Democratizing Sex: How sex toys reduce pleasure Inequality & the "Orgasm Gap"
Sex positivity and self-love don’t necessarily mean loving sex or being horny all the time. We have to foreground this before we begin. The movement is, however, about giving us the tools and language to understand our own bodies and the confidence to vocalize (or even just know for ourselves) what we like and don’t like.
Whether this be reflected in an ‘orgasm gap’ or lack of sexual fulfillment, for greater equality to be achieved there needs to be greater confidence and vocalization around what pleasure looks like for each partner. For years, however, we have lacked the language and resources to access information surrounding the female anatomy, let alone female pleasure.
“Female sexual pleasure is a taboo topic, which you are not taught about and have to learn about through your own experiences. In school, women are taught that they have a ‘vagina’, but the female anatomy is never explored any further."
"This leads to men and women having different expectations of what sexual pleasure is. I think that it’s important for women to pleasure themselves to gain a better understanding of how their body works and what they like. Toys such as vibrators are great because they do things that sexual partners can’t. I also think it’s important for more conversations about female sexual pleasure.”
Tia, heterosexual, UK
A lack of understanding or confidence surrounding our own pleasure can often lead to a culture of performance, where we are performing instead of enjoying. The need to fulfill a partner comes before thinking about our own pleasure – something that sex toys are here to change.
“Using sex toys helps me to climax – Every. Single. Time...something that I can’t really say about most guys I sleep with since I find it really hard to reach my orgasm on a good day. I think it tends to stem from how uncomfortable I’ve felt, and how stressed I usually am in a sexual scenario. I’ve used vibrators during sex with my partners in the past – however, I couldn’t help but notice that it would make them slightly self-conscious every time I would bring up the idea of using a sex toy."
"This reality check has definitely inspired me to be more vocal and honest about my needs and wants so that I can constantly have my ‘sensual Mimi experience’.”
Jin, 20, bi-curious, Leeds but originally from Australia
However, it is important to also note that empowerment doesn’t imply that you need to ‘love your body’ – in fact, this would be a problematic assumption to make on anyone’s behalf, be it those identifying within the trans spectrum or anyone suffering from any level of body dysmorphia. What sex toys can provide is a way to explore your body and find peace with what it desires in a way that promotes body neutrality.
“This vibrator could genuinely not have come at a better time, just as I was losing full faith in my vagina after starting a new type of antidepressant a few months ago. I don’t know why the sexual side effects of SSRI meds aren’t spoken about more, not least when you’re weighing up options at the doctors – especially given they are the most widely-prescribed type of antidepressant in the UK. But then again, I suppose being told you may no longer be able to cum might horrify you so much you decide to ABORT MISSION rather than give meds a go.
"And don’t get me wrong, they are doing me a whole world of good and I am not about to come off them any time soon (though, obviously, that’s not to say they’re the right choice for everyone). But, they do completely change the sensation of your clit and you feel like you’re constantly about to cum but then never actually do. A real killer."
"Don’t worry though, my faith and orgasms have been restored since using the Mimi. I swear. It’s really smooth and has loads of settings with different vibration patterns and different speeds within them. And although I have generally made peace with my new sub-par vagina sensations, it’s good to know that even if I can’t cum during sex itself, all is not lost.”
Rosie, 25, London, lesbian
It’s most accurate to position sex-positivity within wider movements of womxn’s liberation. It is one of the many ways we can reframe conversations and situations to allow for a more equal platform – which needs to be addressed in all aspects of society, including our private lives. This all feeds into the conversation around consent, too: knowing how to say ‘no’ in a private space as well as a public one. If you can be self-assured in your personal boundaries, it is easier to explain these to other people and instigate them within an intimate setting.
At the moment, womxn’s bodies remain a site of control, policed in many different ways. Sex toys and more open conversations around women’s sexual pleasure can help womxn to reclaim their bodies as autonomous.
As womxn, there are so many taboos around being single. Take, for example, Emma Watson’s relatively recent assertion in a Vogue interview that she is “self-partnered”. As a womxn, being single is still shrouded in shame and stigma. Whether Watson was being tongue-in-cheek or not, is actually irrelevant – there still needs to be massive reframing and reshaping around acceptance over being single and in removing the pressures that still exist for womxn that, somehow, being single is ‘not enough.’