbers and plastics, and incredibly dick-centric domain of products presented itself as an untapped valley of junk, just waiting for a messiah. This is what Ethan Imboden, the founder of JimmyJane, realized upon walking into an Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo a little more than a decade ago.

“As soon as I saw past the fact that in front of me happened to be two penises fused together at the base, I realized that I was looking at the only category of consumer product that had yet to be touched by design,” Imboden said in his 2012 Atlantic profile. Coming from an industrial design background, and lacking the desire to manufacture what he saw as landfill products, he left his job designing everyday consumer products to launch JimmyJane—a sex toy company that would put safety, design, and sex-positivity first. Around this time, a small, luxury intimate toy company in Sweden called LELO started doing the exact same thing.

post-phalic 01The kitschy sex toy industry was primed for a big change, and companies like JimmyJane and LELO were ready to usher it in.

Disrupting the dick

Skeuomorphism is a concept in technological design that describes our tendency to retain tactile aspects of the physical world as we move more of our lives onto screens. At Apple, for example, skeuomorphic design was thought to ease the transition from the real to the virtual. Turning a page on your Mac or iPhone would closely resemble turning a page in a real notebook, paper sounds included. If you can recreate the physical aspects of a very familiar, tactile world in the flat, virtual reality of an operating system, designers have long believed, maybe more people will feel comfortable using the product.

In sex toy design, this has translated into manufacturing dismembered penises and inventing crevices meant to resemble human vaginas and mouths. But why—if women and couples are looking for something more than their own, very real human parts—would they want a plastic knock-off of those same parts in bed? Just as some people argue that retaining archaic, physical traits of notepads on our iPhones is unnecessary, companies like JimmyJane and LELO saw retaining the original design of human organs as unnecessary and outdated.

Of course, there will probably always be a market for straight-up dildos—which are different from vibrators—and which, by nature of their intended internal purpose, must resemble a human penis. But female-oriented vibrators allow more room for innovation.

With this in mind, JimmyJane and LELO’s emphasis on design, coupled with major tech advances of the early 2000s, allowed these pioneering sex companies to essentially reinvent the penis. “Technology drives the industry—it’s tech, tech, tech,” Patti Britton, a clinical sexologist in southern California, told me. “Everyone’s going for the faster, the most options for control, as well as these really unusual and really sophisticated designs.”post-phalic 02

Those sophisticated designs are now pretty commonplace, and they look nothing like human parts. The design shift comes as a result of technological advances, yes, but also reflects a pretty significant ideological shift. Vaginal penetration, as we now know, isn’t necessarily the key to female orgasm, and penises aren’t naturally shaped to stimulate the elusive G-spot. Skeuomorphism started disappearing from the industry, and the dick was reinvented—and ultimately displaced.

Luxury investments

When sex toys start looking less like severed organs, it gets easier for consumers to take them seriously. And when consumers start to take them seriously, it opens up room for a luxury class of sex toys—something that LELO and JimmyJane, especially, have capitalized on. Most of LELO’s products start at more than $120, though the company also boasts a 24-karat gold plated vibrator for $15,000. As Steve Thomson, LELO’s global marketing manager, told me, creating toys that last a lifetime, like a nice espresso maker or television, is “a way of challenging assumptions about the sex toy market as a whole.”

“There’s always going to be a place for novelty goods and phallic-shaped items,” Thomson said. “But I don’t believe that’s the future of sex toys in any way. People are moving away from the assumption that it’s purely a substitute for a partner.”

post-phalic 03To Thomson, as well as industry leaders at JimmyJane, Crave, and the numerous other companies that have joined the modern sex toy craze, the future of sex toys is in making objects that fit easily into a consumer’s everyday life. That’s why, as technology improves, we see things like app-controlled panty vibes and vibrators equipped with memory that will store your favorite sexual patterns.

Along with loosening cultural values around discussing sex—almost everyone I interviewed cited the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise as a major breakthrough—the shift in toy design has transformed the industry from a $1.3 billion a year industry to a $15 billion a year industry in revenue alone. “If it’s okay for the modern mom to have dialogue about Fifty Shades of Grey, sexuality and masturbation, I think it gives us complete permission to have these conversations and to make these products available,” Rheaume said.

He’s not wrong. Research shows that not only are more women using toys, they’re owning up to using more toys. Consumers are literally taking their orgasms into their own hands, and they’re commonly paying upwards of $150 to do so. Is it worth it to buy a vibrator that costs a bit more than something you might find at your neighborhood adult novelty shop if it means it’ll last longer and isn’t toxic to your body? Absolutely.

But not everyone can afford it, and while some products come with a money-back, orgasm guarantee—they don’t always work as advertised. Has design for the sake of being beautiful, and innovation for the sake of being advanced, displaced the actual functionality of the vibrator?

That’s what was bothering Janet Lieberman, a mechanical engineering grad from MIT and enthusiastic sex toy user. Facing repeated disappointment in the toys she bought, Lieberman realized she was in a unique position to utilize her expertise to make things better. The technology was good, but she saw it going in the wrong direction. There was a sort of machismo attitude slipping into products designed for women—who cares if your device can track your orgasms, give you Bluetooth feedback, and looks like modern art if it doesnt work?

Now, as co-founder and lead engineer for the New York-based sex toy company Dame, she’s ushering in the newest wave—and quite likely the future—of sex toy design.

Women come first

One of the big problems with the sex toy industry is how male-driven and controlled it’s been throughout most of its history. Sure, the men at LELO and JimmyJane have women’s desires in mind—both Thomson and Rheaume told me about the extensive research measures their companies take when designing new products. JimmyJane, for example, relied on data about average labia size from the renowned Kinsey Institute when creating its new Form 5 vibrator, which is designed to simultaneously stimulate a woman’s labia and clitoris.

And to make sure the products hitting the market are truly effective, the leading companies also rely on demo communities—women who test new prototypes and provide detailed feedback. But, as Lieberman argues, there’s a difference between running a product by a demo audience and having a woman—the target consumer of the product—involved each step of the way.

And so, it’s becoming increasingly common to see women-run sex toy companies, or to see women involved in the design and engineering process, according to industry insiders. “If they’re products for women, you kind of want women everywhere in the process so they’re making the right priorities,” Lieberman told me.

A female designer and engineer, for example, might know right off the bat whether something is going to work. It’s not that men don’t take all the important components into consideration—after all, some of these products are used mutually between partners—it’s just that women are more likely to understand the various nuances in their own anatomies, and take those into consideration in the engineering process.

While enabling sex toys to track activity and communicate long distance via the internet—both features on the newest models—is cool, Lieberman and Crave’s Chang both stressed a personal mission to deliver what sex toys have long promised: really fantastic orgasms.

“Having an orgasm is like a birth right, you should have it!” Chang said, in a sentiment famously voiced by Nicki Minaj and, more recently, Amy Schumer. In her process at Crave—which steers clear of trying to mimic anything anatomical—function always comes first.

Lieberman and her business partner, Alex Fine, took a similar approach when building Dame’s first product, a couple’s vibe called Eva. “I wouldn’t say that one of our primary goals in designing this was that we wanted it to be beautiful,” Lieberman said of the device, which resembles a futuristic beetle. “We wanted it to be accessible, but we put function ahead of form.”

They also wanted to make sure the cost wasn’t prohibitive—a sex toy that’s too expensive can actually detract from sex, she argues. Eva sells for $105, a price-point Lieberman attributes mainly to the device’s high-quality silicone and the rigorous research and design process that went into it. Lieberman likens the Eva to a pair of really good headphones: You can hear the music, it sounds incredible, but you aren’t super aware of the fact that there are two small speakers in your ears.

Lieberman acknowledges that before sex toy designers could think about getting back to the core purpose of the industry, consumers needed to be introduced to beautiful, high-end luxury products. But the next wave of sex toys will likely follow her function-over-form philosophy—and encourage an even bigger audience to come.<

So, are we moving toward a world where penises, and human sex organs, are obsolete? Of course not. We’re just moving toward one where we can do better than what the average human body has to offer. As Patti Britton, a certifiable expert in all things sex, put it, there will always be an element of humanity that can’t be captured by even the most elaborate of sex toys.

“We’re still human beings—we’re skin and bone and flesh and energy,” Britton told me. “So far we really haven’t matched that one in the lab, we may one day. But I think, overall, humans will want to be with humans. That’s how we’re wired.”

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