The Pursuit of Pleasure: The Anatomy of the Sex Toy Revolution

Successfully at the beginnings of the 2020s, revolutionary feminist sex tech companies have redesigned a male dominated industry by reorienting toys as a form of sexual health over a taboo perversity. And as the market continues to grow in rapid incline, production is entering a golden age with tech designed for a wide variety of bodies and empowering design against the male gaze. “We’re living through a golden age of sex toys, a kind of renaissance where we have access to such incredibly well-constructed and innovative products,” says Ian Kener, author of She Comes First. Culturally speaking, we are growing day by day to a sex toy stigma extinction. 

Centuries of internalised shame from a heteronormative and patriarchal sex industry is tough, directly to a hesitation to experiment with your own body. The sex industry is ginormous, and only recent breakthroughs in the space have taken full effect. In 2019, sex toy company TENGA’s ‘pleasure report’ survey revealed that 49 percent of participants felt a complex amount of shame, while an overwhelming 54 percent simply felt no need. Polly Rodrigez CEO of Unbound, commented “One of the most common reactions to the thought of using sex toys if you haven’t before is, ‘Oh those aren’t for me’ Or atleast, that is the initial thought”. 

In the past year, an influx of social influencers taking selfies with their toys has become a norm on social media. On Instagram Reels and TikTok, it isn’t too uncommon to see fashion blog accounts endorsing sex toy companies in paid advertisements. While most posts are celebrated by audiences, it reveals a strange truth around sexual visibility. Companies such as We-Vibe and Womanizer have been at the forefront of digital marketing campaigns centred around influencer endorsements. In 2022, it would be uncommon to see a fashion blogger without an Ad from a sex toy company. As an audience member sitting in the back row of these ads on my feed, it comes with a weird feeling seeing products on social media. Already, paid advertisements are relatively shunned by social media users as unimportant, but sex visibility is, important. With so many eyes on social media, users peering into others likes, follows and shares it’s a scary environment to be sex positive on platforms that allow very little sexual discussion.

This brings up a relevant discussion about how internalised shame isn’t necessarily always anxiousness or worry, but an explicit: ‘I don’t need this product’. In the spike growth of toys being marketed as health products, it draws to whether other technology has been misread in the same way, such as aggressive marketing tactics like the dreaded ‘pink tax’. We can blame Sigmund Freud for this one, with a now debunked and outdated theory that clitorial orgasms were an immature state of development. This theory alone has bled into perceptions of sex. Today, there is still a belief that clitoral orgasms aren’t ‘real’ orgasms, and this contributes dangerously to the ‘orgasm gap’. The orgasm gap is a social phenomenon that reveals heterosexual women are the demographic having least orgasms during sex when in relation to vagina anatomy and the vulva. It’s a disparity between couples, with studies revealing people with vaginas orgasm 33 percent times more during masturbation compared to sex.  

Research suggests that the needs of people with vaginas differs from the information we are told by a male-dominated sex industry. One study suggests that 37 percent need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm, while a small 18 percent can with penetration alone. With this data at hand, how is it so common to feel that the use of a vibrator or other technology is considered ‘cheating’ or even a ‘failure’. Behind the data, are people. Like myself, and others who have felt the same sense of stigma around sexual health. I remember so many chats when I was younger with other people who believed they ‘simply could not orgasm’. Openly, my peers believed their body just could not climax. Since then, sex toys have moved on from phallic design, which is a sigh of relief. Some are engineered discreet, and others unapologetic. Years prior, the scary reality of a market of sex toys all male-oriented was a nightmare to navigate. While this is still the case, new revolutionary companies are making the old catch up. For self-pleasure of people not attracted to men, the market of all things dildoes were heteronormative, with the only major competitor the Hitatchi Magic Wand appearing as completely taboo, addictive and perverse. 

Where to from here? Culturally, we overvalue penetrative sex. It’s a clear fact. On one hand (pun intended) the use of language making sex and intercourse synomynous, is a problem we have all contributed too, in shunning clitorial stimulation into a foreplay category, when realistically it should be front and centre. The way we talk about sex, nicknames, jokes and puns has wildly developed our perception of anatomy, with thousands of words for penis and none for clitoris. Being stuck with the scientific name of the most important centre of vaginal sex is tough, as it can appear unattractive to talk about anatomy when it’s hard to find (sorry, another pun) the words to casually drop in foreplay. While the stigma for casual sex is still a veil that holds sexual liberation hostage, experimentation of the pursuit of pleasure is a private matter that is our journey to begin alone. One of the biggest steps to advancing against the orgasm gap, isn’t the tech or the pornography… it’s simply self acceptance. There is an overload of false theories and lies spread in all corners of the world about sexual liberation, but the matter starts with you. Not our partners, not our FWB, or our sex-ed teachers. You come first, and that is the hardest but the best step to take. 

Article submitted anonymously

Feature image courtesy of Jezabel Putride

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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