Sunday, July 17, 2016

Secret Sex Lives by Suzy Spencer: book review

Suzy Spencer
photo by Randy Austin-Cardona
Since first grade, when I first lusted over a gorgeous dark-haired boy named Travis, I prayed to Jesus for a boyfriend. I never got one. The closest I ever came was a couple of briefly consummated associations with married men. . . I don't trust men enough to be emotionally intimate with them. And I don't know why men terrify me so. They just do. God, they do. 

Does that sound like the kind of person who interviews strangers about their sexual behavior for a book? Yet that's what Suzy Spencer did. At age 50, she took a yearlong detour from writing true crime and placed an ad on Craigslist, asking for people who were willing to talk about their sex lives.

Her "sex freaks" -- as she dubbed them -- contacted her in droves. They were eager, often titillated, to talk about their sexual encounters, desires, and secrets -- including cheating on their spouses, swinging, kink play, Dom/sub, phone sex, cross-dressing, and more. The result: Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality.

Was Spencer kinky and wild herself? Quite the opposite. She hadn't had sex in ten years and admitted feeling out of her element about the whole subject. Raised Southern Baptist and never having experienced satisfying sexual freedom personally, she was uneasy about her own reactions to some of the wild stories and confessions she was hearing. Sometimes she was fascinated past journalistic curiosity. Sometimes she pushed journalistic boundaries* as well as personal ones. Sometimes she was disgusted. And occasionally she described trying not to laugh.

Those last two reactions interfered with my appreciation of the book at times. I don't think she realized how judgmental she was (or if she did realize it, it didn't bother her). For example, she told a round-bellied, truck-driving Texan that he didn't look bisexual ("I am just shocked -- I mean, no one would look at you and think -- ever."). She had to fight back "something putrid" rising in her throat when one of her interviewees described having daddy/daughter phone sex. She described Lady Sapphire, giving a presentation on bondage, this way:

Lady Sapphire's demeanor is pure rural. Her eyeglasses look like one-hour wire frames. Her...dress reveals white, scarred, toneless arms. Its neckline...covers her breasts, which are aligned with her protruding stomach...Slump-shouldered, Lady Sapphire looks like she's about to go grocery shopping on a hot summer day.

* About the boundary pushing. At one point, a man who has been describing his phone sex encounters invites Spencer to listen in on his multi-orgasm-producing conversation with phone sex partner of the moment. However, the recipient of this call -- and of the multiple orgasms -- would not know that Spencer was listening in. Spencer agreed and went through with it, which struck me as highly unethical. The phone sex was consensual -- but would it have been if the recipient had known that a journalist was listening and taking notes, and would later record this conversation in a book?

I appreciated seeing the changes in Spencer's attitudes about sex as she delved into other people's sex lives and how they felt about what they did. She was painfully aware of how tightly closed up her own desires were, and she realized she was living vicariously through her "sex freaks."

Much as I didn't like Spencer's judgmental reactions to her subjects, I respect her as a writer for her courage in revealing the jarring flaws in her own sex-positivity. She easily could have cut comments like "I need a break from cross-dressing, enemas, slaves, sluts, and whips" or "I was so tired of hearing men rationalize their cheating by complaining that their wives had lost all sexual interest due to menopause or a hysterectomy" or "I wasn't all that interested in watching a beer-bellied retiree with rosacea rub his penis until sperm oozed," and we'd be none the wiser. But the struggles with her upbringing and prejudices are part of the journey for Spencer.

This aim of this book reminded me a little of America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction by Brian Alexander, which I enjoyed tremendously and reviewed in 2008. If you haven't read that one and you like learning about how other people enjoy/ express/ revel in sex (and we're not talking about missionary position with the lights out), check it out, too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Siime Eye: vibrator + camera for vagina selfies

Reviewing sex toys is tough work, but somebody's got to do it. Usually I say that as a joke -- the "work" involved is almost always joyful. However, at times I have to work pretty hard for you, dear reader, such as this review of the Siime Eye.

The Siime (pronounced "SEE-ME") Eye from Svakom is a very slim vibrator, 1-inch in diameter, designed for internal stimulation, and it has a special attribute: a camera!

Yes, at the tip of the vibrator is a camera which is designed to let you take a photo or video of what's going on inside your own or a partner's vagina. I could, I fantasized, see what my vagina looked like relaxed, aroused, and during orgasm. I could see what my cervix did. Knowledge is power!

First things first. You need to download the Siime app onto a smart phone, tablet, or laptop. The app sets up its own wi-fi network. Once the camera and the app are both turned on, you pair them using the password you're given (you can change it, but why bother?).

Easy peasy following the instructions in the app. Now everything the camera sees is viewable on your device. You can snap photos or record videos of the inner workings of your vaginal canal to export to your personal photo gallery or, I suppose, to YouTube. (No, dear reader, I did not upload mine to YouTube because... just no.)

The truth is that it didn't quite work that way. Truth #1: I discovered that vaginal secretions do not make for a clear camera lens. In fact, all I saw was a coated, cloudy, pinkish blur.

Aha, now I understood why several other reviewers, such as Emmeline Peaches, Penny for Your (Dirty) Thoughts, and Carnal Queen, said that a clear speculum was a necessary add-on purchase before being able to use this product as intended. The nice folks at Siime Eye told me that there's no need for a speculum, but I don't know where they found clear, non-coating vaginas.

So I ordered a clear speculum, size small, from Amazon. I wasn't sure how I'd work the two together, but it turns out that the opening between the two arms of the speculum can be adjusted to make room for the Siime Eye. So far so good.

But then I discovered Truth #2: There's nothing about an inserted speculum that is sexy or even allows for the possibility of arousal. I got a clear view, yay, but there was no way that an orgasm would happen with that thing in me. Truth #3: Although the Siime Eye is a vibrator, that's meaningless when it's inside a speculum. It would only vibrate the plastic of the speculum. Still, it was interesting to see what was going on in there.

Truth #4: Older vaginal tissues are thin and fragile. (I knew that.) As I wiggled the speculum and the Siime Eye around trying to make them fit right and show what I wanted (much like robotic surgery, I'd guess), I felt enough discomfort after a few minutes to abort the operation. The discomfort persisted, and I discovered some light bleeding. That was from the plastic speculum, not the Siime Eye -- which is smooth silicone, slender, and perfectly comfortable on its own. My first attempts at a vaginal selfie failed.

With the camera turned off and the speculum banished to another room, the Siime Eye becomes a slim, buzzy, penetrative vibrator. For women who have discomfort during insertion of a normal-size penis or dildo, this body-safe silicone vibrator might be a pleasant alternative. The shape is straight and narrow, not designed for G-spot stimulation.

Day 2, back to the camera experiment. My theory was that since I now knew how to fit the Siime Eye and the speculum and could do that before insertion, plus I was using plenty of Uberlube for comfort, I wouldn't draw blood. Yes! That worked! However, the view still wasn't clear enough to be worth the effort, and arousal was not going to happen with plastic jaws inside me.

Back to using the Siime Eye solo -- even if the camera lens coated, I wanted see what I could view using the vibrator on its own. Ooops -- twice in a row when I turned on the vibrator and took it to its highest setting, it ran for only a few seconds before the Siime network disconnected and the image froze. I could easily go to my device settings, reconnect, then return to the Siime app, but I'm sorry, arousal stops if I have to fiddle with my iPad.

Another issue I discovered: when the vibrator is in use, the "down" arrow is actually up and vice versa. In other words, if you press the "up" arrow hoping for stronger vibrations, it goes weaker, and if you press the "down," it gets stronger. If the vibrator had been manned (so to speak) by another person above me, the arrows would have been correct in that person's view. But from my vantage point below, they were reversed. Labeling the controls  "+" and "-" instead of  "^" would have eliminated the confusion.

I'm spending way too much time and effort on a product that leaves me underwhelmed, but the idea behind it is so good that I thought you'd want to know.

In case you want to play with the Siime Eye camera for other uses, it doesn't give a sharp image unless you're right up against your subject. Compare the photo of my face from just inches away (blurry) with that of my eye, close enough that a sneeze would poke it out. I wasn't expecting the camera quality of a medical-grade endoscope, so that wasn't a big surprise.

I wanted to like the Siime Eye, really I did. It's such a cool idea, and my Svakom contact person was very helpful and patient. Playing with a partner would likely give you better results than I had solo. And if you're into doctor play, this will be your tool of choice! I'd love to know your experiences with it.

The nice Svakom people also sent me the Keri, a spoon-shaped clitoral vibrator that's small, ergonomic, and light enough for travel. The design keeps it out of the way during partner sex -- very handy when you need an assist during partner penetration. However, I'm lukewarm about the Keri because it's buzzy, not super strong, and the handle vibrates almost as much as the working end, which can irritate your hand and wrist and get in the way of pleasure.

If you'd like to try Siime Eye, it's available on Amazon through an authorized distributor for under $100 at this link. (It's listed on Svakom's own website for $249.) I was supposed to have an additional discount code for you, but it doesn't work right now. Check back -- I'll revise this paragraph if they get a working discount code for you. Update: use the code 3AE84AOZ for a 50% discount on the pink Siime Eye -- use this link and enter the code at checkout. You can also purchase Keri for 50% off  if you order here with promo code QEFGADXL. These discount codes are good through August 11, 2016, US sales only.

Note: To earn the discount, Svakom requests that you post an Amazon review. However, if you do that sooner than 10 days after receipt of the item, Amazon will delete your review. No, don't ask me why. Surely you don't need 10 days to find out that the item either delights or disappoints you, but those are Amazon's rules.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Pulse, the King of Penis Vibrators

9/1/2017 note: My links formerly went to older models of the Pulse which were new at that time. I've just changed the links to the newest model, Pulse III, even if the text refers to an older model.

At all my talks and workshops, and in private conversations with men who want to have satisfying sex despite erectile difficulties, I recommend The Pulse, the king of penis vibrators. I am bringing this review to the top in case you don't know about it. - Joan

12/18/16 update: Read about the new Pulse III on my 2016 Holiday Gift Guide for Seniors!

6/30/15 update: There is an even newer version of this product -- The Pulse II -- which David Pittle reviewed. See his update below. Enjoy!

Presenting... The Pulse, a pulsing, oscillating, amazing vibrator for penises that does not require an erection for his pleasure!

That's right -- unlike other vibrating "sleeves," the penis does not have to be hard to start enjoying it. Spread open the flexible flaps, rest your penis in it, turn it on, and enjoy the sensations.

The fabulous folks at Smitten Kitten first showed me this vibrator, praising its qualities. The Pulse works for men of all ages, and it's especially splendid for pleasuring an older man. If you get erections erratically, this toy will make you hard. If erections are not in the picture, you'll still feel tremendous sexual pleasure.

Of course I had to get some men of our age to test the Pulse for us. You can imagine how easy it was to get three volunteers! These men all live in different places, and I wanted to give them each plenty of time to play and experiment, so I arranged with Hot Octopuss, the British manufacturer of the Pulse, to send one product, and the dear folks at Smitten Kitten sent two more.

Here's what my Pulse-pleasured guys told me:

I'm a man, almost 58, who has had a number of sexual issues going back more than 8 years. Most of my issues -- temporary impotence, lack of sensation, pain with orgasm -- are because I'm a prostate cancer survivor who was treated surgically. Recently I've been able to resolve many of these issues. 

Given my past challenges, I've haven't taken a lot of time to explore penile sex toys beyond cock rings and therapeutic penis pumps. I wasn't sure what a toy could do for me anyway. But that changed with the Pulse! While not a traditional sleeve toy, it does deliver vibratory sensations to the penis. It has a number of speeds and intensities that are easily set by a lighted button. 

It has a unique feature where some of the vibrations are concentrated in a circular section that delivers an extra boost to the highly sensitive underside of the head of the penis. For me, it’s been a great erection builder. I've enjoyed taking the time to play and experiment with the various settings of intensity. 

Because I still have some limited sensation, I've not been able to reach orgasm using the Pulse exclusively. But it is a very pleasurable toy and has warmed me up to some very nice plateaus. It's made of hard plastic and high-grade non-toxic silicone. It can be used with or without lubricant, but is more effective as a "stroker" toy when used with lubricant. It's easily cleaned with a damp cloth.

The Pulse is one toy that’s worth the money! . It has easy-to-use controls, fits nicely in the hand and has a coin-like, raised bump inside at just the right place. It feels wonderful! 

On the low setting, with a little water-based lube, this thing got me hard in no time. And this was after I’d had sex and a great orgasm earlier in the day. I’m over 50, so that’s saying a lot. The next day, this thing had me orgasming in minutes. 

Watch out if you get lube on the hand you’re holding it with though -- it can get slippery. It performs well, but does take a couple minutes to clean due to the ribs inside. A quick wipe with soap and water does the trick -- it can’t be submerged.

This is the only criticism I have: It comes with a USB charger cord but without an adapter to plug into a wall outlet. Fortunately I had one, and you can pick one up cheap. 

David M. Pittle, Ph.D (age 70+):
Most men’s sex toys seem to be some form of sleeve to simulate a vagina. The Pulse is different. Like the sleeves, it is a tube for the penis to enter, but it is open at the top with wings that bend out, so the penis can be simply laid into the tube on top of the strongest point of vibration. This creates the greatest sensations on the most sensitive part of the penis, the frenulum. 

This is an amazingly versatile sex toy. My experience with it was “five stars.” That puts it right up there with the Hitachi Magic Wand.

I was skeptical about the battery because battery toys that are powerful run down fairly rapidly. Ten or fifteen minutes of use and they need recharging. Not the case with the Pulse. In a tribute to battery engineers, the Pulse ran for four sessions of 15 to 20 minutes and was still going strong. 

This is a great product. The only criticism I have is that it can’t be immersed in water. The water will get into the battery compartment. That is somewhat minor, but given the price, a waterproof charging system would have been nice. 

Update: David received a sample of the new Pulse II Solo and had this to add:

There is a new king in town: The Pulse II Solo. First, the new model’s vibrations are not only stronger, but also feel more effective and include programmed patterns. Second, the vibrations come from a piston mechanism designed for penile stimulation. Third, it works longer per charge. There are many other improvements, but these are the most apparent. 

The Pulse II Solo maintains the open top with expanding wings. A flaccid penis can easily be inserted. As it responds to the vibratory stimulation, it becomes as hard as it can and continues to increase sensitivity. As this happens, those wings spread to accommodate the growth in girth. 

The vibratory plate, located under the penis glans at its most sensitive area, is large enough to continue to make contact during the expansion. There are many nerve endings at the base of the penis. The Pulse II Solo is able to simultaneously excite these nerves without losing touch with the nerves in the glans. 

As you can tell, I was excited by the original Pulse, but I’m an out and out fan of the Pulse II. It is without doubt the best vibrator sex toy for men with erectile challenges that I have seen. As a sex therapist often dealing with older men with erectile dysfunction, this is very important to me. I will certainly be recommending this product. 

I applaud the Hot Octopuss company which has taken pro-sex political stances and is promoting improved sex for seniors. Their blog entry, "Coming Of Age: Over-55s Most Sexually Satisfied" is worth reading.

(I am sad to tell you that sex therapist David Pittle died December 2017. We value his sex toy reviews. Read his other reviews here.)

Note from Joan:
The Pulse is amazing for men. It claims that the outer part also pleasures a woman partner for use by a couple together.

In my case, not so. The inside part that holds the penis is comfortable and stimulating for him, but the outside part that supposedly can stimulate the clitoris is mostly hard plastic and doesn't vibrate much, not the least bit sexy for me. Of course, your experience may vary, and another woman reported getting plenty of pleasure from it. [Note: This comment was based on testing the original Pulse. I'll update it when I've tested the Pulse II Duo, which I understand is greatly improved.]

My recommendation is to let the man use this on his own -- he'll love it, and he deserves a superb sex toy of his own!

See more about how the Pulse works here.

I hope you'll join me in thanking Smitten Kitten and Hot Octopuss for the sample products and for continuing to support my senior sex education work by ordering from them directly.