I was listening to the brilliant Hotbed Collective podcast with Cherry Healey, Anniki Sommerville and Lisa Williams. In episode 2, The Dangerwank, the subject of vibrators came up. The conversation quickly turned to the fact that, while the vast majority are phallic in shape, just 1% of women achieve orgasm through internal stimulation alone. During the episode, resident sexpert Dr Karen Gurney explained that for the remaining 99% of us, it’s all about the clitoris.
This got me thinking about sex toys in general and how they have evolved over recent years. I remember in the 90s, when I first started to explore my own sexuality. Back in the day, vibrators mainly came in one shape (clearly inspired by the female fascination with the beauty of the male member *ahem*), many were also flesh coloured and covered with veins for added ‘authenticity’.
We have come a long way since then (thank God) and this is in no small part due to the increased involvement of women in the design process, whether through men trying to better understand how to meet their needs, or women themselves coming into the market with their own take on what they, and women like them, really want – Rampant Rabbit anyone?
There’s no denying that this is a very long way from the humble beginnings of a medical gadget which was invented by respectable Victorian doctors, to offer relief to their female patients stricken with hysteria (something we now recognise as female sexual frustration).
Rather than curing the ‘affliction’ in the bedroom, women were shipped off to the doctor’s surgery where, once diagnosed, the practitioner would set about the arduous task of administering manual “pelvic massage” which was seen as the only cure. On finding the process tiring and overly involved (the treatment was - unsurprisingly - very popular among 19th century women), doctors developed a device to give themselves some light relief (oh the irony!).
Today, approximately 48% of UK women own a vibrator and female pleasure is definitely on the map. But there’s no denying that, even though we are more open to the idea of owning a sex toy, for many women it is not something we feel comfortable talking openly about.
The ladies of the Hotbed Collective say their mission is to make life better, one orgasm at a time – their position, and it’s an excellent one, is that if we can talk more about sex, specifically sex after kids and sex in long-term relationships, there is a good chance we can shake off the negative associations which prevent us from stepping our of our sexual comfort zone. And, thanks to modern technology, when we finally decide to do so, there is a world of discovery waiting for us.
While the phallic shape we have come to know and love still has its place, the category has expanded beyond recognition and now includes a myriad of toys designed with female pleasure in mind. There are clitoral stimulators in all shapes and sizes, from bullets to pebbles and everything in between. There are multifunctional toys designed to hit not only one spot but multiple spots simultaneously, and there are those which have been so well designed they would not look out of place as a bedside ornament.
You can buy a simple buzzer from any number of unexpected places on the high street and if you don’t feel comfortable having a check-out girl run your new purchase through the till, there are specialist websites galore to cater to your every need. Ladies the good news is that it’s never been easier to achieve sexual satisfaction.
But no matter what weird and wonderful devices there are on the market, unless we as women embrace our sexuality and take steps to explore it to the full, we won’t ever know what really floats our boat – and if we don’t know how to satisfy ourselves, how can our partners possibly hope to know?