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How Mindfulness Killed My Sex Life

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The spiritual path will burn away all illusions, including the sexual kind. The good news is that something better is reborn in the ashes.

by Jessica Graham

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Mel was tall and lanky with short dark hair, good tattoos, and a black motorcycle. I wanted her bad. Lucky for me I was in an open relationship with my partner and he was all for it. It had been a long time since I had gone for a bad girl like Mel. I figured since it was just going to be a fling, it didn’t matter that a truck full of red flags were dropped on the first date, the biggest of which was the dopamine rush coming on hard and fast like a fat line of cocaine after a long time sober. I knew I was in trouble the first time I smelled her salty skin and felt her nicotine stained fingertips on my throat.

I wasn’t practicing polyamory, per se, and my partner was my top priority. I’ve always been fluid when it comes to monogamy, depending on the relationship I’m in and how I’m currently feeling. I’m sure my poly friends probably cringe and call me a swinger. I prefer to think of myself as a free spirit. Since I wasn’t looking for another serious relationship, I needed to keep my feelings in check for the sexy butch I was drooling over. This meant getting mindful about lust.

You know the way it goes. Constantly checking your phone, even on the freeway, thinking you see the object of your desire everywhere you go, dreaming about them, the extreme highs and lows that come with seeing or not seeing them. The throes of a new relationship make most of us temporary drug addicts looking for the next fix. I didn’t want to get carried away with this culturally acceptable insanity. Lucky for me, as a meditation practitioner, I had all the tools to observe this crazy ride without climbing on it.

So I let the affair run its course (trust me, it burnt out quick—I’m not a kid anymore), while I deconstructed and carefully explored the activity of my body and mind. At first I fell into the lust trap and caused some trouble with my partner. But soon I was able to ride the wave of new relationship energy like a pro. It was absolutely comical how the chemicals would flood my system and my mind would start to swirl when I got a text from her. Pretty soon the experience became something I could just watch without getting involved in. Those sensations and thoughts were just impermanent activity and they were certainly not me. How could they be if I was witnessing them?

This wasn’t the first time I’d had the insight that I am not my mind or my emotions. Each time that insight deepens, I experience a period of disillusionment. It had happened with my career, with habits, and so on. Basically I see the emptiness in the experience and I “lose” it. That’s to say I lose my attachment to it and my ability to get a fix from it. When I saw through the self who viewed herself as an actor, my acting career crumbled. Once I knew that my enjoyment of a film or a big piece of chocolate cake was simply a collection of thoughts and emotions, I lost my taste for them as well.

This can be a painful and scary part of spiritual development. It can feel like nothing is enjoyable or meaningful. I often have meditation students report that they feel depressed and apathetic during this stage. My first meditation teacher sat me down after few classes and told me, “Meditation is going to ruin your life.” He wasn’t joking. The cost of waking up is everything. With each awakening I’ve “lost’ a little more, but I wouldn’t want to give any of it back.

So here I was getting mindful about the off-the-hook sexual attraction I had for Mel. I didn’t really consider that I was in the process of screwing up my sex life, just like I had once screwed up my career, and my love of cake. The road to hell is paved with good intentions I suppose. By the time my bad girl fling had run out of steam, my sex drive was plummeting overall. Sex just didn’t seem that important anymore. Thanks to good old mindfulness, sexual disillusionment had kicked in.

Now, let me be clear, up until this point my sex drive couldn’t get any higher. I had never had a partner male or female who wanted as much sex as I did. I was insatiable. One might say that I used sex to get “high,” to ease stress, to encourage creativity, and to feel more connected to myself and others. I had been told that one day I’d have to let my attachment to sex go too, just like everything else. But let me tell you I was hanging on tight to this last frontier. Little did I know the romp with Mel was my last hurrah.

My partner and I had always had a phenomenal sex life. It was never less than great, even after three years together. But my merciless dissection of my obsession with Mel launched us into an awkward period. I just didn’t care about sex anymore. Plus we were going through some relationship growing pains (due mostly to my actions in the early days of Mel), and not being able to use sex as a way to connect created a huge sense of separation.

It was incredibly strange for me to feel sexually removed. My sexuality was something I felt so identified with. I was Jessica, the girl who loves to fuck. Meditation has the side effect of tearing your identities from you piece by piece, and this one was no exception. That part of me had vanished. I could no longer use sex as a salve for whatever ailed me. It didn’t work anymore.

As you can imagine, my partner was none too fond of this development and honestly neither was I. I trusted it would shift, but who knew how long that would take? My desire and drive to be an actor took years to come back. But I knew that when my sex drive returned sex would be better than ever. That’s what happened with my creative work. When I lost my attachment to being an actor I became a better actor and started to have a lot more fun doing it. I just hoped my new and improved sex life would materialize before my partner walked out the door.

We had sex every once in awhile, but it wasn’t great or even always good. We didn’t open up the “sex cabinet” next to our bed even once. It started to get a little dark at the homestead so my partner and I decided to keep the focus on having fun and enjoying each other’s company. It was kind of like a lovingkindness meditation for our relationship. I practiced something I call the “Just Be Nice Campaign.” It’s just what it sounds like. I was just nice. When I got annoyed, scared, frustrated, felt not heard, got triggered—I was just nice. Sometimes that meant leaving the room for a moment, but no matter what, I was just nice. I focused on being the best partner I could be and took any focus off of what I thought he was doing wrong. I kept my side of the street clean. I still spoke to someone and/or wrote about my feelings, but I didn’t take problems or negativity to my partner. I also got more clarity on what was actually a problem versus me simply being reactive.

I kept using my mindfulness practice to work with the thoughts and emotions that came up about my lack of interest in sex. People can get stuck in the meaningless trap that can arise along the spiritual path. In reality the self that thinks everything is meaningless is just another self that can be deconstructed. So, I just continued to peel back the layers, keeping my eyes and heart open as I woke up to new truths. Spiritual development is neverending. There is no graduation date. As I learned to be without my nympho identity I found new ways to ease tension and connect with others. I also found I didn’t need sex to be creative.

Not having sex to fall back on also gave my partner and I the opportunity to work through some issues that had been hiding under the surface up until then. A new kind of love and trust bloomed between us, and we started laughing a lot more. We spoke openly about the lack of sex and the challenges that it brought. We don’t lose hope. We figured it could only go on that way for so long. And then one day a few months later, as quickly as it had vanished, my sex drive reappeared. And the angels of carnal joy sang Hallelujah!

When I say it came back I don’t mean that it was recognizable. My relationship to sex had been transformed. It felt fresh, clean, and fluid. It no longer gave me a fix. Without the attachment sex became more fun, more connected, and way more pleasurable. I had been grasping at the pleasure, and now I just let it run through me, unimpeded by my mind. My partner and I dove into a whole new kind of connection during sex. I felt a deeper freedom to let loose. I was no longer limited to a fixed sense of self when it came to my sexuality. I let my sexual self die in the fire of awakening and it had reemerged shining and alive.

So yes, mindfulness essentially screwed up my sex life. But then it was reconstructed into something I never imagined possible. The self that needed to have sex all the time hasn’t returned. Previously I would pass up a good night’s sleep or a social engagement for sex. Now my priorities are a little different. Life feels fuller now, less uneven. My sexuality will continue to evolve as I evolve, and I’m willing to lose it again if need be. I’m also fully willing to embrace a period of non-stop sex. Whatever it takes. Anything to keep waking up.

Complete Article HERE!

Jessica Drake Wants Us All To Have Happier, Healthier Sex Lives

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Jessica Drake

At her sex ed workshops, Jessica Drake passes around a box with the words “live, laugh, love” printed on it. Inside are index cards of sex questions that people have written to Jessica under the cover of anonymity. During the workshop, she reads them out loud, and then answers them with compassion and useful tips from her experience directing and starring in adult films.

Drake’s workshops are mainly geared towards heterosexual couples, and touch on similar topics as Jessica Drake’s Guide To Wicked Sex, her line of instructional DVDs. So the questions tended to reflect the sorts of things that that straight couples might be interested in, but have no idea how to approach. Case in point: the majority of the questions when I attended were about how to have anal sex. Drake addressed the discomfort that men and women might have about the topic with compassion.

“If you’re reluctant to have anal sex, why might that be?” she asked. “Or if a woman doesn’t want to have anal sex, why?”

She wrote down the answers on a dry erase board: pain, mess, bacterial infections, stigma, and reciprocity were some. Then she addressed each issue with care.

“Pain shouldn’t really be an issue,” she said. “I tell people all the time that it’s a completely different sensation. It’s something you have to get used to.”

She stressed that pain was important because it tells us when something is wrong, but that lots of lube helps make the act feel more enjoyable, especially a water based product that has the viscosity to provide a cushion between one’s butt and penis. So does trying positions where the woman is on top, or both people are spooning, allowing the woman to control the depth and speed. This is unlike doggy style, a position that looks good on camera, but which is not necessarily great for those just starting to have anal sex.

For mess, there’s the simple solution of taking a shower, or the more thorough precaution of having an enema, a process that Drake explained step-by-step. In terms of bacterial infection, Drake stressed the important of not going back and forth between anal and vaginal intercourse, whether it’s with your penis or with toys.

Drake addressed questions about reciprocity in anal sex with a steady calm too. “I think it’s all a matter of an introduction,” she said, suggesting that people not to bring up anal sex or another type of act as something to do right away, but by discussing it over a romantic dinner, by watching a movie about it, and “build it up like it’s a fantasy,” without having to commit to trying it right away.

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Drake started getting into sex ed not only to give sex tips, but because of fans approaching her, asking if there was something wrong with them or their partner. She discovered that they were trying to model their sex lives after porn — which wasn’t as easy as it looked.

She takes great care to dispel such myths.

For example, when you cut to an anal scene in porn, you usually don’t see the actress wearing a butt plug in the makeup chair to prepare, or you don’t see the foreplay that goes on before the camera starts rolling. In porn it’s all urgent and immediate — which is sexy, but is also a fantasy. Urgent, immediate, wild sex takes some prep.

You also don’t see the consent conversation that happens between actors as to what they like, and what they won’t do in a scene. This is important — consent is a huge deal and Drake covers it in detail in her DVDs.

“Guys are like, ‘How do I make my wife or girlfriend have anal sex?’ Jessica recalled. “It’s easy, you don’t make anyone do anything.” Instead, she explained, you figure out if they’d be into it through an open conversation, and go from there.

She also makes sure that men — who often feel pressure to measure up literally and metaphorically to what they see in porn — don’t have to like everything they see.

“I’ve had guys speak up in seminars and really you can tell that they’re really grossed out [by anal sex],” she explained. “And I tell them, ‘If you’re that squeamish, you shouldn’t be having anal sex. That’s just the reality of the situation.’”

Drake’s career and fanbase put her in a unique position to talk about sex with authority, to breakdown stigmas, and to bring important conversations (like consent) to the fore. Here’s the best part: it seems to be helping people.

Complete Article HERE!

The Secret To Good Sex In A Long-Term Relationship

Pro-tip: Act like your relationship is a Skinemax movie

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The Secret To Good Sex In A Long-Term Relationship

It turns out candles, lingerie, and jazzy tunes are more than romantic cliches—they might actually kinda work. At least, that’s according to a new study of long-term heterosexual relationships finding that sexually satisfied couples regularly engage in these and other forms of foreplay and mood-setting.

Sexually successful couples’ lives don’t look exactly like gauzy, soft-focus films, though: They were also more likely to have experimented with sexual variety—from anal stimulation to acting out sexual fantasies to using a sex toy together. And they had sex and orgasms more frequently.

“It was encouraging to learn that more than one-third of couples kept passion alive, even after a decade or two together,” said Janet Lever, a study co-author. “That won’t happen on auto pilot; these couples made a conscious effort to ward off routinization of sex.”

The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, surveyed more than 38,747 heterosexual men and women in the United States who had been with their partner for at least three years. Researchers had participants rate their sexual satisfaction currently and in the first six months of the relationship. The majority, 83 percent, said they were sexually satisfied at the start. Ah, but passion does often wane: Just over half, 55 percent, said they were presently satisfied with their sex lives, while the rest either felt neutral or dissatisfied.

Satisfied couples were far more likely to have experimented with sexual variety. For example, among dissatisfied men and women, 33 and 45 percent respectively said they or their partner had worn sexy lingerie or underwear in the past month. But among their satisfied counterparts those numbers rose dramatically to 67 and 71 percent. Consider the percentage that reported recently trying a new sexual position: 22 and 25 percent of unhappy men and women, compared to 59 and 63 percent of their sexually stoked counterparts.

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The aforementioned cheesy, mood-setting measures also saw higher, although much less dramatic, numbers among the sexually satisfied: 23 and 20 percent of contented folks reported lighting a candle or dimming the lights during their last sexual encounter, compared to 11 and 9 percent among the dissatisfied. (You heard it here first: Candles can’t compete with anal play.)

Fulfilled couples also, as David Frederick, lead author of the study, put it, “practiced effective sexual communication.” It’s true: satisfied folks were far more likely to report praising their partners in bed or their partner asking for something they wanted in bed. But it’s also somewhat startling just how little sex talk there was, even among the happy couples. Satisfied or not, more people tried out sexy lingerie and undies in the last year than asked their partners in the past month for feedback on how something felt during sex. In fact, more men across the board reported experimenting with anal stimulation than having a partner who “asked for something they wanted in bed.”

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It’s important to note that the study didn’t establish causation, so we can’t say that lingerie or candles directly lead to sexual satisfaction—maybe the sexually satisfied are simply more open to exploration! Or maybe those who are open to exploration are more sexually satisfied. Frederick points out that the two groups respond very differently when it comes to tips found in articles just like this one. ”Almost half of satisfied and dissatisfied couples read sexual self-help books and magazine articles,” said Frederick, “but what set sexually satisfied couples apart was that they actually tried some of the ideas.” No pressure.

Complete Article HERE!

Penis politics: Sex, size and stereotypes in the gay community

When it comes to penis size, gay men face a host of preconceptions about masculinity and race

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Recent studies have shown that actual penis size is smaller than men are claiming. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average male penis measures 5.6 inches when erect; the Journal of Urology puts it at a slightly smaller 5.08 inches. This is considerably smaller than previous numbers from Alfred Kinsey, Durex and the Definitive Penis study, which averaged 6.25 inches in their estimates. The difference between the two estimates: surveys like Durex’s rely on self-reporting, and men are likely to overestimate. As Tom Hickman wrote in “God’s Doodle”: “What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.”

Just ask any gay man looking for a hook-up on Grindr. “If a guy tells you his size and you meet up, you realize he must have a different ruler,” said Noah Michelson, editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section. Michelson believes that the reason men are likely to overreport their penis size is because of the “cultural currency” the gay community places on having a large penis. “I think there’s something to do with internalized homophobia or insecurities about being a man,” Michelson said. “You want to have a big dick and you want to be with a big dick. You want to be with a ‘man.’”

Michelson argued it’s not just about having a large penis; it’s what that penis signifies. “Having a big dick means that you’re ‘masculine’ and you wield a lot of power, because we assign so much power to the phallus itself,” he told me. “You’re a dominator and a conqueror.” Michelson said that this idea is largely informed by pornography, a strong force in shaping desire in the gay community; but for those who don’t fit into that “porn culture,” it leads to a feeling of being left out. “It’s totally a lottery,” Michelson explained. “And you either win it or you don’t.”

According to Jaime Woo, author of the book “Meet Grindr,” which explores how men interact on mobile hookup applications, that game can have very negative consequences for queer men who find themselves on the losing side. That’s why the size issue can seem even more fraught in the gay community than among heterosexuals. “In gay male culture, your sexual worth is very tied to your worth in the community overall,” Woo said. “We don’t have a lot of structure in place for men who aren’t sexually valuable, and they disappear into the background. Gay men have enough issues already, and this is just another way for them to feel bad about themselves, if they’re not packing eight inches under their pants.”

Woo told me that looking for sex on Grindr “makes the expectations much more heightened.” “Grindr has really distorted peoples’ understanding of what average or normal is, and the fact that people can ask if six or seven inches are too small — it’s jaw dropping,” Woo said. “You can be very picky because there is something better around the corner, someone bigger or hotter and someone more your type. It creates a very narrow band of desire.”

Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford argued that in order to hook up, we’re commodifying ourselves for sexual consumption. “On Grindr, you’re literally putting someone in a box,” Stafford explained. “The app’s layout is an actual shelf, like you would see in a grocery store.” In order to participate on the site, Stafford said that you have to learn how to market yourself by those confines. “It’s like being a book on Amazon,” Stafford told me. “You give yourself a little cover and write your summary. You make yourself a product, and when you’re selling yourself, you always go bigger.”

Stafford said our fascination with penis size is inherently tied to capitalism. “Studies have shown that people with larger penises make more money,” Stafford explained. “It’s power in our pants.” Stafford also explained that the correlation between sex and power leads to a skewed power dynamic between tops and bottoms. Research shows that bottoms have smaller penises on average, and are more likely to have penis anxiety and low self-esteem.  In an essay for the Huffington Post, Stafford called it “Top Privilege.” Stafford wrote, “In this line of thought, bottoms are seen ‘less than,’ ‘feminine’ or ‘the woman’ because they are the taker of the phallus.”

But it’s not just an issue of money and gender. Race also plays a large part in how gay men read each others’ bodies, especially for black and Asian men, stereotyped at the ends of the size spectrum. Stafford, who is multiracial, said that men will often approach him in bars to ask about his penis, expecting him to conform to the stereotype. “It creates an enormous amount of pressure for black men,” Stafford stated. “Black men are only seen as a tool — a tool of building and a tool of fucking. They’re reduced to a big penis.” In his case, Stafford said men often fall into two camps: “Either white people look at me as a black man with a big dick, or they see me and fetishize me — they want to dominate me.”

Jay Borchert has had the exact opposite experience. A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Borchert (who is white) has frequently dated men of color, causing his romantic experiences to be reduced to a fetish. “People make remarks that I must be in it for the dick,” Borchert told me. “Why can’t I be looking for ass? Why can’t I be looking for mouth? Why can’t I be looking for a person?” People sometimes assume that Borchert adopts the “bottom” role in his sexual relationships, which isn’t the case. Borchert sighed, “It was really frustrating because there’s more to dating and relationships than penis.”

Due to his ethnicity, Thought Catalog writer John Tao has also found himself being put in a box in the bedroom. “Because I’m Asian, I’m automatically categorized as being a bottom,” Tao said. “There’s a perception that I wouldn’t want to top.” Because of this, Tao said that’s the role he’s most often performed in sexual relationships. “All of these people think I’m a bottom, so I’ll just be a bottom,” Mr. Tao explained, “You have to be careful because we internalize these stereotypes about ourselves. Your gay Asian friend might identify as a total bottom, but that could be years of societal expectations.”

Justin Huang, who blogs about his experiences being gay and Chinese at I Am Yellow Peril, agreed that the baggage around penis size can be particularly harmful for Asian-American men. In school, Huang’s friends would often tease him about what they assumed was the size of his penis, which was difficult when coming to terms with his sexual identity. “For a long time, I thought I had a small penis,” Huang explained. “It’s amazing what your brain can train you to see. I didn’t have a lot of respect for my penis. Gay men are emasculated already, so when you’re gay and Asian, you feel doubly emasculated.”

Huang told me that when you’re Asian, you’re expected to perform the stereotype, meaning that guys are very curious to see what’s inside your pants. “I’ve been in straight bars using the bathroom where a guy will lean over and look at my dick, just to see if what they say is true,” Huang said. But Jaime Woo argued that the same isn’t true for white men, whose penis size isn’t policed in the same way. “White men are considered the sexual default, so you’re allowed to have some variability,” Woo said. “White men get to be anything and everything, and there’s no presumption there. So for white men, a big dick is a bonus.”

Huang also argued that these stereotypes are a symptom of our lack of sex education and lack of knowledge about our bodies. “We’re told to hide our penises,” Huang said. “It’s a form of sexual oppression we don’t talk about. You see boobs everywhere. You don’t see penises anywhere, not even HBO. It’s something that’s scandalous and cloaked.” Because of the shame surrounding invisibility, men often place too much emphasis on something so small. “When I think about the guys I’ve been with, I don’t remember the penises,” Huang said. “I remember the boy. A penis doesn’t smile. A penis doesn’t look into your eyes. A penis can’t wrap its arms around you.”

Instead of holding out for an unrealistic fantasy, Justin Huang believes gay men should start embracing each other for exactly who they are. “Gay men need to stop expecting each other to be porn stars,” Huang said. “If you dump a guy just because of his penis size, you are an asshole. So if you love your man, tell him that you like his penis. After all, when you’re dating a guy, you’re dating two people: You’re dating him and you’re dating his penis. We need to start valuing and appreciating both of them.”
 
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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