I have a confession. I don’t like sex toys. Vibrators, dildos, dolphins, bullets. They just don’t do it for me. I’ve tried to like them. I’ve paid a lot of money trying to like them. But I just can’t figure them out.
The very first one I bought was when I was twenty-one and travelling the world. It was black, metallic, and as un-penis-like as a penis-like object can be.
My boyfriend and I picked it up during a visit to a sex shop in Amsterdam or Berlin, or whichever sexually progressive European city we were in then. I let him choose it. I was too shy to contemplate what I might actually want in a sex toy.
We took it home, took it out of its box, and attempted to try it. It was hard and cold, and it buzzed like crazy. I stared at it, hoping my boyfriend would know how to use it. Was it supposed to go inside or out? If it was inside, why did it vibrate? Penises certainly don’t. And unlike a cock, it didn’t give in to the curves of the body. It was rigid and unforgiving. But if it was supposed to be used externally, its shape made no sense.
And what was with the tinny buzz? Used inside, it vibrated nowhere near where I usually rubbed; and outside, it took on an alien rhythm, frenetic and mechanical. Where were the soft circles, the slick and slip of moist and skin? Holding that thing against me at best made me kind of want to pee.
To be fair, at that time, I never touched myself with bare hands. I masturbated through fabric, rubbing against whatever I could find, hands-free. My inner and outer labia, my clitoris, the walls of my vagina, were completely off-limits for my own exploration, so applying direct and motorised vibration was far too intense. I tried to use it outside my underwear and, when that was too much, on top of my jeans, but I still couldn’t find a way to like it.
Many years later, when that relationship ended, a well-meaning girlfriend took me on a trip to Sexyland. As a newly single woman, she thought I needed something man-like and mechanical – a battery operated boyfriend, or Bob – to take care of my needs. Rather than fess-up that I was quite capable of taking care of those needs on my own, I played along. Besides, I was curious, and the excursion sounded like fun.
Turns out the market had spawned a whole new generation of Bobs in the intervening years, ones with attachments and clit-bits and remote controls. Still shy of the intense vibration and rigidity I remembered, I skipped over the daunting array of whiz-bang Bobs and went straight for the static silicone Dong. It was roughly the same size as my ex, and considerably cheaper.
The woman behind the counter wrapped my Dong up in a brown paper bag, and blushing gracelessly, I took it home.
The first thing I noticed about my Dong was the stench: a chemical plastic concoction that seeped into my drawers, contaminating my lingerie with its lingering funk. Though it felt softer, I soon discovered it had as little give as my first Bob. Using it was uncomfortable and awkward. You don’t typically have sex with a dismembered cock, and trying to angle this thing in any way that resembled having intercourse, rather than inserting a tampon, was impossible.
After a few more attempts, Dong joined Bob in the back of my occasional-wear drawer, until I admitted I was never going to use either and, with relief, ditched them both into the rubbish.
This should have been the end of my quest for success in assisted-masturbation, but I soon entered a medium-term relationship with an amazing lover who was determined to give me pleasure. Seeing my discomfort with masturbating in front of him, he purchased two vibrators and left them with me. ‘When I come back, you’re going to show me how you use them.’
One was long and pink with an end like a hammerhead shark. The other was small, blue, and finger-like. Both vibrated at varying speeds. They were rigid plastic once more, so I didn’t even try to insert them. By this time I had grown used to touching myself directly, and found I was able to tolerate the buzz at more gentle speeds. In fact, this time, it felt kind-of good.
Eventually between us, we got them both to work, including during sex, and for the first time I had an orgasm while a partner was inside me. But when I was alone, I rarely used them. It was for his benefit that the toys came out, and only occasionally when I was drunk and horny and needed additional stimulation.
About a year down the track, a friend was telling me she had just bought an incredible new toy, a new-generation Bob with a ball-rolling grinding mechanism inside the shaft, and a vibrating clit-stimulator that sat doglegged off to the side. ‘This,’ she said, ‘is guaranteed to blow your mind.’ I handed over yet another wad of cash in exchange for one more brown paper bag.
The clit-stimulating Bob had a set of buttons on the handle to control the grinding and another set to control the speed. I’m not the most coordinated person, yet I was somehow supposed to get the depth of the dildo and the angle of the clit-stimulator simultaneously aligned, while activating the right combination of buttons and without accidentally changing any – even though the manufacturers had situated the buttons on the only place you could rest your hand.
This was some sort of practical joke, right? Did the makers not understand the body’s sexual response? There was no way I could use this Bob as designed. When aroused, my muscles tense all over the place, including in my hands. How was I supposed to avoid changing direction and speed in a critical moment? And asking me to concentrate on coordination while trying to get there is like asking a guy to think and maintain an erection. This experiment was doomed. The only advantage I could see to this new-generation super Bob was the slightly softer feel and quieter sound. Pretty much how I describe my new washing machine.
While I was at it, my friend convinced me to purchase a purse-sized vibrating bullet, effective and discreet. ‘You can take this baby anywhere.’ The bullet was about the size and shape of my thumb-tip with a single super-fast vibrating speed. Again, I was baffled. If I was supposed to use it on the outside, how could I hold it in place? If I used it internally, what if it disappeared up there? I had no desire to feature in some med student’s party playlist of sex-weirdos after presenting to emergency to have the damn thing retrieved.
Neither felt as good as skin, as soft as flesh, and both smelled like a cross between Tupperware and a pair of rubber gloves.
A recent trip to a sex shop revealed another round of innovation in Bobs, including vibes for couples that create wave-like motions and dildos that thrust instead of doing the buzz and grind.
Part of me is curious to see if these new mechanisms more closely resemble real-life and fill that gap between what comes naturally and what manufacturers have historically produced, or if I’m just being suckered into paying for another piece of overpriced landfill. After all, an orgasm is an orgasm, and I can have one of those for free.