Talk To The Hand
I was watching a conventional rom-com on TV last month when I had a sort of epiphany. The scene showed an unhappy married couple retreating to separate rooms to masturbate. The woman opened a drawer to get her vibrator. The man used his hand.
A thought bubble over my head exclaimed, "Why can't she use her hand too?" And I reflected on the countless times this scenario is depicted, even though it is common knowledge that most women don't need penetration to have an orgasm. At least, it was common knowledge after the Hite Report was published in 1976.
If you're too young or too old to remember, The Hite Report on Female Sexualitywas based on a study that broke the news about sex in clear terms: Penetration for women is not the main event. Seventy per cent of women did not orgasm from intercourse alone. Say hello to our little friend, the clitoris!
As I recall, men were not thrilled by the news. Many women responded with Duh, while others went, Wait just a minute!!!! These women were the ones who needed the book most. Obviously, they weren't familiar with their own anatomy and their partners were likewise uninformed....or maybe just lazy.
Since we know about female anatomy now, why does our culture tell women they need sex toys to experience pleasure? Why are men okay with using their own hands, conveniently and without cost, while women need to purchase equipment? Who benefits most from selling sex toys to women? And why have women accepted these devices as a necessary part of masturbation?
The “femtech” market, which includes the category of sexual wellness, could be worth $50 billion by 2020, according to a 2018 report by Frost and Sullivan.
Women’s health is often side-lined as a niche market; however, tides are changing and this can be attributed to the rise of the ‘she-conomy’, where women are not only playing an increasingly influential role across the healthcare continuum, but also have higher purchasing power.
Walmart has taken the hint and now carries its own line of sex toys, created for them by a company called Clio. According to the New York Times, Clio is hoping to appeal to women who have never bought a sex toy before, particularly mothers over 25, but are embracing the idea that “sexual wellness” is good for you and can be empowering. But is it empowering to these mothers, or to Clio and Walmart?
On the shelves at Walmart, you can find a variety of "female-friendly" sex toys that vibrate and look like chic little rubber oblongs. But the sex-toys for men can only be found on their website, via third-party vendors. These items are decidedly less classy. Designed to feel like a "tight pussy," they are pretty disgusting and not things a man would casually pull out of a drawer in a rom-com. In other words, they seem pervy, whereas the vibrators and dildos for women are not only normalized but seen as a part of our sexual wellness regime.
I am not trying to shame anyone here, because how you get off is none of my business. I'm merely questioning the disparity between how male and female sexuality are marketed, and how this marketing shapes our behavior. Both advertising and porn are unarguably affecting our views about sex, for the good when it comes to combating ignorance and dispelling myths. But there is clearly a negative side to these industries, and surprise, it is women who bear the brunt of it.
As a boomer, I admit to being old fashioned in many respects, and I like to do things the analogue way. I even do my own nails! So naturally, I regard my hands as key to my “sexual wellness”, much like men do. Your hand is there for you, like a bridge over troubled waters, always in the mood and always free of charge. They don't vibrate at three different speeds but they are pretty damn deft and versatile.
I have discussed sex toys with millennial friends who explain that either it's too much trouble without the toys or they're simply too lazy to go manual. My feeling is, if you're too lazy to get yourself off without devices, why do you expect your partner to do it? Personally, laziness is the first thing I don't want in a sex partner. It's not a quality conducive to fulfillment in either love or sex, in my world.
There's a fashion website I like that carries obscure brands of jeans and other "curated items" like vintage jewelry and beauty products. I was surprised by one of its recent newsletters, featuring a huge black glass penis. It’s described as:
“An exclusive piece from the ... sexual wellness collection, the inspired "Brancusi" is a hand carved piece of solid, deep black obsidian, mined communally in the Mexican state of Hidalgo and worked by hand in a workshop less than 100 meters from the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan. A smooth, glass-like volcanic rock, obsidian has been used for thousands of years for healing, to counter fear, anxiety, and anger, and to clear negative energy from the psyche. A sculptural and substantial piece of minimal, earth-friendly pleasure art.”
It is 8 inches long and can be washed with soap and water. The same site also offers, in the pleasure art category, a “petite hand-blown beautifully polished glass anal plug.”
I'm so old-fashioned that my art objects are not things to shove up anyone's ass. In my mother's day, those things were called enema kits, and they stayed in the bathroom to scare me and my sister. Now, I'm scared of that big black glass thing. How times have changed! In any case, I guess art is whatever you say it is, ahem. But when it comes to female pleasure, my conviction, my advice, and now my motto, is Talk to the Hand.