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Gender + Sexuality

Sex Toys from Outer Space

These ‘wellness’ items, popping up in department stores and my algorithms, make me miss subtlety in sexuality.

Dorothy Woodend 18 Feb 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

I’m not terribly prudish about sexual matters, but reading the many reviews for sex toy purveyor Tracy’s Dog on Amazon made me want to tear my eyes out and run away over the hills.

“I am writing this review from my bed and will likely never leave again, because of this miracle toy from the sinful pits of hell,” one review reads. I mean, keep it together people!

Tracy’s Dog sells a variety of different devices designed to provide women with bigger, better, wilder orgasms. But while its wondrous new mechanisms sound intriguing (if a wee bit alien), all this open sharing of experience is enough to make one long for the quieter, more puzzling desires of yore, when a lack of information led to a spontaneous eruption of strange imaginings.

The current climate is more akin to that friend who overshares about personal matters, except now that friend is everywhere, urging you to a buy a one-eyed-one-horned flying purple people eater.

Sex toys have come out the drawers of the nation and are strutting down the centre aisle at high-end department stores like Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew. I have to admit I almost spat out my coffee when I logged onto Holt Renfrew’s website and tripped over their new merchandise.

These new apparatuses don’t look like the dongs of old — moulded wieners in Ken doll pink — they more resemble Brancusi sculptures, or horny Henry Moores. All with a price tag that might convince you that you were buying an actual Moore sculpture.

But is this really a seismic change in sexual mores, as in more, more, more, or a temporary hump? Hard to say, although the language employed in selling these items is all about the practice of wellness, with a high-fashion edge, “inviting” women to “own your own power and your pleasure.”

The message of female independence and getting in touch with your body has a distinct marketing vibe to it. In the abstract, this empowerment stuff is good and liberating, but why does hearing about it make me want to crawl under a rock?

Sex toys have been around since the age of the dinosaur. They first date back to 26,000 BC. The ancient Romans and Greeks also got up to a lot of kinky stuff. But no one was quite as secretly screwy as the Victorians.

(If you want to blush to the roots of your hair, simply read a bit of Victorian pornography, which has an entire lexicon devoted to sexual behaviours. Some of this terminology survived to the modern day, whereas other bits of it simply vanished. I had to look up the term godemiche, and now wish I hadn’t.)

Kate Lister’s 2020 book A Curious History of Sex dedicates an entire chapter to the sex accoutrements of old.

Lister is a resolutely cheerful writer, and her book is packed with humorous eddies into the weird world of sexy arcana. From goat testicles to cycling pornography, there is nothing new under the sun. Even the sun itself gets roped in, with folk who get turned on by its golden rays.

The intersection of sex and society is really at the heart of the book, and it isn’t always pretty. How we view and understand sex says a lot about where we are culturally.

So, what does the new interest in the masturbatory arts, as signified by the ubiquitous marketing of all these crazy sex toys, have to say about this particular moment in time? Why is old onanism new again?

Blame it partially on the pandemic’s perfect storm. People have time on their hands, they can’t see other folks outside of their pod, and the threat of imminent death and doom has rendered more mundane reservations kind of moot.

The growth of the sex toy industry has swelled in recent years, with the bulk of sales aimed at women. Many new companies are run by women and designed with female bodies in mind. The shapes and colours — fuchsia, purple, turquoise — wouldn’t look out of place on a coffee table. Fashion is a key component of these objects. Pretty!

Overall, this is a good and positive development and a move towards narrowing the dreaded orgasm gap, which describes not a canyon in Wyoming but the disparity between the number of male and female orgasms.

But maybe it’s the language, or maybe it’s because I can never look at a rabbit, porpoise or pepper shaker the same way again, to me it’s all a bit much. Suddenly the most innocuous of items are taking on lurid and louche new proportions.

Good old-fashioned mortal embarrassment is just that. Old-fashioned. Maybe it’s just that changing times make you feel your age, especially when it comes to sexual matters.

The days of your parents slipping a copy of Changing Bodies, Changing Lives under your door, or reading Judy Blume may be long gone, but certain lingering feelings remain. Namely, a yearning for the mysteries of life.

So give me The Clan of the Cave Bear or The Thorn Birds over more graphic depictions any day. Half the time you could never figure out what was actually happening in these stories, but that just made it all the more enticing.

In the bright light of a department store, it’s hard to hold onto much mystery. But in spite of a few misgivings, this is probably a good thing.

It’s a more mature approach to take things in hand, as it were, and to speak honestly about desire. I’m happy that people of all stripes can turn themselves inside out with a little help from a purple rabbit. I guess I just don’t want to hear about it.  [Tyee]

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