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10 Topics Gay Guys Never Discuss With Their Parents

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When you’re gay, it’s hard to talk to your parents about certain things. No matter how accepting or open-minded they may be, gay relationships, gay culture, and the mechanics of gay sex will stay a mystery to them — unless, of course, one of your parents is gay — or both.

Anyone who has been out of the closet for any amount of time knows that “gay” is more than a label to define your sexuality. It is a core part of your identity, and words like “queer,” “bi,” and “LGBTQ” constitute a significant part of your life — your people, your language, and your interests, both politically and socially. These words define a culture that our straight parents will never fully know. They may watch softened depictions of it on Modern Family, but they have never sung drunk karaoke at your favorite gay watering hole or queened out to Britney. They’ve never danced in a sea of sweaty men till 6 a.m. and they have no idea what Nasty Pig is.

Much of our culture can be hard to explain. Poppers and anal plugs will probably never warrant a conversation with mom, but other conversations — about PrEP and nonmonogamy, for example — can lead to greater understandings. Here’s a list of all those things gay men don’t talk about with their parents, with a small smattering of advice on how to do so!

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1. Douching

The thought of you having sex with another man crossed your parents’ minds from the moment they found out you were gay. Though they would never admit it, they still wonder about it from time to time. The image flashes when they’re trying to go to sleep, when they’re taking the dog out for a walk. Like many straight people, they may be clueless as to how it all works and may mistakenly believe it to be a very messy business. But douching — the process of cleaning out the anal cavity before sex — is one of those off-limits topics, one I would never bring with to them.

One way to hint at it without having to say anything is to have your parents over to your place for a night where there is, regrettably, only one shower. You must conveniently forget to unscrew the metal douching hose from its attachment at the side of your shower head. I’m not saying you should picture your mother naked, but envision her standing in your shower, looking through your assortment of overpriced sugar scrubs, charcoal-infused body bars, and organic, woodsy-smelling shampoos, and frowning over that dangling hose with the phallic-shaped metal attachment at the end. Then, hopefully, it will click, and she’ll deduce that your sex is not quite as messy as she thought.

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2. Poppers

When I’m talking to guys on Scruff whose profiles read “No PnP,” I usually ask, “Do you use poppers?” Most frequently, the answer is, “Sure. Love poppers.”

Poppers, while still a drug, are so mild that many gay men do not consider them in the same “sex drug” category that Tina (crystal meth) and G fall into. They’ve become staples of gay sex, gay culture, and gay history. We’ve been using them since the ’70s for their particular power of relaxing the anal sphincter for a few minutes, just long enough to get sex revved up. But if you try to explain the process of inhaling alkyl nitrites — video head cleaner — to your parents, they will likely conjure the imagine of junkies snorting glue in the school supplies aisle.

As with many items on this list, you could make the reasonable argument that poppers — like most facets of gay sex — never need to be brought up to your parents, since your sex life is not any of their business. But if they ever wonder why you have a few small amber bottles of some chemical that smells like nail polish in the freezer, poppers may inadvertently become a discussion topic in the kitchen.

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3. Fisting

Even if you don’t do it, you know someone who does. Fisting has long lost its shock value in gay circles, and has crossed over from dark sex dungeons into the arena of mainstream gay life. Many guys who aren’t regularly seen in leather harnesses now enjoy fisting. But imagine explaining to Dad how some guys take hands (and more) up the anus — especially when the idea of taking an erect penis up there is already outside the realm of his imagination. Many people, gay and straight, do not believe — or have not accepted — that fisting, when done safely and correctly, does not create long-term damage and can be an incredibly passionate and enjoyable sexual experience.

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4. Drag

Even though words like “slay” and “werq” have broken into the straight lexicon — primarily thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race — the art and culture of drag is still a queer creation and belongs to us. Straight people are welcome to enjoy drag shows at their local gay bar, so long as they tip, but theirs is not a history of disenfranchisement and oppression, abuse and homelessness, poverty and sex work — a queer history in which drag emerged as an act of self-empowerment.

Drag can be hard to explain to your parents. It was hard to explain to mine. My parents assumed that all gay men dress up in women’s clothes and sing diva power ballads, so the concept of drag was indistinguishable from the rest of gay life to them. They could not appreciate drag’s cultural importance because it’s not their culture, and they did not understand its complicated history with the transgender movement because they do not understand, and refuse to understand, the concept of transgender identity.

To them, as well as to many others, drag artists and trans people are the same thing — a deeply incorrect assumption that has led to something of a modern cultural rift between trans activists and the drag world. The two camps have an overlapped history, since many trans folks first discovered their true identities through drag. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when the concept of “transgender” was not as developed as it is today, many transgender people could only express themselves through drag art. As our cultural understandings both of drag and transgender identity have evolved, the two have split, and the burden has fallen on many transgender folks and trans activists to highlight and explain the significant difference between the two. Many people, my parents included, consider a trans woman to be “a man in a dress” — essentially a drag performer — and the phrase has become a terribly offensive slur against transgender women.

Take your parents to a drag show. Give them bills to tip the queens. (This assumes that your parents, unlike mine, are wiling to set foot in a gay bar.) Let them see drag in all its ferocity and kitschy wonder, then afterward, walking home, highlight the fact that what they saw was performance art, a toss-up between cabaret and camp. Explain to them that even if a transgender person does drag, the drag is the performance, but their trans identity is not. Regardless of what someone does onstage, transgender identity is a person’s authentic identity. “While drag is done for an audience, coming out as transgender is done solely for oneself,” a trans friend once told me. “And it is just as healthy and important to do as any coming-out, any form of self-acceptance that your mental health depends on.”

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5. Bears, Otters, and Pups, Oh My!

The labels will be the bane and the delight of your gay life. Gay men have long established the bizarre practice of defining and stereotyping ourselves into labels based on body type and sex practices. In the gay lexicon, burly, hairy men over a certain age are “bears.” Young bears are “cubs.” Skinnier, scruffier guys are “otters.” Young, lean, hairless guys are “twinks.” Guys into puppy play (a kink scene that was listed on my list of 30 kinky terms every gay man should know) who enjoy the “pup” role are “pups,” both in and out of the scene. Guys who prefer condomless sex are “pigs.” Tall, skinny gay guys are “giraffes” (a lesser-known label).

How did we come up with these? Regardless of where they came from, and in spite of their much-debated value, the labels are likely here to stay. While they are common parts of our speak, your parents would probably be confused to learn that you think bears are sexy or that your boyfriend is a puppy.

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6. Nonmonogamy

Nonmonogamy works out for gay men. In fact, this writer believes that nonmonogamous pairings, open and semi-open relationships, and relationships with relaxed sexual parameters are ideal for us — much more so than the monogamous alternative. The concept of nonmonogamy may seem foreign to our parents. Having a frank conversation about the parameters of your particular gay relationship with your parents may be awkward, but it can lead to something good. Explaining the distinction between sex and love may not leave everyone in agreement, especially if your parents are religious, conservative, or both. But at the very least, it will be an illuminating window into your life.

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7. HIV

Gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV compared to our straight counterparts. While no one needs to come out as HIV-positive, least of all to their parents, many poz gay men choose to do so at some point, for various reasons. Coming out to my parents about my status was hard; I did it the same morning an op-ed I wrote about coming out as poz was published in The Advocate last December.

Many of our parents remember the early days of the AIDS epidemic, so the news can be hard for them. They may mistakenly believe that the outlook for an HIV-positive person in 2016 is the same as it was 30 years ago. Most well-informed gay men, particularly those who live in urban areas, are up to speed on modern HIV care and know that with antiretroviral treatment, HIV has become a livable chronic illness that is more preventable today than ever before. Our parents aren’t accustomed to seeing testing trucks outside of gay clubs or HIV pamphlets disseminated in chic gayborhoods, so they will probably need some information to alleviate the initial fear. Give them resources and time.

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8. PrEP

There may never be a need to talk about your once-daily Truvada pill to your parents, but if they see the medicine bottle by the sink one day when the family is sharing a beach condo, you need to have answers ready.

PrEP is the once-a-day pill regimen for HIV-negative people that has proven extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission. Statistically, it’s more reliable than regular condom use. Upon initial explanation, your parents will likely respond the way many have responded to PrEP and see it as an excuse to have raucous unprotected sex. Even if you are having raucous condomless sex, you will have to explain to them that you are still protected from HIV.

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9. Top/Bottom

Just as your parents have been envisioning your sex from the moment they first learned you were gay, they have been wondering “what you do.” When/if they meet your boyfriend, they will wonder “what he does.” They won’t say it aloud, but they wonder, late at night, after the dinner dishes have been put away, whether you’re the top or the bottom. (I always find it remarkable how straight people assume every gay man is one or the other — versatile guys don’t exist in straight visions of gay sex.)

Like douching, this is one I will never talk about to my parents, no matter how chummy we get.

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10. Kink

My parents know I am gay. They know I am having sex. They know I date and have sex with other men. But they do not know and will not be told how much I love having used underwear stuffed in my mouth and my wrists tied together with duct tape. The only time I ever came close to explaining my kink practices was at the beach a few years ago when I realized there were still red caning lines on my butt and legs. I lay in the tanning bed to darken the skin around the marks and opted for a pair of baggier, less flattering board shorts.

While kink is not restricted to gay men, we have certainly been longtime practitioners of the rougher arts. Like drag, leather was originally our thing and has by and large remained so. Kink and fetish play are things that gay men of all stripes can at least be familiar with, and have probably dabbled in at one time or another. But it is one area of gay life that our parents may have a hard time distinguishing from rape and abuse, perversion and degeneracy. Explaining it can be tough.

Its accouterments can be hard to hide — all those ass toys and leather gear require storage, and that sling in the bedroom cannot reasonably be disguised as a place to hang laundry. Have a regimen prepared for surprise visits and dinners, and if you enjoy getting backlashes or caning down your legs, try not to do so before a family beach trip.

Complete Article HERE!

Fun With Fetishes

Name: ANGELO
Gender: Male
Age: 49
Location: NEW YORK
Hi I heard you on the playboy channel the other day; it was great. I’m married and like wearing women’s clothes mostly panties and stockings. My wife knows this and is OK with it. I also like when we role reverse and she penetrates my anus do u think this is all OK?

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Yeah, Angelo, I think it’s all fine. Cross-dressing and role reversal role-play are common enough fetishes. You’re very fortunate to have a wife who will join you in your kink. Lucky you and, more importantly, good for her!

Here’s what I want you to do. Go to your wife and tell her you love her and thank her profusely for being so accommodating by indulging you your behavior. Tell her you want to do something special for her to show your appreciation. Ask her what she wants or needs and fulfill that request ASAP.

My sense is that few of us show enough gratitude to our loving, obliging and compliant partners or as we ought. The world is full of unhappy and unfulfilled people, so if we’ve hit the jackpot we really need to reward the ones who love us and fuck us as we are.

Name: Astrit
Gender: Male
Age: 20’s
Hi there. I have question about anal douching.
I’m in my early twenties and see myself as being a reasonable healthy young gay man. I’ve recently gotten into anal douching and, to my surprise, found that I really like it a lot. This is partly because the thought of being clean really appeals to me. Now I’m wondering how frequently I can safely do it and what kind of precautions I should take. Is it safe to go with just pure water for douching? Is there any risk in doing it more than once or twice a week? Would it be worth it?

I’ve written and talked about anal douching extensively on my site. You can find postings and podcasts containing the subject by using this site’s search function in the sidebar to your right. Type in ANAL DOUCHE and presto!

You can also use the category pull down menu. Look under Anal; there’s a subcategory labeled anal-douche.

Here’s the kind of information you will find: Warm water is all you need. Soap is recommended for cleaning outside your hole, but ever use soap up in your hole.001

Some men add lemon juice or vinegar (1-2 Tbs. per quart) of the warm water. Others dissolve (2 Tbs.) of baking soda in a quart of warm water.

Stay away from commercially produced douches; most contain harmful and irritating chemicals. And trust me, you don’t want that. Besides, all those over the counter douches are expensive. And all that packaging is definitely not eco-friendly. And we all want to be green perverts, don’t we?

Finally there is always the ever-versatile shower or bath bidet option. You can find one model, the Perfect Fit Ergoflo Extra on the Perfect Fit website along with all their other outstanding products. And, since it looks like you’re a budding douche fetishist, you might consider the Deluxe Shower Bidet, which can be found in Dr Dick’s Stockroom. Look for the My Stockroom banner in the sidebar to your right. This is a stainless steel option that hooks up to your shower head.

I hope that’s helpful.

Good luck ya’ll

Bullshitness of Rabbit Vibrators

By Emily Nagoski

I promised myself to do a post about the bullshitness of rabbit vibrators, so here it is.

To begin with, what I mean by a rabbit is a dual vibrator – most commonly a vibrator with a large shaft for penetration and a bullet for external, clitoral stimulation. It gets called a rabbit because one particular brand has molded the jelly sheath over the bullet to have little bunny ears. There are also dolphins and thumbs and lots of other things. It’s cute.

350__1_ivibe-rabbit-vibrator-grape.jpgSo wherein lies the bullshit? Well it’s not that they’re not effective – but anything with an off-center motor that you can put between your legs can be effective; I know someone whose engineer boyfriend built a vibrator out of an ibuprophen bottle, and pubescent girls worldwide discovered the glories of a vibrating Harry Potter broomstick.

Instead, the bullshit lies in the rabbit’s position in culture.

First of all, the rabbit became famous as a result of a Sex in the City episode where one of the characters gets “addicted” to it.

The episode was basically a commercial. It was a product placement of the crassest, most cynical kind.

So the first reason the rabbit is bullshit is that its popularity is the result of a television commercial, not as a result of its ability to get women off.

Which brings me to reason number two that the rabbit is bullshit.

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LILY 2

Had LELO offered SitC more money than the rabbit did to promote the Lily, this would be a different post because the Lily is a small, beautiful, powerful, rechargeable, nearly silent clitoral vibrator with infinitely adjustable speed and I will forever sing its praises to the heavens. Even its shape, to me, has a grace and elegance that echoes the flexing of a woman’s body at orgasm.

But if you walk into a sex toy store and you see the Lily on a shelf, and then you see the rabbit in its foot-long glory, which will you think is better? The rabbit with its size, its many functions, and its cultural import, is surely the more impressive there on the shelf. And if you haven’t looked too closely at cultural myths about women’s sexuality, you might think that it’s a better design for meeting a women’s orgasmic needs.

But it’s not. It’s designed to meet CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS around a woman’s needs.

It’s a big, colorful, rotating, oscillating SHAFT… with a bullet vibe attached. What does that say? It says that what a woman really needs and wants is a giant dick that does fucking magic tricks, and maybe some clitoral stimulation too.

That’s the second bullshitness about rabbits. It tells women what they need is a cock. It feeds wrongheaded cultural expectations around women’s sexuality, rather than nourishing women’s sexuality as it truly is.

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When most women see even just a traditional slimline vibrator, they assume that they’re using the shaft for penetration. And mainstream porn certainly represents women’s masturbation as a largely penetration-oriented activity. The rabbit is part of this cultural discourse, this myth; the SitC character can only be satisfied by a giant, buzzing, candy-colored cock.

In fact more than 90% of women masturbate with NO VAGINAL PENETRATION. (The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality.)

The third, related, bullshitness: it tells women what they need is a cock, thus failing to tell women that really the vast majority of them would be better served with a clit-centric toy; the cultural phenomenon of the rabbit makes people think otherwise.

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We-Vibe II

If you really want a dual vibrator designed genuinely to meet a woman’s orgasmic needs, have a look at the We-Vibe II, whose proportions accurately reflect where and how stimulation is effective for most (not all, of course) women.

I’ll move toward a conclusion here, though there’s lots more to say. This is hardly a comprehensive analysis of the rabbit in particular or sex toys in general. I just want to register a tiny squeak of frustrated rage that popular culture is failing us so very, very badly by repeating the myths that make women feel broken, subordinate, and conflicted.

If men are learning about sex from porn – and my college health ed colleagues recently did a survey that suggests that 1 in 4 college men thinks porn accurately portrays how sex works – then, I think, women learn about sex from the popular culture,  things like SitC. I believe that cultural representations of sexuality have a responsibility to participate in a healthy, factual, and feminist construction of women’s sexuality. Promoting something like the rabbit, with its phallocentric implications, does everyone on the planet a disservice.

If SitC were written by sex educators, the toy would more likely have been, for example, the Cadillac of vibrators, the Hitachi Magic Wand) – it’s big, it’s loud, it plugs into the wall, and it does the job.

But instead it was written by writers who don’t necessarily know anything about sex outside the mainstream nonsense, and so the mainstream nonsense is recapitulated.

Complete Article HERE!

For more on this timely topic look HERE!

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

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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