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Gags & Nipple Clamps 101

Lookin’ to spice up your Valentine? When roses and chocolates just ain’t gonna cut it…

Nipple clamps

Gripper Nipple Suckers by Atomic Jock

Gripper Nipple Suckers by Atomic Jock

First up are the infamous nipple clips or clamps. They are a favorite in sensation play. Whether it’s sucking, pinching, prodding, or pulling the nipples, clamps are meant to flirt with the painful side of pleasure. Don’t let the discomfort angle scare you off . Nipple clips can be perfectly harmless, especially for beginners, when used correctly.

Also, remember, both genders have nipples, so this needn’t be for women only. When picking out a tit torture product, you can test the strength on your finger or even better, the flesh of your arm, which is fairly sensitive. A good rule of thumb is that if it hurts your finger, your nipple is not going to be happy. Definitely work up to a stronger clamp if that’s your goal.

3-Speed Vibrating Nipple Clamps

3-Speed Vibrating Nipple Clamps

For beginners, I suggest a sucking type of clamp like Gripper Nipple Suckers by Atomic Jock to stimulate your nipples to full attention. They are easy to use (simply squeeze and let go on the nipple). If you are up for something a bit more edgy, try the 3-Speed Vibrating Nipple Clamps.

They vibrate wirelessly (which can help intensify the pressure in a good way), are waterproof, and, best of all, fully adjustable for whichever kind of level you are at. Pairing some trusty nipple clamps with restraints (and heck, throw in a blindfold!) will work superbly as torture play. Tease, tease, and tease your partner some more with the exquisite pressure of nipple clamps. They will definitely bring out your naughtier side.

Blind folds

Institutional Fleece Lined Blindfold

Institutional Fleece Lined Blindfold

Next, is the realm of sensory deprivation.

It may sound like an insignificant and simple item, but a blindfold can make a world of difference. Covering your or your lover’s eyes creates a vulnerability that can be quite thrilling.

If you don’t know when or where the next caress, pat, or lick will go you can be sure that this will create a whole new level of sensual tension. Plus, with a good quality blind fold impeding your sight, other sensations will take charge with a vengeance.

Try covering your lovers eyes while whispering something suggestive into his/her ear. Or, even better, both strip to the buff, make sure the blind is secure, and surprise them by ravishing different parts of their body, or rubbing parts of yours all over them. Especially paired with your favorite restraint, blindfolds can be a surprisingly new way to spice up your sex life.

Most any cloth material will work as a makeshift blindfold, but I suggest something like the Institutional Fleece Lined Blindfold as a starter product. It’s soft, dark, and molds to your face making each wear comfy with all the sexy benefits of sensory deprivation.

Restraints

Cotton Bondage RopeRestraints also heighten sexual tension. Whether it’s the cool metal of handcuffs (please, make sure you have the key!), the flexibility of rope, or the simplicity of scarves and ties, whatever you use to restrain your lover will provide a whole new dimension to sex play.

But first things first, some safety tips.

Have an exit: Make sure you both are comfortable with untying the knot or unlocking the cuff. Have a pair of scissors near to hand just in case.

Too tight is not right: This is a biggie: watch how tightly you knot the material or cuff. Cutting off circulation will get unsexy in a hurry. So if you or your partner feels any numbness, pain, or strain in their tied limb, speak up so the restraint can be adjusted. Having a mutual safe word as well as trying a few practice knots on yourself so you can be up to par and ready for the real session.

Once you’re a-OK with ropes, cuffs, or whatever you’re using, get ready to tease your partner KinkLab BedSpread Under Bed Bondage Strapsuntil they beg for more! For beginners, I would suggest using either Cotton Bondage Rope or the KinkLab BedSpread Under Bed Bondage Straps. Both are very user friendly (the bed bindings doesn’t even need a post or headboard!) and will ease you into your bondage fantasies.

Once you or your partner is successfully restrained, tease your way up and down their body, varying the pressure and consistency of your touch, pats or (even better) licks. Incorporate other sensations  (cold or hot, silky or rough, etc.) or other toys. Even your most steadfast vibrator can turn into a whole new experience once you’re no longer in control.

Gags

Tantus Beginner Ball GagThough there is very real potential for drool with this torture device, I say go for it! You will also be depriving your partner of speech. When they can’t tell you what they want, you must rely on moans, groans, and body language. The gag can be a major prop in role playing too.

Try some rougher play, with restraints and even a blindfold. The gag is meant to be power play, so maybe a game of sex slave for the afternoon with your lover on hands and knees with the ball gag and nothing else. Or the classic break-in situation, with a burglar restraining and gagging the unsuspecting victim before ravaging their body. It’s completely up to you.

As for products, try the Silicone Ball Gag w/ Garment Leather Strap to see if you like the feel. Those looking for more might consider stepping up to the Tantus Beginner Ball Gag. Just make sure you maintain proper hygiene in safely washing these toys, since they are going in your mouth. Many are silicone, rubber, latex, or metal, so easily washable, or even bleachable.Silicone Ball Gag w: Garment Leather Strap

Simply insert the gag into your/your partner’s mouth, adjust the strap, and there you go. Some more complicated gags have different parts, metal bits, or can be adjusted in multiple fashions. Also, since a safe word will be harder understand, be sensitive to each others body language, as it will indicate what they’re feeling. Overall, make sure you’re comfortable with the gag and then unleash your wilder fantasies.

My final tip is to keep your experimentation playful. Have a sense of humor about the whole blasted thing. If this play becomes a chore or a bore, shut it down and go back to your former alleged life.

Good luck

BDSM Bottom skills

By

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So much “how to BDSM” material is really “how to top.”  Which is understandable, up to a point. The top performs most of the obvious physical parts of the scene–they’re the one who has to know how to tie a knot or swing a flogger.  The top is likely to also be dominant, which means that they’re going to be the one in charge of planning the scene and directing it.  And the top is also expected to take more responsibility for a scene, because bottoms might be immobilized (or go off into la-la land) and need their tops to watch out for their safety.

001There’s also a certain bias in BDSM-land toward thinking tops and dominants should be the authorities and their experiences should be prioritized, because… well, partly because they’re more often men.  And partly because they’re in charge in their scenes/relationships so it’s only logical that they be in charge everywhere, even though it’s not like the community agreed to submit to them.  So the majority of kink community leaders, authors, and teachers are tops.

As a result of these factors, you can come away from a lot of kink books or conferences thinking that bottoming is… standing there.  (For advanced bottoming, you might kneel or lie down.)  It seems like a purely receptive thing.  Like a beanbag could do it, if you could teach a beanbag to moan and occasionally offer to get people drinks.

This is not the case.  Bottoming well, in a way that creates a great experience for yourself and your top, requires effort and skill.  We are not canvases for the art of BDSM; we are artists too.  Here’s some of the things I’ve learned (or am learning, or need to learn) about being on the bottom:

• Know your desires.

If you don’t know what you like, you’re not likely to get it.  I’ve talked about this so much on the blog, I don’t want to belabor the point.  Just… have some idea of why you’re bottoming in a BDSM scene instead of back at home knitting.  (Knitting fetishists please disregard.)  (That is not entirely a joke.)  Or if you don’t, at least be aware that you don’t know, and able to say “I’m experimenting right now and finding out what appeals to me.”

• Speak up for yourself.

When I first started playing, I had the idea in my head–maybe not in words, but definitely in 006feelings–that the best bottoms were the ones who were least demanding.  That for me to be an excellent bottom, I should take as much pain as I could stand and allow my top to do whatever they wanted.  I certainly noticed that I enjoyed some activities more than others, but I felt like asking for the ones I wanted would be rude or “topping from the bottom” or selfish or something.  So I just felt happy when I got things I liked, felt sad or annoyed when I got things I didn’t, and never gave any external indication of either.

Eventually I burned myself out on the stoicism thing.  I could only suppress my specific desires and limited pain tolerance for so long.  So I became a really grouchy, persnickety bottom.  No, I don’t like that.  Don’t like that either.  Yellow.  Yellow to that too.  Maybe we should just take a break.  It was frustrating, but it was actually progress–being able to say what I didn’t like without being able to say what I liked wasn’t very fun, but it beat the heck out of not being able to say either.  My tops were stuck playing “Marco Polo” with my desires, but at least they weren’t unwittingly hurting me.

And then–embarrassingly recently–I realized that asking for what you like isn’t presumptuous or un-bottomly, it’s something that a good top actually wants you to do.  Depending on the sort of scene you’re doing, they might not give you everything you like (or they might make you earn it), but they still need to know.  Otherwise they don’t know which parts are punishment and which are reward for you, and they’re not in control of the experience they’re creating for you.

• Look out for your safety.

005This is a responsibility tops and bottoms share.  It’s more the top’s, because they have more control and because they’re going to be at fault if the bottom gets hurt, but it’s an important bottom skill to be able to help the top keep you safe.  This means knowing and sharing the limitations of your body and your mind, it means using your safewords when you need to, and it means double-checking the top when they do something potentially unsafe.  Your top should notice on their own if they’re cutting off your circulation or positioning you in a way that would be disastrous if you fell, but even good tops can miss things, and it’s a good idea to also do your own safety checks.

(If you’re way off in subspace you may not be able, and then it really is the top’s responsibility alone.  But it’s a good thing to do if you can.)

• Play along.

This isn’t a simple directive but a whole set of skills that depend on how you play.  This is the physical, immediate side of bottoming, and it’s a whole lot more than standing there.  It’s positioning yourself to assist with an elaborate rope tie.  It’s being able to absorb blows.  It’s knowing when to push back, when to yield, and when to stand firm.  This really depends on what specific kinks you do, and it’s mostly stuff you have to learn “on the job.”  And it is things you have to learn.  “Standing there” looks like a no-brainer, but standing in a way that makes it easy for your top to do their job and supports you when you go wibbly and looks good and feels good?  Takes a little bit of brain.

• Give good feedback.004

In two ways.  There’s the practical feedback, the “oh yeah just like that,” the “wow, I’m really just melting away into the wall here,” and the “okay, that was the bad ow.”  And there’s the feedback that tops appreciate and get off on, the… well, actually, the first two sentences above are pretty good examples of that too.  I’m not talking about playing it up and putting on a performance, but a lot of tops really like hearing how much impact they’re having on you.  Giving them that, especially if they’ve asked for it, is good bottoming.

• Know how to cook what you eat.

I don’t think this is a requirement for everyone (well, nothing here is required, we’re all different and all learning, please don’t take this post as a list of “things bottoms must do”), but it’s something I value for myself.  I like to know how to perform all the skills that I enjoy having done to me.  I hardly ever top, but I know how to tie a rope harness and where to aim a flogger.  Having this knowledge helps me communicate better with my top, know what I can do to make their job easier, understand and process the sensations I’m receiving, and it gives me a whole lot of appreciation for how much energy my top is putting into the scene.

• Process the experience.

This is the internal work of bottoming, and I don’t know what I’m going to write in this section, because it’s… magic or neurology or something.  Also a lot of deep breathing.  This is where you take in pain, discomfort, fear, and/or humiliation, and you turn them into something wonderful for yourself.  And very often it is an effort.  It can take focus and intention to turn a spanking from “my butt hurts, ow, my butt hurts again” to “my butt hurts in a way that is giving me the most amazing pleasure.”  Or when it isn’t pleasure, “my butt hurts and I am strong and I am taking it.”  It’s almost a kind of meditation.

Everything else on this page is about bottoming.  It’s all the logistics around bottoming.  But this part?  This is bottoming.  This is why you aren’t home knitting.  And there’s nothing easy or passive about it.

•Give aftercare.

002Tops drop too.  Tops (at least a lot of them) also get into an altered state when they’re playing and they can also come down hard.  So tops might need cuddling and talking after scenes, or they might need to drink water and stretch out and cool off, or they might want to mellow out and enjoy the lingering buzz.  It’s good bottoming to be attentive to their aftercare needs as well as your own, and to check up on them a bit after the scene.

Just standing there? Bottoming in BDSM is goddamn hard work, and it deserves to be talked about.

Complete Article HERE!

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Vagina

By Nell Frizzel

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Lying across a turquoise rubber plinth, my legs in stirrups, a large blue sheet of paper draped across my pubes (for “modesty”), a doctor slowly pushes a clear plastic duck puppet up my vagina and, precisely at that moment, Total Eclipse of the Heart comes on over the radio and it’s hard not to love the genitourinary medicine, or GUM, clinic.

I mean that most sincerely: I love the GUM clinic. It is wonderful beyond orgasm that in the UK anyone can walk into a sexual health clinic—without registering with a doctor, without an appointment, without any money, without a chaperone—and get seen within a few hours at most. It brings me to the point of climax just thinking about the doctors and health professionals who dedicate their life to the nation’s ovaries, cervixes, vaginas, and wombs.

And yet, not all women are apparently so comfortable discussing their clitoral hall of fame with a doctor. According to a recent report commissioned by Ovarian Cancer Action, almost half of the women surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 said they feared “intimate examinations,” while 44 percent are too embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues with a GP. What’s more, two thirds of those women said they would be afraid to say the word “vagina” in front of their doctor. Their doctor. That is desperately, disappointingly, dangerously sad.

In 2001, I went to see a sexual health nurse called Ms. Cuthbert who kindly, patiently and sympathetically explained to me that I wasn’t pregnant—in fact could not be pregnant—I was just doing my A-Levels. The reason I was feeling sick, light-headed, and had vaginal discharge that looked like a smear of cream cheese was because I was stressed about my simultaneous equations and whether I could remember the order of British prime ministers between 1902 to 1924. My body was simply doing its best to deal with an overload of adrenaline.

Back then, my GUM clinic was in a small health center opposite a deli that would sell Czechoslovakian beer to anyone old enough to stand unaided, and a nail bar that smelled of fast food. I have never felt more grown up than when I first walked out of that building, holding a striped paper bag of free condoms and enough packets of Microgynon to give a fish tits. My blood pressure, cervix, heartrate, and emotional landscape had all been gently and unobtrusively checked over by my new friend Ms. Cuthbert. I had been given the time and space to discuss my hopes and anxieties and was ready to launch myself, legs akimbo, into a world of love and lust—all without handing over a penny, having to tell my parents, pretending that I was married or worry that I was being judged.

My local sexual health clinic today is, if anything, even more wonderful. In a neighborhood as scratched, scored, and ripped apart by the twin fiends of poverty and gentrification as Hackney, the GUM clinic is the last great social leveler. It is one of our last few collective spaces. Sitting in reception, staring at the enormous pictures of sand dunes and tree canopies it is clear that, for once, we’re all in this together. The man in a blue plastic moulded chair wishing his mum a happy birthday on the phone, the two girls in perfect parallel torn jeans scrolling through WhatsApp, the guy with the Nike logo tattoo on his neck getting a glass of water for his girlfriend, the red-headed hipster in Birkenstocks reading about witchcraft in the waiting room, the mother and daughter with matching vacuum-sized plastic handbags talking about sofas, the fake flowers, Magic FM playing on the wall-mounted TV, the little kids running around trying to say hello to everyone while the rest of us desperately avoided eye contact—the whole gang was there. And that’s the point: you may be a working mum, you may be a teenager, you may be a social media intern at a digital startup, you may be a primary school teacher, you may be married, single, a sex worker, unemployed, wealthy, religious, terrified, or defiant but whatever your background, wherever you’ve come from and whoever you slept with last night, you’ll end up down at the GUM clinic.

Which is why it seems such a vulvic shame that so many women feel scared to discuss their own bodies with the person most dedicated to making sure that body is OK. “No doctor will judge you when you say you have had multiple sexual partners, or for anything that comes up in your sexual history,” Dr. Tracie Miles, the President of the National Forum of Gynecological Oncology Nurses tells me on the phone. “We don’t judge—we’re real human beings ourselves. If we hadn’t done it we probably wish we had and if we have done it then we will probably be celebrating that you have too.”

Doctors are not horrified by women who have sex. Doctors are not grossed out by vaginas. So to shy away from discussing discharge, pain after sex, bloating, a change in color, odor, itching, and bleeding not only renders the doctor patient conversation unhelpful, it also puts doctors at a disadvantage, hinders them from being able to do their job properly, saves nobody’s blushes and could result in putting you and your body at risk.

According to The Eve Appeal—a women’s cancer charity that is campaigning this September to fight the stigma around women’s health, one in five women associate gynecological cancer with promiscuity. That means one in five, somewhere in a damp and dusty corner of their minds, are worried that a doctor will open up her legs, look up at her cervix and think “well you deserve this, you slut.” Which is awful, because they won’t. They never, ever would. Not just because they’re doctors and therefore have spent several years training to view the human body with a mix of human sympathy and professional dispassion, but more importantly, because being promiscuous doesn’t give you cancer.

“There is no causal link between promiscuity and cancer,” says Dr. Miles. “The only sexually transmitted disease is the fear and embarrassment of talking about sex; that’s what can stop us going. If you go to your GP and get checked out, then you’re fine. And you don’t have to know all the anatomical words—if you talk about a wee hole, a bum hole, the hole where you put your Tampax, then that is absolutely fine too.”

Although there is some evidence of a causal link between certain gynecological cancers and High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV), that particular virus is so common that, ‘it can be considered a normal consequence of sexual activity’ according to The Eve Appeal. Eighty percent of us will pick up some form of the HPV virus in our lifetime, even if we stick with a single, trustworthy, matching-socks-and-vest-takes-out-the-garbage-talks-to-your-mother-on-the-phone-can’t-find-your-clitoris partner your entire life. In short, HRHPV may lead to cancer, but having different sexual partners doesn’t. Of course, unprotected sex can lead to an orgy of other sexually transmitted infections, not to mention the occasional baby, but promiscuity and safe sex are not mutually exclusive. And medical professionals are unlikely to be shocked by either.

We are incredibly lucky in the UK that any woman can stroll into a sexual health clinic, throw her legs open like a cowboy and receive some of the best medical care the world has ever known. We can Wikipedia diagrams of our vaginas to learn the difference between our frenulum and prepuce (look it up, gals). We can receive free condoms any day of the (working week) from our doctor or friendly neighborhood GUM clinic. We can YouTube how to perform a self-examination, learn to spot the symptoms of STIs, read online accounts by women with various health conditions, and choose from a military-grade arsenal of different contraception methods, entirely free.

A third of women surveyed by The Eve Appeal said that they would feel more comfortable discussing their vaginas and wombs if the stigma around gynecological health and sex was reduced. But a large part of removing that stigma is up to us. We have to own that conversation and use it to our advantage. We need to bite the bullet and start talking about our pudenda. We have to learn to value and accept our genitals as much as any other part of our miraculous, hilarious bodies.

So come on, don’t be a cunt. Open up about your vagina.

Complete Article HERE!

What’s going on w/me?

Name: Paul
Gender: Male
Age: 59
Location: Rhode Island
Dear Dr Dick: I am a 59 yo man, married, masculine and very much attracted to women. I have, however, in the past few years felt an attraction to men as well. I can remember as a pre-puberty boy being turned on to other boys in magazines. Watching male porn does nothing for me and I have no desire to have anal sex. But I do often fantasize about being with a naked man and performing oral sex. I am in my second marriage, which like the first, is not very happy and there is virtually no physical relationship. I have never been much of a “ladies man” although I am very outgoing and have a good sense of humor. Is my inability to score with women turning me towards men, as they are easier to meet? I have not acted on any fantasy although I do go to a gay massage therapist and very much enjoy his hands on my body and the great hand job at the end. Too much to lose to pursue men. What’s going on w/me?

A common enough complaint, Paul. You’re apparently awakening to the realization that there is more to your sexuality than you’ve allowed yourself to consider in the past. And no, I don’t think you’re interest in men is connected to your track record with women. But it certainly could be the other way around. You aren’t overly successful with the ladies, because you’re much more interested in the gents. Does that sound more like it?

You say you haven’t acted on your newly uncovered fantasies, but you do, from time to time, get a nice hand job from the gay masseur you frequent. Aren’t you just splitting hairs with this artificial and arbitrary boundary? And aren’t you saying that if you’re not the “active” partner, you have some credible deniability? Bollocks!  I gotta tell ya, that kind of thinking make my flesh crawl.try-it-youll-like-it

It appears to me that you’re not gonna be satisfied till you finally get some mighty fine cock in your mouth. And there’s any number of ways you can get that to happen. You’re already seeing a sex worker for your massages; why not look for one who will let you blow him. Look for an escort or ask your masseur for a referral. Hell, he may even oblige you himself. All ya gotta do is be upfront with what you are looking for. Tell the provider you are unversed in the whole cock sucking department, but you’ve been wanting to try it. Remember, you’ve not committing yourself to anything, you’re just doing some research. Right?

My only concern is that you seem to have already put the kibosh any possible research when you say: “Too much to lose to pursue men.” Oh really? How much is too much? Is your over all happiness, your sexual fulfillment, or your integrity TOO MUCH? Think about it some and get back to me.

Good luck

How the penis disappeared from the sex toy

jimmyjane-form-2-01

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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