Does This Plate Of Beans Vibrate?
October 18, 2012 12:56 AM   Subscribe

"In removing the associations with genitalia, the messiness of bodies mashing together is obfuscated. Men no longer have to worry about being replaced. Women no longer have to worry about the psychic implications of being penetrated by a penis. Society doesn’t have to worry about gender norms being disturbed. And expectations of what defines sex remains stable." -- Jenny An on "The Pleasure Model" (a jokey NSFW pic at the top)
posted by bardic (66 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
It seems like the author disapproves of every type of sex she discusses:

--women using non-phallic vibrators are "avoid[ing] tackling the problem of the power dynamics inherent in sexual relations between actual people" AND use said toys because they "no longer have to worry about the psychic implications of being penetrated by a penis." It's not that you prefer clitoral stimulation, it's that you're an escapist!

--1970s Betty Dodson fans who used vibrators experienced "separate but equal" pleasure -- presumably second-class orgasms?

--And let's not forget men! Men having sex are self-obsessed boors: "the main event of androcentricity: woman is prepared [like a chicken about to be roasted in the oven], man enters, man ejaculates."

I mean, it's interesting that female sex toys are getting less phallic, and it's also interesting that the toys are being marketed as "pleasure" toys rather than "sex" toys. But to extrapolate that women with flower-shaped vibrators are shirking their duty to the Great Sexual Power Dynamic Revolution? Seems like the wrong conclusion to me.
posted by feets at 1:44 AM on October 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


overthinking a plate of dildos.
posted by delmoi at 1:54 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Willies are silly.

There's something inherently comic about an erect penis, so I can well see that a less giggle-provoking morphology might be preferred.

No doubt that's a minor factor, YMMV, etc.
posted by Segundus at 2:06 AM on October 18, 2012


"But just as customers should be wary of ice cream without calories, there’s something about sexual pleasure without the other stuff which sounds suspiciously lacking."

The way she describes sex, it's amazing that anyone would voluntarily have it.
posted by Bugbread at 2:11 AM on October 18, 2012 [19 favorites]


The article uses the word 'sex' so many times, it sets some kind of Guiness record.

For more fun and less brow crease, replace every occurence of the words 'sex' and 'sex-toy' with 'ice cream'. Weird Al would.
posted by Twang at 2:53 AM on October 18, 2012


I've only heard of vibrators and dildos as being called "sex toys", a name that is pretty awesome, in that it makes sex into a form of play, which is as it should be in an ideal world.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:54 AM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Power is tossed around the sheets as often as orgasms.

It's only noon here, but I'm pretty sure this will be the clumsiest metaphor (or whatever it is) that I read all day.
posted by pete_22 at 3:09 AM on October 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


KokuRyu: "it makes sex into a form of play, which is as it should be in an ideal world."

Don't be silly, while "sex can be fun" (emphasis mine), it is "messy work of heaving bodies, sexism, and history...[with]a troublesome history." It involves "tackling the problem of the power dynamics inherent in sexual relations between actual people. It is complicated. Power is tossed around the sheets as often as orgasms." It's "an emotional minefield". It's fraught with "worry over the social dynamics of what constitutes sex". "Real sex...is always inseparable from power." Don't forget "the historical pitfalls". And god help you if you're into heterosexual, penetrative sex, which involves female preparation "like she’s a chicken about to be roast in an oven". It's full of the "messiness of bodies". It involves the "mental and emotional burden of engaging with a humanoid sexuality". Let me reiterate, again, it involves "the messiness of bodies mashing together".

The mind boggling thing is, I'm almost certain this person considers herself sex-positive.
posted by Bugbread at 3:14 AM on October 18, 2012 [20 favorites]


This dildo, it vibrates?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 3:20 AM on October 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


she kind of avoids the nitty-gritty, like why is it that I can now buy mass-market branded cock rings at my local supermarket?
posted by ennui.bz at 4:05 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, that was a complete turn-off.
posted by Jimbob at 4:13 AM on October 18, 2012


Oh the things I dislike about this essay....


1. The reason that the rabbit is so popular is because it includes clitoral stimulation. There are a hell of a lot of women for whom vaginal stimulation alone just won't do jack shit, and for whom stronger and more direct clitoral stimulation is what does the job. The rabbit does that.

2. The non-phallic vibrators are for clitoral stimulation so they don't have to look phallic. And clitoral stimulation is see above.

3. And yet - lots of women who use sex toys still dig sex with other humans because it's still way more fun. Yeah, it's messier, but it's also got an element of surprise and more creativity and....well, hell, a vibrator can't kiss you in the middle of everything unexpectedly and that's just damn cool when that happens.

4. You can't tell me that a guy using a Fleshlight wouldn't drop that thing like a mike and go for a chance at sex with a human partner if they had one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:27 AM on October 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't get the either/or duality. Sex toys can be used in a partnership, rather than just replacing the "real" thing. It's all real.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:41 AM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: like a chicken about to be roasted in the oven
posted by Foosnark at 4:42 AM on October 18, 2012


Better to make sexual experience seem a pleasure akin to a chocolate bar or a massage, unlike real sex which is always inseparable from power.

Oh, ffs. So to speak.
posted by drlith at 4:44 AM on October 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I read the whole article and I still can't tell if I am doing it wrong or not.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:17 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


woman is prepared [like a chicken about to be roasted in the oven], man enters, man ejaculates."

This is totally not how you roast chicken.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:18 AM on October 18, 2012 [51 favorites]


This essay, it is extremely hetero- and cis-normative! Also, I feel like it privileges penetrative sex as the most serious, authentic kind of sex! Like, real serious people have partnered heterosexual cis-gendered sex, analyze the power dynamics, and are sure to work in at least one act of penetration - that's what revolutionaries do!

I really do not get the New Inquiry. These people are plenty smart, but they don't seem to edit/put pressure on each other's ideas at all. I've read some really, aggressively foolish things there recently.

But! I think that this woman is onto something and that this essay would work much better as "I write this in my journal as part of the thought process". Because that whole thing of "women's sex toys are design-y while men's are 'realistic'" is a very interesting observation; so is the whole reframing of sex/orgasms/sex toys as a solitary, commercialized, medicalized/"self-care" pleasure, especially for women - I think that's a real thing just based on shifts I've seen in advertising over the past fifteen years. And I do think, personally, that as porn, photoshop and American puritanism have shifted our understanding of what bodies look like and do, there really is this "sex is a big hassle because you have to be totally de-haired and you know that you have all these micro-flaws that now have names because of the internet ("cankles"!) and you know that the guy is going to pressure you for [various trust-requiring sex acts] very early and you expect that the dude won't really understand the lube/time/arousal requirements for some of them and you'll be under pressure to look like you're enjoying it but probably won't have enough time to actually enjoy it....and hell, a vibrator means you get an orgasm even if you haven't had your bits waxed recently." I think there's a strand of US culture which has raised the bar for "looking and acting acceptable enough to feel good about having sex rather than feel like a gross failure while having sex", and I think that has a lot to do with the increasing social acceptability of sex toys in general. I think it's possible to separate this fact from the fact that sex toys are a good thing to have. Water is a great thing to have, but water marketing is still weird.

I mean, I think this essay has some worthwhile stuff going on in it and that's why it was printed.
posted by Frowner at 5:19 AM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


4. You can't tell me that a guy using a Fleshlight wouldn't drop that thing like a mike and go for a chance at sex with a human partner if they had one.

That depends, what does she look like?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is totally not how you roast chicken.

That is such a pullus-centric statement.

woman is prepared [like a chicken about to be roasted in the oven]

If you are spatchcocking your sexual partners, you are doing it wrong.

Because that whole thing of "women's sex toys are design-y while men's are 'realistic'" is a very interesting observation

I'm no expert on sex toys, male or female, but I distinctly recall an FPP here about a Japanese masturbator and sex toy tester, where some of the designs looked a lot more like set pieces from the Aliens prison planet movie than the stereotypical porn-star vag/anus moldings. So non-realistic sex toys are designed and sold for men, though I don't know how much of the market they represent.

But her point about marketing is apt -- sex toys for women are not marketed as “You’ll think it’s the real thing.” That's expressed in designs as well, but it's deeper than just design.
posted by Forktine at 5:31 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]



This is totally not how you roast chicken.

You haven't had chicken at Jessamyn's house I take it?
posted by Meatbomb at 5:31 AM on October 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm no expert on sex toys, male or female, but I distinctly recall an FPP here about a Japanese masturbator and sex toy tester, where some of the designs looked a lot more like set pieces from the Aliens prison planet movie than the stereotypical porn-star vag/anus moldings. So non-realistic sex toys are designed and sold for men, though I don't know how much of the market they represent.

Forktine - I swear I read somewhere that it was illegal in Japan, at least it was illegal at one point, to market a sex toy that actually looked realistically like human genitalia. Which is why you got things that looked liked dolphins or Cthulu or whatever.

That depends, what does she look like?

THAT depends, what does the given guy with the fleshlight find appealing? Whatever it is, then it's that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:35 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


She's in denial about her real issue. It's obvious she has difficulty with the truth that relationships are always messy.
posted by surplus at 5:49 AM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


> The mind boggling thing is, I'm almost certain this person considers herself sex-positive.

"Being sex-positive" doesn't have to even live on the same planet as liking sex, and often doesn't. Compare "I love humanity! It's people I can't stand."
posted by jfuller at 5:54 AM on October 18, 2012


"messy work of heaving bodies, sexism, and history"
I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that whenever I have sex I can't stop thinking about the Treaty of Ghent.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:57 AM on October 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also, I feel like it privileges penetrative sex as the most serious, authentic kind of sex!

Well, it's not as if penetrative sex is exclusively about dicks i.e. "female penetration... male penetration" could be applied to butch/femme relations which is a whole other kettle of fish...

She seems to be trying to say that non-androgenic sex toys exist as female rebellion against a sex-toy culture still bounded by male oriented victorian ideas about mimetic experiences (the victorian idea of mimesis which I kind of think is more interesting than the sex is power stuff)
The effort to disassociate sexual pleasure from anything that isn’t penetrative isn’t new. The vibrator was first developed as a medical device to help doctors — from Hippocrates on — save time and effort in “curing” women of their hysteria. For the Victorians, with all their fears of losing female saintliness, vibrators were acceptable because the models of the era were not penetrative or phallic and therefore not “truly” sexual.
But then she quotes someone saying that basically, even if it's not a dick, it's designed not to supplant dick-wielders:
An Atlantic profile of Ethan Imboden, the founder of Jimmyjane noted that some men can be frightened by the thought of being supplanted by a too-phallic toy. “That’s an element of why we make the products as quiet as they are,” Imboden told the Atlantic.” It’s also why we make them visually quiet.”
But then maybe it's a difference between male and female sex-toy designers (making some assumptions about "Ethan" vs. "Donna"):
And women, it seems, also want to be removed from thoughts that they are being penetrated by a phallus. “I believe there’s still a place for the phallus, but women want a design that’s more comfortable,” says Donna Faro of Lelo, in a Los Angeles story.
Personally, I feel like there's an undercurrent in the essay of the the idea that male penetrative sex is inherently uncomfortable for women
Men no longer have to worry about being replaced. Women no longer have to worry about the psychic implications of being penetrated by a penis.
which is a pretty stark dialectic but the whole thing is kind of half-thought out. Just looking at the other stuff in TNI that seems to be their style... which is fine, it's hard to spend the time to work all these things out and it's maybe better just to throw out there what you have rattling around your head....
posted by ennui.bz at 5:58 AM on October 18, 2012


Forktine - I swear I read somewhere that it was illegal in Japan, at least it was illegal at one point, to market a sex toy that actually looked realistically like human genitalia. Which is why you got things that looked liked dolphins or Cthulu or whatever.

Can't they just sell it pixelated?
posted by Forktine at 6:02 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read the whole article and I still can't tell if I am doing it wrong or not.

Do you experience any pleasure in the act? If so, you're doing it wrong. That was my take away from the piece.
posted by yoink at 6:20 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I feel like there's an undercurrent in the essay of the the idea that male penetrative sex is inherently uncomfortable for women

See, the sense I got from that part of the essay was "women are too non-revolutionary to undertake the bold work of re-making penetration so that it is not stressful/painful/oppressive!"

I feel like this:

Men no longer have to worry about being replaced. Women no longer have to worry about the psychic implications of being penetrated by a penis.

should be read as "people have developed a commercial work-around for the inherent problems of sex under capitalism, which is bad because it prevents revolution."

I find this frustrating and heteronormative because it suggests that penetrative sex is both the important kind of sex to revolutionize and always between an implicitly cis man and an implicitly cis woman.

The whole article seemed to boil down to "under capitalism, penetrative partnered sex is said to be easy, accessible and normal (ideology!) but actually it is painful, distressing and shot through with social inequality. Instead of having a revolution, everyone has decided to have sex toys (the marketplace!) while denying that this is what they are doing (design!) and therefore they are both reinscribing and mystifying the same set of inequalities that are the problem in the first place."

I suspect that this is part of a process whereby academic soft marxism rejects feminism as getting in the way of the class struggle.
posted by Frowner at 6:23 AM on October 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


This article represents how people in my peer group (Lefties) thought about sex at a left-leaning university in Canada in the early 90's.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:24 AM on October 18, 2012


I thought she was writing about what the manufacturers of sex/pleasure toys think - that they want to divert people away from engaging in two person sex to pleasuring themselves. But with devices that don't threaten the vanilla view of sex. But you could do that without a toy, so they sell it by emphasizing 'pleasure' - that no other messy people need be involved. Because they're selling products. And she had to write an article.
Or something like that.
posted by AnnElk at 6:30 AM on October 18, 2012


The funny thing is that in broad terms I actually agree with the premise of the article - sex in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy doesn't escape the norms of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy! The increasing respectability of sex toys really does involve making them a more privatized, commercialized product, and their production and marketing really does reflect a bunch of bad ideas about sexuality and gender! I mean, I think that's all very reasonable and true.

But it actually makes me think about Cooks Illustrated (if anyone reading this one read that thread): Cooks Illustrated has this classic way of opening their articles which goes "[Food item] should be [delicious] but most people make it [unsatisfactory]. There is a crisis in [food item] production! Can we save this [classic food item]?" And the way it's written, you'd think that almost everything everyone ever cooks is terrible, and that most people are deeply deeply unsatisfied with their food and yet at a loss as to how to fix it. It frames the problem as one of false consciousness - not only are most people too ignorant to understand the problems with their food, they are blind to the correct methods of cooking it. Similarly with the article, except, you know, with sex.

I feel like this is a soft-marxism problem. As an anarchist, I tend to veer in the opposite direction: of course people can name and deal with their sexual problems themselves, the issue is choice and accessibility, and in general "centralized" analysis isn't a good idea. But that line of thinking is incredibly vulnerable to being recuperated by capitalist "individualism" (there is no society! everyone's problems are their own!). It seems like with marxism (and I feel like this article is marxist in tendency) there's the opposite issue - the blanket statements about how everyone responds and what constitutes everyone's problems can never encompass everyone, are inevitably centered around one type of person and tend to distrust individual experience and solutions - what is important is the commonalities between all women, not the differences.

I wonder what would happen if we as readers stopped believing that the text was authoritative - that the author was trying to Make The Final Argument Regardless of Readers - and starting thinking "hey, this person has identified a problem and is throwing some ideas out there to start talking about! Isn't it great that somebody has gotten this going?" As if an article were an invitation to hang out and talk, you know, instead of a voice from on high.
posted by Frowner at 6:38 AM on October 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


what ARE the psychic implications of being penetrated by a penis
posted by MangyCarface at 6:43 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm never having chicken at Jessamyn's house. Fact.
posted by notyou at 6:58 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's an Indian tantric guru who imparts psychic abilities by penetrating you with his penis. Vajra, oh yeah!
posted by Burhanistan at 7:05 AM on October 18, 2012


I wonder what would happen if we as readers stopped believing that the text was authoritative.

Textual authority is like religion: your sense of it is inculcated while you're young, and it usually evaporates at some point. If you're the only one in your peer group this has happened to it's alienating. But you can't really go back, nor should you.
posted by clarknova at 7:40 AM on October 18, 2012


Frowner: "Cooks Illustrated has this classic way of opening their articles which goes "[Food item] should be [delicious] but most people make it [unsatisfactory]. There is a crisis in [food item] production!"

Well, Krusty, that depends what you mean by crisis.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:48 AM on October 18, 2012


> "[Food item] should be [delicious] but most people make it [unsatisfactory].

Slate runs a regular series about food called You're Doing It Wrong. At least, it's always been about food so far.
posted by jfuller at 7:48 AM on October 18, 2012


Okay talk of roasting chicken and the mention of Slate's food column in this context just reminded me of Farm Fresh Girl, so thanks a lot, y'all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on October 18, 2012


women using non-phallic vibrators are "avoid[ing] tackling the problem of the power dynamics inherent in sexual relations between actual people" AND use said toys because they "no longer have to worry about the psychic implications of being penetrated by a penis." It's not that you prefer clitoral stimulation, it's that you're an escapist!

Not only that, but what about women who use sex toys during sex with another human person?
posted by asnider at 8:24 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find this piece quite worthwhile and I'm glad it was posted - thank you, bardic. It articulates a bunch of thoughts that I have felt, but have not had put into words that I can turn over in my head, or have put together myself into something coherent. Having some of that footwork done is excellent because it helps order how I feel and how I can talk about how I feel - something to react to and reshape - and angles/implications I hadn't quite considered or connected.

It took me some work to get into it initially - I found it a bit muddled/disjointed to follow (where are you taking me, what do you want me to understand here?) and there's something about how it's constructed, the way the author is leading into her points that made me wary, waiting for something absurd or obnoxious to be sprung on me (I think this is just a common writing style that's burned me before elsewhere) - but when I got to the end and realized it was some pretty solid stuff I felt a little annoyed with myself for pre-judging, or taking the kneejerk seriously.

IMO it would take some wild talent to lay this shit out in an easily accessible way; after all these are ideas that are inherently not accessible because they involve questioning a whole paradigm people take for granted in this society. Just the subject itself is a minefield IME. I actively look for pieces of this type and they are few and far between - so much of the writing and the thoughts about sex that are out there operates from assumptions I don't and can't agree with. These conversations and discussions are so valuable when they work but it is rough to get them working, they are uncomfortable and people get dismissive and angry and derisive.

Anyway the thoughts laid out here absolutely resonate with me. It is part and parcel of a larger issue I have been processing for a while now - what does sex look like in a truly equal society? What would female sexuality - and my individual sexuality - look like if it was not so deeply shaped by everything around us? What do *I* really want that is of myself and not what I am told I should want - that is bound up in this inherently unequal dynamic of behaviours, expectations, approved scripts, and yes, androcentric? Trying to figure any of that out is super complicated and messy - it pulls apart an essential aspect of my identity - it spills out into my relationships and a lot of things that are easier, safer to take for granted in this world if you want to get by as a woman.

Picking at the framework around vibrators, the societal shaping, what it all implies - that's fascinating to me and what she lays out makes sense to me. The immediate tangent I started comparing this to was slashfic - another outlet for women that removes the weight and complication of the visible hetero dynamic from the equation. I can understand that. I don't think most people question or really want to examine - everything surrounding the subject is so messy and unsettling that it is easier to opt out in quiet, maybe slightly awkward but not deeply unapproved ways.
posted by flex at 8:37 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frowner: I think there's a strand of US culture which has raised the bar for "looking and acting acceptable enough to feel good about having sex rather than feel like a gross failure while having sex", and I think that has a lot to do with the increasing social acceptability of sex toys in general.

Well, something has to control the population pressure.
posted by tspae at 8:54 AM on October 18, 2012


I'm a bit surprised at the mostly unwelcoming reception this piece has gotten here. Though it's definitely fairly disjointed and it could certainly use another revision or two,* there are some interesting arguments in there. And I think people reading it as heteronormative, etc., are just reading it wrong — it's trying to diagnose all kinds of cultural assumptions about sex (implicitly assumed to be hetero, penetrative, etc.), but it's not endorsing those assumptions.

The argument about the marketing's separation of "sex" from "pleasure" is especially interesting and worth thinking through a little more.

* I really do not get the New Inquiry [...] they don't seem to edit

This is certainly my impression/experience as well, both for good and ill (it probably leads to more ideological diversity, which is clearly something TNI values, but also to a lower average standard of coherence or argumentation, something they may not know they need to work on as much as they do). Mostly I think it has to do with it being a volunteer enterprise run mostly by people without a ton of prior publishing experience.

posted by RogerB at 8:59 AM on October 18, 2012


It is part and parcel of a larger issue I have been processing for a while now - what does sex look like in a truly equal society? What would female sexuality - and my individual sexuality - look like if it was not so deeply shaped by everything around us? What do *I* really want that is of myself and not what I am told I should want - that is bound up in this inherently unequal dynamic of behaviours, expectations, approved scripts, and yes, androcentric?

See, one reason I have trouble with this piece is that it seems to suggest that there is a single, "authentic" sexuality which can be excavated from underneath The Way Things Are Now if we only revolutionize hard enough - and strongly implies that this sexuality will be, after all, penetrative heterosexual sex that is orgasmic for women. (I've heard that one before from Marxists, but usually not from things written later than the seventies.) I doubt that this is what the writer would say if asked directly, but her essay such a really negative tone toward women who do not like such kind of sex that the conclusion is difficult to avoid. (Such women "avoid tackling the problem of the power dynamics inherent in sexual relations between actual people" - "actual people" is definitely a phrase you use when you mean that folks are not dealing with things correctly.)

Another problem I have: it seems to suggest that the problems of capitalism are best tackled in a weirdly consumerist/volunteerist way (I think that's the jargon!) - women should get busy, as it were, dealing with "actual people" by having actual penetrative sex and using sex toys that look like sex organs because to do less is selfish, consumerist and counter-revolutionary.

Historically, "you are doing this intimate part of your life wrong; let me tell you how to do it right" has not worked really well as a revolutionary strategy.

It also implies that in the utopian future, everyone will "naturally" want to have penetrative partnered sex, all sex toys will resemble genitalia, etc. That reading romantic pornography (which is what slash fiction is) and using non-genital-looking sex toys are errors produced at best as coping strategies under capitalism. And that those of us who are managing to have quite a nice time, kthx, with romantic pornography and non-heterosexual non-penetrative sex should stop and switch over to having a dutiful but unpleasant time in the name of revolutionizing our characters.

One road to one future, which looks exactly like the present only turned inside out. That's a bit depressing.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


> One road to one future, which looks exactly like the present only turned inside out. That's a bit depressing.

When Alice saw what was about to happen, she began to scream uncontrollably....
posted by jfuller at 9:09 AM on October 18, 2012


And I think people reading it as heteronormative, etc., are just reading it wrong — it's trying to diagnose all kinds of cultural assumptions about sex (implicitly assumed to be hetero, penetrative, etc.), but it's not endorsing those assumptions.

I think that if you write about, let's be honest, vibrators and dildoes..and you don't even mention queer folks, and you don't even allude to the way that businesses run by queer women have been instrumental in the distribution, creation and marketing of these things...well, yes, you're heteronormative as hell and you haven't studied the history of your subject past about 1975.

See, it just so happens that I lived through the nineties and bought a number of alternative periodicals, many of which discussed sex. There was a huge shift in sex-toy design, manufacture and distribution at that time, mostly driven by queer and queer-friendly women. One reason, indeed, that lots of sex toys for women don't look like dicks is that a lot of the initial designs were by and for women whose interest in male genitalia was occasional at best. (The Japanese imports thing mentioned above is another.) The fact that places like Toys In Babeland, Smitten Kitten, etc were opened by women for women and with, initially a substantially queer clientele has a great deal to do with the "respectability" of sex toys now - those first friendly, clean, non-skeevy shops created the "tasteful" way to sell sex toys. Now, it's a shame that this has turned into "the Total Woman has a professional career, her own condo, a daily workout regime....and a tasteful sex toy that looks a bit like it belongs in a zen garden so that she can fit non-messy orgasms into her busy schedule", but the fact is that this model wasn't the product of the man - it was the product of a very particular set of local feminist and queer conversations about sex which were not about "I am uncomfortable that this thing looks like a dick because women are supposed to be ethereal creatures". It is precisely the assumption that these designs were created de novo in order to get around the problem of heterosexual sex that is heteronormative.

Also - and I can testify to this myself - although the problems of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy do not disappear when women have sex with women, they become very different and IMO somewhat less total.
posted by Frowner at 9:15 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was and continue to be surprised that those are the conclusions you have drawn and the suggestions you are reading into the piece because I do not see them there! I read her wording as being very, overly careful to not, as RogerB says, endorse that model. It seems much more observational and I definitely hear her questioning the privilege of that model. I mean a large part of what I really appreciated in this piece was not just the ideas she was offering but that she was offering them in a context that did not imply or privilege the usual narratives, and that specifically I was not hearing her saying what you feel she is saying to you. For example, taking how women are overwhelmingly stimulated - clitoral rather than vaginal - and how society makes that lesser than sex rather than actually sex because it doesn't fit the patriarchal model - I definitely heard the author critical of how that happens rather than endorsing it.
posted by flex at 9:19 AM on October 18, 2012


Oh, I see more of where you're coming from in your next comment. Okay, yes. That's a good nuance to pull apart and I definitely agree with what you're sharing. My reading is that something that should be of ourselves, for ourselves - trying to work around the heteronormative narrative - is twisted about and marketed as something that fits the heteronormative narrative. (Which is another unhappy proof to me that you just don't ever get to opt-out because part of validating the opting-out is the external understanding of what you're doing, and you're never going to get that.)
posted by flex at 9:28 AM on October 18, 2012


I was and continue to be surprised that those are the conclusions you have drawn and the suggestions you are reading into the piece because I do not see them there! I read her wording as being very, overly careful to not, as RogerB says, endorse that model.

Maybe this is a contradiction in the way that the piece itself is written - that there's some tension in the thing itself.

See, to me she keeps returning to this theme of "partnered sex is more mature" (she figures women using vibrators as wanting to avoid the complexity and the "emotional burden" of power relations...and then labels that "humanoid sexuality", as if nothing but partnered sex is human!) and seems to keep slipping into the assumption that partnered sex is the same as penetrative sex. See below, plus the whole "avoid tackling the problem of...."

The shapes of women’s sex toys are not just designed for the promise of maximum physical pleasurability — San Francisco-based Jimmyjane’s version of the rabbit vibrator includes independently moving ears and vibrators at the tips of the ears that keep buzzing no matter how harshly it’s being shoved in there — but to remove the mental and emotional burden of engaging with a humanoid sexuality.

Also "no matter how harshly it’s being shoved in there" is not generally how one writes when one is positive about sex toys. (Outside certain light-SM contexts, of course.)

It's very difficult to me to square this with a visceral belief that multiple sexualities are okay, even though there are formal gestures toward that view.

Certainly, all our sexualities are canalized by capitalism. Certainly, there's no way to imagine what sexuality would look like in some post-revolutionary utopia. But that should, I think, make us skeptical about sexual preaching in general.
posted by Frowner at 9:31 AM on October 18, 2012


I mean, I'm sure the writer is a person I'd like and respect if we met - no one could produce this article without having a basic analysis that I would find smart and generally awesome. It's just that I have some trouble with the piece itself.

Although like everyone else under white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, if I wrote an essay about sexuality it would be full of me unconsciously revealing all kinds of assumptions which would mostly be wrong and/or depressing.
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on October 18, 2012


Maybe that's what's rubbing me the wrong way - this is reminding me of some of the deep analysis from that one human sexuality course I took in college, where ultimately the professors' main thrust was:

1. Nearly all of the hangups we humans have about sex come from the fact that we have always had a history of overthinking it all way too damn much, and

2. Wiring is weird, but if you're down with what you're doing, and so is everyone else in the room, then go for it.

I mean, yes, there are plenty of other complicated things that go into one's psychological sexual makeup, and understanding what those things are can give one's self personal insight. But outside of that - if someone wants to get freaky with a dildo shaped like Ernest Borgnine's clavicle or something, so long as I don't have to watch if I don't feel like it I'm good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on October 18, 2012


she figures women using vibrators as wanting to avoid the complexity and the "emotional burden" of power relations

You keep doing this — you're taking a critical claim that, in An's actual article, is clearly about the way sex toys are sold, about the cultural baggage loaded into their marketing at least as much for an audience that doesn't actually use them on their own bodies as for one that does, and instead making it into a denigrating claim about the women who purchase and use them. (The consumerist assumptions are coming from inside the thread!)

The fact that places like Toys In Babeland, Smitten Kitten, etc were opened by women for women and with, initially a substantially queer clientele has a great deal to do with the "respectability" of sex toys now - those first friendly, clean, non-skeevy shops created the "tasteful" way to sell sex toys.

I think An is just telling a different, later story, one about the backlash and cooptation of the moment in sex-toy history you're (rightly) pointing out she omits — this piece is, if you like, about the broad mass-cultural adoption of the Babeland model, and the backsliding compromises with patriarchy and heteronormativity that have come along with it. Like ennui.bz says, now we can buy vibrators in the grocery store — but along with that has come not the destruction of all that unpleasant cultural baggage about what "real" sex is but, in a sneaky way, its reenforcement.
posted by RogerB at 9:40 AM on October 18, 2012


Personally, I prefer the mental burden of engaging in sex with imaginary dragons. [NSFW]
posted by egypturnash at 9:41 AM on October 18, 2012


You keep doing this — you're taking a critical claim that, in An's actual article, is clearly about the way sex toys are sold

We may just have to agree to disagree - I feel like this is a piece with a very deep underlying discomfort about sex toys, masturbation and sex-that-doesn't-look-like-"sex", with a layer of reasoning applied on top. (I've written pieces like that myself!) That doesn't mean that I think the reasoning is wrong, but I feel like the deep structure of the piece isn't something I agree with.

Something else I end up wondering about - privacy and sexuality. One of the ways those Lelos are marketed (if memory serves; can't exactly click through at work) is "these don't even look like vibrators!" with the strong implication that if your parents, children, friends or relatives glimpse these it won't automatically be obvious that they are sexual accessories.

In a way this is negative, right? Why should women in particular be ashamed of sex toys and want ones that don't look like they're about sex? There's a cute Alison Bechdel drawing from a long-ago Dykes To Watch Out For comic where one of the characters has all her dildoes tucked into bed, with their little head peeking out over the turned down sheet. Is that the ideal? (I mean, not literally, because it would get crowded.)

I think part of what's in play is a new concept of privacy. Maybe it's a post-AIDS thing and I just don't remember how things were before, but it seems to me that many women feel more casual about sex and sexual pleasure than in the eighties and nineties, and feel that both things are a normal part of a well-rounded life instead of the center of a life or a source of tremendous intensity. In my circles at least, there's a lot more "oh, you had a casual relationship with that dude for a couple of weeks, whatever" or "oh, you went to Smitten Kitten, whatever" than there would have been in the past. So there's actually this realm in which sex is more about pleasure and more casual than in the recent past.

And this bumps up against family, children and friendships, not just the grim realities of heteropatriarchy. Like, if you're living with your parents, or you have kids who poke around in your stuff, or you live in a tiny apartment and have guests, how do you maintain a boundary between your "private" sexual life and your civic/social/family life? One way is to make your sexuality invisible in plain sight - porn on the Kindle, tasteful sculpture-esque sex toys.

The thing is, it's certainly possible that to argue that you should say to your kids "mom uses that when she wants to [some explanation about sex]" and I definitely know a couple of hippie parents will almost certainly be having that conversation. But I don't think it's purely a matter of "under capitalism it is bad that we are not completely transparent with our parents, children and friends about all aspects of our lives". I think it's possible to say that we in fact are not obligated to be totally transparent, and that things which enable us to have multiple identities are at least not to be condemned out of hand.
posted by Frowner at 9:53 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your analysis of a tension/contradictions in the piece rings true to me and probably contributes to why I found it muddled. I did put that down to finding this shit so hard to parse and talk about - I relate to that personally since I am myself often frustrated in coherency, in a solid way to express what I feel in as a convincing argument but one that isn't privileging my POV. I am probably much more inclined to overlook the piece's flaws when I am focused on the fact it exists at all - again, I look for this stuff and I rarely find it. And what flaws I did see in it were not that big compared to what I got out of it overall. Like what you said earlier:

I wonder what would happen if we as readers stopped believing that the text was authoritative - that the author was trying to Make The Final Argument Regardless of Readers - and starting thinking "hey, this person has identified a problem and is throwing some ideas out there to start talking about! Isn't it great that somebody has gotten this going?" As if an article were an invitation to hang out and talk, you know, instead of a voice from on high.

I mean I'm on MeFi because the discussion, when it's on, works for me much better than any other community I've found. But it takes a lot for me to participate because in participating I've learned that I'm then opening myself up to a specific lashing-out of the societal negativity that already fucks with me and fucks me up.

Anyway, I find myself agreeing with RogerB's follow-up comment. And there is definitely a North American assumption that "real" sex is penetrative, that "real" sex is partnered sex - I don't read her as privileging those assumptions so much as acknowledging they exist and that everything else she's analysing from that point within our society is operating on those assumptions. We end up with a socially acceptable panacea - pleasure! fun! unthreatening! - that avoids having to deal with all the deeper issues that are overwhelming to confront.
posted by flex at 9:54 AM on October 18, 2012


I think An is just telling a different, later story, one about the backlash and cooptation of the moment in sex-toy history you're (rightly) pointing out she omits — this piece is, if you like, about the broad mass-cultural adoption of the Babeland model, and the backsliding compromises with patriarchy and heteronormativity that have come along with it. Like ennui.bz says, now we can buy vibrators in the grocery store — but along with that has come not the destruction of all that unpleasant cultural baggage about what "real" sex is but, in a sneaky way, its reenforcement.

Huh. Okay, if THAT'S the angle, I guess I was always chalking that up to some combination of "we need to figure out how to sell vibrators to unadventurous people in the heartland" and "if we're going to market vibrators in grocery stores, we can't be obvious about what they do, and we CERTAINLY can't offend the community". Kind of like how most pregnancy test ads feature a couple that is happy about being pregnant, but you and I know that the person more likely to purchase a home pregnancy test is a single woman who ends up standing in the bathroom and chanting "PLEASE be minus PLEASE be minus PLEASE be minus PLEASE be minus...."

Not so much backsliding, in other words, as getting pushed back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, to be more accurate and succint -- I think it's more likely that sex toys are marketed the way they are now is more because "wait, if we dare to imply in public that anyone other than married heterosexual people use these things we will be run out of town on a rail".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:10 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are spatchcocking your sexual partners, you are doing it wrong.

Oh, great word. I did not know that.

Hey, Ms. An. Some couples use sex toys ... together!

Unlike sex toys for women, sex toys for men are designed to replicate the “man enters, man ejaculates” sex rather than offer an alternative.

And yeah, how can you write a 1,500 article about sex toys and not mention cock rings? Cock rings are wonderful. I recommend the TRI-O WATERPROOF VIBRATING COUPLE'S COCK RING, lol.

there is definitely a North American assumption that "real" sex is penetrative

But Real Americans love plo chops.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:13 PM on October 18, 2012


Not so much backsliding, in other words, as getting pushed back.

Kinky.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:14 PM on October 18, 2012


woman is prepared [like a chicken about to be roasted in the oven], man enters, man ejaculates."

This is totally not how you roast chicken.


Sure it is. First you stuff it. Then you heat it up.

Oh, god, did I just post that?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:03 PM on October 18, 2012


And yeah, how can you write a 1,500 article about sex toys and not mention cock rings? Cock rings are wonderful. I recommend the TRI-O WATERPROOF VIBRATING COUPLE'S COCK RING, lol.

To be fair, cock rings aren't really sex toys "for men" so much as they are for couples.
posted by asnider at 9:11 AM on October 19, 2012


The vibrating kind of cock ring may be for couples. The standard kind is more so for men (at least, I imagine it is - it's meant to sustain an erection, no? I've also heard a couple of reports that the feeling of...er...fullness is kind of pleasant in its own right.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


About cock rings (SFW).

I think the traditional use has been to increase the size of the erection and sensation (by trapping blood in the genitals), but nowadays a lot of them are centered on pleasuring the partner, i.e. stimulating the clitoris or other parts. A win-win all around. The ones with the little vibes on top are a lot of fun. I'll admit to having using one in my private practice.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:20 AM on October 19, 2012


The standard kind is more so for men (at least, I imagine it is - it's meant to sustain an erection, no? I've also heard a couple of reports that the feeling of...er...fullness is kind of pleasant in its own right.)

Well, yeah, but usually the reason for wanting to sustain an erection is to have sex with a partner. I'm sure there are guys who use cock rings for masturbatory purposes, but I don't think that has ever been the primary intended use.

(On preview, apparently at least one guy is on the record as having used one in a solo situation.)
posted by asnider at 1:23 PM on October 19, 2012


Well, yeah, but usually the reason for wanting to sustain an erection is to have sex with a partner.

Can't you also....sustain an erection so as to continue to masturbate?

I mean, you have a point, but there's a difference between the vibrating cock ring (in which the man has a stronger erection and the woman has clitoral stimulation) and the regular cock ring (in which the man's all set with the bigger erection, but the woman may be SOL).

There are a LOT of women who need extra clitoral stimulation, even in penetrative sex, or else they just plain won't have an orgasm. Put a standard cock ring on a guy having sex with her, and....she doesn't get a whole hell of a lot out of it, it looks to me. I'll admit I'm basing my distinction on that, but it still looks like the standard cock rings are more for the guys in those scenarios rather than being for the couple.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:00 PM on October 19, 2012


Can't you also....sustain an erection so as to continue to masturbate?

Sure. I'm simply saying that this isn't the main use. I may be wrong, though.

There are a LOT of women who need extra clitoral stimulation, even in penetrative sex, or else they just plain won't have an orgasm. Put a standard cock ring on a guy having sex with her, and....she doesn't get a whole hell of a lot out of it, it looks to me. I'll admit I'm basing my distinction on that, but it still looks like the standard cock rings are more for the guys in those scenarios rather than being for the couple.

Fair point. I was more thinking that -- in order for the for the couple to have penetrative, PIV sex at all -- the guy uses a cock ring. In that sense, it is "for" both of them, even though the woman may not be deriving direct benefits from it (at least as far as achieving orgasm is concerned). But, yeah, this isn't necessary for the couple, per se, as much as it is still for the man.

We're assuming a heterosexual couple here, though. What about a gay male couple? Assuming that we're talking about penetrative sex, is the cock ring now for both partners or just the one who needs to maintain an erection, since the other could still be penetrated by other means?

Sex is complicated. Maybe I should stop overthinking it and just stick to having the sex that I like to have. Other people can do their thing and, hopefully, everyone ends up happy and satisfied.
posted by asnider at 3:38 PM on October 19, 2012


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